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Excerpts from a travelling tanguera - The Tango Community

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick 2014

The skies were grey and threatening and I tried not to let that dampen my spirits as I kept walking down the deserted main street. Cursing under my breath for being so late, I hurried along trying to find any sign of street numbers to guide me in the direction of the small bar that apparently lay within the block of shops. I was on my way to meet friends in a town where, many years ago, I had danced many a milonga. But the facade of the main street had changed so much since my time that I had trouble locating the little bar where the milonga was held. It wasn't until I was almost on top of the front stoop when the strains of the bandoneon reached my ears and through the dimly lit window I could make out dancing partners at the end of the narrow building. 

Breathing a sigh of relief, I shook off the gloomy day and entered into the warmth of the local milonga. A small community of dancers met every week here, and through the strength of their passion this dance is kept alive in this small town. Among the familiar faces, there were new faces - always a good thing at milongas as new faces bring new dance styles into the mix. 

Walking into a milonga during a tanda (set of songs to dance to), can be slightly odd. In this case, all the familiar faces were partnered up and moving through their own bubbles on the dance floor, which meant there was no one to greet me back into this old world. There was time to sit, put on shoes and smile at those others who were unfamiliar to me also sitting at their tables. This changed once the tanda ended, and I was swept up into a myriad of hugs and kisses and exclamations of surprise from those who didn't know I was back in town.

There aren't a lot of situations in which catching up with old friends means dancing with them. You can say a lot through tango, as you bring more than just physical movement to the dance. Connection to both self and your partner are so important and depending on how you are emotionally that day, can affect the way you dance. So the best way to catch up with an old dancing friend is to do that - simply dance. It lets you catch up on the intangible without interruption.

This particular milonga had a wonderful feeling to it. The skies eventually opened up and rain poured down, adding to the cosy feel of the little wooden bar. The dance floor was small and snug, but just with enough space for those couple to navigate with ease. The afternoon was peppered with lively conversation as well as wonderful tandas. On the way home, as I watched the street lamps light up the rain on the bus, it got me thinking about how tango really does bring a sense of community to its dancers. While there are different circles - those who dance strictly traditional or those who have broken the embrace to dance a fluid open style, you are able to find a place to settle and those friends who dance a similar style, at least in my experience, will always welcome you with open arms.  An interesting characteristic since the music we dance to laments solitude, broken hearts, lost love and all manner of seemingly depressing romances.  

I remember those first lessons, where all you seemed to do is practice walking. The stark light of the studio, the glaring mirrors highlighting those robotic movements you are working hard to lose, and the thought that maybe you might never learn how to relax into the movement and gather the grace and flow those dancers you admire all seem to possess in grand quantities. But with time and patience, through repeatedly dancing with those in the community, by reminding yourself that heading out to a milonga at night will actually improve your mood rather than depress you, confidence starts to take over and the tango bug threatens to bite. It made me smile, thinking back to the moment when I knew I was under the tango spell. 

So if you are looking for a change or to do a new activity, just remember - if you can walk, you can tango. And with one class you open the door to invite in a whole new community. 

Celebrating the National Day of Tango in the City of Tango itself.

If you were out and about in Avenida de Mayo on Saturday 8th December, you would have found yourself in a wonderland of tango. Three stages, live music and a mixture of both dancing high heels and sneakers would have greeted you as you meandered your way along the infamous Buenos Aires street. 

La Gran Milonga Nacional is a yearly staple in Buenos Aires since 2007.  It preempts the National Day of Tango which is celebrated on the 11th  December - also incidently the birthday of the golden boy of tango, Carlos Gardel, who would be celebrating his 128th birthday if he could be here with us today.  La Gran Milonga Nacional is when Avenida de Mayo transforms itself into a 8000sqm dance floor for anyone inclined, complete with seating for those wishing to sit and enjoy, and a sprinkling of magic with hundreds of fairy lights. For those who are used to smaller milonga halls, it can be a shock to see just how many tourists and locals alike can be crammed into such a big space and still find a way to dance without trodding on toes.  You are also quite likely to find people dancing where ever they can find space - whether that is in a designated area, or simply in the corner behind the chairs.  

