Tango is an integral part of Argentinian culture, so dust off those dancing shoes and get into the swing of it. Here's the lowdown on where to see it, hear it, dance it - and how to turn down any unwanted tango advances.
Tango classes, milongas (dance halls or dance events) and shows are everywhere. Sensationalised tango shows aimed at tourists are common, and 'purists' don't consider them authentic – though this doesn't necessarily make them bad. Modest shows are more intimate and cost far less, but you won't get the same level of visual punch. For free (that is, donation) tango in Buenos Aires, head to Galerías Pacíficos for daily street performances; Sundays in San Telmo, dancers do their thing in Plaza Dorrego (but it's crowded, so watch your bag). Another good bet is weekends on Caminito in La Boca.
Dive into tango through the music of the genre's most legendary performer, singer Carlos Gardel (1887–1935). Violinist Juan D'Arienzo's orchestra reigned over tango throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s. Osvaldo Pugliese and Hector Varela are important bandleaders from the 1940s, but the real giant of the era was bandoneón (an accordion-like instrument) player Aníbal Troilo. Modern tango is largely dominated by the work of bandoneón maestro Astor Piazzolla who paved the way for the tango fusion of the 1970s and continues to this day with tango electrónica groups such as Bajofondo Tango Club.
Tango classes are available just about everywhere, from youth hostels and cultural centres to all the milongas. With so many foreigners flooding BA to learn the dance, many instructors now teach in English. Milongas are very affordable and start in either the afternoon or evening. For a unique outdoor experience, head to the bandstand at the Barrancas de Belgrano, where the casual milonga 'La Glorieta' takes place on Sunday evenings at around 8pm (free tango lessons given earlier).
Tango is a serious business. At an established milonga choosing a partner involves many hidden codes, rules and signals. After all, no serious milonguera (female regular) wants to have someone stepping on her toes. Ideally, you should sit with easy access to the floor. Couples sit further back. If a man arrives with a woman, she is 'his'. To dance with others, they either arrive separately, or the man may ask another woman, and then 'his' partner is open for asking.
The cabeceo - the quick nod, eye contact and uplifted eyebrows that signals a man would like to dance - can happen from across the room. The woman either nods yes and the man escorts her to the floor, or she pretends not to have noticed. It's polite to dance at least two songs; if you are given a curt 'gracias' after one, consider that partner is unavailable for the night. If you don't want to dance with anyone, don't look around too much - you could be breaking hearts.
Get started - Buenos Aires' best tango halls
- El Beso - A traditional, popular upstairs place that attracts some very good dancers. It's got a good feel and a convenient bar as you enter.
- Gricel - This old classic (far from the centre, take a taxi) is open on weekends, attracting an older, well-dressed crowd.
- La Marshall - Best known for 'Tango Queer', its gay tango night on Tuesdays. Classes at 10pm, milonga starts at 11:30pm.
- La Viruta - Located in the basement of the Asociación Cultural Armenia building. Good beginner tango classes available.
- Niño Bien - Beautiful atmosphere, large ballroom and good dance floor. Gets very crowded so come early and dress well. (It's far from the centre – take a taxi.)
- Salon Canning - Some of BA's finest dancers grace this traditional venue. Well-known tango company Parakultural often stages good events here.
- Sin Rumbo - One of the oldest tango joints in BA. Local neighborhood place that attracts older professionals. Far from the centre in Villa Urquiza; take a taxi.