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Christmas Eve Tango Shows in Buenos Aires

(photo credit: Beatrice Murch)

Feliz Navidad! The festive season is upon us again and with the splash of purple springtime now well past, the sun is heating up for what will undoubtedly be a sweltering summer week of festive celebrations.

If you have never experienced a summer Christmas before, you're in for some distinct differences. Christmas lights don't seem to make sense as having just passed Summer Solstice means the days are at their longest; everyone is out and about in flip flops, singlets and shorts; and having a very large meal (usually meat filled) just seems to go against all logic but it is what we southern hemisphere dwellers do. 

Buenos Aires in years past has lit up with an abundance of fireworks when welcoming in Christmas Day and New Year, and while this tradition still continues, it has somewhat lessened probably due to the fact that it can be up to 35 degrees come midnight and no one really wants to head outside away from their air conditioners. Nevertheless, it is a noisy family occasion and traffic jams continue well into the wee small hours as family members move between houses wishing each other well and entertaining the noctural children with gift giving. 

So if you are in Buenos Aires, the most logical thing to do is to make your own celebrations sparkle with a little bit of tango. After all, the magical essence of the city will be sure to make your own festivities just that little bit more special. Only La Ventana, Gala Tango,  El Viejo AlmacenPiazzolla Tango and Madero Tango are offering special shows on Christmas Eve.  Each has a unique evening planned that usually includes welcome cocktails, a gala dinner, elaborate tango show and after the midnight toast, a party with a DJ and regular shuttles back to hotels.

Since transport over the festive season is very limited (and in light of the recent transport strikes), booking your tango show can take all the hard work out of figuring how to move about the city as most offer free transfers. Note that on celebration days between the hours of 9pm and 3am, there are almost no buses or taxis.

If you are arriving between Christmas and New Year and still want to get in a tango show, most are offering specially planned events to welcome in the New Year - a unique way to welcome in 2017. 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, may you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Al Pacino tangos to Por Una Cabeza in Buenos Aires

You may have heard that Al Pacino is in town at the moment. Anyone who has seen Scent of a Woman will remember the infamous tango scene with Pacino´s blind character whirls a female around the dance floor while a tango orchestra plays on. While arguably lacking in actual tango dancing (besides the initial embrace and walk), the song he dances to is one of the most famous songs in the tango world. 


Por Una Cabeza (By a horse´s head) was penned by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera and is the voice of a horse track gambler that relates his addiction to horses to his attraction to women. Written in 1935, it has been sung by many famous singers and used in multiple movies. It premiered in 1935 in the movie Tango Bar starring Carlos Gardel. It was in Scent of a Woman and is the song to which US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama danced (with Mora Godoy and José Lugones) to during the visit to Buenos Aires earlier this year. 


It was also used in the movie Easy Virtue with Colin Firth, who does a much more convincing version of actual Argentine tango, although mixed with a bit of showy Ballroom Tango. It is good to note that Gomez Addams is not actually dancing what the Argentines call tango but that´s another story.


The song is so famous that it is not limited to the golden age of tango singers who have given us such personal interpretations of the song. Singer Andrea Bocelli has also given his version of the infamous song, singing alongside two stage tango dancers as his honey voice gives a beautiful rendition of this traditional work. 


So how did Al Pacino fare on his second public performance of this song? If the Buenos Aires press is anything to go by, he gave a rather disappointing 10 second interpretation of the famous movie scene. With an Argentine girlfriend and an entire performance (An Evening with Pacino) the Teatro Colon, one might expect at least some knowledge of the basic steps. You can be the judge of it with this glimpse of his performance (and the theatre) here.


A tango moment - it is why we dance.

It was like a scene out of a movie. Most of the crowd had dispersed from the New York style loft where the late night milonga was being held. Its warm brick walls were dimly lit by tall lamps, reflecting their light in the mirrors that ran down one long wall. The tall sash windows were open to the night air, letting the murmurs of the city entangle themselves with the strains of tango music.

With a simple tilt of his head, he indicated his desire for one final dance before the night ended. Having recently become infatuated with tango, I accepted his proposal immediately. I had been milking every milonga I could, from opening strains to the final close, dancing at every possible moment. He took me into the embrace and from the moment when he began to gently sway and shift our weight, I felt myself falling into what dancers describe as the ‘tango moment’. Everything fell away. It was simply myself, my partner and the dark moody tango bandoneon. Our feet moved simultaneously across the wooden dance floor, free to move as we wished being the only couple on the dance floor. Our own private moment.

