Each time I come to Buenos Aires, I feel the city is getting cleaner and healthier. I feel more joy in the air. My first trip to Buenos Aires was in February of 2000. I was with my husband Yuki, BF at that time. It was before the crisis (December of 2001), and the city was dark. I felt the city had some kind of deep stagnation, ready to be explored. When I got back in 2005, I was so surprised that the city was filled with happiness, such a healthy energy. Since then each time I go back the city looks cleaner and nicer. I feel people are getting more jobs and making money. Things are circulating well and people are happy. But I don’t know how much that is true. I heard the economy and government is not doing well (“but that’s all the time, it has always been…” that’s what foreigners said but not the Argentines) and it’s getting very dangerous, but I didn’t particularly feel that this time.
When we went to Sin Rumbo (one of the historical Milongas in Villa Urquiza, north of capital) back in 2000, we didn’t know it would be so far away from the central area, we started to feel very insecure in the cab, because we felt the cab driver was taking us to out of nowhere. I started to feel “Maybe we are going to be robbed… but at least I am with Yuki, I am not alone.” The taxi came into a residential neighborhood, and the driver stopped couple of times to ask for the direction and finally, we safely arrived to Sin Rumbo. The place was very dark and empty. There were only two couples sitting at the tables and three guys were standing at the back talking. After we danced a few tandas, I danced with one of the guys from the back corner. The dance was incredibly wonderful…! When I went to Sin Rumbo this time, I noticed that the Sin Rumbo we went in 2000 was not Sin Rumbo! Because the real Sin Rumbo I went this time looked completely different. I guess the cab driver couldn’t find the place, we were taken to a different Milonga! No wonder I felt strange not recognizing the place when I watched videos from Sin Rumbo. I can’t believe after all these years until now, we always believed we danced in Sin Rumbo (LOL). But the dance I had with the guy from the back corner was the BEST DANCE I’ve ever had even ‘til today. I wonder what milonga we were taken?
When I went into the real Sin Rumbo this time, I saw Oliver Kolker and Silvina Vals dancing rock’n roll. Nice to see dancers from New York J Close to the entrance, Natacha Poberaj one of my favorite female dancers was sitting, and Carlos Rivarola was sitting behind our table. Daniel who was escorting me that night seemed excited to find Rivarola, and asked me if I wanted to ask Rivarola for an interview. Carlos Rivarola is a very important historical dancer. He was in the movie “Tango” dancing with Julio Boca. I know he has a very important position in the tango industry, but I don’t know why he is so important and I don’t know about him well enough to interview. I quietly looked back, and saw his face. He had a very serious face…. hmmm, well, I want to interview him but maybe next time, I told Daniel. We found Osvaldo and Coca, very happy to see them again. I didn’t expect to dance in this Milonga since this is a neighborhood milonga, they all come in couples. That is why I asked Daniel to accompany me. But I was asked to dance! Very happy!! As we were leaving the place I was introduced to Julio Duplaa, the organizer of Sin Rumbo and talked about interviewing Sin Rumbo when I visit next time.
Taking the subways in the city, I saw many young gay couples. I didn’t see lesbians, maybe there were but guys looked more obvious, and I felt they were really addressing it. I thought it is like in the 80’s in New York. Gay people really acting for their rights. Once I was in a crowded subway, one gay couple started to show affections to each other, people around them especially guys looked not comfortable (still it’s a very machito country), then they became more aggressive and started to kiss. People around tried not to pay attention. Then a young couple (a guy and a girl) standing next to them started to kiss as they were competing or to stop them. The gay couple slowed down, and got off at the next stop. Soon after that on December 28th, gay marriage became legal in Argentina. The first country approved in Latin America.
I hear gay night clubs has been very popular including gay milongas. It sounded like a hip place to be. I heard many women get to practice leading there. I didn’t have a chance to go, but I saw a lot of women leading in regular milongas also, especially end of the night. I lead a lot in New York, but I stayed conservative. Well, I have so many lovely locals to dance with, and I love dancing with 70, 80 year old dancers, why should I lead?! In some milongas, many milongueros came walked in front of me to ask if I wanted to dance. This never happened before, what happened to cabeseo (eye-to-eye contact)? Maybe they do it only to tourists? This is different from before. But I see this is how codes and traditions change.
Many of the dancers that I interviewed talked sadly about not having the codes any more. First I didn’t really understand what code meant. But I guess “codes” are not just about rules, I think it comes from being thoughtful to one another. A guy comes in front of you asking to dance. What if you didn’t want to dance with him? So they have eye-to-eye contact asking yes or no. But maybe, because of many of us foreigners don’t know about this system, locals started to walk up to us? I guess the shape of thoughtfulness changes by the changes of people.
When I go to milongas the crowd is mostly made by older people who are retired, people younger than that are foreigners, and if I see younger Argentines, they are all professionals. I see very few regular Argentines. Maybe I am wrong. Or maybe the places I went happen to be that way. But it is very obvious that there are so many foreigners in milongas and the tango businesses are very much supported by foreigners. For me, it looks something not natural. I think the culture won’t grow if there are no regular Argentine people. And I feel this increase of foreigners is changing the shape of Milongas. In a few decades we will loose all these elderly people who created the tango scene today, and the new generation and foreigners will take over the milongas. What I am afraid is in the future, tango might loose its authenticity, and will become like “Dancing with the stars”.
It is wonderful that tango is expanding broad to the world and creating more dancers and those dancers from all over the world come to join the dance floors of Buenos Aires. But I think foreigners should learn more about the culture of this dance and the professionals should give more opportunities to teach the culture of this dance and explain the meanings behind the steps. Because even you dance the shape of tango, if there is no essence, it is not tango any more. And Tango will die if the majorities dance without its essence.
Many of the dancers who I interviewed said “It doesn’t have to be Argentinean. There are so many bad Argentine dancers too and there are many good dancers who are non Argentines.” They were particularly upset with young dancers. They said, “ Foreigners can transmit our dance.” … I don’t know. Maybe because I am Japanese, I have a different way of seeing things. I want regular non professional Argentine people to carry on this dance. But what can I do….
But by the end of this trip, I started to find out there is a new movement happening in Buenos Aires, to keep the tradition of tango. I read somewhere that there was a tango festivals focusing in tradition. El Tangauta was featuring interview with Chicho (pioneer of Tango Nuevo dancer) saying that he regrets he didn’t teach the tradition that he learned from his masters now he wants to emphasis the importance of understanding the essence of tango. Pablo Veron was also talking about the importance of traditions too. And I slowly started to find out that there are actually many regular Argentine people started to take lessons to learn tango just for their joy.