Tango dancing in Buenos Aires

I know how to salsa, merengue, cha cha cha, bachata, and more. But the tango, ah, is the most beautiful and the most difficult dance of all.

I learned this first hand in a tango class I took in Buenos Aires last night.


They say it takes two to tango. I went to the class alone but found plenty of available partners.

I was partnered with a German guy who had a hard time taking the lead. You see I learned that in the tango the man really has to lead his partner. So I waited and waited for him to lead me. He hesitated. I waited. He finally moved and we clumsily danced together. I don't think it was quite the tango but we tried.

Luckily, the teachers, an adorable 20-something hipster couple who also play in a tango orchestra, asked us to switch partners.

My next partner was a 60-something Argentine man. I'm not sure why he came early to take the class because he knew how to lead and dance.

But before I tell you the rest of that story check out a video I made of some other dancers and the tango orchestra.

My first partner was gangly, shy and unsure of himself. My second partner partner was strong, confident and he took charge.

And he was a tough teacher. He barked at me all the things I did wrong.

"No, don't switch the weight on your feet," he told me.

"No, you have to follow me," he said when I tried turning.

He explained that I needed to follow the push and pull of his arms. Basically, I had to stop thinking about what to do next  and just feel the movement of his legs and arms guiding me. I had to let go.

We slowly glided around the room until I messed up every so often and we started over again.

"The tango is mostly improvisation," he explained.

It turned out that he was a very good teacher but I was not such a good student.
The best part of the night is when the more experienced dancers showed up. Many of them were locals but there also was a mix of foreigners from the United States, Germany and China. They danced to recorded music.

Then shortly after 11 p.m. a tango orchestra, El Afronte Orquesta Tipica, took the stage.

They are mostly musicians in their 20s and 30s and they have four accordionists that played with such passion it rattled the room. Joining them were two violinists, a bassist, a cellist and a pianist. They played tango classics but with a modern youthful vibe. And the singer sounded way more soulful than his age.

Tango is everywhere in Buenos Aires from little clubs like this one in San Telmo where they have the milonga or social dance twice a week in a rented hall. The cover charge is 15 pesos (about $4.) But you also can spend much more money seeing a more upscale show.

The tango was once considered vulgar and working class and it was born in brothels at the end of the 19th century. After it became popular in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, the elite of Buenos Aires began to accept it.

This year the tango was declared a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO and this will allow the city to expand tango cultural events. Next year the official tango hall of the city will be the Teatro de la Ribera in La Boca neighborhood.

Tango is still thriving in Buenos Aires attracting young and old, rich and poor, local and tourist, to the most passionate dance of all.

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