Tango defies all kinds of standardisations. It is a highly individualised tradition based upon the personal views, styles and philosophies of thousands of people all over the world. This is what makes tango so complete and interesting. I certainly don‘t aim to downsize its diversity or the inventiveness of organisers in creating new forms of get-togethers. It can nevertheless make sense to define certain forms of events or more accurately: to describe some commonly agreed-upon categories of events.
Why is that?
When I started dancing tango, there were just a few local milongas. Once in a while the local teachers would invite an external (usually argentine) teacher couple and maybe even a tango-orchestra. And then you’d dress up and call the event a festival, because it was more than a normal milonga. Expectancies were not very well-defined and life was easy. Everyone ate porridge.
Nowadays, there are many different forms of events that have developed based on the philosophies of sub-groups and organisers in the tango community. Sure, there are still those who dance no matter where to no matter what music in no matter what style. When you start out, that might even be normal. But the majority of more experienced dancers will develop personal preferences. Some like dancing to the “old” tango orchestras, some prefer non-tango-music, some love live bands… Most dancers will choose evens quite consciously and spend a lot of time, money and energy to fulfil their quite accurately defined and sometimes exaggerated expectations, like someone who visits a restaurant:
You know, when I order a Diet Coca Cola, I don’t want to be served a Pepsi Max, because I really don’t like the taste of it. When I order my steak medium, I don’t want it raw. When I order Paella, I don’t want to eat Risotto. And a Pizza is no Flammkuchen. These dishes might be related, but they are not the same.
In order to prevent their customers from being disappointed and themselves from having to listen to complaints, I think that organisers better describe their events as honestly and detailed as possible in advance. This is where labels come in handy. If everyone agrees upon what a marathon is, an organiser can use this single term to describe his or her event very accurately. If an event will not fit into a commonly agreed-upon category it will of course need a more detailed description.
Unfortunately, a praxis of (intended or uninformed) mis-labelling has spread in the tango community and customers are confused.
An example: Two years ago, local organisers promoted an international Festival-Marathon-Encuentro. From what I can tell, they have neither been to an encuentro, nor to a marathon. As for the internationality: all milongas in my home region will host dancers from France, Germany and Luxemburg because of our city’s situation in a triangle of three countries. Does this make an event with less that 200 mostly regional dancers an “international festival”?
Another case from last year: A couple of organisers who are specialised in big festivals and personally dance in a rather expansive manner visited their first encuentro milonguero. After that, they decided to organise one as well. Because of their lack of connections in the milonguero community, it was mostly visited by their regular festival- and milonga-customers, who are no milongueros. Do you think that this was a genuine encuentro? I just know, that the single participant who had traveled from afar because she had believed in the publicity was very disappointed.
The same is happening in lots of places: organisers who want to make money or are just too lazy to describe their events properly, use popular and often quite wrong labels to attract customers.
Sure, there is no law against it and one can expect customers to inform themselves properly. And yes, experienced organisers can cater to different tastes, if they take their jobs seriously or ask for help from experts. But sorry, the above-described behaviour is just unsound business practise.
I firmly believe that it is not enough to label an event in a certain manner and then stick to some general features in order to make it work. To deliver quality, you have to believe in what you are doing and share the philosophy of your desired customers. That is what makes tango events authentic, personal and good. I know the features of a marathon and I could surely organise one without making any major mistakes, but: I only have very few connections in the marathon scene and there are some aspects of marathons, that I don’t agree with. How could I deliver a great experience for everyone else? You have to know something intimately to create it and you should love what you sell.
In this I agree with many other organisers and business-people in general. Just recently, I visited an encuentro-marathon mixer in Barcelona and discussed the subject with friends. They are anchored in the marathon scene, but have started visiting encuentros. And they are observing the same phenomenon: organisers announcing events as “marathons” without being able or wanting to deliver what they promise. Because of this, Dany de Kay has recently published a brief “terminology of tango events”, to be found here.
