Starting this year, I pledge to pack my tango shoes when I travel and make heading out to experience the local tango scene an integral part of my trip. And then I’ll write about how I got on here…
In some ways, it is easier for me to head out to a milonga by myself when I’m travelling. After all, if I make a fool of myself, I’m most likely not going to see these people again…
In this blog I will write about my experience of attempting to dance tango in the places I travel. I’ll be starting off with a trip where I’m planning to dance in at least 6 different cities over a month: Bangkok, Darwin, Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne and finishing with the Singapore International Tango Festival.
But before I pack my bags, I’d like to start with how I got here.
I love tango, but I don’t consider myself to be an advanced dancer and I hope this will encourage others to venture out to a milonga (ie social events where tango is danced) sooner rather than later. So if you’ve been taking tango classes and have been hesitating about the next step – dancing socially, here is how I got started…
The first milonga: feeling the fear and dancing on to the other side
I danced my first tango in a Greek restaurant in the south of Germany. I was taking classes after seeing Argentine tango at the city festival that year. I’d love to write that I’ve never looked back and have been dancing ever since. Alas, no.
Although I loved the dance, the music, and the idea of being able to dance tango, I didn’t really make any progress and it would take many, many years (12 to be exact) before I started dancing on a regular basis.
Why did it take so long?
There was always an excuse for stopping. Frustration at the lack of progress. Too busy. No dance partner. Moving and finding my way in a new city (this happened quite a bit during those 12 years).
So what changed?
I found a steady(ish) job in a city with a lively tango scene.
I found incredibly patient teachers here in this place I have called home for the past few years. And for their class I didn’t actually need a dance partner!
And finally …
I took the plunge and went to a milonga.
This took a fair bit of overcoming taking into account that:
1. I was (and still am) in the early stages of learning – a little over a year since I started dancing regularly
2. I was afraid of making an idiot of myself in public (note how I am blogging anonymously 😉
3. The tango scene can be, at least from my own experience, a bit of a closed society, which can be a little intimidating for newcomers.
Although on the last point I have learned that it is worthwhile to persevere. Some milongas actively welcome newcomers, while at others I felt like I was gate crashing a private party. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where milongas are organised regularly, but how to take the first step and actually go to a milonga when you’re starting out? Here are a few things which I found helpful:
8 Tips to get you to go (back) to a milonga
1. Read about tango culture so that you know what to expect. This article by Howard Fox provides a good overview and some useful advice for your first milonga. Don’t start going to milongas if you haven’t at least taken a beginners course in tango. I’m not saying you have to be a highly accomplished dancer – I certainly wasn’t and still am not – but you need to master the basics.
2. See if there are any practica organised in your city before you go to a milonga. These are usually more informal than milongas and often guided by a teacher. Kind of an intermediate step between classes and going to a milonga. If you can’t find one, try suggesting one to your teachers.
3. Don’t go alone to your first milonga. If you don’t have a dance partner, see if there is someone in your dance class who might be interested in joining. You could even ask a non dancing friend if they would be interested to join – they can enjoy the music, have a drink and provide some moral support.
4. Check social networking sites like meetup and couchsurfing for tango groups. There are none in your area? Then do what I did and start your own! This is how I met people outside my dance class and discovered that I’m not the only person who is learning tango and doesn’t feel confident about going alone to milongas. You might even get a mixed group of leaders and followers and be able to dance with each other.
5. Go at the start of the event, as more experienced dancers tend to arrive later in the evening. Check if there are any afternoon milongas at the weekend. These also tend to be less frequented in the early part of the afternoon. I’ve also noticed that milongas during the summer holidays are also less crowded.
6. You’ve made the decision to improve and practise your tango so dress the part. Treat yourself to a pair of tango shoes. I know it increased my motivation to no end 🙂
7. Give it a try – get yourself to your nearest milonga, or if you can’t find one or don’t feel comfortable going to your first milonga in your home town, why not give it a try during your next trip? The following website is a good resource for getting an idea of local milongas and practicas around the world.
And most importantly…
8. Don’t be discouraged by a negative experience like someone criticising your dancing or simply the fact that no one asks you to dance the whole evening. Unfortunately some forget that they too were once beginners and feel the need to lecture a newcomer, making them feel that they do not have the right to be on the dance floor until they have reached a certain level. As someone who has on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour during my very first milonga, I can tell you: it gets better and these kind of people are luckily in the minority.
What was your first milonga like? What tips do you have for someone who is starting out? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!