These “tango moments” actually last for one song, or potentially a tanda (set of three songs). It is when you lose yourself completely in the music, your partner and your dance. You no longer worry about whether you are dancing correctly, whether you will to be able to follow the lead or whether you might bump into someone else. All nervousness drops away and there is a shared bubble of consciousness that draws you both in.

You may wonder that if you dance a lot, surely this must happen often? But the truth is, it doesn’t. Tango requires a presence from each dancer that is directly affected by their frame of mind. If you have had a bad day you can’t shake off, or even a bad dance the tanda before, the chance of a tango moment diminishes.  The moment itself also requires a wee bit of magic as small factors determine whether it will happen or not. Some dancers have analysed their own tango moments, finding that they happen more often with a dancer of the same ability (a better dancer causes nervousness and a less experienced dancer requires more attention), or that dancing with a new partner heightens their awareness of their partner’s subtle movements.

Tango moments do not require big fancy movements. It is not the thrill of mastering a challenging sequence of improvised steps - although that is quite an experience that usually brings a smile to the usually sombre face of a dancer. It can be as simple was walking together with your partner, in time, in sync, connected.
It is what we dance for. These sweet gems that sparkle amidst the many many tandas. It is what keeps us coming back.

Getting about Buenos Aires - a quick guide.

(Photo credit: Kyle M Lease)

Although walking is indeed one of the most interesting ways to get about the inner city, some visitors to Buenos Aires like to venture out and take public transport.

TAXIS/REMIS (private taxi)

Most tourists have the pleasure of a rather entertainingly whirlwind taxi ride whilst in Buenos Aires. It is usually the first thing visitors encounter after stepping off a plane so many are not prepared for the videogame swerving antics these professionals usually undertake. It makes for good conversation once you are safe in your apartment or hostel though. Taxis are super abundant throughout the central city and getting one is as easy as lifting an arm. Safety recommendations is always take a Radiotaxi (it usually has writing on all four doors and a sign on the top), try and hail a cab on the right hand side of the road with a safe place for them to stop (ie not in a bus stop), and try to have small bills on you so you can pay as close as possible to the amount. There are stories of taxi drivers swapping $100 bills for fake ones so keep an eye out for this.


The most important part of this quick guide is about the Sube card. Public transport across the board (except taxis) now usually require all passengers to pay via a Sube card. You may be able to use cash on some train services. Ridiculously, you are unable to pay for a ticket in cash at the ticket counter of the Subway and also unable to buy a Sube card from any train or subway station. So how do you go about getting one?  Sube cards are usually sold at Kioscos. Be prepared to ask at several kioscos because there will undoubtedly be the excuse of ¨we have run out¨ or ¨no we don´t sell them¨ at the first one you try. Once you have your card, your best bet for putting on money is at the subway station or train stations. Very few kioscos are able to put money on your card but you may find some lottery shops (Loterias) will also put money on the card for you. You need to hold the card up to the little machine and the person behind the counter will charge it for you. If your spanish isn´t up to speed, then handing over the money and holding up the card usually gets the desired effect.


Monsters of the road, the buses are a (usually) quick and relatively cheap option for getting around town.  It can also be a rather entertaining insight into the residents´ everyday lives as well as getting you from A to B. Anecdotes include, one driver leaving the back door open while at the bus stop to patiently wait for the passenger leaning out the door (gesticulating fiercely) to finish his argument with somebody on the sidewalk. Another included a man with a flute who argued that the journey was made all the more pleasant as he was providing a soundtrack. Then you have the chance of the odd hair-raising moment like a barrier arm at a train crossing coming down on top of the bus, or the angry waiting passenger banging on the window, unable to understand why the bus driver will not let him on at the intersection instead of the actual bus stop.

The guide for buses (GuiaT - available at most magazine stands and is a great way of having a map of the entire city) does appear to require a university degree to get your head around it, but a wee bit of study of the particular lines you need will have you up to speed.  Once you have the line you want, it is a matter of heading down to the bus stop (always on the right hand side of the road and usually a stop every two or three blocks) and raising your arm to signal to the driver to stop. Occasionally if the bus is full, the bus will not stop and just keep going. Once on board, let the driver know what street you are heading to and he will press a button. Put your card up to the machine and once it has beeped, you can move on. The price is upwards of $6.25 pesos. Note that buses tend to travel in groups (yes the drivers will stop and converse at the lights), and some routes are notoriously unreliable so you may be waiting between 5 minutes or over an hour for a bus. That is the luck of the draw!


http://wander-argentina.com/how-to-take-thebuenos-aires-subway/ offers an indepth (but not quite up to date regarding the Sube card) description of how to take the Subway in Buenos Aires, highlighting train etiquette and giving you the odd spanish phrase that will come in handy. The subway network is much easier to understand and will get you to most places in the city. It costs $4,50 (at the moment - which may increase very soon) to enter the system but beware that most stations do not have the platform in the middle and if you enter on the wrong side, you are unable to cross to the other platform without losing your money. The phrase ¨¨Trenes a Rosas¨ means trains to Rosas, so you can figure out if the train is heading the way you want or not.  A map is available in GuiaT as well.


