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Small talk on the tango dance floor

Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia


Having made it through the cabaceo and the first song of the tanda, I was feeling proud of my achievements until I was faced with the awkward seconds that hang between each song in the tanda. Facing the tall man I had danced with, my senses were running high as I tried to discern whether he was a local or a traveller and whether my broken spanish would need to be retrieved immediately. This slightly wild eyed look gave me away, and my dance partner smiled before saying, "Don't worry, we can talk in English".

Spanish for travelers usually covers all the usual basics - ordering food, practicalities like accommodation or shopping, safe travel and social interactions. A great place to practice your social interaction spanish is in-between the songs as you dance a tanda with someone.  There are a great many people out there dancing tango from all walks of life and of all ages. A great many people speak English, but since you're coming to Buenos Aires, it's respectful to have a few phrases of the local language up your sleeves. It also allows you to enjoy the moments between songs with ease and who knows who you'll meet!

The subject of the small talk is generally all the same unless you have danced with the person more than once. I remember reading somewhere once that asking someone's name is generally not the first question you ask, and may be exchanged at the end of the tanda. Other general topics include the climate, milongas, and superficial information. That said, talking is not necessary. Some dancers prefer not to break the connection with small talk so do not be afraid to simply smile and stand quietly until the music starts and dancing begins again.

Here are some questions to listen out for (formal 'you' included in the bold brackets):

Hablás (habla) español?

People will generally make an effort to talk to you in English if you do not know any spanish. The replies "No puedo hablar mucho español' (I can't speak a lot of spanish) or 'No hablo español' (I don't speak spanish), initially were my most practiced sentences. To my amusement, people usually replied with 'Pero, hablás muy bien!' (But you speak very well!) as if this one sentence were an indicator for my level of spanish.

Answer: No hablo español. Hablo ______ (your language e.g. ingles) - I don't speak spanish. I speak .....

De donde sos?

This question 'where are you from?' is very common and usually the first question asked if you look slightly uncomfortable at the prospect of speaking spanish. People are also genuinely interested to hear how far you have travelled simply for tango and their city.

Answer: Soy de ___________ (insert your country) - I am from ....

Cuando llegaste (llegó) en Buenos Aires/Por cuanto tiempo vas (va) a quedar en Buenos Aires?

Carrying on from the above question, my experience has shown me that since I'm the foreigner, I usually have to answer the question of 'when did you arrive in Buenos Aires' or 'How long will you stay in Buenos Aires?' rather than have any time to fire away with any questions of my own. People are interested in how much time you are here for and if you are enjoying it.

Handy sentences:

Llegue hace x (number) semanas (I arrived x weeks ago).  

Voy a quedar por x dias (I'm going to stay for x days)

Hace cuantos años bailas tango?

Continuing on with the numbers theme, be prepared to answer about 'How many years have you danced tango?'

Answer:  Por x años/meses (For x years/months)

Tenés Facebook?

It pays to be aware of the intention behind the questions being asked especially when it comes to social networking ('Do you have Facebook?'). Some people may be interested in meeting up as a friend for a milonga during the time you're here, and some may be interested in something other than friendship. Keep safe and take care of your own personal information - never feel pressured to give out personal details.


As tempting as it may be, do not say Gracias after the song until the end of the tanda, even if you have enjoyed it immensely. This indicates to the other person that you have finished dancing with them and would prefer to return to your seat. There are other ways of saying that you enjoyed the dance such as 'bailas bien' - you dance well. Of course if you say Gracias in response to a compliment, it will not be perceived as you wishing to end the tanda.

Experiencing the traditional tango class - Tango in Club Sunderland

(Photo copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

About seventeen ladies were shuffling for positions where their elegant heels would not come into contact with another´s calf. Blood on a dance floor is the last thing that anyone wants and with 9 cm heels, there is some potential for connection if you are not aware of your space around you.  The men were gliding up and down the lines on the floor like swimmers doing lane training at their local olympic pool, continuous laps while hugging invisible women.  The concentration was tangible within the room, almost drowning out the music. I risked a look to spy on my partner and see how he was doing on the men´s side of the floor, only to find him smirking at me, having been laughing at my intense look of concentration I required to successfully adorn my ochos.

