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Can You Imagine a Silent Milonga?

posted Apr 10, 2014, 1:40 AM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jan 9, 2015, 7:01 PM ]
"Why are you so afraid of silence?
Silence is the root of everything ...
If you spiral into its void ...
A hundred voices will thunder 
messages you long to hear ..."
(Rumi)

silent milonga sacred silence tango

Silent milongas - YES they do exist!  Not completely silent  -tandas of tango music are played but there is complete silence in between the tandas. 

How would you feel at a milonga that was completely devoid of chit chat?  I would so like to try this in Sydney and it would certainly encourage the practice of cabeceo!  

Here are two posts about the experience of attending a silent milonga. Each is quite different. The first is Murat Erdemsel's recent account of a silent milonga in the Netherlands. The second is Tango Therapist's account of attending one in Heidleburg, Germany.  

For posterity's sake I prefer to reproduce the posts rather than just offer a link as links often get removed from cyberspace over time. You can view the original posts by clicking on their name links above. 

Reading these posts has made me question how I could or should treat the time in between tandas (the 'cortinas'); and when on the dance floor the moments before and in between songs. Perhaps more silence, less chat would improve the experience and connection with myself, my partner and the music?

Murat Erdemsel, who is of Turkish origin, is an internationally renowned tango teacher and performer.  Here is his account...

Silent milonga
Published: January 9, 2015 

'We are 160 dancers gathering in a room, we are all dressed in white code. We all know, we just walked in to this place filled with silence except the tango music. Time ticks 10:30pm, there is an invitation to have a seat, and to close eyes. We all feel calm, look pure, innocent in our bright white outfits. We are asked to get a little more comfortable resting, gently leaning against friends’ shoulders, enough to almost fall a sleep. Listening to the sound of our own respiration, then our neighbors’. There is a suggestion to go back in time, to when we were 5 years old or so. The time, when e-mail, facebook and tweeter were not around yet. Pre must-to-do duties, heavy responsibilities era. We are invited to remember those old memories of looking out the window of our bedroom and spending hours doing cloud spotting.

Music starts to play, Sergei Karapetian’s Armenian duduk. We dancers are left alone day dreaming in this dark room for about 10 minutes. Meditating with the sound of the melody. Until they hear the rhythm which invites us all to come back to the floor and start to dance. Carlos Di Sarli’s “Verdemar” with Oscar Serpa takes over after the sounds of duduk. Then Laurenz, then Canaro.

We dance purely in the music without any word, nor giggling for about 3 hours. Music sounds better than ever because nothing now interferes. The volume level is significantly lower than usual but still perfectly enjoyable. Cortinas are also quiet. They serve as calming, relaxing dividers between the tandas. At the end of the first hour, all of a sudden, the lights are all turned off, except the white-highlighting purple lighting fixtures. All we can see now is, the leader in front and the couple behind us. In the mean time, on the wall, a subtle buddha expression appear. Just a half face with closed eyes. Along with some text information about the existing orchestra playing and the upcoming tanda. Occasionally, personalized messages appear, such as “your silence is only encouraged, not forced”.

Silence, and tango music.

Lights are off. Barely can see the leader in front and not much else.

Occasional notes.

Around 1:30am, the closed eyes picture of the buddha picture is now replaced with the one with his eyes open. Suggesting that the meditation has reached to it’s end and the silence theme slowly leaves itself in to the whispering theme, with only some necessary gentle speaking. Tandas in the music suggests higher waves and we go towards the happier music of Donato then even D’arienzo. Cortinas now are mostly classic rock from a British band, Queen. But all cortinas start with a quiet, gentle, lullaby version that reveals it’s original version with Freddy Mercury singing at the end. With a very gentle transition, silence leaves us with each playing tanda.

Buddha watching you. ssshhh...

End of silence. Slowly getting in to the party mood.
It’s now, 2:30am. After dancing to D’arienzo version of La Cumparsita, quiz question appears on the screen from the projector; “Dance this version of La Cumparsita, then go and announce your guess to the DJ. First person guesses the orchestra wins this bottle of organic wine”. After more than 10 guesses, a tanguera nails the right name and she celebrates the moment with her bottle.

