Milonga de Carnaval

Carnaval 1922

by Kevin Carrel Footer

I arrived in Argentina already nostalgic. There is no logical explanation for this as I had no past here. No grandfather of mine sat me on his lap and told me stories of his youthful adventures in Buenos Aires. No branch of the family tree had ever set foot in South America, so far as I can tell. I was just born with the seed of an unfathomable love of Buenos Aires inside me.

One of my regrets is that I never lived the great outdoor milongas that were held during Carnaval. I know them only in historic photographs: vast crowds of people dancing tango outdoors under strings of lightbulbs.

The once-widespread party that overtook the city – including not only outdoor milongas but murga processions and legendary, neighborhood-wide water fights – died out during the climate of violence and fear that reined in the 1970s. When the military government came to power, it delivered an axe-blow to happiness itself by canceling the national Carnaval holiday. No more fun. (Fun, by the way, had been dying a slow death anyway as fanaticism took hold of both sides of this political battle.)

Since the return of democracy in 1983, a small but determined group of artists and cultural activists has fought to resuscitate Carnaval. Starting in 2012, a four-day Carnaval Weekend was put back on the national holiday calendar.

Heading to teach my tango class the other day, I noticed some flyers announcing “Milonga de Carnaval” tacked up on lightposts and construction sites. So after class, I wandered over to the corner of Pampa and Constituyentes in Villa Urquiza. There, in front of Café El Faro, I found a stage set up in the street and, in front of it, a crowd of people dancing tango.

Okay, this wasn’t a football stadium full of people dancing like I’d seen in those old photos – it was a block party – but the happiness and joy in that crowd is, I am sure, the seed that will one day bring back those massive street milongas that I would like to see with my own eyes.

Needless to say, I dropped my backpack in the pile of other backpacks and purses that was growing by the stage, testament to all the people who, like me, had arrived, shed their belongings and gone to lose themselves in the dancing crowd.

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