Before I had the chance to visit Seoul, I heard only good comments about the tango there. My friends travellers told me “Local milongas are nice”, “Guys are dancing so well… I am in love” or even “Seoul is the Buenos Aires of Asia”. It is always hard to know if people are giving you this feedback because they are just coming from a nice trip and it is also hard to guess if I would enjoy the experience in the same way. However one week in Seoul made my mind.
Just to be clear, I didn’t visit all the milongas of the city. I stayed in Hongkik University area where you can find everyday a milonga in two different spaces (o nada 1 and o nada 2). If the venues remain the same, different organizers take care of the milonga every day. I danced in 2 different spaces but in 5 different milongas. You can also milongas in other part of the city every day but my agenda didn’t let me time to discover more.
If I had to describe the tango in Seoul in one sentence, I could say it is delicious like a red bean Doughnut. The fundamental rules are respected for the best and the addition of the local flavour make it even better. Mixing tastes from two completely different part of the world give at the end one of the best combination possible. The good part of the tango is you can abuse of the tandas without getting fat…
“Local milongas are nice” – Yes.
The milongas I visited all take place in the basement of the buildings, hidden underground as the karoake clubs and some bars. You only hear the music when you arrive close to the door downstairs. Venues are not really big but you find all you need: changing room for women, wardrobe, toilets, a good wooden floor and places to sit on little tables all around the dancefloor… Even in this small spaces, at least 4 speakers surrounds the room and give a good quality of sound. You always get a free ticket for drink and water is free. You have sometimes some extra food. I would say everything is good for the material aspect of the milonga.
There are more men than women in most of the milongas (just one milonga with more women). People are mixing and dance one tanda then change. Cabeceu is quite easy. You see quickly if someone want to dance the tanda or not. You can see in the milonga that people are super connected with a bunch of smartphone on the tables. If women are on their phones, you can skip. If they are not, it is already an invitation. As venues are not huge, you can also easily invite from one side of the room to the other side. All these elements give a good energy to the milonga. If you add good DJ – yes, never had to complain at the music during the week – and good embraces, it is perfect. About the DJ, I heard people complain quickly when they don’t like the music… With all this, you are in good conditions to have a good milonga.
Every milonga, dancers came to me to speak and welcome me. I can’t tell if it is because I was clearly a foreigner or if they cheers all the newcomers. Anyway, it is a nice habit and it is the moment you can discover names you would never put on Koreans – Juan, Hasard, Tino… This little extra makes the milonga even more welcoming and nice to spend the night.
“Guys are dancing so well” – Yes.
I can’t speak about embraces of men as I can do it with the women. However, there is two points that make me think my friend is right when she is speaking about dancers of Seoul – musicality and navigation. When I was not dancing, I was really pleased to watch men dancing. This observation concerns not only a sample of the dancers in the milonga but the majority. They don’t try to overdo or show off, they just share the song with the partner. It is really nice to be able to connect what I see with what I hear. Another important point is the respect of the ronda and the other dancers. If I take out 2 hours of a milonga overcrowded with soft contact because of the space, I can count on my hand how many times I had contact with other couples. As the ronda is well respected, it is really easy to relax and just focus on your partner and the music. I found in local milonga this feeling I have in marathon when people move all together and have the same flow.
“Seoul is the Buenos Aires of Asia” – Maybe.
From the tango point of view, I have really no idea. I also don’t know other cities in Asia to make the comparison. I am just sure that passion for tango is in the city. Seoul offers also some extra as Buenos Aires. The first one coming to my mind is the possibility to get some food or drink after the milonga. All around you can find a 24h kimchi or soup restaurant. The second one will be the travellers arriving for the week end. Dancers travel from other cities and from Japan during the week end to join Seoul milongas.
Legend: In the milonga, men and women are dressing well as a french expresso. It is very similar to Poland or Russia on this point.
Now, my own comment on Seoul “Women are good dancers”. I can’t count the number of good first dances I had in one week. Ok, all my dances were first dances but anyway… I found what I really like in tango, the connection with the partner and the connection with the music. If you are really interesred with more details, you can ask me directly. For my best experience, “Bulgeum” (“Thanks god it is Friday” in Korean) was the warmest milonga (the good solution to spend a really good Friday night, welcoming, good atmosphere, dance, birthdays…) and for the best dance experience (taking into consideration the music and the flow of tandas), it was “Farol”.
We never know if the first impression is the real one. Now I am just waiting for another trip to check if everything was real.