Tango: Sultry And Elegant
It is 4am and the dimly lit dance floor is packed with couples in close embrace, chests and cheeks connected, legs moving in unison to a 50-year old tango by Pugliese.
They dance together as if they had known each other for decades, but no one in this crowd was even alive yet when this song came out and most of the couples are dancing together for the first time.
The dancers dress as if going to a disco: jeans, sneakers and the occasional dress or skirt with leggings. But as the violin and bandoneon on the recorded orquestra belt out their notes, the women take long steps, revealing their shiny tango shoes— high-heeled and in varying shades of red, gold, green and blue— spinning into backwards “ochos” while caressing the floor as if it were the third partner; this is no disco, it is the real thing: tango dancing at La Viruta on a Friday night.
In the South American city that never sleeps, now is the best time to come and experience tango.
The Golden Age Of Tango
While the history of tango has been theorized and debated for years, the common belief is that it was born from a melting pot of different dances in the late 1800s, during the biggest immigration boom in Argentina’s history. It was a dance that started in the streets, evolved in the brothels, and eventually found its way to Europe, where it received a social stamp of approval, opening the eyes of the world to this dance that at one time was “forbidden” by the authorities.
Through its history tango has endured depression, dictatorships, and rock and roll and continues to flourish today, practiced internationally by people of all ages.
Now, more than ever, people from around the world are traveling to Argentina to practice tango in its birthplace. Some come for one or two weeks and others stay for years just to perfect the dance, sometimes with aspirations to become a professional dancer, but often just to improve their skills while meeting other tango dancers from around the world.
Many serious “Milongueros” adopt a nocturnal lifestyle and attend multiple venues, making the most of the night (and better part of the morning) hopping from one dance to another until 5 or 6am.
Tango Shows For You To See
Walking around Buenos Aires, you will literally stumble upon tango street performers dancing for pennies from Florida street to San Telmo to La Boca. But if the only tango you see is in the street, you will be missing out. Here are the best spots in Buenos Aires to see Argentina’s top dancers perform at tango stage shows.
You can go anywhere in town to see spectacular dancers strut their stuff on the stage – but most places will charge you a pretty penny (US $60-150). Instead of shelling out the big bucks, I highly recommend going to a tango show at Café Tortoni (US $10-20). Turning 150 years old this year, Café Tortoni is known to most people as a historical joint to visit and admire while drinking a cup of café cortado. What many people don’t know is that it offers nightly tango shows in the basement floor and in the back of the café.
Call ahead and make a reservation and try to see a show in the upstairs venue since it is smaller and more intimate:
If you have money to spend, dish it out and go to Senor Tango, a Las Vegas-style tango show that includes a three-course dinner and an orchestra that will blow your mind (not to mention some of Buenos Aires’ best dancers and singers) for approx. US $75)
Milongas: An Alternative To Stage Shows
If you want to see locals and international dancers dancing socially (no rehearsed dancing, all created in the moment), you absolutely MUST experience an authentic Buenos Aires milonga. While many of the tango dancers that you will see at the Milongas have years of experience, many places provide classes and practice sessions at the beginning of the night, giving more novice dancers a chance to test their skills on the dancefloor.
Here are a week’s worth of milonga suggestions (although by no means an exhaustive list—all milongas are updated weekly here.
Kelly Rice’s Favorite Milongas In Buenos Aires
Monday: Confiteria Ideal—A traditional see-and-be-seen milonga. Great people-watching.
Tuesdays: Practica X—A very young, experimental milonga.
Wednesdays: Villa Malcom—An extremely international crowd, dancers come to hone their skills.
Thursdays: Niño Bien—A large well-known milonga with traditional-style tango dancers
Fridays: La Viruta— Experienced and novices alike come here to make history on the dance floor
Saturdays: La Glorietta—A free outdoor milonga where dancers shed their inhibitions (rain or
Sundays: Plaza Dorrego—After an afternoon visit to the San Telmo flea market, make your way to Plaza Dorrego to watch El Indio’s performance, then stay for the outdoor milonga
While there are classes before most milongas start, it helps to have a bit of the basics. And there is no excuse not to take a couple of tango classes in the mecca of tango—Buenos Aires, where a lesson costs next to nothing and the teachers are nothing short of amazing.
The following are a couple of my favorite dance studios. They cater their classes towards students of multiple levels, from first timers to advanced couples looking for choreography. Most of the teachers speak a little English, although knowing Spanish is a definite plus.
(Esmeralda 754, phone: 4325-8264)
Young teachers with experimental styles break barriers and introduce students to “tango nuevo”
Another tango nuevo style school that even offers Yoga classes specifically designed for tango dancers
All group classes range from $15-$20 pesos. Private classes are to be arranged with each individual teacher but can be pricey ($75-150 Argentine Pesos)
Lambada Zouk: The Coolest Dance You’ve Never Heard Of
In order to wrap your mind around Zouk, you just have to see it. Imagine one part dirty dancing, one part salsa and one part waltz. Intimate, rhythmic and elegant, it is a beautiful seductive dance that involves partners dancing, attached at the hip, and separating to twirl, all the while maintaining a one-two-three beat to various music from the Caribbean, Brazil, and even the Middle East.
Lambada Zouk is a version of the lambada developed in the late eighties. Originating in Brazil, it (like tango) caught fire in Europe and is fast becoming recognized worldwide. One of the best places to dance lambada zouk is Buenos Aires.
Although Zouk isn’t as famous as tango, right now in Buenos Aires there are places to see and practice this unique dance form four nights a week.
Take a class at Maluco Beleza, one of BA’s most well-known bars that boasts a huge dance space downstairs and a second floor upstairs. Wednesday nights there is a dinner show with a variety of Brazilian dances. Fridays at 10:30pm and Sundays at 9:30pm for 15 pesos ($5 US) you can take a beginner zouk class, practice your moves as the bar begins to fill up, and then stay to watch as seasoned zouk dancers light up the dancefloor, twisting their bodies—the men hold the women like precious objects and the girls spin in tune to the music and their partners, while sensually flipping their long hair off their faces.
Offering a wide variety of Brazilian dance classes including different kind of Samba, Axé, and capoeira, Balaio also gives zouk classes for all levels. Take their beginners class on Fridays at 8pm with Gabriela and she will patiently guide you through basics of lambada zouk.
Mansilla 2787 top floor
tel: +54 (11) 4963-6066
Zouk group classes are 15-20 pesos. Private classes are 50.
For info on teachers, places to dance zouk and classes, refer to this website: www.zoukba.com
Editor’s Note: Kelly Rice has written some freaking awesome blogs about her experiences studying Tango and Zouk in Buenos Aires. Here are some of my favorites:
Check out Kelly’s other writing and get in touch with her and thousands of other passionate travelers by visiting her Matador profile.
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Kelly Rice travels "to see the world from different perspectives." Her ideal place to watch the sunrise is from a tall building overlooking the Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires.