Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Protesta de Tango en Buenos Aires

The Story

"O le le
O la la
Queremos la milonga
La gente no se va ..."

"We want our Milonga and we're not going to leave!"

A crowd of 150-200 people chanted this on the streets around 4:00 am early on the morning of Saturday, 22 January 2005, outside Club Villa Malcolm, where the relocated Canning Milonga had been closed down by the police a little earlier. (Click on thumbnails above to see photos.)

"Enough is enough! If they won't let us dance inside, we'll take to the streets." And we did. Right on Avenida Córdoba, a major 5- or 6-lane avenue. Of course, traffic was light at that hour, but the police sent in "reinforcements" to direct traffic around us into the one open lane (relieving Julio Balmaceda from that task!).

Those visiting Buenos Aires and frustrated by the continued closings could take some small comfort from knowing that they were part of a special evening: Dancing in the middle of Avenida Córdoba to the voice of milongueros singing classic Tangos, and the Federal Police of Buenos Aires looking on ...

Crónica (TV station) sent in a cameraman (who arrived after most of the action had finished, but they briefly interviewed a few people, including two foreigners: Mila from Moscow and Shahrukh from Boston). This appeared on TV later in the day. The daily newspaper La Nacion also sent a reporter, and the Sunday edition of that paper (23 January 2005) has a good article with photos on page 15. You can see it on-line at

The backlash has apparently started and the stakes have been raised. Newspaper reports had already started including mention of "the other side of the story" in reference to the economic impact on discos and clubs and those who depend on it for a living. Now Tango has entered the equation, with what one would think should be some considerable advantages:

  • It is deeply rooted in the culture and the people of Buenos Aires (the vast majority of whom do not dance it) love it and are proud of it.
  • People who go to Milongas of course go to have a good time. But they generally consider themselves as participating in the culture as well--it is something that they study, often intensively, and put into practice in the Milongas.
  • A typical Milonga bears little resemblance to the type of event that resulted in the tragedy of the Club Cromañon fire, neither in the rowdiness of the crowd (though you never know if these closings keep up ...), nor in its size.
  • There is a large Tango tourism industry (even though it is a cottage industry)--the majority of dancers at many downtown Milongas are foreigners (which is a whole separate discussion topic in and of itself ...).

All this gives a different dimension to the economic impact of these closures: Safety comes first, no doubt, but when the brush is painted too broadly, and decisions seem increasingly arbitrary, there is an economic and cultural cost as well.

Shahrukh Merchant
Buenos Aires, 23 January 2005


QuickTime Player needed to view

a ver
Video 1 (2:10)
Crowd chanting and clapping
Low resolution (Modem): 1.6 MB
High resolution (Banda Ancha): 6.7 MB
Video 2 (4:11)
Dancing and singing in the street

Low resolution (Modem): 3.3 MB
High resolution (Banda Ancha): 12.5 MB
Video 3 (1:18)
Arguing with police

Low resolution (Modem): 0.853 MB
High resolution (Banda Ancha): 3 MB
Video 4 (2:53)
Crónica TV report

Low resolution (Modem): 2.7 MB
High resolution (Banda Ancha): 15.5 MB


Dancing on Av. Córdoba [1]

Dancing on Av. Córdoba [2]

Dancing on Av. Córdoba [3]

Waiting for the next dance

Outside Villa Malcolm

Julio Balmaceda directs traffic [1]

Julio Balmaceda directs traffic [2]

The milongueros and the police

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