This was learning traditional tango at its best. It had been awhile since I have set foot in a tango class thanks to the festive holiday season and travel, and returning to Buenos Aires jumpstarted my desire to re enter the scene. With that in mind, I set off to my first class at Club Sunderland on a balmy Wednesday evening.  Club Sunderland was founded in 1921 making it one of the oldest clubs in the city and celebrating its 91st birthday this year. It hosts a variety of other physical activities but is famous in the tango world for its traditional milongas and classes. The Wednesday night class is taken by  Carlos and Rosa Perez, well respected teachers of traditional tango and world famous for their classes which are, put simply, all about walking.

I remember when I first started tango classes, I heard that even if you practiced walking everyday for 50 years, you still would not have mastered the tanguero´s walk, casting somewhat of a shadow on my dream of being considered a capable tanguera. But if you don´t practice, you can´t improve and I have passed evenings pacing back and forth in my various living arrangements over the years. Back in class, the large studio was threatening to turn into a sauna as the men and women began their walking and I noted that the return journey to the far end of the hall near the air conditioner, was always completed faster, allowing more time for standing in the cool air.

Rosa took us through simple walking, both forwards and backwards, before adding adornos. Everything was going well until we moved onto ochos, which are difficult to do independently at the best of times, but adding adornos to independent ochos is a sure way to induce the wobbles. I noted some women holding out their arms for stability as if to gently meditating as they made their way across the floor. I opted for the intense fixation on a far away spot that doesn´t move, which was fine until I found myself at the back of the group and kept losing my point as the backs infront of me swayed from side to side.

Often beginners are understandably eager to learn tango steps, aching to get onto the floor to see if they can remember the sequence they were given in their class. But some of the best dances I have had is while simply walking. The strength of connection and space for musicality seems limitless and the joy of doing something so simple but so connected, never fails to induce one of those tango moments for me. This class gave me an opportunity to spend time focusing exactly on what my feet and entire body are doing, encouraging internalisation before practicing this with another person, walking around the studio with no thoughts other than connection, simple adornos and the music.

Things you need to know

Club Sunderland

Lugones 3161, Villa Urquiza, Buenos Aires.



Club Sunderland has a well run website which seems to be kept up to date and is well worth checking out to see what classes, practicas and milongas are run each week. It also has information about other events at the club should you feel like a change of sport.

The Wednesday night class is long and includes an instructed part and a free part for you to practice what you have learnt. The class runs from 8pm until 10.30pm. Some people (including names like Fabian Peralta) only arrive for the second part of the class.

The class is welcoming to new people and very easy to follow even if you only speak a basic level of Spanish. Some dancers arrive only for the practica afterwards. The cost (at the time of writing) of the class and the practica was 25 pesos.  It was my experience that the men received more personal attention than the women did, but that said, if you are struggling with the adornos, Rosa will offer advice to you. This class is great to go to if you have a partner, as you spend an hour or so practicing with the sexes divided and afterwards you have the opportunity to work together on what you have learned about your walk. Be prepared to only walk. There are no steps given in this class.

Music from the heart of Buenos Aires


It's often lonely sitting on a plane during short haul flights. Small talk can finish rather quickly after the excitement of the free wine and cheese platters, and hence there isn't much left to do except plug yourself into your iPod and drift into a dream state while flicking through well thumbed airline magazines or staring out the window at the passing clouds.

Whilst flying over the rather aptly named 'weather bomb' rain clouds covering my home country the other weekend, I needed something to calm my nerves and take me completely away from the bouncing around the aircraft was doing. Heading into the last week or so of my time at home, my desire was to prepare myself for the journey back to the city I've fallen in love with - Buenos Aires.  Lying in wait on my iPod under the obvious name of Tango Music, is a selection of well known tracks that never fail to transport me immediately back to the cobblestoned streets and river port of Buenos Aires.

As most travelers discover, a trip can be more enjoyable if a little effort is put into learning the basics of the language of the region. While music is arguably described as a 'universal language', listening to the music of a different region can also increase the spectrum of understanding a traveller can have when immersed in a new city. As music, memory and culture are inter-twined (to put it simply), it can enhance a travelers knowledge and sense of a city or country before even visiting.

So I have collected a play list of songs that you might enjoy listening to before heading off to Buenos Aires. This list is by no means definitive and is not a list of the Top 10 of all time. It is a way to introduce Tango music to your world and who knows, you might just hear your favorite amongst the tango music played at one of the tango shows.  There will be some of the songs that you connect with and others that don't create a response within you. Some may encourage you to look up the lyrics and others might make you cringe. As music tastes are subjective, I'm open to people commenting on this post to express their favorites, songs that they think epitomized Buenos Aires for them.

