Few dances invoke the sensuality, passion, and grace of Tango. A powerful form of artistic expression dating back to the 1940s, it wasn't until the fall of the military Junta in Argentina that opened the world to Tango in 1983. From the brothels to the ballroom, Tango has excited dancers and spectators the world over. After spending 6 weeks in Buenos Aires, I can tell you it’s one of the most rewarding dances you can learn. Here's how you can get a taste of the Dance of Love in BA.
Where to Take Tango Lessons
You can find classes and seminars all over Buenos Aires, but make sure to choose the right type for you. For beginners, group classes are recommended, as they are relatively cheap or free, most commonly offered in places like Palermo Soho and San Telmo. I recommend DNI Tango or Mora Godoy Tango, each which offers great group lessons in addition to private instruction, which you'll need to improve.
I grew up dancing Salsa which makes learning Tango that much harder. Having zero dance training is actually a benefit to the Tango newbie. For those of us looking to break habits or learn quicker, private lessons are the way to go. To really get a feel for it, I recommend three group classes and two private lessons to see if you enjoy it, which I suspect you will.
Many hotels and hostels offer free lessons for guests. Even Milongas, which I’ll speak about later, sometimes have early lessons included in their admission. Keep an eye out for specials because you'll have plenty of opportunities for free classes. I wouldn't even be surprised if they started offering them at the airport.
What's a Milonga?
Now that you have the basics down, you'll hear the term “Milonga” thrown around quite a bit. Milongas are the Thunderdome of Tango. Where the best of the best hit the floor for some sensual moves. Even if you don't plan to dance, a Milonga will show you Tango in its purest form and is a must-see attraction in Buenos Aires.
Milongas are usually populated by Portenos (Buenos Aires residents) of all ages from the adorable 80-year-old couple gliding across the floor to teenagers. These social events usually have a live band that’s more like an orchestra with violins, accordions, and a vocalist. Their precision and timing is just as impressive as those on the dance floor.
Milongas are a bit harder to find than dance schools as they’re always in flux. Often times, they’ll be located in a restaurant after hours or above bars. The best ones are those you need to be invited to and the entry fee is a bottle of delicious Malbec. Anyone worth their weight knows a good Milonga, but your best bet is to start with your Tango instructor or look for postings on restaurant and bar doors.
The more "upscale" locations are truly stunning if not intimidating. La Viruta and La Catedral lead the pack. Doubling as schools, it wouldn't hurt to take a class beforehand and stay for the late night Milonga.
How to See a Tango Show
If you don’t have a musical bone in your body and two left feet, you can still experience Tango by catching one of the many great displays around Buenos Aires. There are free options, which abound but are hard to plan for or buy a ticket to formalize it in your itinerary.
The best "free" options are Milongas. Most have little to no cover or a 1-2 drink minimum. Mueso Casa Carlos Gardel regularly hosts free Tango shows and on Sunday you can catch a show at Feria de San Telmo, an open-air street market that runs performances on and off all day. Do a bit of antique shopping while you're there because there are plenty of treasures to be found.
If you want to see a professional performance, hotels and tour operators tend to push shows they get the most kick back from, which may or may not be the best. I've found the best to be restaurants that offer a package deal, particularly if the menu is in Spanish. I highly recommend Gala Tango. The food and dancing are expensive, but outstanding. Included in your ticket price is a three-course meal, free flowing wine, and transportation with world-class dancers and wait staff to show you what Tango is all about: love, passion, and lots of wine.
The beauty of Buenos Aires is it’s still relatively new to the international travel scene as the junta restricted tourism for many years. This has allowed the Tango community to maintain much of its authenticity. Few other experiences in South America offer as much cultural education so whether you choose to observe or participate, Tango in Buenos Aires is sure to leave a lasting impression on you.