August 30, 2015 § 1 Comment

I wanted to write briefly about a troubling phenomenon on the local scene, namely, the recent loss of several milongas and practicas. In the past eight months, or so, we have seen the closure of three milongas—RoKo, KoLonga, and Milonga Loca—and two practicas—Racing Club and Rawson. Another new and much smaller milonga, Lo de Renée, opened for a few weeks and then closed after the building housing the milonga was sold.

Of these, RoKo (organized by Robin Thomas and Ko Tanaka) was the largest—one of the largest in North America, I believe—and longest lived. KoLonga, organized by Ko Tanaka, made its debut in early 2015 but shut down for the summer in June. It was housed in a large space at the Hungarian Cultural Center on the Upper East Side. It was well liked by dancers and had the potential for considerable growth. Milonga Loca, a much smaller operation, was held in a restaurant on the Upper West Side. When the restaurant went out of business, the milonga went with it. Although there are plans to reopen both KoLonga and Milonga Loca in the fall, it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen.

Among the practicas, Racing Club, the oldest, lost a great deal of momentum when it had to vacate its home of many years at Dance Manhattan on West 19th Street. The practica was transferred to Stepping Out Studios, but it never seemed to catch on and attendance had been low ever since the transfer in early 2015. If it returns in the fall, things may improve. Rawson, a new, Saturday afternoon practica organized by Rebecca Shulman, which began life at Adelante Studios, had potential. But after a few months of operation and only fair attendance, it too closed “temporarily.”

There are several possible reasons for the closings.

  • increased rent
  • decreased attendance
  • abandonment by the organizer
  • loss of the physical premises

This being New York City, and Manhattan in particular, the continuous upward pressure on rental prices and rampant speculation have made it difficult for all artists and cultural institutions, not just milongas, to find and maintain viable space at a reasonable price. And given the economics of milongas, it’s not surprising that so many of them have had difficulty staying afloat.

Decreased attendance is another possibility and one that would obviously have a harmful effect on the economics of running a milonga—lower attendance being equivalent to reduced revenue and decreased profit (if any). If this were combined with an increase in rent, it would explain the recent closures. There were complaints of lower attendance at some of the larger venues that have closed (RoKo and KoLonga in particular) but no one has been keeping statistics. Presumably, the organizers have a record of weekly attendance figures but I have no idea if these have ever been compiled and analzyed. The more disturbing aspect of decreased attendance, however, is the possibility that the local tango community has shrunk in size over the past several years. This would mean fewer dancers spread among a greater number of milongas; and, when there are several events on a given evening, new milongas would be competing with existing venues for the same crowd. While New York does get a large number of tourists passing through on a regular basis, visitors alone cannot sustain a local community. The community itself will have to do two things to remain healthy: at the very least, maintain its current size, and grow through a process of organic development (by bringing new people into the community).

Concerning abandonment, I’ve not heard of any milongas or practicas that have been abandoned by their organizers, at least none that were at least moderately successful. However, two that I know of have had to close because of the loss of the physical premises. Milonga Loca, run out of a Mexican restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue by Dragan Ranitovic, was well attended but had to shut down when the restaurant went out of business. Lo de Renée, started by Renée Rouger at a small venue on East 6th Street in the East Village, opened for several weeks but was also forced to close when the building was sold by the owner. Hopefully, the milongas and practicas slated to reopen in the fall, will do just that. Maybe everyone will be back from vacation by then.

Update  Well, some good news . . . as of September it looks like both the Racing Club and Rawson practicas are open again. So, they haven’t gone away, they were just on summer vacation.

Second Update  Looks like I spoke to soon. After a brief reappearance, as of October, Racing Club has closed again. Perhaps it will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes at some future date, but for now it’s over. However, KoLonga is back at its usual spot.

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