El Niño Bien: A Child of the Tango Tradition

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el niño bien tango and milonga dancing place in Constitucion Buenos AiresI have never seen anything quite like El Niño Bien, a famous milonga located on Calle Humberto Primo in Constitucion. One door down from a small restaurant of the same name, the entrance to the milonga is a wide double door which opens to an empty foyer. Follow the sound of music up the stairs and you find yourself paying your twelve pesos and walking into a large dance hall which at first seems like the antithesis of tango.

The room has a high ceiling dotted with spinning fans and a few ineffective air conditioning units; the walls are covered in panels of yellow wall paper, outlined by gold molding. These panels are separated by tall mirrors, and all remaining exposed plaster is painted a deep salmon pink. The room is well lit; the dance floor is a little tightly constrained by dining tables on all sides, most of which had reserved signs on them by the time my friends and I arrived, early, at eleven.

el niño bien tango and milonga dance place ins Constitucion Buenos AiresStrangely, this scene felt familiar to me. Not from experiences here, but from my brief forays into the world of social dance in the United States, where the crowds are older and the venues are rented from the local Rotary club. The group of people gathered to dance at El Niño Bien was also older and divided into two groups – those who admitted that they were older and those who didn’t. The unabashedly old couples danced in a way that held the form but not the tension of tango – the places where their bodies touched were worn like the soft places in a favorite pair of jeans.

Their understated dancing contrasted sharply with the flashy dancers in tight clothes. Kicking up their fancy designer tango shoes, swirling their elegant dance skirts, these dancers seemed to embrace the presentation aspect of tango culture. They looked like they were conscious of being watched, or perhaps just wanted to be. One of the boys in my group who works in the Argentine film industry pointed out a few former actresses in the crowd, one of whom wore a gold bikini top that left her whole stomach exposed. She must have been nearly sixty, but her make-up and demeanor were defiantly thirty-two.


Entering upon this scene, the Argentine boys I had come with seemed comfortable; they ordered a medium sized picada, two fernet and cokes, and settled in to watch the dancing. But I felt a little more lost. El Niño Bien is traditional in more than just the age of its dancers. It also follows many of the formal rules of the milonga. Tango plays in sets of four or five, with a different kind of music played to signal the break. For each set of songs, you dance with only one partner. Men ask women to dance, not vice versa, yet it is up to the woman to make eye contact with the man, letting him know that she is interested in being asked. I spent a lot of time trying to make eye contact with dancers and then, at the last moment, ducking my eyes downward to stare at my fascinating finger nails.

I wouldn’t make eye contact with a man on a subway here—that would be positively forward – but at a milonga, it is just part of the tradition. In my semi-boldness I danced with an Australian who has lived here for eight years, an Argentine tango teacher who usually lives in London, and of course the boys with whom I came. From these partners, I learned more about tango than I had in several classes, particularly from the teacher who insisted that I dance all five dances with my eyes closed. “It’s all about trust,” he told me, “and not looking at your feet.”

When I got home at four a.m. my calves hurt from standing in heals and my body was sticky from the humidity and the dancing; the air conditioners had been no match for the packed room. But I was happy to know that for the first time in Buenos Aires I had actually danced a tango instead of just stumbling my way around a dance floor.

The tango is a dance that gets better and better as you start to hear the rhythm in the music and feel the way in which the basic step, which seems to be a myth, is actually chopped up and sprinkled throughout the dance. For tourists and residents who want to tango, I highly recommend El Niño Bien, although I wouldn’t recommend going alone. Dress is in general more formal and reserving a table is a good idea if you don’t want to either stand or arrive naively early, as I always seem to. Then dance with your eyes closed and watch with them wide open.

El Niño Bien
Humberto I 1462
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel. 4483-2588

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