How to tour Buenos Aires milongas painlessly (and avoid looking like a tourist)
There are so many milongas in Buenos Aires that the Argentines invented the verb milonguear: “touring milongas”. If you’re lucky to visit Buenos Aires, you’ll find it hard to avoid them – but why would you? Experiencing a milonga first hand will change your perception of tango forever.
As you start to venture into Buenos Aires’ milongas, you’ll soon discover that it’s very easy to look like a tourist. You can, if you spend many nights ‘milonguearing’ with seasoned milongueros, get them to divulge their milonga secrets. It’s no easy affair though, it takes some trust and at times, a cafecito and a couple of media lunas. So, to save you time and possible blunders, here are the ones we have gathered on previous trips.
Talking about trips, we organise a trip to Buenos Aires every year in August during the Mundial and Festival. If you want to join us, have a look at our programme: 13 classes with World champions, milongas, day trips…
Go en force
Buenos Aires milongas can be intimidating at the best of times.
What’s a girl (or guy) to do then to get that very first tanda going? What about finding a dance partner before the milonga? Why, that’s genius!
Our suggestion: Attend a group class. Find someone you like dancing with (preferably a local) and suggest you meet up to go to a milonga together.
By teaming up with someone you know, you can both start the milonga by showing off what you can do and start enjoying one tanda after the other (and the cabeceos).
Cunningly simple but it worked marvels for us on our first trip to Buenos Aires, tango years ago.
If you decide to team up and go to a milonga accompanied, the next thing to do is not to give the impression that you might be a couple.
It’s proper etiquette for milongueros to avoid inviting a woman seated at the same table as a man. Note to you gentlemen visiting Buenos Aires: you’d be wise to do the same!
If you and your milonga partner are both sitting together, the gentleman of the two will need to invite someone else, to show that the woman at the table is free to accept cabeceos.
Become a milonga mogul
The same venue can be hired by different organisers, which explains why the same place can have different names and completely different atmospheres depending on the day of the week.
It took us quite a while to figure it all out, so now that you know, you won’t have to look as daft as we did for as long as we did.
Each milonga is a unique experience, in its degree of formality, the average age of the crowd, the level of dancing, and how open to foreign faces it is.
The secret is to experiment until you find the right one(s) for you.
Give a chance to love at second sight
Milongas are like a living organism. They can be very welcoming one night and bitterly unfriendly the other, quiet enough to send you straight back to bed or charmingly lively.
They can be so packed that you wished you hadn’t had that second helping of empanadas, or just busy enough.
If you don’t fall head over heels for a milonga at first, give it a second chance. You might have just got a bad night or not acquired a taste for it quite yet. You just never know you might be a ‘lover’ second time around.
In Roma, do as…
If you want to enjoy a relatively free dance floor and avoid the tourist crowds, arrive fashionably late.
How does 1.30am sound? Yep, it’s late but give it a try, have a nap before going out and immerse yourself in the culture. You’ll be Argentine by morning (especially if you bag some media lunas on your way home!
If you go early to a formal milonga like Canning, or if there is a live band or a performance by big names, it’s advisable to book a table and ask to be seated next to the dance floor.
Sound convincing enough for a posh do and you might bag a table, even without being a regular.
Do this for a casual milonga though and they’ll die laughing though. *sighs*
Beware of Saturday night fever
If you can’t stay away, even for one evening, find a group of milongero acquaintances who will satisfy your tango needs for the evening.
In Buenos Aires, Saturdays is the day for couples and groups of friends to go out together. We found that there was very little cabeceo happening on Saturdays wherever we went and in the end decided to make it our tango day off: a good excuse to enjoy some divine Argentine sirloin and a glass of Malbec. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all.
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