At the time of publishing, I had already written the biggest part of this article. But when Dany published his list, I stopped working on it. I have now decided to post my “ABC of Tango Events” nevertheless, as it may offer insights from another perspective and because my blog is read by another clientele. The more we spread the idea of correct labelling, the more we can help organisers and customers to agree upon what the want from each other.
In order for you to understand the basis of my terminology, I will first define three general terms.
1. Los Codigos Milongueros
… are a set of behavioural guidelines recommended by organisers of what often is called “traditional” tango events.
A short note: Let us not forget, that some of these codigos might the result of a very recent development. As far as I can tell, mirada & cabeceo e.g. might not have been used in the “época d’óro” - at least not everywhere. Men just walked up to their partners and asked them - or their mothers - for a dance. And how could the music be arranged in “tandas” when only one orchestra played live music at a milonga. Actually I believe the “codigos milongueros” to be a modern set of guidelines, that developed to cope with the inevitable chaos and misunderstandings that came with the tango-renaissance in the 80s and 90s.
However long they exist, this is what they boil down to:
- Preservation of the embrace throughout the dance.
- Respect for the ronda and other dancers: leaders cabeceo to enter the ronda, abstinence of movements that take up too much space or might disturb other dancers, constant movement counter-clockwise in one’s lane on the dance-floor.
- Respect for the personal space of everyone and equal activity of followers and leaders in the process of invitation: use of mirada and cabeceo.
- Promote of frequent exchange of partners, so that no-one is left out: clear dance-floor after one tanda, so that everyone can choose another partner.
2. Milonguero, Milonguera, Tango Milonguero
A milonguero or milonguera is a person who dances tango on a regular basis with a high level of commitment and will act upon the "codigos milongueros“.
Some people relate the term “milonguero“ to a certain style of dancing, often limited to a small repertoire of typical steps and an "apilado“ (leaning) embrace. In my opinion, the term should not be narrowed in this way. General opinion agrees, that milongueros can have different and individual styles, varying from very traditional to highly modern. These styles are often influenced by the space available at their regular milongas. The milongueros of the packed milongas in the centre of Buenos Aires have obviously developed a style with small, rhythmic moves in contrast to their colleagues in the outer barrios, who’ve got huge dance-halls to move in. Even the embrace can range from a slightly open v-hold to a very closed chest-to-chest contact. In general one can say, that a milonguero dances tango de salón.
There are recent opinions who challenge the codigos-based definition by stating, that a milonguero does not necessarily agree with the "codigos milongueros“. In their opinion, the term “milonguero” would just describe a dedicated tango dancer. I don’t find this generalisation helpful. Most tango dancers are dedicated to the tango culture and there is a term to describe them: they are tangueros. To be a milonguero or milonguera implies a shared philosophy, a commitment to a set of values that helps define the community and its expectations.
3. Tango de Salón
For many years, this term has been signifying tango as it is danced in the milongas, the salons. It distinguishes social tango from the choreographed stage tango, the tango escenario. As social tango is always danced in a ronda with other couples, it makes sense to forgo movements, that would endanger the other dancers on the floor, such as high voleos, certain forms of ganchos or volcadas, sentadas, jumps, huge colgadas and the like. As the ronda requires the couple to adapt to the movement to the other dancers, it does not allow for pre-set figures or choreographies. Improvisation is of the utmost importance.
Since the turn of the century, there has been the tendency to limit the term “tango de salon“ to a certain style: Tango Villa Urquiza. This was done in order to distinguish this more elaborate style from the supposedly very restricted “estilo milonguero“. But as I don’t believe that there is one “estilo milonguero”, I don’t see the necessity of constricting “tango de salon“ to such a narrow meaning either. I will go on using it as a generic term. When asked what he was dancing the late Tete Rusconi - a famous milonguero - would answer “tango de salón” I keep it as simple.
