Looking at my list of milongas, I thought I had remembered all the places I had visited. Then, last night, someone at the milonga asked me if I had led in Buenos Aires, and I realized that I had forgotten a venue: Tango Queer.
For those of you who have read my thesis on gender roles and leading in Buenos Aires, you will understand both my excitement and my frustration at finding the Bs As tango scene changed. I studied the phenomenon of women leading in milongas, and wrote my thesis about dancers' views on gender roles, masculinity, femininity, and why women braved a lot of resentment to lead in traditional milongas.
What I found after studying the milongas in 1999, 2000 and 2001, was that a small percentage of women led in the milongas in order to attract foreign business possibilities; as the Argentine economy tanked, they needed a way out that was offered by tango. Couples had the upper hand, as foreigners assumed that both lead and follow roles could be taught; men had second place, as most people assumed that, if you could lead tango, you could teach how to follow it. Single women had to fight very hard to get invited to teach abroad on the merits of their tango technique because many dancers assumed that a woman would not be able to teach how to lead tango.
Now, in 2010, I saw NO women leading at traditional milongas. True, I did not visit ALL the milongas that exist. However, I attended several of the same milongas that used to have women leaders (1-2% in most milongas). Where did all those (fabulous) women leaders go? As far as I can tell they moved to a less stressful environment: the gay milonga.
A gay milonga in Buenos Aires means a gay-friendly milonga, but it might be more accurate to say a milonga with relaxed gender roles. Women lead women; women lead men; men lead men; and men lead women. Although I used to lead everywhere (and got in trouble with Tete for dancing with his girlfriend, Sylvia, at El Beso), I found that this time, I only led at Tango Queer.
If you are just learning to lead, you might consider attending the gay milongas: everyone is friendly, many dancers who are leading are not leading well, and there is an air of learning/experimentation that feels non-judgmental. One of my female friends from the USA who enjoys leading, attends many gay milongas because she feels that she gets to dance with a higher level of dancer than she does in the regular milongas. She also says the dancers at the gay milongas are more willing to dance with an older woman (and one who can lead well) than at other milongas.
Peru 571 was marked incorrectly in the milonga guide as Peru 71, so make sure you show up at the correct address! It's upstairs in San Telmo, with a pretty rugged floor (not as bad as La Catedral used to be--no actual holes), variable music quality/danceability, and a clientele that varies from raw beginners to BEAUTIFUL couples (one couple really stood out, with the best male follower I've seen out dancing in Bs As ever). This is a seat-yourself venue, so make sure the chairs you possess are not already claimed (I had to get mine back from an enterprising couple after a tanda).
Unless you are actually uncomfortable around same-sex tango dancing, go check out some of the gay milongas. Along with afternoon dances, the late night meat market scene, and neighborhood clubs, these are definitely a distinctive flavor of Buenos Aires tango.