If you happen to mention that you’re visiting Buenos Aires to anyone in the Tango community, you will probably get at least one recommendation of a place to visit. Of course once you arrive, you realise that everyone has different preferences and expectations, and things change all the time. You don’t always know what a place is like or how easy it is to get there by public transport, unless you’ve budgeted for taxis, which depending on distance seemed to cost between $50-100 ARS (Argentine Pesos). However , I found catching the bus was a lot cheaper and a very efficient way of getting a tour around the city as well as to get to know the local people and customs at the same time.
One of the first things I did after my arrival was to visit a website called ‘Hoy-milonga.com‘ (translated loosely means ‘Today’s Milonga‘), which provides daily listings of milongas (Tango social dances), practicas (practice sessions) and classes held in in Buenos Aires. This site is available in English, Spanish, French and German. In addition to providing basic details such as addresses , timings, languages spoken, gay friendly venues, each listing also includes a location map, list of buses, as well as links to the venue/school’s own websites. Printed copies of ‘Hoy Milonga’ can also be found at the various Tango venues across the city. The other guide I found is called ‘El Tangauta.com‘, which also includes a few articles and interviews in Spanish. Of course the best way to to find out about what’s new is to learn some Spanish before your trip and chat to the locals.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to Tango in Buenos Aires by any stretch of the imagination but it will give you a flavour of some of the places I danced at. I generally avoided the more well known formal venues which attracts some of the tourists, and instead decided i wanted to try out as many of the ‘local joints’ as I possibly could, however, given the sheer number of Tango venues and teachers in Buenos Aires – anything between 19-29 scheduled classes/practicas/milongas depending on the day of the week, not including the private classes of course. I didn’t get the opportunity to dance or write about them all , however, here are a few which I thought people may like to hear about:
(Sarmiento 4006, Almagro. Entrance fee: $60 Pesos)
After sorting out the initial financial formalities with the receptionist, who in his naivety noted my nationality down as ‘Gitano’ (or ‘Gypsy’), I was directed upstairs, where I found a class taking place in one of the smaller rooms on the 1st floor. On the opposite side to the class, there was a huge space with high ceilings which feels like you’re in a derelict old cathedral filled will all kinds of modern artwork and nik-naks. There was a bar at the far end of the wooden dance floor which was surrounded by tables, where people were dining or just having drinks. The crowd seemed mostly younger and there appeared to be no formal separate seating arrangements for men, women and couples, as is typical in more traditional milongas and there seemed to be far more women than men. The music seemed fairly traditional ‘golden oldies’ (i.e 1930s-40s), however, I saw no evidence of people using the art of ‘Cabaceo‘, a traditional Argentine custom of nodding of the head from men to request a dance, prior to formally approaching the lady in question. In fact I witnessed one chap, who literally walked in and before he’d even had a chance to put his shoes on, just looked at a girl as he casually walked towards the bar and simple stated “dance?”, which I thought was pretty cocky approach. Alas, the girl refused and he strutted his way off towards the next victim and eventually did find someone to take him up on his offer.
On the couple of occasions that I visited La Catedrale I spotted some very good dancers, but it appeared that many of the younger members of the crowd may have been visitors, some of whom had possibly never danced Tango before, and were consequently being given lessons on the dance floor with their flip flops on, which in Tango circles is considered a big no-no. Around mid-night there was usually some kind of performance . Once I watched a guitar player/singer and on another occasion, there was a band followed by a flamenco style dancer, who played with his ‘boleos’ – no pun intended.
Placita del Plancela Bianco
(Defensa 1100, Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo _Free entry)
This is a very informal outdoor milonga, which takes place every Sunday, weather permitting of course. As the majority of milongas I’ve attended seem to be held indoors, this made a refreshing change, especially as it was a beautiful summer’s evening and the colourful lights made it it all seem very cosy and relaxed. The crowd were a mixture of ages and nationalities. I met some really lovely young people from Uruguay and Chile, including a lovely young lady I’d seen the previous day at La Boca, trying to earn money by posing for pictures with tourists in various Tango outfits. On my way back, I also happened to witness my first’Candombe parade. For anyone who like me had never heard Candombe before, Yaki, a very clever Uruguan electronic engineer who was involved in developing/designing instruments to test injectors in car engines without the need to dismantle engines, informs me that Candombe is a Uruguayan style based music and dance, which was introduced by African slaves and is played at carnivals using 3 different kinds of drums: Chico, Repique and Piano drums. Some people are of the opinion that Candombe may even be a predecessor to Tango. For anyone interested in hearing more, you may like this link :
Candombe is a musical genre that has its roots in the African Bantu, and is proper of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Uruguayan Candombe is the most practiced and spread internationally and has been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Candombe the dance was a local fusion of various African traditions. A complicated choreography includes a final section with wild rhythms, freely improvised steps, and energetic, semi-athletic movements. For more info see : http://wp.me/pBIIx-9u Special thanks to Emilio Arteaga :: http://www.vimeo.com/user532902 for some video clips. All other credits at end of video.
El Beso (‘The Kiss’)
Riobamba 416, Buenos Aires
(Entrance fee: $90.00 pesos for a lesson and $20 extra for practica)
Susana Miller (of the La Academia del Tango), a generally well respected Tango teacher appears to run classes, practicas (practice sessions) and /or milongas practically every night of the week. There must have be at least 50 people who attended these classes, and Susana just happened to mention to me that she has many students from India. How interesting !
I initially attended ‘La Practica de los Lunes’ . On arriving I wasn’t impressed to discover that the price had suddenly gone up that evening. I apparently also unwittingly committed a huge faux-pas by joining a couple of lovely ladies, who invited me to their table after the class. Apparently, ‘El Beso’ is one of the more traditional venues, where this is not the done thing. The milongas attract the best dancers in Buenos Aires , who appreciate the classical style and formalities of dancing at an old style milonga.
Dance floor rules are strict and to be adhered to at all times. The milonga is definitely not a place for beginners to try out new steps. Many who dance here have probably been dancing for decades . Rumour has it, that the maitre d’ once asked someone who arrived in trainers to go out and to come back wearing proper dance shoes. On another occasion someone was ousted from the milonga for poor dancing, but perhaps there’s more to these stories.
Word of caution: Beware that although the entrance fee is $90.00 ARS, this only includes the class and not the practica, which is extra and will cost you another $20.00 ARS, which we only discovered later on.
Ventanita De Arrabal
(Sr Duncan, Rivadavia 3832, Almagro – Entrance fee: Voluntary contribution)
Situated on the main Avenida Rivadavia in the back room of a bar/restaurant called Senor Duncan, I discovered this hidden gem in the form of a sweet little salon with a wooden dance floor. The salon itself wasn’t very large, however, it is sufficient to create space to dance in. Every Tuesday night, Candela teaches classes with 2 other ladies whose name I do not know (sorry !). The teachers assume little/no previous knowledge of Tango and there always seems to be a nice, small group of students, in comparison with the some of the other venues I’ve attended, where you sometimes feel like a sheep in herd. After the class, there’s also a practica, which is well attended by some really talented dancers, and you can dance to a live set from a small band. The dance style taught is Milonguero. Last but not least, Sr. Duncan caters well for vegetarians, which I find is unusual in Buenos Aires and you can probably eat a nice healthy meal with a drink for under $100 pesos.
Milonga Maldita (‘Cursed/Bloody Milonga’)
Buenos Ayres Club, Perú 571, Monserrat)
(Entrance fee: $140.00 ARS (Includes a class, a live orchestra and a show)
On arrival, I found a queue of people waiting to get in, which is unusual for a Tango Venue, however, this is no ordinary Milonga. This is one of the more funkier, modern style Tango venues I’ve come across. It has a rather unusual polished circular lacquered dance floor which resembles a dartboard, with lines for lanes, and a bull’s eye area where beginner’s can dance safely without getting in the way of everyone else. Many of the tables were reserved, but we got lucky as there was still one available when we arrived.
The initial Tango lesson, which is included in the price of entry, is divided into beginners & intermediate dancers, but the floor was packed to the point that there was very little room to breathe, let alone to move, especially as it was a warm night. There were giant fans, but they often drowned out the teacher’s words and even the music at times. The lesson itself consisted of a brief demonstration by some of the assistants, which was then followed by practice. One of the assistants informed me that he’d only been dancing for 3 years, and demonstrated how to do a backward ocho, except the follower was going forwards, which I guess in the end makes it a ‘forward ocho’..but I’m just quibbling now. While dancing, I discovered that the majority of my partners are tourists like myself, including a group from Scandinavia and a slightly older Dutch lady, who gave me the distinct impression that she was ‘on the pull’ !
Surrounding the dance floor, the tables all appear to be mixed i.e. there was no separation between, men, women, couples and groups, which made it difficult to make eye contact with women in the dark room. This meant that the men all seem to physically getting up to ask women to dance, which is not the norm, to avoid any embarrassment for both parties. My poor friend Tatjana ended up in the uncomfortable in the position of not being able to refuse an offer and on her return after just one dance dismissively announced that she was completely drenched in men’s sweat – nice !