Let me now describe the different forms of tango events, as I know them. There are of course events, that have mixed features, but - as stated above - these traits will usually then be mentioned in the event’s description. For example: Our “Festivalito con Amigos” started out as a festivalito, a small festival. Later is was more clearly specified as a festivalito milonguero, but nowadays it is a pure encuentro milonguero, that preserved only one feature from its festivalito-days: short demo by a couple of our friends.
So here finally goes my:
ABC of Tango Events
Definition: A meeting of milongueros. In Italy, these events might be called raduno", in France "rencontre“ or ”rendez-vous“. The term suggests a rather intimate setting in which people can socialise easily as opposed to the more anonymous festival atmosphere. (There can of course also be encuentros of non-milongueros, but in the last years, this terms was mostly used in the milonguero context.)
Duration: 3-5 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate milongas, usually one in the afternoon and another one in the evening. The last Milonga is often called “despedida” (farewell party) and will usually take place on Sunday afternoon to allow the participants to return to their home towns on the same day.
Demos: Usually none
Music: traditional tango music in tandas and with cortinas presented by experienced DJs, often with international reputation, no live music
Booking: Several months in advance
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Yes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Contrary to uninformed belief, only 50% of the encuentros use this set-up. Please enquire with the organisers or check here.
Participants: Aims to attract experienced dancers from all over Europe or the world, but might also have a smaller catchment area, depending on the connections of the organisers.
Number of participants: Approx. 80 - 300. (Recommendation: stay below 200 to preserve the spirit of an intimate encounter.)
Behavioural codes: The „codigos milongueros“ are promoted.
Typical examples: Abrazos (UK), Les Cigales (France), Yo Soy Milonguero (Italy)
Definition: Festivals are important events with a comprehensive programme, often hosted at spectacular or big venues. The term "international“ might be added to suggest its significance.
Duration: 3 days or more, some festivals last up to a week
Milongas/Dancing: Separate Milongas, at least one per evening, usually a formal ball on Saturday
Demos: Shows by the teaching couples and guests of honour
Music: Tango music presented by experienced DJs, often of international reputation, often one or more orchestras.
Classes: Numerous classes by the teacher couples, additionally there might be private classes, lectures, discussions, art presentations. (Recommendation: please call your event a festival, if you plan on inviting more than 2 teachers couples of a certain recognition. Inviting the local teachers to do a beginners class alongside the Argentine guests does not turn your workshop weekend into a festival.)
Booking: Classes and or festival passes are usually booked in advance, milongas/balls might sometimes be payed over the counter.
Balance of gender or dance-roles: No
Separate seating of men, women and couples: No
Participants: Dancers of all levels and styles, sometimes additional spectators, who come for the shows and concerts.
Number of participants: A lot. (Please do not call your event a festival, if you expect much less than 200 dancers. Large festivals might host up to 2000 participants, in the past even more. If your events is much smaller in scale, why not call it Festivalito?)
Behavioural codes: Often none, which is why experienced dancers often shun festivals. But it does not have to be that way. Why not encourage the use of the „codigos milongueros“ to prevent the chaos, that often comes from an in-homogenous mixture of participants? At least those codigos that refer to the behaviour on the dance-floor would help a lot and might stop the decline of festivals in the customer’s favour.
Typical examples: Tangomanía (Netherlands), Ostertango (Switzerland), Tarbes en Tango (France)
Definition: Basically the term describes a small festival - less participants, less teachers, a downsized programme. But when specified by the expression “milonguero“ it is usually an encuentro milonguero with some classes and a demo. This is what I am referring to in this description.
Duration: Usually 3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate milongas, at least one per day, sometimes additional afternoon Milongas
Demos: Usually a short improvised demo of close-embrace by the teaching couples or guests of honour
Music: Traditional tango music in tandas and with cortinas presented by experienced DJs, no live music.
Classes: A few classes by 1-2 teacher couples, additionally private classes or privatandas (privates of the duration of one tanda), sometimes practicas
Booking: Usually several months in advance, classes might be booked later
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Mostly. I strongly recommend to stick to this feature, as the general audience expects this feature to come with the label.
