Postcard from Argentina, part seven: continued

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Kaye learns to tango in Argentina

Continued from yesterday

 

And so the following Monday, I made my way to Confiteria Ideal ready to master the seductive moves of the dance that’s at the heart and soul of Buenos Aires.

I didn’t expect it to be easy but learning to tango, turned out to be more difficult than I ever dreamed. Fortunately for me, in addition to being a fantastic teacher Diego is a true gentleman and proved to be exceptionally patient when I asked to be shown the caminar (tango walk) for the hundredth time.

But the walk wasn’t my biggest bug bear…. The trouble with tango, is that it’s incumbent upon the man to lead. It’s a dance where the man makes all the decisions and, as an independent woman who has never relied on a man for anything, I wasn’t about to start doing so in the tango hall.

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Salon Canning

Diego demanded that I learn to trust my partner(s). “Tranquilo! Don’t anticipate!” he would say to us students. He also instructed me to stop smiling for tango is a sad (albeit stylish) dance making it the perfect metaphor for Buenos Aires- a glamorous metropolis that has fallen from being one of the word’s richest cities to one stuck in a permanent financial crisis – itself.

The third issue I faced while learning to tango, was the physical immediacy of the dance. The tango requires you to literally press yourself up against a stranger. Pulling away is unpardonable but the problem is I’m a Londoner – we don’t do familiar. We’ll stiffly shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, whereas the Argentines will opt for a warm hug accompanied by a couple of kisses.

Still, after several lessons with Diego, whose love of the tango was clear to see as he demonstrated the basic steps to our small group, things began to sink in. Tango, I discovered, is not danced on the spot like salsa or swing. Rather it’s all about working the floor, meaning budding tangueros must learn to travel.

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Buenos Aires is full of milongas (dance schools)

Chances are you may well be reading this and thinking that the tango sounds a tad terrifying. It is. However it’s also – if you can stop thinking too much about the steps and abandon your British reserve – utterly exhilarating. After all, it’s not called the “horizontal expression of vertical desire” for nothing.

I didn’t manage to master tango – even under Diego’s expert tutelage – but few do.  The tango requires discipline and years of intense study and it’s this perennial quest to achieve a physical perfection that, in part, makes the dance so addictive.

Just ask my friend, Brittany White, an American who is well and truly in the grip of tango. Brittany came here on holiday and then returned repeatedly as the tango became a consuming passion. In time, completely enchanted, she found a way to move to the Paris of the south and now lives the life of an expat tanguero (tango dancer).

All of which means that Brittany will rise in the afternoon to work, before grabbing a bite to eat and heading to a tango class around 10pm. After the class, Brittany will go onto a tango club where she will milonga the night away arriving back home and climbing into bed circa 6am.

La Viruta

La Viruta

Brittany is not alone in her obsession and, regardless of which milonga she visits, will see an array of familiar faces waiting for (or giving) the cabeceo (translation: an invitation to tango).

“Tango is like coffee,” Brittany enlightens me over an afternoon medialuna (a small, sweet croissant). “It gets in your bloodstream, picks you up and leaves you wanting more.”

She’s not wrong. It’s a way in which two people, who don’t even speak the same language, can share a connection. So much so that, I have already scouted out several venues back home where I can continue with my attempts to learn the addictive Argentine dance, having been well and truly bitten by the tango bug.

The famous Confiteria Ideal

The famous Confiteria Ideal


But that’s weeks away.
First I needed to experience – now that I’ve had a few lessons – another milonga in Argentina. So Tuesday evening found me standing nervously at the periphery of the dance floor at Salon Canning – a traditional and popular tango hall over on Scalabrini Ortiz. A couple of dances in, a man asked me – with uplifted eyebrows and a tilt of the head – to tango.

I smiled my acceptance and met him, with a certain amount of excitement, fear and trepidation mingled in my heart, in the middle of the dance floor. Diego had been building me up to this moment, all month.

And when the music finally started, I didn’t let Diego down pulling off my ochos (the swirly step) with aplomb. Or at least that’s the way I like to remember it…

Talk to you in two weeks,

Kaye

x

NEED TO KNOW: BUENOS AIRES’ BEST TANGO NIGHTS

Whichever barrio (neighbourhood) you find yourself in, tango clubs (milongas) abound. Even if you’ve got two left feet, milongas are worth visiting for the atmosphere and phenomenal people watching opportunities alone. Here are five to try…

El Beso
A classic tango club off Corrientes that invariably draws a big crowd – particularly on Tuesdays. For something a bit different, look to La Marshall Milonga – a gay milonga held every Friday.
Riobamba 416

La Cathedral

La Catedral

La Catedral

Situated on Sarmiento, in a bohemian warehouse, this is quite possibly Baires’ coolest tango club. Expect to see dancers dressed in jeans, strutting their steamy stuff.
www.lacatedralclub.com

Confiteria Ideal
The grand dame of BA’s tango scene, Confiteria Ideal celebrated its 100th birthday back in 2012. Chock full of faded glamour, it’s most famous for its Friday afternoon milonga.
www.confiteriaideal.com

La Viruta
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La Viruta
This popular Palermo basement venue is a great option for beginners looking to try tango for the first time. I can vouch for the Thursday night class which draws plenty of Porteños and tourists.
www.lavirutatango.com

Salon Canning
This tango institution boasts one of the best dance floors in Buenos Aires, but it’s not for novices: Salon Canning attracts some of the city’s most accomplished dancers.
www.parakultural.com.ar

TANGO SHOWS
Tango shows are typically overpriced and aimed squarely at tourists. Two of the  better options include

Café Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni


No trip to BA is complete without stopping off at Baires’ oldest and most famous cafe – not only for a Argentine cortado (essentially a shot of espresso, with an equal amount of steamed milk) but to take in a nightly tango show. Tickets are affordable, at around $US20, but need to be bought (with cash) the day before between 11am and 5pm.
www.cafetortoni.com.ar

Homero Manzi
Situated on the street corner that was immortalised in lyricist Homero Manzi’s tango Sur in a traditional Porteno barrio,Homero Manzi puts on one of the most authentic tango shows in town. The venue also serves dinner, should hunger pangs kick in.
www.esquinahomeromanzi.com.ar

 

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 of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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