What is the point of it all? Every week, while dragging furniture around the milonga floor, buying food and putting the wine glasses out on the bar of our Amsterdam milonga, I often find myself asking existential questions. Why? Why do all this? After all, there were once carefree times, many years ago, when I would go to milongas just to dance. I was a satisfied tango consumer. Then, at one point, it all changed. I found myself in the middle of a group of people who felt they had to organize a milonga, every week.
It was not part of a big plan. Just a crazy coincidence. A smart man would have stepped out right there. The previous organiser, who started the milonga, quite suddenly announced he was going to stop. Milonga organisers stop or relocate all the time, and who can blame them? Tango dancers are not often rich. Landlords, keen on the prospect of having fifty thirsty dancers on a week night, soon find out that tango dancers don’t drink. They switch to a salsa school or bridge club on the first plausible pretext. Frankly, discontinuing a weekly milonga often makes more sense than launching one.
But then again, where would we be dancing on Tuesdays? We would have to dance under the open Amsterdam sky, to the sound of some ghetto blaster. It was September, and it was a rainy one. The milonga location was perfect and had a 90-year old wooden floor. So, we really had no choice in the matter and I found myself signing the lease, trying hard to ignore that, from now on, my Tuesdays were booked for the foreseeable future. At first, we focused on organising a milonga that we would like to go to ourselves. Picking our own DJ’s, inviting our favorite dancers, starting as early in the evening as we wanted, and controlling room temperature. We had no clue what we were doing but thought we were working our way to tango heaven! But unfortunately, it wasn’t tango heaven for all. We soon had a reputation for arrogance and snobbery, but of course we didn’t know it. We were too busy having our own fun in our own little milonga.
When it finally dawned on us after a couple of years that we weren’t organising the milonga just for ourselves, after all, we evolved towards a point that, if anyone in the milonga didn’t have a good night, we did not have a good night. That sucked. But today, our regulars discretely point out to us when someone in the milonga isn’t having a good time. That is a great pleasure, but it took a while to get there. As organisers you can’t see everything and you can only invite so many visitors for dances yourself. So, the secret of a weekly milonga is to carefully grow a culture of generosity, starting with yourself, and then enrolling a core group of dancers into giving away what they have: ‘Ask not what the milonga can do for you, ask what you can do for the milonga’. I guess that is also the answer to the existential milonga questions I start with, every Tuesday night.