Most amazing to admire perhaps, is the ability for two people dancing together to get lost in the moment of the music and movement with each other, rather than being acutely aware of the hundreds of other people dancing around them. This is what makes tango so special. While the leader must still have a sense of whats around them and how others are moving about the floor, nothing really exists between the two dancers except the ´here and now´ within the music.  And nothing makes this more evident than watching a follower with their eyes closed, on a crowded street/dance floor with their leader dreamily moving smoothly together, seemingly dancing in an invisible bubble oblivious of those around them. 

Also, you will notice that the high kicks and lightening speed flicks that you see during tango shows, is not present in a milonga such as this. This is traditional milonga, which has been danced for many many years in halls (and probably alleyways) of this city. The most important part of this style isn´t whether you can do some amazing dance move. It is if you can connect and be with your dance partner for those three songs and enjoy the moment with them. Which sounds quite easy if it is at an outdoor milonga, under a clear sky, with a warm breeze, and right in the beating heart of the City of Tango. 

That said, if you did manage to make it and to stay late (in true porteño style), then you would have been in for a treat as the Piazzolla Tango Show dancers gave a dazzling performance for the audience. These performers work hard at their art, and to be able to convey a sense of ease when performing such daring moves in high slitted dresses and high heels, is deserving of all the credit they get. 

If you missed the milonga, make sure you head out for a tango treat on the 11th December - whether that means watching an orchestra, dancing a tango or taking a class. You won´t regret it. 

Grassroots tango on the corners of the barrios - Independent Tango Festivals

 

There have always been rumours that you can find people dancing on the street in the suburbs of Buenos Aires - that tango runs so deeply in the veins of the porteños that they just can´t help themselves. While I am yet to find two people dancing at a bus stop (although have seen ladies practicing low boleos/kicks before at 5.30am in the morning after a milonga), dancing on the street does indeed happen and usually is encompassed in a local tango festival. 

You may be familiar with the World Championships and Tango Festival that occurs annually around August here in Buenos Aires. It´s the most important tango event of the year. But scattered across the year are smaller locally organised independent festivals including Urchasdonia which is cementing a place on the tango calender every November. 

Urchasdonia is your true barrio festival. Organised by a group of tango lovers from the neighbourhoods, Urchasdonia encompasses the neighbourhoods Parque Chass, Urquiza, Villa Pueyrredon and Agronomia. These are not unknown neighbourhoods to true barrio tango. Milongas such as Sunderland, Milonga del Moran and Sin Rumbo  are famously located in these suburbs and are known to both local and international tangueros. The cafe, El Faro is like a tango beacon right in the middle of the area and is well known for supporting tango, having hosted many performances by tango singers and musicians. The infamous Alberto Podesta performed there to a packed audience that spilled out of the tiny bar onto the street in order to hear the last voice of the golden age of tango. It has been holding its place against the ever changing face of the neighbourhood since 1931. 

This was the 2nd year of the festival Urchasdonia and while only 4 days long, it included some wonderful performances. A highlight was the theatre performance of both song and dance at Centro Cultural 25 de Mayo. But it wasn´t only for adults to head out and enjoy, it also took to the streets with a mural painting and a specific tango music performance for children. 

While only a small little group of no more than 12 children aged from 2 months to 10 years old gathered, it was big hearts that brought together these tiny lovers of tango. The opportunity to listen to live musicians playing tangos adapted for little ears in a park was too good to pass up. The usually rambunctious little porteños sat transfixed while a short set was played by the musicians Dipi Kvitko, Damián Rovner and local singer Hernán Cucuza Castiello. 

Like with many types of music, tango music can be seen to be too complicated for children appreciate. But the truth is, music is music to children and dance is dance, so the opportunity to be exposed to these from early on is an opportunity to develop an ear for new rhythms, instruments and form of expression. 

So if you are looking for a way to experience more tango in a different way, keep an eye out for these festivals as it is a great way to support the beating heart of tango in this city. 

