Sue Wallace takes us into the dance halls of Buenos Aires, where the secret code of the tango is all the language you need.
He raises his eyebrows ever so slightly; she gives a subtle nod. Next minute, their bodies are entwined on the dance floor of a Buenos Aires milonga or dance hall. There’s a secret code when it comes to tango dancing, an exchange of expressions where no words are needed.
All eyes are on these dancers. She’s immaculate in a leopard-skin print with a sleek bun and gold tango shoes, while he, with his suave looks, wears fitted black pants and shirt. The rousing music of the tango starts, and we watch the couple, locked in a tight embrace, as they set the dance floor on fire, while appearing to be in a world of their own.
The spirit of tango
Instructor Mario Sepparenza says that’s what tango is all about: it takes dancers to another level where they forget what’s going on in their everyday lives.
“It’s all about the dance, the passion and the expression. It takes years to perfect the steps and learn the nuances of the tango and its codes,” he says. “Real tango lovers meet in milongas and dance to the early hours of the morning, have a few hours’ rest, go to work, then do it all again. That’s the power of the tango; it just gets in your blood.”
If dance is a “vertical expression of a horizontal desire”, then the tango is its most sensuous and passionate manifestation. Born within the brothels of Buenos Aires in the early 20th century, the tango was originally banned by the church because it was considered immoral. Of course, that changed as tango became popular in the sophisticated dance halls of Paris.
Where to dance the night away
Tango fans can visit milongas, which are dance clubs, usually at no cost. Some also offer dance lessons. Popular ones include Milonga Parakultural and La Catedral Club, while night owls will love La Viruta, where the action really only gets going at 3am.
For sultry performances, head to one of the many professional tango shows, which often include dinner and tend to sell out quickly. You will be in good company if you catch the Rojo Tango show at the sumptuous Faena Hotel, where Mick Jagger, Katy Perry and Sting have all sat in the audience. It’s a cabaret-style performance that sizzles.
The beautiful belle époque-style theatre inside Galería Güemes is home to another fabulous show with a tribute to legendary tango music composer Astor Piazzolla, with lots of song and dance.
The colourful but touristy workingclass area of La Boca is where you will often see tango dancers performing in the street, hemmed in by rainbowpainted buildings.
Want to learn the tango?
Slip into your tango shoes and start dancing at Mariposita de San Telmo, a boutique hotel, tango school and cultural centre. Escuela Argentina de Tango and Escuela de Tango Mora Godoy are also recommended. A home stay with Maria Teresa at La Casa de Maria Tango, an 1890s house where tango legend Carlos Gardel once lived, provides an incomparable tango immersion.
Be prepared, however. Tango addiction sets in quickly here in Buenos Aires, a vibrant city where it is just so easy to dance the night away.