It is my theory that the salon and fantasia styles are popular in the United States and Europe due to the fact that people were first introduced to it by the dancers of Tango Argentino who gave classes during their tour - everyone wanted to learn it. There are dozens of teachers who tour the US and Europe to teach salon style.
On the other hand, milongueros were not leaving Buenos Aires to teach tango anywhere so very few outside Buenos Aires knew the tango of the milongas. Then about four years ago, milonguero style was introduced in the United States at Stanford Tango Week in California and is gaining in popularity in the US and Europe. It seems to me that the most popular style in classes and milongas in the United States is salon, although a few people are learning milonguero style. The problem is that salon is rarely, if ever, danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, so when you visit here, be prepared to make a change in your dancing and learn the real tango.
What I enjoy most about dancing milonguero style is that in his embrace I have this wonderful connection with my partner and the music. I feel how he is dancing for me and with me, yet at the same time allowing me to dance. As I am learning the lyrics of tango, I am understanding what it means to really feel tango, rather than just enjoying the beautiful music. My milonguero boyfriend says tango without lyrics is romantic; but tango with lyrics is a feeling.
Ladies, be prepared to make an adjustment with your head and arms when you dance milonguero style. If you are used to dancing salon style with your head turned to the right and with your left hand on your partner's arm or back, you will be making a change when you dance in Buenos Aires. I have been surveying the milongas here lately to see how many women dance with their head turned to the right, and have found only a handfull that still do this. Some milongueros will politely ask you to change your head position so they can see the floor and dance the way that is most comfortable for them. In the milongas of Buenos Aires where I dance, 99% of the women hold their head straight looking over the man's shoulder with the left arm placed entirely around his neck so that her hand is somewhere on his left shoulder. This way your left elbow is not sticking out past his shoulder, which on a crowded floor could be a hazard. When your left arm is at a right angle, there is no possibility of hurting others. Just be sure that you don't hang on the man's neck by placing weight on your arm.
There are three head positions for the lady: 1) your left cheek bone to his right cheek bone (for salon style) 2) your right side of face to his right side of face (for milonguero style) 3) your nose and forehead to the right side of his face (alternate possibilty for milonguero style)
Try these positions out with a partner and notice that you can stand directly in front of your partner with your head in position #2. However, in position #1, you may be in a V position with your body in relation to his; more appropriate in salon style, but not in milonguero style.
Milonguero style is danced in a close embrace that is not altered during the dance. You both have your weight over your feet and maintain your own balance. There is body contact from the head to the waist area. I don't agree that a woman has to lean on her partner in this style. Perhaps some have come to this conclusion after observing men with extra weight around the middle dancing with slender women who need to change their body position to adjust to his shape. In order for her to maintain a straight back, she needs to bring her feet away from her partner and change the angle of her body position. But for the majority of men I dance with in Buenos Aires, this is not necessary. In fact, if you lean on some men, they may ask you to stand up and dance on your own two feet rather than leaning forward on them. While leaning on your partner, there may be a tendency for your back to arch and this only makes your rear end protrude. It's just not a good dance position and may lead to future back problems.
It's important to relax when you dance. I admire the wonderful calmness that milongueros have. Even on a crowded floor, they can move around and use the space well. If there is a collision, they quietly pause and wait for the space to continue without interruption. If a woman has tension in her body, he will feel it. The dance won't be as pleasant for either of you, but with practice, you'll get the hang of it.
Since the floor is usually full where the milongueros dance, you won't be taking long steps in this style as you do in salon. I danced with my eyes closed and my heels slightly off the floor at first. Today I dance with my eyes wide open and my heels on the floor. This is a major change for me.
I believe that once you have danced with a milonguero in Buenos Aires, you won't want to dance salon style ever again. In my opinion, there is no comparison.
Ladies, we have to adjust to every partner differently because of size, height, etc. Dance is an individual expression. Tango is a feeling that is danced. So no two men are going to dance the same. Who would want them to? That's why a tanda is necessary. It takes us four dances to learn each man's individual style. Each is unique in his way of expressing his feeling of tango. It's a wonderful challenge. The benefit is that when you experience tango as you've never known it before, you'll be glad you made the trip to Buenos Aires.
Janis Kenyon is a tango teacher from Chicago who moved to Buenos Aires in February 1999.