 

Best Tango Show in Buenos Aires - A Guide to Choosing a Tango Show

Photo Credit: Ornella M. on Flickr.com

Since there is no definitive ¨best tango show¨in Buenos Aires, it can be overwhelming to sift through the myriad of tango shows on offer to find the one that will be the gem of your experience in this intoxicating city.  Whether you are the discerning milonguero, a travelling family of four, or the budget conscious backpacker, there is a tango show for everyone. Everything from a full evening experience including three course dinner and show, or a show-only option as an injection of tango into your evening.


Family Friendly Tango

Just because you have little ones in tow, doesn´t mean you can´t enjoy an evening out together, after all, this is a city where it is common to find children of all ages out at all times of night. All the tango shows are free for babies under 2 years old and give a 50% discount for children aged between 2 and 10 years old. Shows in larger theatres such as Esquina Carlos Gardel or Cafe de los Angelitos are probably going to be more relaxing for children and parents alike, and older children may enjoy the added cultural elements of Sabor a Tango.

Keep in mind that the shows often have a dark atmosphere during the show (for those more sensitive children) and that prams are more than likely best left at home or at the door as the tables are usually quite close together and/or there are stairs to navigate. Changing tables in bathrooms at the shows are a rare sight, so prepare for there not being one.


Tried and Tested

These tango shows are long-standing favourites amongst the visitors to Buenos Aires but do not be put off by the extent of their popularity - these places have not become the fast food giants of tango shows. They have authentic charm and flawless shows and work hard to keep up their good reputation. The Esquina Carlos Gardel tango show is steeped in history and is held in the old theatre haunt of tango legend Carlos Gardel. If you’re staying in the heart of the popular old tango district San Telmo, El Viejo Almacen brings to life its small historic ballroom and La Ventana delights you in a warm 1940s vintage wine cellar ambience.


Romance and Intimacy

Who can’t help but fall for the romantic charm of Buenos Aires. For those looking for an opulent and luscious romantic experience in an intimate ambience, then look no further than Gala Tango and Rojo Tango. These shows offer superb VIP packages in a elegant and cosy atmosphere where you can be close enough to see the sequins on the dancers’ costumes. Those looking for the romance of a theatre setting should head to Cafe de los Angelitos, whose refined baby blue and gold theatre makes for a charming evening.


For the Dancer Within - a tango lesson

If you’re more of a hands on type traveler, you might be eager to dip your toes into the tango waters before watching the professionals. While you won’t be learning leg flicks and high boleos, many shows including La Ventana, Complejo Tango, Gala Tango and Piazzolla Tango offer a free tango lesson before the show and the chance to also meet one or two of the performers who assist in these classes.

NB: While the one hour tango lessons are included in the dinner packages, they require reservation so make sure you request the tango lesson when making your purchase.  


The Historians

For those looking for the historic ghosts of the traditional tango, look no further than El Querandi or El Viejo Almacen, both of whom pays tribute to the history of tango. These golden gems offer their guests a trip back down memory lane sticking to traditional music, compositions and ambience. For the musicians amongst you, the show Piazzolla Tango is dedicated to the 1950s music composed by Astor Piazzolla - a bandoneon player who brought tango to the orchestra scene - and whose music is known extensively throughout the world.


A Modern Twist

For those who are looking for something modern and contemporary, some shows are now embracing the ever-evolving branch of modern tango into their shows. With brighter lights and dynamic stage productions, these shows can offer an entertaining and spectacular show. Set in the heart of the glitzy suburb of Puerto Madero, Madero Tango offers a stunning view of the Rio De La Plata, reminding patrons of the humble seafaring immigrants who created the tango dance. If you’re truly looking for something different, try Señor Tango - whose round stage and innovative lighting guarantees a spectacular show.


Tango and Folk Music

The other child of Argentine music is folk music. It is to the campo (countryside) what tango is to the city. A dynamic and charming style, its rhythms are strong, its sentiments joyful and its sound is warm. Some shows such as La Ventana and El Viejo Almacen, include an injection of Andean music and gauncho dance in their tango shows.  The boleadoras set is not to be missed as a male dancer dressed as a gaucho (cowboy) uses two long ropes, each with a ball at the end, to accompany his zapateo (shoe tapping dance). It is dynamic, rhythmic and energetic. Sabor a Tango’s high quality folklore act comes recommended for those eager for a show with a bit more than tango.


