Except in few large cities, most tango communities in the US are still quite small. Tango enthusiasts often travel long distance to big tango festivals around the country to dance tango. But that could be quite expensive. Festival pass is $250 to $1000 per person. Private lesson is $100 to $300 an hour. Round trip by air is $250 to $500 per ticket. Hotel room for four nights is $600. Rental car and gas add another $250. Plus other costs such as parking, toll and food. A couple could easily spend two to three thousand dollars for a single trip, enough to travel to Buenos Aires for few weeks.
That is why now I do not go to big tango festivals as often as I used to when I was single. Instead, I go to smaller events within few hours of driving. I still go to some big tango festivals, but only attend their milongas and skip the lessons to save time and money. Many seasoned dancers do the same.
In recent years, tango marathons have replaced tango festivals to be my favorite form of event because in which I can focus entirely on dancing. Unlike a tango festival, a tango marathon does not provide lessons, thus saves the organizers the trouble to find instructors and the money to hire them. As a result, the cost of a tango marathon is much lower than that of a tango festival. Without professional instructors, there is no display of fancy performance, which only cause confusions to the beginners. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.) With fewer novices, the size of a tango marathon is smaller and the floor is less crowded. Most participants are experienced dancers, thus the level of dance is higher, milonga codes are more closely observed, and the atmosphere is more cohesive. It has everything that suits me better than a tango festival.
Two weeks ago, I attended the Boston Tango Marathon. Although this was only their second year, thanks to the organizer Alla Lakov, Peter Simoneau, and fifty volunteers of the Boston tango community, it went very well. The marathon pass was only $100, which covered 40 hours of dancing in three days plus free meals, refreshments, drinks and an ice cream party. Obviously, making money was not the priority and efforts were made to provide the dancers with a wonderful time. Best of all, there was a refreshing theme in this marathon: friendship. The theme was emphasized again and again during the marathon. Every time when Alla and Peter asked the audience what was the theme of the marathon, the audience replied with one voice, "Friendship." And it worked!
I appreciate such efforts to make the event a warm and friendly experience for all, especially here in the US where attentions are often paid only to the dance and not enough to the culture or human side of the dance. In Buenos Aires, however, the reversal is true. It is regarded as their duty to promote a friendly culture by the organizers of BA milongas, where guests are cordially greeted at the door, seats are meticulously arranged to facilitate the cabeceo, tables are covered with pressed clean clothes, food and drinks are served to the table, milonga codes are observed, and conducts are addressed if violations occur. While in the US the break time is the announcement time, in Buenos Aires it is often the time for tango education. In the BA milongas, participants are advised to follow the milonga codes. Bad apples are even advised to leave on some occasions. Once I saw two children were brought to the dance floor, a committee of milongueros quickly discussed the matter, and the parents were politely advised to take the children out of the floor. I am sure everyone visited Buenos Aires know stories like this. Richard Miller mentioned in his blog a post that he saw at the Milonga Cachirulo, which reads:
“Welcome to the best milonga in Buenos Aires. Tanguero friends, please pay attention.
• Here we dance milonguero style tango, and we learn to respect the codes of the milonga.
• We dance with a warm, respectful and close embrace.
• We follow the line of dance, in a counter-clockwise direction.
• We try not to step backwards into the line of dance, always walking forward, as it should be.
• We do not lift our feet too much from the floor; this way we avoid hitting other dancers.
• We invite women to dance through the classic 'Cabeceo del caballero'.
• Furthemore, and very important, respect is the first card we play in the game of the milonga.
Much to our regret, not respecting these codes will make it impossible to dance in Cachirulo.”
It is the collective efforts like these that made the BA milongas wonderful. I am glad to see that now the organizers in this country start to move in the same direction. Tango is a simple pleasure created by the dancers for themselves to enjoy. Its focus should be the connection and fellowship rather than steps and self display. (See Exhibition versus Fellowship.) It shouldn't cost an absurd amount of money to enjoy. A friendly culture governed by milonga codes must be introduced through education and good leadership. Now, thanks to Boston Tango Marathon, we have a good example.