What Maldito lacks in the finer qualities of Tango etiquette and teaching technique, it definitely makes up for in glitz & glamour as the hosts, Laura Heredia & Marco Bellini, host the evening in the style of a tv variety show. There was a live performance by The ‘Orquesta Típica El Afronte‘ , who play a very lively, dramatic set, as well as a beautiful professional demonstration by Patricia Maria Cheeseofski & Jakub Grzybek, a couple of fantastic dancers. As good as the night was, I’m not sure I would be willing to pay $140.00 ARS again for the privilege, when some of the other Tango venues charge a lot less and offer the same type of evening and the classes are better facilitated, but that is just my opinion as on checking Facebook I notice that that particular night’s milonga has received approximately 76 ‘likes’ and 7 comments from people confirming how much they enjoyed it, so don’t just take my word for it 😉
‘Zum’ @ Villa Malcom
(Av. Cordoba 5064. Entrance fee: $70 ARS (includes cost of 1 class, practica and milonga)
Now this is a Tango club with a very interesting history . It started life as a humble Sports & Leisure club to try and help young people to stay off the streets, and grew to become one of the top venues where some of the greatest Tango orchestras, musicians and Tango dancers have performed over the years.
Marcela Viegas & Pablo Ponce, two professional dancers who teach a class on a Friday night (and a practica) also host the ‘Zum’ milonga which is well attended. This didn’t feel like one of those old fashioned salons – no formality or frills & thrills- but given the friendly crowd who attend the class and then dine together, the spacious dance floor, and the variety of music , there are lots of opportunities to dance here without the snobbishness of some of the other milongas. I really enjoyed spending time at Villa Malcolm and getting to know and dance with some of the lovely people, who have been very welcoming and hospitable, and I got to see some fabulous dancers in action.
Thank you Pablo & Marcela and the rest of the ‘Zum’ crew !
(Asociasion Armenia, Armenia 1366, Buenos Aires,
Entrance fee : $100 ARS (before 2:00 a.m.)
I was introduced to La Viruta by my dear friend Dario, who dragged me along one one night at around mid-night. Dario informs me that anyone who dances Tango in BsAs has probably danced at or heard of ‘La Viru’, as its known locally. Here you can take classes in all kinds of dancing from Salsa, Rock, Bachatta, as well Tango of course. As you walk down the stairs which lead into the Salon, you will find candle-lit tables lined against the length and breadth of this huge rectangular Salon, with a bar at the far end, where people like to hang out so that they can scan their prospective dancers and make eye contact.
Before the real dancing begins, you will find people dinning or drinking and enjoy the live musical performances, which usually take place around midnight and showcase some of the best of live musicians and orchestras , such as this particular act that we saw one night:
On most nights of the week , you will find the floor packed with couples Tangoing the night away, although Dario tells me that the really great Tangueros and Tangueras, who don’t actually arrive till 2.00 a.m.. This is where the real ‘hard core’ Tango dancing takes place in this dimly lit basement salon, which comes alive as myriads of beautiful sensual couples dance their hearts out until the sun rises, which I can testify to including on the last Saturday when I said good bye to my dear friend Tatjana, who inspite of having to board her flight to Switzerland a few hours later, opted to make the most of her last chance to dance Tango and break in her glitzy newly purchased glamorous shoes, which smelt of roses even afterwards …
(Rincón Familiar Andaluz, Carlos Calvo 3745. Entrance fee : $70.00 ARS )
My friend Viviana from ‘Casa de Gerard’, introduced me to this lovely venue, which with its long marbled tiled floor, is a pleasure to dance in. The class before the practica was unusual in the sense that rather than just learning steps/ sequences, there was a live pianist who helped in interpreting some music by Di Sarli by going through the various sections, with the aim of improving the musicality of our dancing. There were some really great dancers and the general feedback I received from others suggests that the standard of dancing is of a fairly high calibre here. Although I went on a Monday night, when it was fairly busy, I understand Thursday nights are more popular, and that the floor usually gets packed.
Gorriti 5417, (between la vía & Godoy Cruz)
It wasn’t until the final week of my stay in Buenos Aires that I actually discovered this incredibly beautiful Tango venue hidden away in the back streets of Palermo. As I entered the front gate I was pleasantly surprised to find a very sweet, relaxing garden paradise, with a bright yellow VW Beatle parked up front, which is not at all what I expected. At one point I wondered whether I was actually in the right place. There were families drinking and dining alfresco , and a very calm and sagely long haired hippy dude, who was stationed behind a rostrum, who greeted me politely and issued me with a ticket with a smile.
As I walked further in, I discovered a huge white warehouse style salon, and when i say white, I mean it was literally ALL white and had a very modern look and feel. Attached to it was a smaller and smarter looking patio salon, with a bar and a very cosy seating area around the black and white tiled dance floor, which had patio doors leading into the garden.
The teachers , of which there were three (pictured above in the centre) , were all fantastic dancers and there was a really great positive energy and humour to their teaching technique. All the students I danced with seemed really proficient and easy to engage with, as well as friendly and welcoming. To say they were serious about their Tango would be a gross under-statement as after that night I received daily if not hourly updates potential places to dance every night of the week along with details and pictures of places they did/didn’t like. My friends this is the place where a new generation of cool Tangueros and sexy chicas really Tango the night away. Thank you to Ms Deidre Black, my ‘massage therapist/healer’, for the recommendation, as without you I would probably not have discovered this amazing secret milonga !!