A Milonguero Couple you may recognize...
Everyone knows their Tango is incredible. So is their Milonga (and Vals!) Talk about well-rounded!
Do you want to know what dancing with a Milonguero* is like? Even a tiny little bit?
* Now, when we say "Milonguero", we are not defining this term as "Good-for-nothing, dance all the time, no job and neglecting family worthless bum". We are using "Milonguero" in the general sense of "Great Porteño Dancer of Tango from the older generation".
"Oh, I don't care. I'm happy doing my own thing. I'm sure that once I graduate with a black belt/diploma/PhD in Tango from my local Tango school, I'll be one fine dancer!"
Many Tangueros don't want to know because they are already hot-shots or will quite soon become hot-shots. They think the Milongueros are passé. However, they get the evil eye all the time from all the people they bump into all the time at the milonga while flailing in the historically interesting but no longer alive style of dancing called "New Tango". Talk about irony. Anyway, if this is you - you should stop reading now.
For the Tangueros who want to know (and perhaps even guide their dancing in a "Milonguero" like direction) - Irene's the one to ask! She's danced with quite a few Milongueros. Not every single one in the whole world, but quite a good selection.
1. The Non-Milonguero
Not every old Argentinian person who dances Tango is a Milonguero. In fact, we were easily mistaken in the early years - quite absurdly referring to non-milonguero dancers as being "Milonguero" for no good reason except that they came from Argentina.
Sometimes you could be easily fooled. These gentlemen are old, dressed a suit, and attending a milonga. But Milongueros they are not.
How can you tell that they aren't Milonguero?
Well, the quality of their dancing is the pits. Their dancing has nothing to do with the music - they are constantly rushing ahead of the music, missing all the beats, and/or doing large complicated movements they learned off Solo Tango "Tango Fantasia" videos. In addition, they are manhandling their partners. Or else, they are leading like sissies - too scared to take a step, too afraid to communicate a lead - except they are not too timid to start telling their partners using frantic gestures and annoyed looks and outright verbal instruction as to what they should be doing. Dancing with these actually quite ordinary Tango dancers is a torture. But they like to call themselves "Milongueros". Some may even hand out business cards and dispense unsolicited advice on dancing.
I'll let you in on their secret - they might have only started to dance Tango in the 80's. Or 90's!
Thankfully, the longer you have been in Tango and the longer you have been exposed to Tango, whether through trips to Buenos Aires, classes with good teachers, or even literature and video on the internet, the more likely you won't be fooled by these "Non-Milongueros".
2. The Common Milonguero
Not every good dancer is famous or a superstar. They can be quite content going to the milonga on a regular basis, enjoying their drinks and dances with their favourite ladies. They dance simply but well.
There are lots of Common Milongueros still around in Buenos Aires. You will find them most frequently in the milongas catering more to locals. They can all dance to the beat, and some can dance to the music. They communicate the lead firmly and clearly - easy for them to do, as they only have a repetoire of three or four (or even five) figures that they will do again and again and again.
They are also able to embrace well. It would usually be on the side of a firm embrace, since they need to be firm to communicate the lead with their arms and bodies. Dancing with them is usually pleasant and fun, and you don't need to guess the lead. But beware of the lack of pauses, or maybe there's pauses, but they are in exactly the same place in their rigid non-flexible step sequence no matter what the music is saying. Their dancing is more suited to rhythmic Tangos by Biagi, D'Arienzo, Troilo, etc. and you can always see a rush to the floor whenever these tandas are played. More than one tanda with them can be monotonous and repetitive, because they are doing the same things every single tango or vals or milonga.
When the Common Milonguero encounters a Tanguera who is not following, he's in deep trouble. He can't adapt his rigid limited style of dancing to unexpected movements from his partner. He may use a death grip to keep things under control. Ladies, if you have experienced this, maybe you are moving around too much!
Some ladies are already in ecstasy dancing with these venerable old fellows - it's not complicated, and when you are so used to the sequence you can do it blindfolded and in your sleep, things go smoothly. If the ladies want a little variety, they can dance different tandas with different Common Milongueros.
It's all good dancing, just a little repetitive, and not very flexible.
Moving on up from the ordinary run-of-the mill "Common Milonguero", we have Milongueros who actually have made a name for themselves for being good dancers. They know at least two to three times as many figures as the Common Milonguero - and they actually react to the music with more depth of movement, rather than dance automatically the dance sequence they have known and practiced for fifty years.
Quite a lot of these Milongueros are filmed doing birthday dances or even performing at their local milongas, and the ladies view them as being their choice of favourite dancers over the Common Milonguero. To be on the dance card of the Milonguero - well, it's something to look forward to and be congratulated on!
