Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina, South America
History: Reflects the frustrated desires of the 19th century Buenos Aires working class
What’s it about: An improvised, ‘walked’ dance of macho v. sensual passion
Joining In: Go to a club in San Telmo to dance with the experts or take classes all over Buenos Aires and other major cities throughout the world
Argentina’s answer to sensualismo is the tango, a dance so unique it is instantly associated with the country and has since become the most striking icon of Argentinian culture. While in Buenos Aires its very easy to watch it in fairs and outdoor markets or ‘tango clubs’ where shows are put on for tourists. But to truly experience the tango you need to get on the dancefloor and try it for yourself.
Rising up from the poor working-class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires in the 1800’s, tango is a fusion of European coolness and Gaucho (Argentinian cowboy) passion. Tango was a way for struggling immigrants to express their frustrations and desires while the upper class Argentinian society looked down on the dance as lower class. Years later this attittude changed forever when the tango was discovered by the international dance scene. It exploded into a global phenomenon seen everywhere from Sydney to Beijing to New York. While the tango was banned in Argentina during military dictatorship in the early 1980’s the dance experienced a tremendous revival in the country after the military’s downfall as people embraced the dance as a vital part of their country’s soul.
How to Tango
It is an easy dance to learn for beginners because the tango is more walked than ‘danced,’ so all you need to do is grab an experienced dancer and follow along. It helps to have a quick ability to imitate as the dance can move rather quickly. Machismo takes control here as it is the the man that always leads so it is easier for women to learn than men.
There are three basic steps to this dance: the side step, forward step and the backwards step and four directions in which the two pairs of each couple’s can go.
While the music ‘tells’ you what to do with musical marks, the participants are allowed to improvise as they go by adding a turn here and a movement there creating a mesmerizing sight of clicked heels as the two people move as one. It is an incredibly sensuous experience because to do the tango properly the couples must move in an intimate rhythm and it’s essential to have a good sense of balance and good posture.
What to Wear
Wearing the appropriate shoes (preferably ones that slide easily on wooden floors, making the steps easier to complete) is more important than clothing however professional tango dancers take pride in their elegant, often black, costumes. Black trousers and a dress shirt for men is recommended, while women may want to consider wearing a dress with a high hemline to get the ‘twirl’ so famous in the tango when rapid spins are performed.
Where to Go
Lots of locals attend the tango clubs that can be found in many parts of Buenos Aires but to avoid the heavily touristed (and expensive) shows head for San Telmo’s clubs that are found scattered around this bohemian neighbourhood. You can watch experts effortlessly tango move across the dancefloor and afterwards have a lesson with the pros. For longer term residents dance schools can be found all over the city where private lessons can be taken. Once you return home its extremely easy to keep this uniquely Argentinian experience alive by taking up the numerous classes on offer almost everywhere.
It Takes 2 to Tango
Expert tango tuition!
Your complete connection to the world of Argentine Tango
Online Tango NewsLetter
World Tango Festival
Multi-lingual site for the Buenos Aires International Tango Festival
Online resources centre for the Tango in Argentina
main image: by Brian Barbutti – Flickr: Tango, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18622207