Quiz question.

Now dancing is over. Only thing we hear is the incredible Queen; “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It is a Karaoke, dancers stay and sing along with the projected lyrics, “mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go”

Karaoke. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

This was the most unusual milonga experience I have ever had. Both as a dancer and the DJ of the night. It can perhaps only happen at another episode of Tango Taboe Camp in the Netherlands.'

The US based Tango Therapist is a tango aficionado, tango blogger and clinical social worker who currently works with traumatised combat veterans. Here is his post...
(I have not included the accompanying photos which can viewed in the original post) 

Sacred Silence at Milongas
Published April 8, 2014 

'Imagine an evening of tango without any talking? I do not have to imagine it anymore. I experienced it last Sunday night in Heidelberg, Germany. This post is NOT fiction, although it seems a bit surreal.

Don Carlitos Tanzpalast in Heidelberg, Germany has a pleasant, happy atmosphere. But it was different on last Sunday evening. It seemed like the atmospheric pressure changed as I walked in. The Sunday milonga is usually monthly, but this was a special milonga on a different Sunday than usual. The email message made it clear that there would be only music and silence. It scared a few people away perhaps. All the better. I was ready for this new experience.

I love the sound of music and people as I get near or enter a milonga. I express myself in a social setting by enjoying conversation; so I am not against talking! I think there is a "music" to happy people talking. However, there was a calm from the silence in the milonga's foyer which struck me with a déjà vu. The nicely decorated room to change one's shoes, strangely reminded me of something I had experienced as a small child and throughout my life: The encounter with silence as one enters a church or any sacred place. A sacred place announces itself with the need to be quiet, or even better, a need to be silent in order to listen.

Rumi, the Persian poet and theologian wrote:

Why are you so afraid of silence?
Silence is the root of everything ...
If you spiral into its void ...
A hundred voices will thunder
messages you long to hear ...

Breaking through the Milonga Chatter

Although I think that tango can bring a sense of heaven on earth, a brush with the sacred, often this is NOT what I experience from the usual tango crowd but instead from my dance partner. Only with a person who doesn't have to say much or is simply silent makes this sacred feeling possible. She's the person who just sighs as if seeing a wonderful sunset we are both attentively watching, the person who hangs on in the embrace--not wanting to lose the moment. Luckily my life-partner is this way too.

Doesn't silence describe the sacred moments throughout our lives? I know about silence and sacred places--the Sierra Nevada Desert, the razor-sharp ridge lines of the Guadalupe Mountains, the depth's of the Red Sea, heights of Mount Sinai, the sculpted rock of Petra, Jordan, the moments between the movements between Beethoven's 9th upon hearing it live for the first time. Sacred moments and places command silence or at least a whisper. I also know about touching the hem of the divine with music. Silence is golden, but silence with music? It's platinum.

Music can be the auditory expression of a silent crimson sunset.

Perhaps the most amazing moment for me of silence combined with music happened years ago in Paris at the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the
 basilica overlooking Paris. The organist played a piece that still haunts me in the most wonderful way. I don't have to search for the music and buy it. It still is inside of me as an indescribable feeling that does not transfer well to the MP3 format.

But tango music and silence? Don't we all do that at home?

Not really. Rarely do we listen to music at home. Most of us, at least I, multi-task with music at home. Dancing to music can be the most intensive listening moment for me, a close second to playing in a improvisational ensemble (usually jazz) with other musicians.

Silence is the room that allows Musica to express herself.

When the room was silent, the music had dynamics that I had never heard so well at a milonga. Our collective dance, combined with music and silence surpassed platinum, creating an amalgamation of the gold of silence, the platinum of music and the rhodium* of a warm embrace. This amalgamation of precious metals are suitable for a ring to encases the precious "stone" of a dancing embrace. This precious stone is not a diamond, as you might have guessed, but a white stone - rarer than diamonds and priceless. I'll explain later.

