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When people travel to Argentina, most of them want a taste of tango. Either because they are tango dancers themselves or just because tango is so much a part of the culture. Either way, there are various ways to experience Argentina’s most famous export.
Tango in Buenos Aires falls into two categories: tango for tourists, and social tango that people dance in “milongas,” or tango dance halls.
Tourist tango is stage tango – what you see in all the “cena (dinner) tango shows” around town. Professional dancers perform choreography usually to live music that concentrates heavily on music by Piazzola (tango with jazz elements.) The dancers wear flashy costumes and do flashy moves and lifts; usually there is a scene in a brothel to illustrate the beginnings of tango.
The tango you see on the streets in tourist areas like Recoleta, San Telmo, Calle Florida, and La Boca is also stage tango, although the dancers are usually much less accomplished.
Stage tango is nothing at all like the “real” tango of the Argentine people, who have grown up hearing the traditional music and watching their parents dance it at weddings and parties. Most of the Argentines don’t dance tango, but they know the music and the orchestras of the Golden Age – the 40s and 50s.
With the success of touring stage shows like Tango Argentino and Forever Tango, more and more people around the globe have taken up tango. Sooner or later they try to visit Buenos Aires, the Mecca of all tango dancers. But often what they’ve learned at home is stage tango, and must start all over again in Argentina to learn the improvised “milonguero” style that is danced socially in Buenos Aires.
But young Argentines often dance another style of tango which is more athletic, and requires more space than the milonguero tango of tight embrace and small steps. This style is especially popular with European visitors.
So if you are visiting Buenos Aires and want to taste the tango, you can do it as a tourist, or you can jump right in with classes and watching locals dance at milongas. Along with steak and wine, tango is an Argentine national treasure.
Cherie is a published travel writer and dance critic from Los Angeles, and an expat tango dancer and teacher in Buenos Aires. She and her Argentine partner Ruben also do Tango Tours. Last year they were finalists in the Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango de Buenos Aires. You can read more on her blog, Tangocherie.
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