So go ahead. Plug in your iPod while you're driving or ironing or next time you're flying, and let the tango work its way into your blood prior to your visit to this fair country.


Aníbal Troilo: Quejas de Bandoneón.

Juan D'Arienzo - Pensalo bien

Miguel Caló - Que falta que me haces

Angel Vargas  - Tres Esquinas


Alfredo De Angelis/Dante y Martel - Pobre Flor

Osvaldo Pugliese - Desde el Alma

Pedro Laurenz - Mascarita


Edgardo Donato - Ella es asi   

Edgardo Donato - Sacale Punta

Francisco Canaro - Reliquias Porteñas

Juan D'Arienzo - Milonga, vieja milonga


Otros Aires - Milonga Sentimental

This contemporary orchestra has taken a traditional tango and re-interpreted it by adding electronica beats.

Dancing under the evening sky at Milonga de La Glorieta




(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)


When the weather starts warming up and the trees start to grow their lush canopy, every

evening of the week brings the strains of the bandoneón floating through Barracas de Belgrano.

This beautiful park is located in the northern part of the city and was designed by the famous

French Argentine landscape architect Carlos Thays. An old bandstand nestled amongst the

sheltering trees on the corner of the cobblestoned roads 11 de Septiembre and Echeverría, is

the location of Milonga de La Glorieta.

This milonga is the only regular ´al fresco´ milonga in Buenos Aires which runs all year round.

During the winter months, the milonga is held on weekends, with dancers braving the bracing

cold weather to dance, often in coats. From November, unless a summer thunderstorm brings

torrential rain, a milonga is held every night of the week. It is a beautiful old outdoor venue

where milongueros and locals meet, share mate and laughter in an informal and friendly


Free from the constraints of seated milongas, milongueros gather around the

sides of the rotunda and take advantage of each tanda. The ambience is relaxed as evening

falls and the street lights cast a gentle glow and the smooth tiled floor fills with dancers. While

the floor has the usual colourful tango stilettos, many women choose to dance in their

street shoes, having decided on a whim to join the milonga. As the evenings become warmer

with the onset of summer, it is not unusual to see women dancing in sandals and Havaianas. 



There is no dress code here and jeans and sneakers are more common than flowing dresses.

While there are a team of regular dancers who go, this milonga often has a large turn over of

tourists and visitors to the city who come to dance. It's a good introduction milonga if you're out

and about showing the city to someone who needs a quick injection of tango (not uncommon with 

those who are officially addicted to tango) and it is refreshing to enjoy such an informal gathering of

tango dancers.

Each milonga usually begins with a one hour open class at 6.30pm. The milonga runs until

10pm or 10.30pm (depending on the day). There is no set fee and a donation hat is passed

around during the later part of the evening. The milonga is held because of the owner´s love

of tango and his wish for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy and dance outside in this

wonderful city. Visitors with cameras are welcome and encouraged to stay and watch the

dancers.  For those visitors to the city who wish to experience a little bit of tango barrio-style,

pack up a picnic and head down to the park to sit on the grass and watch the magic of tango

under the evening sky.

Getting there:

Located in Belgrano and a block away from Buenos Aires´ Barrio Chino, there are multiple

options for public transport to Barrancas de Belgrano.

Subte Linea D (Subway) runs through Belgrano. Take the subte to station Juramento. From

here, walk back one block until Echeverría and continue down this road until you reach the

Barrancas de Belgrano park. La Glorieta is on the right as you turn the corner. The subte

usually closes between 10.30pm and 11pm so if you plan on staying until the end of the

milonga, you may need to take a taxi to return to the city.

Taxis are readily available on Avenida Virrey Vertiz (the main avenue below the park).

The park is also on the following bus (colectivo) lines: 29-42-44-55-60-63-64-114-115-118


The webpage is http://www.glorietadebelgrano.com.ar/glorieta/index.html  but seems to always be constantly under construction.

Tips for tango classes in Buenos Aires

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

The small, barely furnished living room felt cosy on an unusually humid spring eve. A murmur of disbelief went through the group as we saw what it was we were to learn. He delicately pointed his toe while wrapping his leg around the girl's before gently displacing it and causing a sweeping motion into a backward ocho. The first attempts by us students ended with dissolving into giggles - relieving the nervous tension that usually accompanies learning new steps.  My partner and I tried attempting the step slowly, to get our head around the mechanics of it all, but it just ended with my partner hopping on one foot as I tried to make sure my front leg was in the right position. Our teachers stepped in to take us individually through the step, giving us individual attention before letting us attempt it together again.

