Photos courtesy of Goats on the Road
Argentina and Tango go hand in hand - the dance is deeply rooted in the country’s culture. Surprisingly, the history of Tango hasn’t always been something that Argentina has been proud of.
Born in the seedy back streets of Buenos Aires, for a long time it was associated with the criminal and immigrant underclass. It wasn’t until the dance gained popularity in France, when Argentine sailors took it to Paris in the early 1900’s, that it achieved a level of respectability among the social elites.
The Golden Age
Tango experienced a “golden age” between 1932 and 1955, whereby mainstream popularity flourished across not only Argentina, but also Europe and the United States. Today Tango is a way of life in Buenos Aires, with many Argentines living and breathing it, and throngs of “gringos” traveling to the city to be taught by the best in the business!
An expressive dance characterized by grand postures and dramatic pauses, the Tango can be enjoyed in many forms in Buenos Aires.
Tango is everywhere. You can barely turn a corner in some neighborhoods, such as La Boca or San Telmo, without being greeted by either busking dancers or entertainment performances put on by restaurants.
On weekends, dancers gather in many of Buenos Aires’ stunning and vast parks to practice with their partners. Then there are the extravagant Tango shows held city-wide, aimed at tourists that include a dinner. The best way to experience the culture of Tango, however, is to go to a Milonga.
Taking place in various dance halls across every night of the week, the experience for beginners usually includes a lesson and then an invitation to mingle with the “milongueros” and dance the night away practicing your new skills.
Hugely social, there’s no need to worry about having a partner to go with - but be forewarned, in true nocturnal Buenos Aires style these places open late. The best of the dancing doesn’t usually get going until well after midnight and goes on into the early hours. Somewhat confusingly, Milonga also refers to a style of music and type of Tango.
In-house orchestras usually play three to five songs in a row, called a “tanda,” followed by a short musical interlude, called a “cortina,” to facilitate partner changes. Be sure to dress to impress, in tune with the sophistication of the dance, high heels, sleek hairstyles and sharp outfits are all part of the scene.
Other Tango etiquette to be aware of is no talking during dancing, invitations to dance are more often than not indicated by a nod of the head (cabeceo), men lead onto and escort the women off of the dance floor.
Feel The Beat
It may seem like a different world if it’s your first time, but the most important thing is to have fun and just let your body feel the rhythm of the music. Even if you don’t feel like getting into the throws of the dance floor it’s perfectly acceptable to just enjoy a nice glass of Malbec or champagne and sit back and watch the elegance and drama unfold.
Here’s some of the best places recommended by people in the know:
Salon Canning (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331, Palermo Soho) With an established crowd, regulars and tourists alike have been dancing here for over 15 years. There’s a real mix of ages and capabilities with performances most nights of the week.
La Milong del Indio (Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo) This Milonga is an earlier one and gets going around sunset after the Sunday market, it’s a more relaxed affair and attracts a lot of attention.
El Yeite Tango Club (Av. Cordoba 4175, Buenos Aires) A hip and happening dance hall, this is where the best upcoming dancers hang out. It’s a young crowd with high energy that doesn’t get going until around 3 a.m.
If you are planning a trip to BA, as the city is known as for short, why not immerse yourself in the culture, learn some new moves and have an evening out at a local Milonga?