Barlas Balabaner and other readers have asked for some guidance on tango in Buenos Aires - where to learn, where to dance.
What a seriously difficult task I have been set.
Let me start by identifying the problem, and only then will I propose a handful of solutions. I am simply a tanguero on my personal tango journey, which may be very different from those of my readers. And I will almost certainly miss more than I cover. So here is your task. Should I neglect your favourite location, milonga or teacher, just add details in the comments section below.
Note too that tango in Buenos Aires changes from day to day.
My first visit to Buenos Aires was in the heady days of Confiteria Ideal at Suipacha 384, El Arranque at Bartolome Mitre 1759, Cachirulo at Maipu 444, Centro Region Leonesa at Humberto Primo 1462. Who would have thought they would ever close and that the El Arranque milongueros would become too old to dance? Venues come and go, turned into hotels or offices. With them, the milongas disappear, some to be revived in different locations by new organisers, inevitably with changed codigos and a different feel. Teachers, once supreme, become too old to teach, and others who were but children, now reign supreme.
Each tanguero (and would-be tanguero) has a different tango taste. Some find themselves in milonga heaven when dancing with the old milongueros in milonguero style, others are committed to strictly salon tango and its technique, and there are those that want to stretch their tango aerobically with tones of nuevo; with all of the tango tastes in between.
Stephanie and I are becoming more comfortable with milonguero style, but our hearts remain in salon tango, as danced in the Tango Mundial. To an extent this will influence our choices here.
Beginner tango in Buenos Aires
If you have never learned to dance Argentine tango before your visit, getting started can be daunting. It can also be fatal. An inappropriate tango methodology, or the wrong tango teacher can spoil or ruin your personal tango journey, maybe instilling bad tango technique, and at worst causing you to give up on the task.
Beginners in Buenos Aires should look no further than Lucia y Gerry Lucia, known historically as the milonguers’s favourite follower is at the top of her game. They provide reasonably priced private tango lessons for beginners that are not simply about the steps, but encompass your whole tango journey. With them, you will learn about the structure of tango, its codigos, where to dance, and even be taken to a milonga for your first tango adventure. Check out their reviews and awards by following the Trip Adviser link above.
Beginners should also take advantage of the tango classes that precede the milongas. A quick check of Hoy Milonga will show which are available. Here, you will never learn good technique, or indeed how to dance tango with skill, but you will meet new friends that share your passion and can accompany you to milongas.
Beginners and Intermediate tangueros
Yes, I know what you are thinking. What is an intermediate tanguero? When do you become one, or stop being a beginner? Well, actually, there is no answer to this. With intuitive skill and lots of practice it is possible to advance quickly in tango, and some that have danced tango for a decade remain long term ‘beginners’.
For both beginners and intermediate dancers, the rules are the same.
First and foremost, find a great teacher, then stick with him or her for the duration of your visit. Here, I shall not be recommending particular teachers, for the choice is massively dependent on one’s age, aptitude, preferred method of learning, tango aspiration, personality type and tango style.
There are two great ways to identify ‘your teacher’. Some tango tourists have found a visiting teacher in the USA or Europe. Others have their favourites from YouTube. My recommendation for those that have yet to find a teacher is to visit the principal tango schools here in Buenos Aires and to take a group lesson with different teachers. If you are living in Palermo, especially for younger dancers, visit DNI In the microcentre, you cannot beat Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires with the widest range of classes throughout the day from a variety of top teachers. Should you be staying in San Telmo, Carolina Bonaventura’s Marieposita de San Telmo tango school offers a great starting and finishing place for your tango journey.
Whilst on the topic of tango teaching, it is important that I mention tango music. Those hearing ‘Golden Age’ tango music for the first time frequently describe it as alien scratchy and incomprehensible. It is, after all, from another age. But Golden Age tango is ubiquitous here in Buenos Aires both in the milongas and on the street, and you must understand it before you can properly dance to it.
My advice is to listen to as much Golden Age tango music as you can before you visit Buenos Aires. Ideally, you should be able to distinguish between the orchestras - the distinctive sounds of Canaro, Biagi, D’Arienzo and Fresedo. You should have worked out the structure of the songs, and better still, understood the words. Listen and learn the full names of the principal orchestra leaders, their singers, and when the recordings were made. This will help you to develop tango musicality - the key to dancing tango. You will discover that different parts of a tango bring a different mood to your dancing, just as dancing to each instrument may take you on a changed tango journey. Here, I highly recommend Michael Lavoca’s fascinating book.
