It’s a Tuesday afternoon in the bustling downtown area of Buenos Aires. Just a few blocks away from the main Cathedral and the Casa Rosada (equivalent to the White House) you can hear tango music being played in the streets in front of the main Bureau of Legislation.
One might expect to hear tango music in down town Buenos Aires, but the music heard on Tuesday afternoon of July 12, 2016 was being played to make a statement. Recently under the new government, the city of Buenos Aires has been experiencing changes, one of which has been increased regulations causing many restaurants and bars to shut down. Milongas (venues where tango dancers gather to dance) have taken an especially hard and unexpected hit. It has saddened many people who enjoy the sense of community, inclusiveness, pride, and creativity that tango gives to all of its fans.
Due to the excessive red tape involved in opening a milonga, increased expenses, and having to wait months for the government to give the ok, many avid tango dancers are fed up with what they see as the suppression of milongas. It does seem that milongas have gotten an exceptional amount of attention from inspectors, and have been systematically shut down for reasons that remain unknown or unwarranted. “Why focus on milongas?” many people have asked. At a milonga there is rarely any seedy activity taking place such as excessive drinking or drug use. Milongas are a place for people who love to dance tango to gather and revel in the Argentine national pass time. A milonga can take place in a variety of locations such as restaurants, parks, dance halls and cultural heritage centers. Tango is an integral part of the culture and a major point of interest for tourists visiting the city. Many feel that this tradition should be not only be accessible to everyone but protected by the government rather than attacked.
I recently witnessed of one of these shut downs first hand a couple of weeks ago while attending a very casual milonga being held on the terrace above a restaurant. There were only a few people dancing tango and many people where having a drink with their friends and listening to the music. Upon the arrival of inspectors the restaurant owner came up and informed that the milonga was under inspection. The milonga organizer promptly changed the music to a soft jazz and everyone stopped dancing and pretended to socialize as they would in a low key bar setting. It seemed silly to have to hide that fact that people were listening to and dancing tango. The inspectors left and the milonga was shut down the following day. The same has happened to many other milongas across the city.
If you are acquainted with Argentine history then you might think this scenario is in some ways reminiscent of the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 80s, often referred to as the Dirty War. During this time period there were strict restrictions on activities that were considered “subversive”. Subversive activities ranged from participating in or associating with political organizations opposed to the current government, attending film showings that were uncensored by the government, gathering in groups of more than ten people, and participating in a milonga. Although thankfully the current political climate is nothing like it was during the dictatorship, one cannot help but see a somewhat of a resemblance in the seemingly arbitrary new crack down on milongas.
With the goal of protecting the milongas, many people in the tango community of Buenos Aires are taking a stand. The demonstration on July 12th was a success. With a large turnout and lots of media coverage, the tango community has made itself heard. Common hashtags used across social media in support of this cause are #banquemosLaMilonga (meaning let’s support the milonga) and #LeydeFomentoalaMilonga (law for the protection of the milonga). Avid tango dancers with wide ranging political ideologies are hoping to see the government recognize the cultural and historical importance of tango and to do what it can to protect this national treasure.