Updated 6th April 2023
This was originally part of another blog post, but as there have been a number of developments, and it’s turning into something of a major source of contention between milonga organisers, I’ve now separated it into its own post.
I’ll begin with the background; then the various developments; offer my own thoughts (and sums); and share an opposing view from a friend …
Differential pricing policy
In early March, a number of milongas in Buenos Aires introduced two-tier pricing: one price for locals, and a higher one for tourists. It began with a couple of them, and within a week had spread to eight.
The price differential varied. In the above one, Porteño y Bailarin, the extranjeros (foreigner) price was twice as high as that for locals. In others, the difference was smaller.
Update: I’m told by someone involved in the original discussions that the original concept was to increase the standard price, and then to offer discounts to regulars (irrespective of nationality or residence). But some milongas implemented it as locals vs foreigners, or offered the discounts only to locals.
Among some visitors, this proved controversial, with people calling it discriminatory or unfriendly. Additionally, some other milonga organisers strongly objected to the practice.
Julia from Sueño Porteño opted for an approach so passive-aggressive she could almost be a Brit. She put a sign at the entrance reading ‘Entrada general 900 pesos para TODOS.’
Carolina Couto, organiser of Ladelcentro and La Rosa, wrote this on Facebook (tidied-up Google translation):
Ladelcentro Milonga and La Rosa Milonga are in disagreement and do not support the differentiated tariffs that are being implemented. I have a thousand reasons for this. One very clear one is that the values of my milongas are not based on maximising profit, or charging someone more because they may be wealthy.
Equality is what I want for my tango, my culture. The next logical step would be asking for paychecks before we set the price. My tickets will stay the same for EVERYONE. Without differentiating Argentinians/Residents and Foreigners.
Sans Souci did the same (translated):
The Milonga Sans Souci rejects the differential rate for foreigners, which is xenophobic, fascist and illegal.
We call on these organisers to reflect and reverse this unacceptable measure that does not represent us as Argentines and Milongueros.
We distance ourselves from all the organisers who, motivated by their nationalist ideology, discriminate against members of the tango community because of their place of origin.
Tango is a universal heritage of humanity, and that implies a responsibility on the part of all those who develop it in its birthplace.
Organiser Pablo Boneo followed this by putting up this notice on both the entrance door and outside the bathrooms (click/tap to enlarge):
And got rather more, er, direct on Facebook, calling out the specific milongas doing this:
Leading the manager of La Nacional to tell him to stop it, or lose access to the venue:
His response was to poke fun at it:
New policy of prices
- Argentine residents and non-residents habitues and nonhabitues
- Foreigners who have arrived in anything that has wheels
- Foreigners who have arrived walking around with your hair tied or with a cap
- Hairless foreigners
- Argentinians from the provinces
- People who speak strangely
- People who seem good far away who are shaken like crazy (??)
- Anyone not on this list
- Single rate: 1200 pesos
So, er, yeah: that escalated quickly! (I’m quite tempted to turn up with a dog.)
The cost in context
To put the cost into context, let’s take a breakdown of my costs for a milonga costing 2000 pesos:
- Bus there: 41
- Entry: 2,000
- Water, wine, coffee, empanada: 2,200 (1700+tip)
- Bus home: 41
- Total: 4,282 pesos
- At today’s blue dollar rate, that’s: £8.73
The total cost of a night out. £8.73. The London equivalent (via tube) would have been a minimum of £36.
Personally, I have no issue with two-tier pricing at all. I’d make three arguments in favour: pragmatic, altruistic, and selfish.
Differential pricing for tourists is commonplace. Museums, cable-cars, and other tourist attractions in multiple countries already implement this policy. Indeed, that includes museums in BsAs.
So this is absolutely nothing new.
Argentina has a crumbling economy, with close to 100% annual inflation. I literally saw price rises in my first five days in the country! Many people here make a precarious living, and I have no doubt that includes milonga organisers.
Milonga operating costs are, like everything else in the country, increasing. Think about the huge rise in the cost of electricity alone, to keep the lights and air-conditioning on. Milongas have to bring in additional money to cover the additional costs.
Sure, they could increase the price for everyone – and this has indeed happened. Standard entry prices for the milongas I’ve been to are around 30-40% higher than a year ago (which is a below-inflation rise). That typical 1,200 pesos entry fee is a lot of money for some locals.
Using the most recent data I can find (Feb 2022), the average salary in Argentina is ARS45,000 per month – which was, at the time, the equivalent of £358/month. Probably it’s higher in the city, but so too are living costs. Many dancers will be retired or semi-retired, and living on less than that. Compare that to your own salary and see how fair it seems then.
If milongas can’t recoup their rising costs, they will close. It’s that stark, and that simple.
But what about instead increasing the price further for everyone? That would mean fewer locals could afford to go, and even if you don’t care about them, surely we come here because we want to dance with locals? So it’s clearly in our own selfish interest to ensure they can afford to be there.
We’re being asked to pay about £2 extra per milonga. I get that costs add up, but for a typical fortnight visit, dancing at two milongas a day, then even if every single one of them implemented this policy, the maximum additional cost would be less than £30. In the context of the crazy cost of flights at present, this is nothing.
Donations instead of two-tier pricing?
Some object not to the extra amount, but to the fact that it is demanded rather than requested. Especially those who had donated to the milongas during the pandemic, as some of us did.
I think that’s a reasonable position to take. If milongas had a sign which said ‘Entry 1000 + suggested donation 1000’ then I’d like to think that tourists would pay it … but I do have experience of people being invited to make donations to help both Argentine and British milonga organisers during the pandemic, and only a handful doing so. Reluctantly, I think this wouldn’t work.
I asked a friend who was opposed to the policy to present their counterarguments, so that a balanced view is offered. Here’s what they said:
1. Two tier pricing is confusing. Will the organisers who adopt it be willing to have their policy publised on sites like Hoy-Milonga?
2. Any potential income benefits may be lost to competitors who don’t institute a two tier system.
3. It will harm the Buenos Aires tango industry, as some dancers will be put off coming to Argentina, inc. casas, tango shops, etc and all other tourism areas to a lesser extent.
4. It devalues tango culture – by which I mean that traditionally once one steps through the red curtains everyone is equal, no questions asked about who you are, what you do, why you dance, your job, family background, etc.
5. Will the extra charge provide me with better seating, etc. Of course not. Why not?
6. It is disrespectful taking foreign dancers for granted. “They are all rich”.
Within weeks social media will be flooded with lists of milongas to avoid. This policy is unsustainable, quite possibly illegal on the grounds of discrimination, and divisive. I don’t like it.
I guess the proof will be in the pudding. If most tourists don’t mind, then the milongas will bring in the extra money they need. If one tourist boycotts them for every tourist visiting, they’ll break even. They’ll only lose money if more than half of tourists boycott them, which seems completely implausible.
Personally I’d be very surprised if there are sufficient refuseniks to even make a noticeable dent in the extra income. I can’t see anyone boycotting their favourite milongas over a couple of quid, and likewise cannot see anyone abandoning a planned tango trip to BsAs over this.
To me, the greatest shame about all this is the bad will it has created between some visitors and milongas implementing the policy, and between different milonga organisers. I very much hope things will calm down.