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CULTURE | 06-09-2023 09:36

In inflation-hit Buenos Aires, tango enthusiasts sway the blues away

Many milongas have had to close amid spiralling inflation, but the biting economic crisis cannot keep tango enthusiasts from heading to the capital's dance halls.

Argentina's biting economic crisis cannot keep tango enthusiasts from seeking out the haunting tunes of piano and concertina music at a dwindling number of dance halls in the capital.

For many, in fact, the deepening hardship is exactly what drives them to seek solace in the arms of a dance partner at milongas to the sway of a musical genre closely associated with working class struggle.

At a milonga, "you feel... a connection with yourself and with others. It's an investment for the heart and the spirit," explained 36-year-old tango dancer Andrea Censabella, a regular at the tiny dance club La Tierra Invisible in a middle class suburb of Buenos Aires.

"For me, this is a priority... So it [the economic crisis] doesn't stop me. For now," she told AFP.

The club is small – only about 20 square metres (215 square feet) – and fits around a dozen dancers. The tables are concocted of old doors resting on trestles. 

It hosts one or two sessions a week, charging an entry fee of about 400 pesos (just under one US dollar at the fast-changing official exchange rate).

Many milongas in the capital have had to close amid spiralling inflation that reached 95 percent last year. 

Fewer and fewer can afford to hire live musicians. 

But dozens of increasingly lower-budget milongas continue to attract the tango faithful and the capital continues to host about 30 of them on average every night of the week – from fancy to informal, traditional to queer, for all styles, all budgets. 

"The milonga survives because it is a necessity. There has always been and will always be a crisis," tango pianist Nicolas di Lorenzo, a co-manager at La Tierra Invisible, told AFP.

According to the vice-president of the Association of Milonga Organisers Ana Bocutti, the milonga "is the heart of tango because it is the place where tango breathes, lives and beats every day."


tango milonga afuera buenos aires


Pay what they can

"In the lyrics, tango has always reflected the crises and suffering of the working class" in a country that is no stranger to economic crashes, added historian Felipe Pigna.

A case in point: One of the most popular tangos, 'Yira Yira,' was written by Enrique Santos Discepolo about the widespread suffering that followed the Wall Street crash of 1929.

It tells the story of someone running out of hope and mate, walking around in worn-out shoes and desperate for money for food.

"With each crisis, the social tangos of Discepolo are updated. We listen to tangos that are almost 100 years old, and unfortunately they are still relevant," Pigna told AFP. 

At some Buenos Aires milongas, the entry fee of about US$5 on average has been halved, even completely eliminated for those who cannot afford it.

There are also free, open-air events such as La Otra ("The Other") hosted under trees on the square outside Congress – where participants dance under the gaze of homeless people camped out nearby.

"We are here to offer a free, inclusive space where we can dance tango without major expense... because right now people are finding it difficult to spend money," said Valentín Rivetti, a 24-year-old tango dancer and instructor. "We pass around a hat, people put in what they want, what they can."

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by Sonia Avalos, AFP

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