Monday 31 December 2012

Milongueros - The Next Generation

Remember two years ago? 

My first proper post in 2010 was about age: grown-up men preferring young women to dance with, new young dancers who seem to have other priorities when inviting a woman... It created a lot of discussion: women confirming my observation of men‘s preferences, more mature Milongueros complaining about my ghastly stereotyping... Well, I certainly don‘t want to restart the discussion.

Thing is: the young men whom I had mentioned in the post are still there. And they brought a lot of friends - both male and female. With them, the „Milonguero“ community is undergoing a significant rejuvenation!

In 2012 I‘ve visited eight international Encuentros/Festivalitos and some local events for close embrace dancers - all of the latter and some of the first connected to us teaching there. I danced quite a lot, much more than in recent years and mostly with men who are much younger than me, often in their early 30‘s or even in their 20‘s. Most of them are very talented and eager to experience Tango with all their body and sould. Great, innit?

So, obviously I‘ve got preferences as well, which is not very surprising given my current mid-life crisis. But that‘s not all there is to it: There are just so many more young dancers than when I started. 

In 2002/3, the average age of German Tangueros was around 42. (Based on a survey amongst 180 dancers in connection to my psychological thesis about sex-roles in Tango.) That‘s not so old and I don‘t thing that this number has changed a lot, but this mean referred to the general Tango population. Back then, when you went to a traditional, close-embrace Milonga, the average age was usually much higher and I rarely danced with someone younger than me. Milonguero events were „for the old“. The youngsters went to alternative Milongas with lots of Electrotango and flying legs.*

This has changed: The alternative Milongas have been replaced by Marathons with traditional music. Ok, maybe without the pesky Cortinas. But they are nevertheless social dance events, without (much) kicking, mostly in a close(er) embrace... They might not use Mirada & Cabeceo and will dance more than one Tanda with a given partner - but in general the Marathons don‘t seem to be very different from the Encuentros.

Why do I even mention that? Well, as the differences between the „Nuevo“ and „Milonguero“ communities are lessening, more people cross over between the two worlds. Someone dancing at a Marathon will hear about a cool Encuentro and wants to check that out as well. Being there, he‘ll notice that invitation by Cabeceo makes sense and that he can focus even more on the connection to his partner, if she prefers a snuggly embrace to complex moves. And the respectful attitude of everyone in the ronda will actually make his dance-experience less stressfull. So he‘ll come again and next time, he will bring his friends!

Do not misunderstand me: Those young dancers do not just mutate into imitations of the more mature Milongueros. They actually contribute to the development of close-embrace dance by bringing with them a more organic approach to bodywork and a very good understanding of Tango-music. They are very enthusiastic and many a long-established and set-in-his-ways Milonguero can learn from that - as well as the younger generation still needs to work on floor-craft and other social skills. So both groups could and already do profit from another in order to enrich Tango in a close embrace.

Another factor that is working for the Milonguero-rejuvenation is a new generation of teachers since the turn of the century:
Look at all those young, new or improved teacher-couples who claim to dance Tango de Salon or Tango Milonguero. When you look closer, you‘ll see them moving in a very modern way to the old music, but never breaking the embrace and keeping their legs (mostly) on the floor. Those cool and beautiful people have improved the shop-worn image of traditional Tango a lot! 
In general the focus and methods of teaching have very much changed in the 2000‘s. Before the turn of the millennium, most instructors (including the maestros Milongueros who won‘t admit it) taught patterns, that were more or less adapted to the social dance floor. Now the emphasis is on communication in the couple and the exploration of musical and improvisational possibilities.  That speaks very much to a new and adventurous generation of dancers. 

Let‘s sum it up: Social traditional Tango in a close embrace has become much more accessible and attractive to young people. They already make up a big part of the Encuentro population and they are getting more numerous by the hour. So much more, that several Milonguero/as of the older generation have already asked me to recommend events with LESS young people. 

And seriously: After several conversations with men, I get the feeling that the increased competition is starting to weigh heavily on them.
Women (especially those belonging to the higher age-group) are used to waiting quite a lot because local Milongas and Festivals always had a huge surplus of women. They were also accustomed to work hard on their dance in order to get invitations. Thanks to the gender balance at Encuentros and the young men dancing frequently with women of all age-groups, their situation has improved.
The more mature Milongueros on the contrary, were used to having the free choice amongst all the great female dancers and to feeling comfortable with their own skills. But the gender balance actually worsens their prospects and women are discriminating more carefully nowadays. Many older men get refusals by former regular partners and sit much more as they were used to in the past. (Hell, look at my choices in the last year!)

That‘s good and not good.

Now, I certainly don‘t want to change the gender-balance at Encuentros or inhibit the growing self-confidence of women that actually obliges male dancers to work on their dance. We have to pay attention nevertheless. 

So the young ones are on the rise. Excellent! But let‘s not forget about our former favourite partners and why we loved to dance with them. We don‘t want to miss them, eh?

* A curious observation on the side: Many Tango clubs still suffer from old age and their strategy (especially amongst French associations) is to organise Milongas and classes with Electrotango and huge moves. But they have not understood the sign of the times. It is not the Nuevo that will attract young people and you don‘t have to change all your ideas about social Tango to make them interested in your culture. You just need ONE young, enthusiastic dancer who cares about the close-embrace in a more traditional context and he‘ll get you in touch with the next generation! Go find that person or couple!

1 comment:

Madeline L said...

I find this very interesting! As an older Tanguera, I've noticed here in UK that the younger men are generally more generous, eclectic and open in their choice of partners than the experienced older guys. And it is true that many of us in our 50s and 60s have had to work hard to improve our dance, partly because of the excess of women but also because our bodies may be less flexible!
Looking forward very much to your workshops in Cambridge in April