"My roommate was preparing for a party that any normal person would go to, while I was getting ready for a milonga, a social tango dance," Liz Reiman said.
It was 7:30 PM on a typical Saint Patrick’s Day. As if Saint Patrick’s Day is anything but typical. In our room, my roommate and I were getting ready to celebrate this famed holiday in two very different ways. She was straightening a green dress covered with dancing leprechauns and black ribbons, while I was pulling on a lime green halter dress with sparkles. My roommate was preparing for a party that any normal person would go to, while I was getting ready for a milonga, a social tango dance.
She was the normal one. As a board member for TangoHelena, Helena’s local tango community, and an avid tango dancer, I went to as many milongas as I could possibly go to. March’s milonga, however, happened to land on what is viewed as the most Irish of the holidays. Would that make a difference at this milonga?
When I arrived at the Pilates studio and went in the door, the first things I noticed were the bottles of Guinness that mingled with the normal bottles of wine that are usually present at milongas. There was also a fair amount of green, but it didn’t overtake the dance floor. The men were sporting green ties and the occasional green shirt, but even amongst the women there wasn’t an inordinate amount of the color. According to Tim Jacklin, one of TangoHelena’s board members, I looked like a leprechaun. Maybe being completely decked in green wasn’t such a good idea.
I carefully strapped on my gold dance heels and listened to the music. There weren’t any upbeat Irish drinking songs. The music was the music always played: Juan D’Arienzo and Carlos di Sarli, with the cortinas, the break between sets, being Irish sounding. So there was a taste of the Irish, but not one that we would dance to. When I asked Sundi West, the host of the milonga, what she thought of the music, she thought that the Irish would appreciate the melancholy of tango, saying that it “ties into the Irish tradition… because a lot of the early tango songs showed a longing for Europe, something that Irish Americans would understand as well.” As I watched the dancers, I could see, amongst the scattered green, the turns of the molinete, the pivoting ochos, and the swinging boleos. This dance is filled with moves that are executed with what appears to be simple ease and poise. It is beautiful to watch. From the corner of my eye I saw someone trying to catch my attention. Our invisible contact established, he tilted his head to the floor. I rose to my feet. It was time to join the dance floor.
After a tanda, a group of three songs, I departed the floor with my dance partner Joe O’Connor, another board member. As we sat down, I asked what it was like to be at a Milonga on Saint Patrick’s Day. He replied that it was “as good as drinking on an Irish holiday. One thing I noticed was that O’Connor wasn’t wearing a green shirt. When I asked him about it, he replied “I’m not the center of the dance, the woman is.” This is the mentality of tango; it is the male’s job to make his partner look beautiful on the dance floor. Not even a holiday that states that you deserve a pinch for not wearing green wouldn’t stop him from his duty.
As I spent the night on the dance floor, I thought about the milonga. It was like any other milonga. There was no excessive drinking or rowdiness; it was just a group of dancers coming together to enjoy each other’s company. The normality of the night, a night that is renowned for its heavy partying and immense drinking, was refreshing. Because, in actuality, that is all Saint Patrick’s Day is: a day that people have dubbed a heavy drinking day. It could have been any day. The holiday is made by the people who celebrate it. And the people at the milonga were choosing to dance and enjoy life in their own way.