Buenos Aires Basics

Buenos Aires Basics: Tango 101

BA Basics

By | July 18, 2009 | 3 comments

tango argentina

Buenos Aires Tango shows, milongas and the general tango scene briefed

History of Tango in Buenos Aires

The tango was first danced in the lower class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Mixing musical influences, which range from Spanish Flamenco to African percussion and beyond, the dance is reflective of the early Buenos Aires population, which was largely composed of those who had immigrated to Argentina from Europe at the end of the 19th century.

Originally and unknown to most, tango was a dance that men practiced together. Eventually prostitutes joined the fun in the slums which explains why today female dancers often wear provocative clothing that is reminiscent of these early and more traditional days.

Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) was, and still is, the most famous tango singer. Many of tango’s traditional songs are often cited as the breeding point of Argentina’s modern day lunfardo or Argentinean slang. And if your Spanish is not sharp enough to pick up on the slang you will most certainly hear one of his songs at any show or most milongas. Gardel’s untimely death in a plane crash has further secured the singer’s icon status among Argentines. The only men to even get close to his international fame and popularity are the great footballers Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

buenos aires tango show

Where to see Tango in Buenos Aires

Tango is a complex, sexy and improvised dance. Fancy foot work, graceful movements and a loving embrace make up the foundation. Words simply cannot describe the feeling one gets while watching or dancing the sensuous, sophisticated tango. A simple shift of one’s weight, the guiding press of a hand on one’s back- the slightest movement can dictate what comes next!

You can see and observe tango in Buenos Aires in two fashions; either a performed show or a Milonga. Free performances can be found randomly on the streets in the more touristy sections of town (Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, Av. Florida in Centro, Plaza San Martín in Centro). These shows are great mid-day entertainment, but don’t run on a firm schedule and they simply do not hold a candle to the professional performances. If you’re interested in catching a professional stage performance, do your research and find the right price that best suits you. We recommend either the Esquina de Carlos Gardel or Cafe de los Angelitos for the best bang for your buck.

For milongas, each night there are hot spots, codes among the dancers, reputations to uphold, tango shoes- it is a world in its own. In a real traditional milonga men and women will sit on opposite sides of the club just like a 7th grade dance! If you decide to go to a milonga leave the tables close to the floor for the veterans, sit back a few tables and observe. Expect to hear songs in blocks of 3’s and that dance partners switch out regularly. La Catedral is a great club that offers lessons and is very open to beginners dancing and observing. If you want to learn more about the Do’s and Don’ts of Tango in Argentina.

Milongas are constantly changing times and many come in and out of fashion. Here’s the best site we have presently to help keep up, but it’s best to ask around once you start getting into the scene.

Dancing Tango in Buenos Aires

Some alternatives for tango lessons and other options you may consider:

Alejandro Puerta (Our favorite instructor)
DNI Tango (Group lessons)

Private lessons tend to vary greatly depending on the studio provided, teacher’s experience, etc. Try out a few different instructors and see which one clicks the best with your abilities and needs.

The biggest advantage of group lessons are that they offer a variety of dance partners. There is one way to get better at dancing tango and that is practicing and more practicing.

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  1. Cherie

    22/07/2009 - 1:06 pm

    First, thanks for recommending my blog, tangocherie.
    I love yours, BTW.

    Let me just point out to your readers that plus all the things you said, further understanding of the tango requires someone to go to a milonga to see the "real" tango of Buenos Aires in action. That is, the improvised social tango that is danced by "regular" folks and not professional show dancers. This tango is based on improvisation, the music, sensuality, connection and the imbrace, and there's nothing else like it in the world.

    There are more than 70 milongas a week in Buenos Aires; search one or two out and enjoy watching the real thing.

  2. Janis

    30/10/2009 - 4:32 pm

    Tango wasn't performed by men — they practiced together so they could improve and dance well enough for women.

    Tango on stage is choreography for entertainment that requires training and physical agility, so it looks complex. Tango is really a simple dance that locals enjoy every day in the milongas. It's about feeling the music and sharing it with the person in your arms.

    I describe it as a sensuous dance rather than a sexy one.

    1. Ronald Tipton

      22/11/2009 - 10:54 pm

      You're wrong Janis. Wrong.