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not.
Participants: Aims to attract experienced dancers, in particular those who want to develop their skills and knowledge, but might also be open to less experienced dancers in order to integrate them into the community. A festivalito can nevertheless can be composed of a very international, highly-skilled crowd, depending on the “pull“ of the organisers, DJs and teachers.
Number of participants: 80 - 200
Behavioural codes: The "codigos milongueros“ are promoted and expected.
Typical examples: Festivalito Rural (2010-15 in Slovenia), Embrace Norway (Norway), Pequeña (Germany)
Definition: Non-stop dancing over a longer period, typically in a more informal setting.
Duration: Usually 3 days. There seem to be other formats as well. A 12-hour Milonga might also be called a marathon, but I am not sure, if marathon folk would find that appropriate. Dany de Kay’s terminology speaks of 3 days.
Milongas/Dancing: The milongas blend into each other, usually interrupted by short breaks in the morning hours or during the shared meals.
Music: Usually traditional tango music presented in tandas and with cortinas by experienced DJs, but some Marathons may be also open to non-tango music or modern tango recordings. Please check with the organisers. No live music.
Booking: Usually several months in advance
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Yes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: No
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers, but aims to attract an international crowd of experienced dancers.
Number of participants: Approx. 80 - 300. (From what I can tell.)
Behavioural codes: Depends on the organisers and participants. At some marathons mirada & cabeceo are encouraged as well as the clearance of the dance-floor during the cortinas, but at other events, people seem to dance several tandas with the same partner. Depending on the experience of the dancers, the ronda will certainly be civilised, but some more higher-risk movements are to be expected.
Typical examples: La Tosca (Italy), High Noon (Germany), Bergen Tango Marathon (Norway)
Definition: A single tango event during the afternoon or evening. Can be a recurring or a one-time-only event.
Duration: Approximately 3-5 hours
Milongas/Dancing: Single event
Demos: Usually none - except in many Buenos Aires Milongas, where demos can be seen on a regular basis.
Music: Depending on the taste of the organisers, please check with them.
Classes: Usually none. In the USA, pre-milonga classes are popular.
Booking: Usually not required
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Usually not
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not. There are a few Milongas in Buenos Aires, Italy and France that use that special set-up, but they are definitely exceptions.
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers
Number of participants: 2 - 200 or even more
Behavioural codes: Depends on the organisers and participants. More and more organisers encourage the “codigos milongueros”, at least those related to the behaviour on the dance-floor.
Typical examples: Any milonga in your home community
Definition: A series of connected or un-connected milongas on one weekend. Either by one organiser or by several. A recent variation is for a bunch of friends to “band together” and visit several local milongas. Can be recurring or a one-time-only.
Duration: 2-3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate Milongas
Demos, Music, Classes, Booking, Separate Seating, Number of Participants: See “Milonga”
Participants: Depends on the connections of the organisers, but because of the higher concentration of milongas on one weekend, dancers from afar are more likely to visit.
Typical example: Tangosommer Wiesbaden
Definition: A special event, created around the visit of a teacher couple or workshops by local teachers.
Duration: Usually 2-3 days
Milongas/Dancing: Separate evening milongas, at least one per weekend, usually no afternoon milongas, as the classes will take place at this time of the day.
Demos: Demo or show by the teaching couple
Music: Tango music presented by local or traveling DJs, sometimes an orchestra might be invited.
Classes: Single classes or intensive seminars, additionally there might be private classes or privatandas.
Booking: Classes are booked in advance, milongas are usually payed over the counter.
Balance of gender or dance-roles: Only in the classes
Separate seating of men, women and couples: Usually not
Participants: Mostly local and regional dancers of all levels
Number of participants: Depends on the local community and the "pull“ of the teachers
Behavioural codes: Depends on the local customs or the philosophy of the guest-teachers
So, that’s it for the moment. I hope this list will help organisers and consumers to communicate and plan better.
For my Romanian followers: Check out the Romanian translation of this post.