Sunday, December 29, 2013

Episode #5 - Tougher milongas: how I cracked the code!

Helaine's Adventures in Buenos Aires Tangoland - Episode #5

During my last two months in Buenos Aires, I haven’t yet written to you about my own experiences in the milongas, as I did on my visit earlier this year.  I wasn’t ready to reveal that I had been feeling disheartened because I wasn’t experiencing success in certain milongas. The tactic I shared in Episode #3 last April worked for me in many milongas, and seemed to backfire in others.

But, bingo!  I’ve found another solution and I’m ready to share it with you, because it may help some of you who are experiencing similar issues in milongas anywhere in the world.

Here’s the story of my latest breakthrough:

In the most traditional and homey Buenos Aires milongas, the older gents always invited me to dance, and I could choose to dance with those I preferred, even the top dancers in the room.  During my visit to Buenos Aires last March and April 2013, I wrote you about some of my successes in mastering nuances of the milonga social codes (codigos).  You can read some of those episodes in the earlier blog posts listed at the end of this article. 

But in the milongas I consider to be of the highest level, I'd see men who danced wonderfully on the pista, and I just could not get their attention.  I couldn’t believe it.  They ignored me, even if I had been on the dance floor before it got crowded, when my dancing could be seen. I've seen this happen even with my own female teachers in the past.  It clearly had nothing to do with the visible quality of one’s dancing.  

This was hard for me to take, because when I saw these men dance, I knew they would enjoy dancing with me.  I was perplexed!  I'd been asking my Porteña and international friends, and nobody seemed to have any advice more practical than "Go early and have a reservation for a good table.”  I followed that advice, but it only helped to a small degree.  

Last weekend I bought and downloaded a Kindle book someone recommended on an online forum.  In this book, an English tanguera gives advice to people who want to thrive in the BA milonga scene.  (I will soon publish details about this book.)  Most of the information outlined in the table of contents was not new to me.

But I figured that even if I learned one thing that would move me forward in my quest to dance with the best dancers in town, it would be with the 10 dollars.  Heck, it would be worth 1,000 dollars!  I read the whole digital book in one night, but already in the second chapter I knew I'd found the answer I was seeking.  It jumped out at me, and I smacked my palm against my forehead and said, "Of course!!"  I couldn't believe it never occurred to me. 

The tip I had been missing was, "Stay late".  Actually, the whole concept was, "Stay late and go back".  I’d been going back, but I never stayed till the end if I wasn't dancing much.  I'd feel tired and disappointed.  (Does anyone know the feeling?) The author wrote, “Order a cafe' doble if you must”, because toward the end of the milonga the regulars feel satisfied with how much they've danced with their favorites. Many people have gone home, and those who remain tend to be much more open to dancing with people they don’t know.  

I read this and felt newly empowered!

So last Sunday night after meeting some friends in one of the “easy” milongas, I went for the last 90 minutes to a "high-powered" one, with a lot of older gentlemen who are excellent dancers - the same ones who had ignored me several times before.  Arriving so late, I got seated right up front at a central table near the dance floor, because some women had left.  

In this particular milonga, even when I don’t dance, I'm usually happy watching these milongueros.  I love their musical interpretation!  To me, many of them are artists, even though their form may be unrefined. (Milongueros don't have professional training.) 

I danced my first two tandas with "easy invites", including a friend who's a "profesor de tango", whose musicality is wonderfully complex and challenging.  That tanda, since it took place when "prime time" was over, did the trick, because immediately afterward I was invited by all the guys I'd been admiring over the previous weeks and even months!  Then each one told me to which milongas to go so we can dance again.  Victory! 

I am so happy that I learned this simple strategy for breaking the ice in milongas that are considered "closed", where people only invite their regulars.  Ideally, one should arrive early AND stay late, to increase one's chances of being welcomed on both ends of "prime time".

Try this out in some milongas where you believe you should be dancing more - getting invited, or getting your invitations accepted.  And let us know if something changes!

Watch my blog for the next episode, when the story continues!

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Here are the earlier “Episodes” from “Helaine’s Buenos Aires Adventures in Tangoland” from the first part of 2013.
Episode #1  ". . . and a great bailarina "on steroids"
Episode #2  "
Running into a celebrity, and a couple of anecdotes"
Episode #3 "My disappointing evening, and a new lesson that helped me break through!"
Episode #4 ". . . and the man I rediscovered"

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Please enter your comments below!

* * * * * 

Last month four tangueros and tangueras from Europe, Canada, and the United States trained with me in Buenos Aires. They soon felt "on their own turf" in the milongas, and experienced big breakthroughs in their tango. The breakthroughs for each of them became really evident when they returned to their home tango communities and found themselves at a totally new level, in terms of skill, confidence, and depth of their communication in the tango embrace.

Would you like to join me in Buenos Aires in March or April of 2014, and go home with your tango at a completely new level? (Note: November 2014 spaces are limited to 4 and are already filling up!  Contact me now to lock in your spot!) Hit "reply" to this message to request more information, or go directly to my scheduling page at to choose a time when I can answer your questions by phone or Skype! 


  1. Interesting. Does this strategy work for men as well?

  2. Great question. The English tanguera wrote the book for everyone, so he advice is for men as well as women. My own logic tells me it should absolutely work for men too. Why don't you try it one or more times and let us know how it works for you?