Budget Conscious Traveller

Limited funds does not mean limited options. There are tango shows that deliver a quality show for those with a smaller budget so you don’t have to miss out. So if you prefer something with a showcase note (Taconeando was founded by the 1920s Argentine star Beba Bidart) or related to tango music’s history (Esquina Homero Manzi pays homage to tango writer Homero Manzi), or something with sumptuous decor (Sabor a Tango is housed in Palacio Rossini which was home to the Opera Singers Guild), be sure to check out these budget-friendly options.


Upgrading to VIP

Everyone loves an upgrade, so what exactly is your VIP upgrade getting you? The options can include a guarantee of a private booth or a balcony seat on a higher floor (Piazzolla Tango, Esquina Carlos Gardel, Cafe de los Angelitos) or front row seating (Madero Tango, La Ventana, El Querandi, Complejo Tango) which gives you and your date privacy and a clearer view of those amazing dancers. Upgrading to VIP also includes a more elaborate menu with more course options and finer wine choices to accompany your meal.


Reviews

Still want to read a little more about your options? Here are some happy Tangotix customers who enjoyed the shows so much that they wanted to share their experience on TripAdvisor. Click on the show you’ve chosen to read what they had to say about the show:


Rojo Tango

Esquina Carlos Gardel

La Ventana

Viejo Almacen

Festivities in Buenos Aires 2017

 

(Photo copyright Beatrice Murch)

I am pretty sure that I was at least 10 years old before I had the stamina to stay up until midnight. Christmas night was rather sporadic in sleep but I was always out like a light by 1030pm or 11pm despite how hard I tried to stay awake. But if you have just spent Christmas in Buenos Aires, you will have realised that it is most normal for children of all ages (from babies upwards) to be up until the wee small hours of the morning since Christmas Eve dinner is the most important part of Christmas celebrations. As the clock strikes midnight to welcome in Christmas Day, the children head outside to see the fireworks and the remaining adults quickly shuffle all the hidden presents under the tree. When said children walk back into the house, there are exclaims of "Goodness me did anyone see Papa Noel do that!?" and "A big man in a suit dropped these off while you were outside!" (note, these are not direct translations but rather the gist of the exclamations) admist the squeals of delight as children revel in doing what they do best at Christmas time - ripping off wrapping paper. Clearly late nights are in these people's genes.

And judging by the mid 30s temperatures we have been having lately, New Year in the city is promising to be a sweltering and sweaty affair unless you are underneath the air conditioning. Many northern hemisphere dwellers understandably don't really feel it's Christmas when spending December down in the southern hemisphere. Christmas lights don't make sense when it is light until after 9pm, eating a big meal during a heatwave seems ludicrous and most people seem to celebrate outside on their terraces or patios, making Christmas a much louder affair in the streets. New Year's parties in warm weather, however, makes for pleasant outdoor all night affairs.

While the fireworks displays are not as they once were (much to the relief of many domestic animals), the stroke of midnight on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day bring many people and families out into the streets in Buenos Aires. Traffic jams are rather frequent in the wee small hours of the morning as everyone is either making their way to either their own or another family member's house for more gift giving and best wishes.

It is highly recommended over the holiday season to prebook everything. Public transportation can seem non existent on the holiday days as they run a very reduced schedule and delays are inevitable. Many restaurants require reservations as well.  

If you are in the city for New Years Eve and wish to make it memorable and unique (and cool with the assured comfort of air conditioning), be sure to check out some of the local tango shows. Most offer free transfers which means you don't need to fight to get a taxi to get there or back, and with a variety of packages that can also include meals and drinks, it means your night is well taken care of.   Transfers, cocktails, dinner, tango show - all followed by parties until the wee small hours of the morning. Madero Tango is even offering the additional surprise of watching fireworks go off over the docks of Puerto Madero. Whether it’s traditional (Esquina Carlos Gardel, Cafe de Los Angelitos), romantic (Gala Tango, La Ventana), extravagant (Madero Tango, Señor Tango, Rojo Tango) or bohemian (El Viejo Almacen, El Querandi), you´re sure to find a New Year´s Eve tango show that suits your style.

Whatever you decide to do, we hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you all have a safe and Happy New Year.