Tango originated in the brothels of the poor working class neighborhoods amongst the immigrants of Buenos Aires. According to Lonely Planet, “It was a strong blend of machismo, passion and longing, with an almost fighting edge to it, symbolic of the struggle for possession of a woman.” Perhaps that’s also what gives it the sensual, serious nature. Of course, this type of dance was not accepted by the elite class of Buenos Aires until after it became very popular in Europe during pre-WWI. Over decades tango evolved and then fell out of popularity, not be reborn again until after 2000. Now its very popular with everyone from locals to tourists wanting to learn and watch tango.
In my opinion, tango is the second hardest dance, after Brazilian Samba. Prior to my trip to Buenos Aires, I’d studied tango for 1-2 weeks as part of a ballroom dance class and found it difficult then. Remembering this, my original travel plan was to spend 2-3weeks in Buenos Aires and have tango lessons for about 4hours everyday to give me enough time to learn the dance to a certain proficiency. Well, as it happened 5 days in BsAs was not enough.
While there I only managed 2classes, 4total hours of tango lessons. It was definitely enough to remind me tango is sooo difficult. The steps themselves, while at a basic level, they appear simple, they are actually quite difficult and I have trouble remembering/determining when I’m supposed to cross my feet versus when I’m supposed to take another step. Then there’s the posture–since its a sensual, dramatic dance, proper tango has the dancing couple very close together, but you also need space to move the legs, therefore you have to lean in while holding your hips out. It’s quite awkward to dance in this position. And of course, the woman is suppose to look very feminine and sexy, so I was told, keep my knees close together, slide my feet along, and don’t stomp. Please explain to me how I’m supposed to do all this and not fall on my face nor slice my own feet. (I was told to wear close-toed shoes to avoid getting my feet to hurt and my brain thought, hah, the next time on a RTW trip and am tango dancing in Buenos Aires, I’ll remember to bring closed-toe shoes.) Finally, there is the facial expression, which of course has to match the mood of the dance, serious and sensual. How many of you can actually imagine me successfully managing this face with some random Argentine man? Needless to say, I was frequently laughing. Later when I was watching tango, I also realized that the women rarely to never let the heel of their shoe touch the floor despite the fact that the heel is already 3″ high! Woooh, it could be years… I did the dance classes at Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso on Sunday night (7-10pm) and Saturday night at Confiteria Ideal (Suipacha 384), which has numerous classes everyday (some in English) and milongas often with live bands every night of the week.
To watch tango is absolutely stunning; especially after learning it, I had far more respect for the dancing. I saw tango everywhere from the streets of San Telmo and Avenida Florida to casual dancers in a milonga to a formal performance. Each was unique and fit its location yet all were most enjoyable to watch. Those on the streets were very much for show, quick and upbeat, without much of the passion, yet still very well done. Those in the milonga (tango dance halls, where couples must go counter-clockwise and take smaller quicker step) were very ritualized with each person seemingly doing it for the love of the dance and with interest in improving just for the pride that comes from mastering this Buenos Aires art form. This is perhaps the most authentic form of tango I saw. It’s also where I’d go to practice and improve if I ever got the chance. I went to the Milonga at the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso (Defensa 1575, San Telmo) at 10pm on Sunday.
The final place I saw tango was at the Borges Cultural Center at Galerias Pacifico (Florida & Cordoba). This tango was clearly performance tango. They included a number of steps and moves from other styles of dance such as waltz, fox trot, swing, and paso doble. This enabled such moves as lifts and swings, and various poses. It was a splendor to behold and I can only imagine the years and hours these people must have spent in dance lessons. It was a dancing delight and while not everyone enjoyed the show (I know Byrom didn’t), I thoroughly did and anyone with an interest in tango (not just a feeling of obligation since being in BsAs) should see a tango show.