I sometimes feel high from San Francisco tango but I never full as fully blissed out as I did out at a Buenos Aires milonga, or even at a Buenos Aires practica or class. An element of soul is missing here, especially at the practicas and milongas where the so-called “good” dancers (often teachers dancing a more performative nuevo style) show their stuff. They are “good” but I don’t enjoy watching them that much They are more active and athletic. Tango should never be athletic, it is just an exchange of energy.
First the ineffable. Presence. Argentine men embody tango in their body; they breathe and puff out their chests in a way that gives the dance its presence. A few American men do this but most don’t to the extent that Argentine men do and don’t give the dance that wild-hearted presence. It’s not quite as intense or soulful.
It’s not uncommon for “good” male leaders in San Francisco Bay Area to learn the follower role well. Some learn the follower role to become better leaders and others appear to enjoy it. It’s not uncommon to see men practicing together at a practica. You would not see this in macho Buenos Aires. There are also more female leaders who are not teachers.
Buenos Aires milongas have waitresses and waiters who takee your drink order. There’s more infrastructure for enjoying the atmosphere. You can win champagne. It’s a stronger ambiance to sit and watch. In San Francisco sitting and watching is not as pleasurable.
The cabaceo doesn’t really exist in the Bay Area. People just ask you to dance to your face. Even if they use their eyes they do it right in front of you. We don’t have the staged theater of a Buenos Aires milonga with people inviting each other with their eyes across a room: men on one side, women on the other. We’re much more mixed up and casual.
The embrace is rarely tight or compressed in San Francisco the way it often is in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires. Men embrace much more lightly in San Francisco and give followers more freedom. They also pull them up less.
Many people in San Francisco talk during the dance and only the best dancers seem to be really present for the dance and not thinking about something else, looking at others, etc. When I tell someone I prefer not to talk while dancing he acts like it is an advanced skill to multitask. The whole point of dancing for me is to communicate in a different way and to do so mindfully–to not talk.
The Russians are the Argentines in San Francisco. There are so many Russians in the San Francisco tango scene, and they are all serious about tango. It must be the suffering in the culture. Brooding and macho still? There are also a lot of good Iranian and Turkish tango dancers in San Francisco.
Dancers in the Bay Area do more complicated figures. You could say they are more into showing off. The connection often seems weaker.
San Francisco milongas are more likely to offer free food.
Tango obsession is a little more uncommon in the Bay Area. But certainly people get obsessed with tango here too. Especially the Russians.
Most of the taxi drivers in San Francisco are not milongueros and it’s highly unlikely that one of them will serenade you with a tango song.