|El Arranque Milonga|
Warning: Blasphemy ahead.
One note of warning about statements like "The milongueros do this" or "don't do that" or whatever. The milongueros are all different. Some of them are rebels. Some of them are very conservative. Some are shy and quiet - some are boisterous and gregarious. There is no one prototype milonguero. And as a tourista, how would I know a "real milonguero" from another 80+ year old dancer who started tango during the 90's and dances beautifully? Now that I've danced with a dozen or so guys all fitting the description (old enough to have been dancing in the 40's and 50's) I'm very suspicious anytime someone says generically, "the milongueros do/don't [fill in the blank]." Maybe at that milonga, on that night, with that music, when he was in that mood, your milonguero did _______. Maybe he does it (whatever it is) all the time. Maybe he doesn't. They're not one homogenous block of characteristics.
One gentleman came up to a woman sitting next to me at Consagrados, held out his hand to the woman sitting there and she smirked a little, and then got up to dance with him. I asked another woman sitting nearby if that was normal - if he was a considered a "milonguero" if he didn't use the cabeceo. She said, "oh yes, his name is so-and-so, he's danced since he was a kiddo. He's just a rebel and does what he wants. He's a really good dancer so we still dance with him. A lot of these old guys get away with everything - they think they've earned it." With that she shrugged and smiled.
Another tanguera told me that just because someone's been dancing tango since the 50's doesn't mean he's automatically some kind of amazing dancer. He'll definitely know the music and that's a wonderful thing, but he may also be doing the exact same annoying things he's been doing for decades. You get the same characteristics in BA that you get anywhere else - men who push their head hard against yours, men who squeeze your hand too hard etc. etc. It happens with some of the older guys, and with some of the younger guys. In general, the level of dance in BA is incredibly high, but these are all still human beings with strengths and weaknesses. The biggest differences consistently were how well they know the music and how well they manage their space.
My advice, and obviously your mileage may vary, forget about what people say the true/authentic/whatever-that-
With that out of the way, on to my point . . .
The 'Daniela Arcuri was Right' Post
(Hopefully I have represented what Daniela told me correctly, if not - I'm sure she will let me know, and I will update appropriately.) :-)
Several weeks before my trip to Buenos Aires, I went to my teacher, Daniela, and asked for her help in preparing to dance in the more traditional milongas in Buenos Aires. I didn't want to embarrass myself at the milongas by dancing inappropriately. I am so glad that I did. My fellow traveler and I compiled a list of things she was right about - things I didn't really grasp until I was in BA dancing.
1. A lot of the older guys use a move some tangueras called "the bite" - where they very, very briefly sandwich your knee between their knees at a particularly dramatic part of the music - like a short pause. I almost never feel that move here, but there were older guys at Club Gricel, El Arranque and Consagrados that all used it.
2. The milongueros (or, as stated above, the older leaders who fit the general description) will move your hips (so it's easier if you relax your hips and let them.) This was so important. These guys take tiny, often very fast steps, and if your hips are tensed there is no way you can move with them fast enough. Relax, relax, relax.
3. They will tighten the embrace if they feel you aren't "with" them. If you loosen your connection with them, drift, dance on your own, take large steps etc. - they will tighten the embrace to ensure you stay with them. If your large steps kick someone else, they look bad, so they don't tend to take chances. One way or another, you will stay with them. I only had one dance where I felt like I couldn't stay easily connected to my partner, and sure enough he tightened his grip around me. At that point there's not really a choice. It's not the optimal way to dance and it took two songs to get to that "sweet spot" where I could be well and consistently connected, and he could relax. It's amazing how fast you learn in the embrace.
4. They'll use their hands. All of that "you only need your chest to lead" stuff in the US is great, but these guys use every bit of their bodies to lead, including their hands. Fingertips over the ribs, taps on your back, a squeeze of your hand, turn of their head - it's all part of their dance.
5. They dance with their legs very close to yours. ("You'll feel their legs, more than leaders dancing here.") It's not invasive and they're certainly not kicking you or trodding on your feet, but there is a lot more leg contact especially walking "outside". There isn't much room on the pistas compared to in States so people dance much closer in the crowded milongas.
6. Daniela also told me that they (speaking about most of the leaders in Buenos Aires - not just the older guys) appreciate it when you dance the music with your whole body, just as they dance with their's. They want to feel that you feel the music too. The expression on your face (which they can often feel against their face), how you move your body, hold your head - all of it displays how you feel the music. Dancing with one gentleman I adored in El Arranque, the last song of the tanda was Bahia Blanca - a song I never get tired of. As the final notes played, I sighed involuntarily, then, embarrassed at being so audible, smiled against my partner's cheek and whispered, "ah, Bahia Blanca" . . . at once I found myself in a bear hug with grinning stubble against my face. My partner stepped back and still smiling broadly, said "Sí, sí, Bahia Blanca - beautiful!" Let them know when you love the music.
7. Even if you think you take small steps - make them smaller. No really - much smaller. Unless you're in a milonga with a lot of space, you have to adjust the length of your (particularly back) step.
I was so happy to have had her help before I got there - and then the additional lesson with Cherie Magnus and Rubén Aybar - https://www.facebook.com/RubenyCherieTango really solidified the foundation of what we needed to know to dance well in Buenos Aires. But that's another post . . .