Its not easy to create a successful milonga. And this is especially true in the Bay Area, where competition is fierce and on any given night, there are usually two or three options. Most often people will choose the one they think will be the most enjoyable.
But what qualities make a milonga enjoyable? Which ones will bring in the crowds and why? Having attended a fair amount of milongas over the years I’ve noticed the most popular milongas have a few things in common. The following is a list of qualities that help to make up a successful milonga. This is definitely not comprehensive and there are always exceptions, but in general, milongas with these qualities are usually popular.
Does the venue have some character or is it a boring room? What impression does it give? Is it formal, elegant, casual? A beautiful venue can definitely add excitement and allure to the experience. A casual, funky space is also fun, but whatever it is, it needs atmosphere. For example, El Valenciano is a terrific venue, the dark back room is full of atmosphere and character.
Is it easy to find? Is it in a central location? Is it easy for people to get there? How is the parking? This is quite important as the easier it is to get there, the more people will attend. That being said, I’ve been to many a milongas outside of the U.S. where the milonga was very hard to find, there was no parking and yet the place was packed. Go figure.
Is it too large for the crowd or too small? If it’s too large, it will feel empty and people will be less likely to dance. The right size allows just enough space to dance and walk around but also feels intimate.
How is the seating arranged? Are there just benches or chairs along the perimeter like a high school dance? Or are there tables? The best milongas, almost always have a few tables. It’s much more comfortable to have a place to set your food, drinks and to sit around to chat with friends. A nice touch are comfy couches for a more relaxed milonga like at Studio 1924.
Who is the DJ? Having the right DJ can really make or break a milonga. People will follow their favorite DJ to wherever they may be playing.
It is always a treat to dance to a live orchestra. But the orchestra needs to be a good one. A bad orchestra is worse than having a bad DJ. That being said, a great orchestra can definitely make the evening special.
How is the space lit? Can people see each other across the room to make eye contact? Does the light add to the mood or distract? The best lighting allows you to see across the room while not being too bright that it feels like a practica. Disco lighting can be very distracting. And of course, soft light makes everyone look better.
Is the floor real wood or a temporary dance floor? A temporary dance floor is acceptable for special events, but is not ideal for a permanent location. Often ladies heels can get stuck in the connecting spaces of a temporary dance floor. A cement floor is the worst. A sprung wood floor is the ultimate for happy feet and bodies.
Although never a requirement for a good time, a bar adds to the festivity of the occasion. Even if there is no formal bar, providing wine and beverages is always nice. A glass of Malbec can help people get in the mood, relax and sometimes makes them better dancers. A good milonga always provides free water.
Are there food/snacks provided? It’s always nice when food is included in the admission fee. People get hungry when dancing for 3, 4 or more hours and going to the food table is an opportunity for people to mingle and relax. One milonga I attended, there was no food but later in the evening the hosts brought out a delicious pasta salad that was a big hit.
Most Tango dancers go out with some frequency. Attending four or five milongas/practicas a week can really add up. Plus, with so much competition, it’s only fair to charge the going rate. If the admission rate is more than what people usually pay they will be more reluctant to attend that milonga. The exception is a special event, location or live music.
It always helps if the host is someone well known and respected within the community. Either way, great hosts make sure everyone feels welcome.
Guest Instructors & Performances
Guest teachers, especially well known ones, can help draw in a crowd. And people will attend a milonga if someone they really like and admire will be teaching and/or performing.
That extra something special
A successful milonga with usually have most of this criteria, plus that extra something special, be it the location (on the beach or a beautiful ballroom), an amazing spread of food, or just an amazing host, it’s always that extra something that will make people return again and again. What do YOU think?