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 very expensive. Festival pass is $250 to $1000 per person. Private lesson of a big name teacher 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. 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 become my favorite events because in which I can focus entirely on dancing. Unlike a tango festival, a tango marathon does not provide lessons, thus save the organizer the trouble to find instructors and the money to hire them. As a result the cost of a tango marathon is much lower than a tango festival. Without professional instructors, there are no fancy performances to mislead the audience. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.) With fewer novices, the dance floor is less crowded, the level of dance becomes higher, and the milonga codes are better observed. 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 pass was only $100, which covered 40 hours of dancing in three days plus meals, refreshments, drinks and ice creams. Obviously, making money was not the priority of the organizers, and efforts were made to provide the dancers with a wonderful time. Best of all, there was a theme in this marathon - friendship, which was emphasized again and again during the whole event. Every time when Alla and Peter asked the audience what the theme of the marathon is, the audience replied with one voice: "Friendship." 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 paid too much to dance and not enough to the human side of the dance. In Buenos Aires, however, the opposite is true. It is regarded as their responsibility to provide the dancers with a friendly environment by the organizers of the 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, and the milonga codes are strictly observed. While in the US the break time is the announcement time, in Buenos Aires it often is the time for tango education. All participants are advised to follow the milonga codes, violations are dressed and bad apples are even asked to leave. In one occasion, I saw two children were brought to the dance floor. A committee of milongueros quickly discussed the matter and the parents were advised to take the children out. 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 some tango organizers in this country start to move in the same direction. Tango is created of the dancers, by the dancers and for the dancers. It should not cost an absurd amount of money to enjoy. A friendly culture governed by the milonga codes must be introduced into our tango through education and good leadership. Now, thanks to the Boston Tango Marathon, we have an example.