The musicality and skill of these Milongueros of course, is a great deal better than that of the Common Milonguero. In their dancing, you will find pauses, steps that are chosen to fit the music (rather than being danced by default or from habit), with variations that may surprise you. The leading too, has more finesse - you are less likely to be pushed around awkwardly, and ladies may even be led to do things that they don't "know" how to do. Accordingly, the embrace doesn't have to be as rigid or in a death grip. Glitches in dancing or uncooperative followers can be handled with subtlety, with inventiveness rather than brute force.
These Milongueros can give some good advice on dancing. Some even teach, and have made a name for themselves as teachers and performers.
Most ladies would be content to dance with these Milongueros the rest of their dancing lives. But then, I've seen a lot of ladies who are not picky, and who would dance with Non-Milongueros and Common Milongueros with equal enthusiasm. Perhaps they haven't danced with any Super Premier League Milongueros?
4. Super Premier League Milongueros
When you are a professional football player, you are obviously good enough so that someone will pay to have you kick a ball around, and perhaps even pay to watch you. But that doesn't mean that people would pay you an astronomical sum to slap your name on some t-shirts and on bottles of perfume, and then make millions of dollars selling them to your fans.
Some Milongueros are like the Messis and Beckhams of the football world. If Tango had a market as large as professional football, these Milongueros would also make millions of dollars and hire agents to negotiate their contracts for them.
Why are they so special?
Let's do the football analogy again. You have a lot of professional football teams out there. They can all do a decent job of playing football - like, following the rules of football, lasting through whole matches and whole seasons, year after year. However, unless you are a die-hard fan of your team, some teams play football that is so mundane, watching them play is just boring. And they don't win games. Man Yung hates it when two mediocre teams meet on the field. "It's like water against water" he says. By the way, the Chinese word for "Water" can also mean "Lousy". The teams spend the whole time passing the ball up and down the centre without a breakthrough for the whole ninety minutes. Yawn.
The best teams in the world have it all - attack and defense, interesting personalities, great teamwork. And on the best days, their football tells a gripping story. "Like the time when Liverpool was playing the 2005 UEFA Champions' League Final against AC Milan!" said Man Yung. "Liverpool was the underdog, and was losing by 3 goals at halftime. It looked like all was lost - but Liverpool Captain Stephen Gerrard started yelling for everyone not to give up. The Liverpool fans sang "You Never Walk Alone". Gerrard scored Liverpool's first goal at 54' - followed by a goal by Smicer at 56', and yet another by Alonso at 60' - TIED! Liverpool grabbed the chance - and won on the penalty shootout!"
Watching this makes me want to cry, it's so good. And I'm not even a Liverpool fan!
The whole thing gave Man Yung tears and goosebumps. I didn't watch the match but I heard about it from Man Yung and it was a such a great story, I remembered it all this time and now I'm writing about it here eight years later!
The best Milongueros are well rounded. They can dance Tango, Milonga, Vals with equally impressive flair. They aren't just hitting the beats - they are telling a story with their dancing. It may come in the form of changing their steps whenever the phrasing of the music changes - or pausing "When the music is telling them to pause". When they lead, you don't feel the mechanics of the leading - the shoving this way or that, or the strong-arming - it feels like magic, like their partner is hypnotized into just doing whatever springs out of the thought process of the Milonguero. When something goes wrong? Nobody knows - the Super Premier League Milonguero has just improvised right around the problem.
And they don't just dance the same steps again and again. With the best Milongueras, these Milongueros can do anything. They don't have to stick to the same recycled step sequence. In fact, they are full of surprises - even if you have been dancing with them for fifty years. Even the same step doesn't have "sameness" - it is loaded with different feeling according to that moment in time and the music you are dancing to. Super Premier League Milongueros live and taste every second of Tango like no-one else on earth.
When all this comes together, it is complete Tango magic in a package. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of Super Premier League Milongueros out there. To get there takes a lot of experience dancing, but also a natural born talent for music expression through movement. That's why dancing with even one of them is an earth-shattering experience - you don't know that dancing Tango could be like this! And if you can put some of that Magic in a bottle or on a t-shirt, Tango-lovers will be lining up for miles with their credit cards out to get some.
5. What about Milongueras? What is it like dancing with Milongueras?
Well, to know more about that, you have to ask Man Yung.
"You have to tell me what it is like dancing with a Milonguera! With some idea in mind, maybe I could emulate their magic!"
"I have no idea except it was really great!"
He is so blissed out dancing with Milongueras he comes out of the fog with complete amnesia as to what he has been doing.
So, until Irene gets a chance to dance with a good cross-section selection of Milongueras... you'll just have to wait!