Buenos Aires Feature


Top Tango Shows in Buenos Aires

"Life is a milonga (dance hall)," says one famous tango. "Life is an absurd wound," goes another. "I'm dying, dying just to dance," cries a third. When it comes to tango, emotions ride high. Whether you experience it through impassioned dancing or tortured lyrics, you'll find a mix of nostalgia, violence, and sensuality that reflects this city's spirit.

The Dance

At the turn of the 19th century, immigrants in Buenos Aires' La Boca neighborhood began sharing rhythms and dance steps from their homelands. There's no consensus on what elements of tango come from where, but many agree it's a fusion of African-Uruguayan candombe, Spanish-Cuban habanera, and polkas and mazurkas.

Tango's mood is said to be one of nostalgia and loss. Indeed, those who learn tango in a dance school before they come to Buenos Aires may be homesick for the choreographed moves they learned; here tango is all improvisation and subtlety and the rules are always changing.

There are plenty of English-speaking instructors and pre-milonga practice sessions to get you up to speed on tango Buenos Aires style. When you're ready, choose a milonga depending on the atmosphere you're looking for.

The Shows

If you'd prefer a more passive appreciation of this fanciest of footwork, fear not: there are options that won't require significant coordination. For many, the tango experience begins and ends with cena-shows. These include drinks and a three-course dinner, and are entirely aimed at tourists (the only locals are businesspeople entertaining clients). Some are flashy affairs known as tango de fantasía in expensive, purpose-built clubs—expect sequined costumes, gelled hairdos, and high-kicking moves. Others are relatively lower-key in older venues that once catered to porteños before tango tourism took off.

Best Bets for Shows

Not all shows are created equal; below are a few suggestions to guide you.

Atmospheric surroundings: Bar Sur for the worn checkered floor and Old World bar; Mansión Dandi Royal for the art nouveau architecture.

Blowing the bank: Rojo Tango for the gorgeous surroundings—and tangoers; Madero Tango for varied, professional performances and first-rate food.

Least tacky: Querandí for classic café surroundings and polished shows; El Viejo Almacén for pedigree (founded by tango legend Edmundo Rivero) and high energy.

Shamelessly over-the-top: Señor Tango for fishnetted glitz and over-the-top embracing of stereotypes.

The Music

The average porteño is much more likely to go see tango musicians than tango dancers. Offerings range from orchestras churning out tunes as was done in Carlos Gardel's day to sexy, bluesy vocals from divas like Adriana Varela; from pared-down revisitings of the tango underworld by groups like 34 Puñaladas to anarchic young collectives like La Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro. For tango that packs a punch, look out for electronic tango fusion from groups like Gotan Project and Bajofondo Tango Club.

Best Bets for Music

Most laid back: Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso for a hip, clubby vibe; Bar de Roberto for gin-guzzling old-timers and impromptu performances; Club Atlético Fernández Fierro for the rootsy eponymous orchestra that runs it

Most traditional: Gran Café Tortoni for the historic setting and consistently excellent performances; Confitería Ideal for the old-school orchestra and gorgeous surroundings.

Most modern: Ciudad Cultural Konex for edgy young bands; La Trastienda for performances by stellar soloists and the occasional electrotango show.

Tango Playlist

The tango never shook off its edgy origins: early lyrics ran the gamut from lewd to pornographic. Later songs are peppered with references to infidelity, crime, and cocaine. And there's tango's place in politics: some have encoded criticisms of governments, others are piercing social commentaries. For many, the richly metaphoric use of street slang elevates tango to a poetic form. Here's a selection to get you started. You can download most of them from iTunes.

Late 1800s-Early 1900s: La morocha, Roberto Firpo y Su Quarteto Alma de Bohemio

1910s–20s: La cumparsita, Juan D'Arienzo y Su Orquesta; Caminito, Augustín Magaldi

1930s (The Golden Age): El día que me quieras, Por una cabeza, and Volver, Carlos Gardel; Se dice de mí, Tita Merello; Cambalache, Agustín Irusta

1940s–50s: Naranjo en flor, Floreal Ruiz; La última curda, Edmundo Rivero; Que me van a hablar de amor, Julio Sosa

1960s–80s: Adiós Nonino, Astor Piazzolla; Balada para un loco, Roberto Goyeneche

Today: Garganta con arena, Adriana Varela; Santa María (del Buen Ayre), Gotan Project; Canción desesperada, Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro

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