17th February 2010

(More Unlocking the Milonga articles.)


One of the things I've noticed in moving from the Jive scene to the Tango scene has been the cultural changes.

For example, most people in Modern Jive adhere to an ethos which can best be described as:

  • Dance with everyone.
  • Dance no more than two dances with any person.
  • Dance most of the time.

Whereas most people in Tango (at least, around the London area) adhere to an ethos which can best be described as:

  • Dance with some people.
  • Dance at least three dances with any person.
  • Dance some of the time.

And then you go to Buenos Airea, and you find that they adhere to an ethos which can best be described as:

  • Dance with a very few people.
  • Dance no more than three dances with any person.
  • Dance a small amount of of the time.

(the "Dance no more than three dances with any person" thing is because people will, apparently, talk if you dance too much with any one peson.)

I wrote about this a while ago, mainly as an observation, without attempting to provide an explanation for the process. Now, I think I understand it a bit better, so I'll attempt to re-examine this.


There are a number of reasons for these changes; I think most of it is driven by the convention of the 3-dance Tanda.

If, for every time you make / accept an offer for a dance, you're pretty much committing to dancing three tracks with that person, you'll naturally have more reluctance to dance with strangers. Also, from a sheer mathematics point of view, you'll dance with less people; if you danced 100% of the time, you'd still be lucky to dance with 6 people in an hour; typically, it might only be 3 - 4. Whereas 3 partners in an hour would be a very low total for Modern Jivers.

Also, Tango is a closer dance. Even in open embrace, it's still quite close compared to most Modern Jive movements. It's more of a connection, it's more of a commitment, and it's for longer. So you're naturally more hesitant about dancing with anyone and everyone in a Tango environment.

And so...?

Having (kind of) provided reasons for the "Why it happens", it's now worth examining "Why it matters".

If you're spending 80% of your time sitting, watching and waiting, instead of spending 80% of your time dancing, there's several differences in the atmosphere of a venue.


For a start, obviously, you need more seats :) - in fact, you usually need tables. It's quite rare to find actual tables set out in a Modern Jive venue - usually the chairs are arranged around the edge of the floor, school-disco stylee. But almost all milongas have tables set out; typically a mixture of tables and standalone chairs. So the layout is different. Tango dance venues aren't designed to maximise dance space - in fact, there's a case for saying that they should be designed to almost minimise that space.

Which means that milongas are more matched to "club" or bar venues (where, again, seating is more important than dance space) tban Modern Jive events. I remember going to the London Hippodrome a couple of years back, when it was being used by Jive Nation for Modern Jive nights. Great venue, but not really enough floor space to make it work for MJ-ers. But it'd have been ideal for Tango-ers...


Modern Jive can be almost an aerobic activity at times. And, yes, that means we sweat - sometimes we sweat a lot - doing it. So we wear light clothing, typically T-shirts, and we (hopefully) change such clothing frequently during the course of an evening. This fits in and reinforces the whole "casual" feel of the evening.

Tango, typically, is far less energetic. Some people therefore dress up a bit more - it's not uncommon to see men in suits dancing in milongas - and change outfits less, if at all. This fits in and reinforces the whole "formal" feel of the evening.


Modern Jive music is pop music - 3-4 minutes, typically to a 4/4 beat, averaging around 130bpm. It's familiar, it's simple, it's easy to move to. People often pick a partner to dance with before hearing the track to dance to.

Tango music is shorter (2.5 minutes on average), with many different and unfamiliar musical structures and rhythms. It's complex, uses different instruments, and allows many different interpretations. Often people wait for the music before deciding who to dance with - or whether to dance at all.

What does it mean?

It means that you need to adjust your thinking, when going from one place to another.

If you're a Modern Jiver going to a milonga, it means that you shouldn't be offended or confused if you don't get many dances, if you get refused, or if you dance for longer than you expected.

If you're a Tango-er going to an MJ night, it means you shouldn't be surprised or upset if you get thanked after a single dance, if the "invitation to dance" is less than subtle, or if there's an inbuilt "always say yes" expectation.

It means, when in Rome.... even if you're always in London.

~ David Bailey, 17th February 2010

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