Tango is the passion, soul and soundtrack of Buenos Aires. The dance was born in the streets of the port city, and historically and culturally, the two are inextricably intertwined.
Tango was first linked to the lower classes until crooner extraordinaire Carlos Gardel came along around 1920. All fell in love with Gardel’s voice, which catapulted the partner dance to countrywide and international prominence. (Tourists can visit his childhood home, which is now a museum: Museo Casa Carlos Gardel.) To this day, aficionados flock to Argentina’s capital city — also the international capital of tango — from all corners of the world to learn and perfect their steps.
Catching tango in some form is a must when visiting Buenos Aires, and fortunately there are a number of options for how tourists can do so. From a relaxed dance hall setting to a soup-to-nuts tango dinner show, consider this your guide to taking in tango in Buenos Aires.
Where else would the tango world championships take place than in Buenos Aires? The annual competition happens every August — this year, from August 14 through 27 at the Teatro de la Ribera in La Boca. The event draws thousands of competitors from all over the globe, with scores of people filling the seats to take in performances from the world’s best tango dancers.
Tango shows are the priciest way to see tango in Buenos Aires, and since performers put on noteworthy shows at many venues, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This tango show in cobblestone San Telmo, Buenos Aires’ oldest and most historic neighborhood, is considered one of the best in town. Guests are served a traditional multi-course Argentine dinner (think thinly-sliced beef or empanadas to start, a selection of meat for the main course and sweet dishes such as a homemade crème caramel) in the Del Aljibe (with exposed brick and wooden beams) room or Del Virrey dining room, which features stained glass, while dancers perform expertly onstage nearby.
Taking place in Puerto Madero’s otherworldly Faena Hotel, (which itself alone is worth a visit to peek the wowing handiwork of designer Philippe Starck in Buenos Aires), Rojo Tango is a contemporary rendering of traditional tango in a sexy, intimate setting. Enjoy dinner with mustard-infused turkey breast, salmon with semolina gnocchi, lamb ravioli and more along with the show.
Purists consider milongas, which are like tango free dance sessions, the “real,” or most authentic way to experience tango. That is because tango’s raison d’être, as history explains, is not to entertain a crowd, but to create an intimate moment for the dancers. Therefore at milongas, which take place at community centers throughout the city, tango dancers are in their element, dancing for themselves and their partners rather than a crowd.
This is one of the most classic and attractive venues in the city. The crowd varies in age and skill level depending on the night because the salón hosts different milongas throughout the week. The high ceilings and warmly lit room (as well as full-service bar) make it an intriguing and comfortable place to watch the pros — and more amateur talent — glide across the dance floor.
Once the curtain falls on some of the best tango shows in the city, dancers slink off to milongas, with many of the top talent said to frequent La Viruta regularly. The venue is no-frills — an open basement dance floor with basic tables and chairs ringing it, as well as a bar — but that means there is nothing to distract anyone from the music and passionate dancing.
Photo Courtesy of Faena Hotel + Universe