If silence expresses the sacred, what is the profane (less than sacred):

The guy behind me who is having a conversation about what he was doing at work. Loud or soft--that's profane. It's even profane to whisper while dancing in the Argentine tango world.

The group of people who are so loud at the tables that it is hard to even hear the the pulse of a song when dancing near their chatter--that's, well, less than sacred. Social conversation is considerate of the social context. You can swear in the dining facility of a marine boot camp, but not at the dinner table with grandma.

The two couples standing on the dancefloor who didn't quite make it off the dancefloor, and stand there, chatting for the entire tanda, oblivious to the havoc they have created on the dance floor--that's taking the dance out of "social dance." Profane, asocial at best.

The couple, who chats through half of each of the four songs of a tanda, causing everyone to either dance in place or go around them. Your choice: rent a room or sit down. Renting a room would be less profane and more fun for everyone involved.

Even the silent woman who sits with her smart phone with her face aglow from the screen she is poking at, loudly announces how she in not present. She just as easily could have put on loud earphones and listened to heavy metal in order to be entirely in another place and time, far from intimidating silence or tango music. That is, sadly, a is a profane expression of the beauty of technology, and a society neglecting their children as they give their full attention to their "smart" phone.

Yes, silence can be scary when avoiding one's own obsessive thoughts, one's own anxious feelings of being good enough for the partner who finally received your eyes' request, one's own need to talk to someone about the feelings inside.

...Silence is the root of everything ...
If you spiral into its void ...
A hundred voices will thunder
messages you long to hear ...

To be fair, I should not complain about any of the above mentioned people. Are we not all guilty of not being present all through the day? Not noticing the sacred moments around us? And don't we all too often take for granted the milonga's sacred moments of music and the unfathomable tandem, improvisational movements of tango? If our lifetimes were measured as one day, are not the rare precious microseconds of our embraces through our life precious and sacred? Ask a dying person.

Silencio Sagrado

When I walked into the foyer at Don Carlito's, the person taking the "collection" had a large sign explaining the Milonga de Silencio in order that he would not have to have to talk. The sign announced that drinks would be paid on the honor system in a basket as one left so that no one needed to request or pay for a drink during the milonga.

Catching each other's eyes for a dance is easy for this long-established group in Heidelberg, but a whole evening without talking? A greeting with a hug and sparkling eyes, was enough. It worked from the start to the finish.

A silent smile says much more than lips can utter.

No exchange of names or chatter between dances in a tanda was necessary. I had names I could have given each woman. The Apocalypse speaks of the moment when we will be given a white stone, and on that stone will be the name that the Divine One gives us, not to be shared with others.** Why not give each other white stones after the tanda with a name inscribed on it that only that person and you know?

The look (mirada y cabeceo) to dance already gave us a head start. Tango culture already insists on a silent look to request or assent to a dance. Chatter was wonderfully missing between songs, not that we didn't have anything to say, but awesome things merit silence at times. Before you think this sounds too pretentious, I also had the sense that we were also like children at times. The precious repressed child-like giggle said a lot too, like siblings in church who just cannot help themselves from giggling in spite of the rule of silence.

Throughout the night, a funny thing kept happening: I often saw two people put their hands together in the traditional greeting that goes with "namaste," which in sanskrit is the Hindu greeting/acknowledging/bowing to the divine in the person before you.

At the end of the night, a few of us lingered in the silence. As I left, I paid for my drinks into the honor-system "collection basket." I needed change for my 20 euro bill, and I saw that the basket was filled with 10 and 20 euro bills. I think most of us paid more than necessary out of gratitude.

Silence is more precious than gold when amalgamated with music and dance. The ring your partner of embrace gives you at the end of each tanda has a white stone in that ring.

Read the inscription on it . . . in silence.'
Footnotes for Tango Therapist's account:

* Rhodium goes for about $1000 an ounce more than platinum.
**Revelation: 2:17 "I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it."