I have already mentioned Hoy Milonga - the essential app that you will need for your visit. Use it to find milongas, their locations and how to get to them. It is kept up-to-date and is mostly reliable, although milongas can be cancelled at short notice, or disappear overnight.
The number of traditional venues has reduced, but the variety of milongas still remains rich.
The main salons and tango clubs, including the ‘must do’ list are:
Salon Canning, Scalabrini Ortez 1331
The most iconic tango venue in Buenos Aires, known for its smart set and tango performances. It tends to be crowded, so be prepared to dance on a tile.
La Viruta, Asociación Armenia, Armenia 1336
If you happen to be under 40 years old (and even if you don’t), Friday and Saturday nights here are a lot of fun. Siesta beforehand and stay until 6 am to see the professional dancers when they arrive from other milongas
El Beso, Riobamba 416
A personal favourite, especially those of Eli Spivak, with a variety of afternoon and evening milongas offering quality dances in milonguero style
La National, Associazione Nazionale Italiana, Adolfo Alsina 1465
Hosts a range of milongas that have gravitated from other locations, now housed in a gorgeous salon with a great floor
Obelisco, Entre Rios 1056
Popular, modern salon hosting a number of milongas throughout the week. Not my favourite, as the cabeceo/mirada is difficult here, but many love it.
Villa Malcolm, Cordoba 5064
Choose the right night to see the young, fast performers practice for their next exhibition. Choose the wrong night and sit with the aged.
Lo de Celia Tango Club, Humberto Primo 1783
I love this milonga - friendly, traditional and relaxing to dance
Club Gricel, La Rioja 1180
A popular place to dance in milonguero style, with a degree of formality of codigos
Nuevo Chique, Asociación Casa de Galicia, San Jose 224
A delightful little location, with a very popular milonga for tangueros at every level
Maldita Milonga, Peru 571
Wednesday night is El Affronte night - when an orchestra of 10 musicians will introduce you to the dark side of tango. Lots of fun as an event, but stay on for the best feel after the non-dancing tourists have left at 1.00 am.
La Catedral, Sarmiento 4006
Attracting tourists and beginners to practice their steps, and with a questionable floor, this is a ‘must-see’ place, simply because it is so unusual.
La Glorieta, Echeverria 1800
Open air milonga in a big bandstand. Not a high standard of dancing, but a very romantic location.
Plaza Dorrego, Defensa 1100
My favourite open air milonga. Don’t wear your best dance shoes, and avoid taking a bag, but this has to be part of your tango journey whilst in Buenos Aires.
De Querusa, Carlos Calvo 3745
A personal favourite attracting a range of age groups, and many better dancers of the salon tango style.
Bar los Laureles, Av Gral Iriarte 2300
If you have the time to do this in your visit, book a table, come to eat pizza, pasta and budin de pan, and dance on the small floor of Buenos Aires’ oldest tango cafe. It will re-define your love of tango. Choose the tango dance nights.
El Tacuari, Tacuari 1557
Little milongas like El Tacuari exist all over Buenos Aires. Many can be fun for a night, and some may become your tango home during your stay. The art is to ask other tangueros where they go, and to follow them there.
Your tango journey
Your visit to Buenos Aires will almost certainly re-define and refine your personal tango journey, helping you to mature as a tanguero. You may (as did I in 2007) arrive with a love of nuevo tango music and leave with an obsession for Golden Age.
Importantly, come with a truly open mind. Forget preconceptions absorbed from dancing tango elsewhere in the world or watching professional dancers. Tango in Buenos Aires is not really about either of these. It is owned by the Portenos that dance it day-in and day-out. It is managed by the cordigos that you will need to learn and respect. It is a living, organic dance that is defined by the embrace, the music, the mood, and the feel. It is danced on a floor with feet that rarely leave it.
If I were asked to sum up my tango check-list learned over eleven years and 30 months of dancing in Buenos Aires, it is this:
- Respect the traditions - they are not restrictive - they are what allows tango to develop and remain the most fascinating dance genre
- Use the cabeceo and mirada - without it you are simply a tourist to be avoided
- Perfect your embrace - with the right embrace, you may be forgiven all of your other shortcomings
- Concentrate on musicality rather than steps - any fool can learn steps
- Leaders - always respect the pista, the lanes, your partner and lead her from the pista
- Followers - relax and have fun - your mood will be infectious
So, that’s simple isn’t it? I would love to hear from readers that are able to take anything from this post - what worked; what didn’t; what was most valuable; what I missed or should be corrected.
Leave a comment on the post below, or message me via email or Facebook/Messenger. And have a great tango trip.