Over the last few years, the City of Buenos Aires has improved its train system and now has comfortable trains that are looked after and pleasant to travel in, running on most lines. The train system is easy and usually reliable and all end up in the hub of Retiro. You can also get the Mitre connection from Retiro that takes you to the station Olivos, where you can access the Tren de la Costa (which goes out to Tigre).

Again, using a Sube card makes using the train super easy. Buying a return ticket (ida y vuelta) makes life easy for your return trip. Keep a hold of your ticket as usually you are asked at the station you get off at if you have your ticket. You can also use your Sube as a swipe on-swipe off card but it is not clear whether or not all stations have this ability yet as upgrades are continuing at the moment.


It is not really worth hiring a car to get around the city as the public transport is so highly available. Note that you are able to use your Sube to pay at the toll booths (peajes) that are scattered about the motorways and routes leading out of the city.

Excerpt from Stories from a travelling tanguera

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

The dance floor was hidden up on the first floor, with no advertising to show new tangueros where to go. But of course, the strains of a bandoneon are easily picked up by those in the know and it was with delight that I skipped up the stairs to my first London milonga on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the reasons I know that tango is a part of me, is because I feel at home in a dance hall. I know its systems, its rules, and I love what happens there. Here, the old ballroom had a blackened roof with little chandeliers dotted around the place. It had a gothic feel with its black decor and low lighting, but this was contrasted by the impeccably dressed, and seemingly conservative dancers. There was free talcum powder (often a necessity in humidity), large fans and air conditioners, hot tea, cold water and biscuits to sustain those who were clearly working up a sweat on the dance floor.

My first dance was with a Polish guy who really wanted to whip out quite a few fancy steps that were a bit too fancy for this tanguera who had not danced tango for over two weeks. But his enjoyment was clear, and he simply danced in a style that he liked. And the style in here, is of course, Argentine tango with a twist of Englishness. Names are usually exchanged before the first dance and most dancers use an open or awkwardly half open half closed embrace. In Argentina, the women are given the choice to choose how close an embrace they use and most opt for the close embrace where the connection is at the chest.

My observations showed little quirks that were interesting to acknowledge and different to my experience in Buenos Aires. Here, none of the women danced with their eyes closed. By the time I left two hours later, I think I had seen two women besides myself who trusted their partners enough to dance with eyes shut. The floor had a seemingly haphazard style of movement in a general anti-clockwise direction. The floor came with the usual suspects – the guy out to show himself off, the pair of good dancers, the man who danced the same steps in the same sequence in the same rhythm whatever the music, the woman with the sparkly shoes, the couple who chatted the entire time they were dancing, and the ones who occasionally forgot which direction the flow was meant to go - a rather unforgivable error in Buenos Aires.

New attendees were introduced to the group as a whole, which was a good way to ensure we got dances. The MC was a little over zealous in his introduction of me and told the crowd I had landed from half way across the world that morning. How he got that from stating my name and birthplace is rather puzzling. The birthday dance had the women waiting to cut in on the man but with no tapping of the shoulder of the other woman. Just a simple nod to the man at the end of the 8 bar count.

Eventually I was able to find the dancers who focused on simple moves, musicality and connection. It was in these tandas that I felt most happy and comfortable, able to enjoy myself and the atmosphere the room had. The man who lived in Peru and was rediscovering tango after a long break, moved so gently in a slow tango that I was able to adorn the dance and actually interpret the music.

But my favourite person of the day was my new artist friend, David. He sat in the corner of the milonga and sketched, trying to capture the movement and flow of the milonga dancers. We talked about capturing the essence of the dance, and he admitted having never tried to dance tango but loved exploring the challenge of trying to capture it on paper. Armed with a few colours, paintbrush and pencil, he was sketching long rows of couples, showing the crowded dance floor, and managing to capture both the spark of many people dancing and the intimacy of each couple.

I left with my heart singing and an irresistable urge to practice boleos at the bus stop again.