On improvisation: a milonga in Amsterdam

Girl with balloons, Amsterdam

Amsterdam has been high on my list of places to check out the tango scene for some time, as it’s just over 3 hours from Brussels. So when I was there for a weekend at the end of August to meet some friends, I decided to go the evening before and go dancing.

I had researched before I left and saw that there was a regular milonga on Fridays at De Plantage, organised by Tango Alma. Located in a beautiful old building which has alternatively been a chocolate factory, a church and a cinema, De Plantage is a short tram ride from Leidseplein (take the 7, 10 or 14), not far from  where I was staying.

Amsterdam by night

The Dilemma

I was almost ready to go to the milonga when I discovered something that has never happened before: I had left my tango shoes in Brussels!
I looked in my backpack.
I emptied the contents of my backpack on to the bed and checked again to make sure the shoes really went there. They weren’t.
I looked in the empty backpack. I looked in the wardrobe where I had already unpacked some of my stuff. No luck. Although I distinctly remembered packing them, I must have taken them out again in my attempts to get everything into my backpack.
I considered my options.

1.  I could not go.

But my friends weren’t arriving until the next day and I had travelled earlier specifically to go to this milonga. I didn’t have any alternative plan for my Friday evening. Most importantly, I was all dressed up and ready to go and had been looking forward to this all week.

2. I could go, despite my lack of tango shoes. But what would I dance in?

I was wearing a pair of trainers when I arrived and I also had a pair of battered (but comfortable) ballerinas. These were the only shoes I had with me. Both the trainers and the ballerinas had rubber soles which are definitely not conducive to dancing. I know that in many milongas it is preferred or even mandatory to change your shoes before stepping on to the dance floor.

It was a warm summer’s evening, unusually warm for Amsterdam. I decided to wear the ballerinas to get to the milonga. Knowing that it would be impossible to dance in either of the pairs of shoes that I had brought with me, I put a pair of black ankle socks in my handbag.
There’s a first time for everything and I figured if it didn’t work out I could stay for a while and watch…

Bridge in Vondelpark, Amsterdam

The Milonga

As it turned out, it worked out much better than expected. Yes, people looked at me strangely and some of my dance partners looked at me nervously when they saw I wasn’t wearing shoes. But it didn’t stop them asking me to dance and I found it a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s dangerous to dance without shoes”, I was told during a break between dances.

But not one person stepped on my unshoed feet, not once did the heel of another dancer hit me. The dance floor was not too crowded which helped but also the level of dancing was high and dancers were respectful of each other’s space. I was surprised that it was so easy to dance even to tangos with a faster rhythm and to execute figures such as the giro, where I had been afraid I might slip or lose my balance without having the support of my shoes. What really made my sock experiment a success though, was the floor. It was perfectly smooth, making it a real pleasure to dance on. I’m so glad I didn’t let this minor setback change my plans. Who knows, maybe next time I won’t bother bringing my shoes 😉

Girl with balloons, Amsterdam

Further information

The Tango Salon takes place every Friday 21:00 – 2:00 and entry costs 7€. Tango Alma also organises a tango salon every fourth Sunday of the month (18:30 – 00:00; entry 8€). There is an open practica on Wednesdays (22:15 – 00:15; free entry). If you read German, you can find an article (and some pictures) about the De Plantage published last year in Tango Danza here.

For the latest information about tango events in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands check the tango calendar available here.


Has anything unexpected ever happened to you at a milonga? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Flamingos at a window in Amsterdam

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