The term milonga has many different meanings. It may refer to a genre of Argentine folk music, to a subgenre of tango music, to a subgenre of tango dance, or to a popular event where people get together to dance tango.
Originally, the milonga was a popular musical rhythm from the interior of Argentina. This is the milonga campera, a slow and melancholic folk rhythm related to the gaucho culture and payadores. This rural milonga is relevant to the history of tango because it played a fundamental role in the gestation of tango music.
According to Roberto Selles, there were two main genre of primitive tango in the gestation period. One of them evolved from the tango andaluz and disappeared before the appearance of the orquestas típicas in the 1910’s. The other one is related to the milonga campera and lived throughout the end of the guardia vieja.
The milonga as a subgenre of tango music was introduced by Sebastian Piana in 1931 with “Milonga sentimental“. This urban version of the milonga was inspired by the tango-milongas of the guardia vieja and is characterized by a blend of milonga and habanera rhythms. These urban milongas were adapted to the orquesta típica and further popularized by Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo and other directors of the guardia nueva.
The milonga as a dance is related to the urban milonga of Sebastian Piana. It is characterized by short, down to earth steps in the spirit of cayengue and early forms of tango dancing. The milonga lisa is a way of dancing milonga which is regular and on the beat. Milonga traspie includes many playful weight changes on double time.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the term milonga it was commonly used to designate a popular event where afro argentines gathered to dance. And afro argentine dances were reffered to as tango. Today, the milonga is an event where people gather to dance Argentine tango.
Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.