Postcard from Argentina: part seven

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye learns to tango in Argentina

Continued from last time

I’ve talked about the attraction of attending a live football football match and the allure of Patagonia in past postcards but, in truth, tango is all the reason you need to come to Argentina.

Argentina is synonymous with sultry tango – a passionate dance that has seduced the world – and nowhere more so than than it’s charismatic capital, Buenos Aires, where tango clubs abound. Known locally as milongas, this is where Argentines head to dance until dawn  – and not only at weekends. (“How do you fill your time if you don’t tango?”, is a question I have been asked on more than one occasion, by a perplexed Porteño).

Yet while we now associate tango with men in tuxedos and women in glamorous evening gowns  gliding gracefully across a polished floor, Argentina’s most famous dance has a less than salubrious past – having begun in the steamy bordellos and back-street bars of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century.

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Tango clubs, known locally as milongas, abound in Buenos Aires


Legend has it that the dance originated in the working class port neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, with the arrival of European immigrants. Many of the immigrants were single men who, missing their Motherlands and the company of women, developed tango – hence the dance’s melancholic, macho vibe.

Older members of Buenos Aires’ elite looked down on the dance  – which they deemed vulgar and brash – but tango did manage to capture the imagination of some of the younger members of BA’s middle class contingent, who took the art form to Paris where it proved immensely popular.

The Argentine aristocracy, upon realising that tango was perceived as an acceptable outlet for human desires in fashionable Europe, then did an about turn and not only begun to embrace tango but took great pride in the dance which, today  – together with Maradona, Pope Francis, futbol and Evita – enjoys iconic status in Argentina.

Being in Buenos Aires, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to experience tango pass me by, which is how I found myself at the outdoor milonga La Glorieta.

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La Glorieta

I had gone to La Glorieta – which takes place every Saturday and Sunday evening at the bandstand at the Barrancas de Belgrano – as a spectator, with the sole intention of watching the Porteños strut their stuff. However I made the school boy error of  scouring the dance floor and unconsciously catching a man’s eye and nodding – the green light for agreeing to dance. Before I knew it, I was being led by the hand onto the wooden floor.

“It’s a little quiet as it’s an early [Argentina is all about the night] milonga in an off- the-beaten-track barrio,”  professed my partner, Ronaldo, as we waited for the music to start. I looked around the dance-floor – packed with Porteños in a tango trance – and thought to myself: “It’s anything but quiet.” All of which made for an electrifying atmosphere, but meant that there were more people present to witness my ineptitude.

I may have looked the part – I’d purchased a pair of patent tango shoes (a pay day treat to myself) replete with four inch heels at one of the many sparkly shoe shops on Supaicha – dear reader. However this was a disaster that had been waiting to happen.

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When in Rome…

As the soft strains of music began to play, I tried frantically to recall the handful of tango steps that I had learnt on my last visit to Buenos Aires, but failed miserably – something the pitying look on my partner’s face bore testimony too.

After just one dance, I was released with a curt “gracias” – a sure sign that I had failed to make the grade. (Dances are in a set of three before the break in music and, if a partner leaves the floor early, the one left behind is considered to be the bad dancer). 

It was then and there, in the midst of my humiliation,  I decided that I was going to get to grips with Argentina’s passionate national treasure.  After all, if the BBC Strictly Come Dancing contestants – well maybe not Nancy Dell Ollio, Carol Kirkwood and co – could master the Argentine tango, surely so could I?

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La Catedral

Classes are offered everywhere in the Argentine capital – from private casas and studios to trendy warehouse sized spaces like the quirky La Catedral and traditional dance halls such as the charming Confiteria Ideal (Suipacha 380). The latter, one of the best and most beautiful places for tango, featured in the art house film Sally Potter’s Tango Lesson.

It was at Ideal that I met Diego Alvaro Zoraida Fontclara – a name and a tango talent to remember. Elegantly dressed in a pristine suit, tie and waistcoat, Diego spoke wistfully of the appeal of tango – “it’s such a powerful blend of passion and melancholy” – and his concern that tango is dying out, among the younger generation of Argentines.

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Confiteria Ideal

Diego’s fear isn’t entirely misplaced: certainly most of the younger Porteños I’ve met, aren’t interested in learning to tango. It’s a crying shame but, as my Argentine friend Max Gigena, fierily retorted upon discovering that I have Scottish roots: “Well do you know how to dance the highland fling?” When I sheepishly shook my head, he triumphantly exclaimed : “Exactly! Just because I’m an Argentine, it doesn’t mean I dance tango.”

But for those, like Diego, who do, it’s an addiction.  Diego urges me to take lessons and, after listening to him wax lyrical about tango – “it’s more than a dance, it’s therapy”  – I happily acquiesce.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Kaye

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To read the second part of Kaye’s postcard from Argentina: part seven, don’t forget to log onto Just About Travel tomorrow!

To read part one of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part two of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part three of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part four of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here and here

To read part five of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here  and here

To read part six Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here  and here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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