What Is Milonga?

Tango Style, Social Event and Music Genre

Milonga in San-Telmo district, tango dancers, Buenos Aires, Argentina, South America
Milonga in San-Telmo district, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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The term "milonga" has three meanings:

  1. A milonga is a social event or location for tango dancing—More simply, milongas are tango dance parties. People who dance at milongas are known as milongueros. When a group of people goes tango dancing, they go to a milonga.
  2. Milonga refers to a distinct style of tango—Although milonga uses the same basic elements as tango, it tends to be faster-paced and less complex. Milonga tends to place greater emphasis on the rhythm of the music. Dancers must strive to keep their bodies relaxed, as syncopated pauses are not made. There are two distinct styles of Milonga, Milonga Lisa and Milonga Traspie. In Milonga Lisa (Simple Milonga), dancers step on each beat of the music. In Milonga Traspies, dancers must transfer their weight from one foot to another, in double time to the music.
  3. Milonga refers to a distinct music genre—Milonga tango music is distinguished by its faster-paced beat, requiring dancers to take quicker steps.

History of Milonga

The Milonga originated in Argentina and Uruguay and became popular in the 1870s. It developed from a type of singing known as "payada de contrapunto." The meaning of the African word milonga is "many words." Milonga is a fusion of many cultural dances, including the Cuban Habanera, the Mazurka, the Polka and the Brazilian Macumba. The Candombé and Payada also influenced the dance.

Gauchos (early Argentinean cowboys) were known to gather together in open places to play guitars and sing about life. Black slaves who attended the gatherings did not understand the songs. They referred to the gatherings as milongas, or many words. Eventually, the term "milonga" was used to describe the gatherings.

Where to Find a Milonga

Most larger cities have a location that holds weekly or monthly milongas. A quick internet search should give information about the locations, times and fees of milongas. Usually, a milonga will last 4 or 5 hours and will be designated as either a social event or a practice session. Milonga practice sessions tend to be less formal than true milongas, and are usually equipped with a DJ instead of live music.