It's the type of tango class I always imagined. 6 friends gather once a week to take lessons from the professional dancers of the group. The teachers are attentive but relaxed, alternating between watching intensely and suggesting improvements, to singing loudly with the music and playing air-bandoneon giving students time to practice the step alone. Mate (tea) is often passed from person to person, during the step-explication as we stand in a circle around the demonstration. Usually one of the girls of the group had baked cookies or a cake and would bring it along for us to nibble at throughout the evening. Each of us has gathered for our shared enjoyment of dancing tango, but it was also an opportunity for us to spend time together as everyone's hectic schedule usually left little time for friendship catch ups. This is a way that we can all be together, laugh and enjoy the company of close friends, while doing something we all share an interest in. This reflects the warmth of the Argentine spirit to me and I feel so happy to be a part of this group class.

There are so many opportunities for classes in Buenos Aires that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. The amount of different styles, teachers and venues can be enough to drive a new tanguero crazy. Developing a favorite teacher can be difficult in a short space of time and trying a huge amount of classes can be exhausting for both you and your wallet. Here are some recommendations and tips to think about before you take your trip down to this wonderful city:



No problem! Plenty of classes cater for first timers. The Milongas Maldita and Bendita cater to first timers in their class before the milonga.  There are also many recommendations for private instruction from teachers who speak english and offer one off classes or week long intensive instruction. As long as you stick to classes for principiantes, you ll be welcomed!

Talk to your local community before heading out.

If you have a set amount of time here, I suggest that you go easy on yourself and sample a few of the styles or recommendations from your local tango community who have visited Buenos Aires before. Definitely talk to fellow dancers, use chat forums, research and watch videos to see if the teachers you have found, have the style that you like.

Check out the classes before milongas.

This is definitely an easy way to fit in a class while making friends and enjoying a milonga. Most classes are 1 to 1 1/2 hours before the milonga and occasionally have guest teachers who are well known dancers in the community here. The added bonus is that you can get to know some of the students in the class and guarantee yourself some tandas during the milonga. The class is also included in the price of the milonga so it makes the whole evening worthwhile.

Check availability of your favorite teachers.

Like most of us, you'll probably have some favorite star tangueros whose classes seem unattainable for many reasons - expense or availability. Often these stars are off traveling or teaching in Europe or the States so be sure to check their availability before your trip to Buenos Aires. Maybe you'll be able to catch them in your home town rather than in Buenos Aires. Don't be afraid to plan some classes before leaving and leave some spare days for those spontaneous recommendations while you're here.

Private or Group?

There are a lot of pros and cons for both of these types of lessons. Private gets you the attention to detail approach and can allow you to really focus on those little things that affect your dance rather than focusing on learning a new passage of step. Group classes can be a lot of fun, a chance to make friends and also to try newer steps you may not have tried before. Private lessons are obviously more expensive than group lessons and most visiting dancers prefer to take a mix of both in order to get the best of both worlds. Open group classes also give you the ability to dance with a variety of other people during the lesson. There are also specialized group classes catering solo to men or women's technique. This is an opportunity to really focus on your half of the tango and practice steps and techniques with your own kin. Most teachers will offer both options so get emailing if you want to get individual classes. It is better to plan before hand incase they are already booked up the week that you arrive. Also, it is best if you can confirm your individual class with the teacher, whether it is via email or telephone, a few days before your first class. It is better to ensure they have remembered me than to turn up to the first one and not have the teacher arrive.


Some places offer a group class before a practica, which functions in a similar way to a milonga but the floor is filled with people practicing steps, rather than only dancing. Again, this is an opportunity to try a group class and relax in a less formal setting to chat to other people who may have recommendations for other teachers.

Accommodation/Room mates

If you are staying at a tango hostel or guesthouse, be sure to get to know the people you are staying with. They too will probably have recommendations or suggestions and it is also fun to head to a group class with someone else so you can discuss it afterwards or even practice together. The more, the merrier!

It's common to hit the ground running when landing in Buenos Aires and it's not uncommon for people to rush at the tango scene like a bull to a flag and fill their days with classes and milongas. The crash usually comes after day 6 when the body gives up and the mind can't take in any more. Remember to take it slow, enjoy the classes and not overwhelm your mind with too much learning. The brain also needs rest in order to internalize the classes so pace yourself!