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Argentine Tango Dancer's tips to Travelling in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is without a doubt the Mecca of Argentine Tango. If you start dancing Argentine Tango, at some point in the process you will start thinking about taking this trip. This was also my case: In 2009, I had been dancing for 2 years and had fallen in love with the dance, so I decided to moved to Buenos Aires. The official excuse for my decision was to study a Masters degree at the University of Buenos Aires, the real reason - of course - was to be in the one place where I could live and breath tango. I reluctantly left Buenos Aires in 2012: though I loved the city, I was tired to cope with the continuously growing inflation and the endless economic crisis cycles. 

In this post, I share some tips based of my personal experiences from the three years I lived in this city.

Buenos Aires and Tango

There is so much more to Buenos Aires than tango: It is a true metropolis that never sleeps. There are tons of cultural activities to do, including a wide variety of theatre, musicals, live music of all kinds, different kinds of parties, many touristic sites to see, thousands of restaurants with delicious food, interesting places around to visit, and of course, lots of tango.

Buenos Aires is probably the city with the biggest offer of milongas and tango-related activities in the world. However, contrary to what you might expect: not everyone dances tango in Buenos Aires. Even though the dance is becoming more and more popular, the truth is that lots of Argentinians don’t dance tango. In my time living there, I was often the only one who danced tango in my non-tango circles (i.e. at work and at university). Whenever a foreign visitor came to the NGO where I was working, there were always jokes about them having to ask the Chilean lady for advise on where to go to to see the tango. The vast tango scene of Buenos Aires may be explained by two factors: there is a good amount of foreigners in that scene and - most importantly - Buenos Aires is just a very very big city.

Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires: A varied offer

Often times in Europe people assume and even discuss how the “true” expression of tango is in Buenos Aires. But the reality is that the tango offer in Buenos Aires is varied: You can find very traditional milongas as well as more unconventional ones, open air milongas and milongas in elegant salons; different styles of dance; lessons by renowned maestros who tour around the world others who are incredibly knowledgeable but are based in Buenos Aires and yes, others that are not so great; different shows with live music and dance; shoes and clothes, exceptionally high level dancers as well as low level dancers in the milonga, open embrace, close embrace, queer friendly spaces, etc.

In my view, this is the biggest asset of the city: Dancing in the milongas in Buenos Aires is valuable because of the variety. One needs to learn to adapt all the time and this capacity to adapt is at the core of good dance.

Planning a tango trip to Buenos Aires: what to do

As said, there are many beautiful and interesting things in the city but here I will just concentrate in what to consider if you are a tango dancer and want to make the most of your trip.

Explore the diversity of tango: 

I have heard of dancers who go to Buenos Aires and take lessons but don’t attend to milongas. You are missing a huge part of the experience if you miss the milongas! So yes, go to lessons, but also set time apart to go to dance. The experience of dancing there will teach you something that lessons will not be able to provide. And also try at least one time to go to a tango show. There is a wide variety of dance and music shows that you can visit while there.

Explore the diversity of lessons: 

When I lived in Buenos Aires, I often observed how foreigners often revolved around the circles that offered lessons only in English. And often times ended up attending all the time to one school and their milongas. I do understand of course why this is: One needs to understand in order to learn and there are good choices that offer lessons and milongas in English. My advise, however, is that you try to visit different places. Consult in advance with your local teachers and acquaintances for contacts and tips about teachers. And specially, try to also attend to lessons from teachers who are not touring in Europe. Check in advance to see if there are any festivals taking place, some iconic ones are: CITA, Argentina Tango Salon, Mujercitas, Tango Salon Extremo, among others.

Explore the diversity of milongas: 

In Buenos Aires, you can go dancing everyday from 14 to 06 in the morning. There are day milongas, night milongas, queer milongas, super traditional milongas, etc. Try to visit some iconic ones like “La Baldosa”; “La Viruta”; “Sunderland”; “El Beso”, etc. Some milongas will be more friendly to all levels and some will be more competitive. Also the offer of milongas changes in time. Take a look at the Whatsapp group that I link below for more up to date info on milongas.

Some tips regarding milongas: 

  • Take into account that the names of the milongas depend on the organiser, not on the venue. So, in the same venue there might be different milongas, depending on the day. 

  • One way to ease your way into the milonga is to attend to the lessons that are commonly organised before it, there you can get acquainted with the different people participating in it, and it might be easier to get dances. 

  • If you are a lady/follower and go with a male partner, you might want to separate a bit to get dances: in some milongas you will not get dances if you are sitting as a couple.

  • Some milongas might get quite crowded. Before travelling work on your navigation skills to avoid frustration.

Explore historical sites:

Aside from tango learning through lessons, you can become immerse in the tango atmosphere of the city in certain iconic sites. I specially recommend to visit the Chacaritas Cementery, where you can find the graves of Troilo, Pugliese, Gardel, among others, all decorated with beautiful statues representing them with their instruments. 

Last Tips

Tango waits for you: don’t rush your trip

I started dancing in 2007, in Temuco, Chile. The first time I went to Buenos Aires as a dancer was just a few months after, in August 2007. Back then, I went for a weekend to watch the finals of the Argentine Tango World Championship. I had only been dancing for some months and even though I keep wonderful memories of this trip, I believe I wasn’t really able to grasp fully the experience because I knew too little about tango then. Specially if the trip is as big as coming from Finland to Buenos Aires: don’t rush the trip and take time to prepare, to study and learn more about tango so that you can actually be able to understand what is happening around you. It is useful to at least learn some Spanish phrases that can help you during your stay.

When (not) to go:

In August there is the World Championship and it might be a good opportunity to see the tango scene full of people from all over the world. However, if you don’t like crowded milongas, perhaps this is not your time. Also, it is winter time, and even though Buenos Aires winter is quite mild, the constructions are not so great at isolating from the cold. I would also advice caution when going in January as it is extremely hot and lots of people are away from Buenos Aires as it is the preferred holiday month.

How long:

The tango scene in Buenos Aires might be a bit more competitive than in Europe. I believe that it is important to set aside enough time to get acquainted with it and find your way around so that you are able to enjoy your trip. If possible, I’d recommend to go for at least 3 weeks.

WhatsApp group:

I recently became aware of the existence of a WhatsApp group (Tango Lounge Community) were foreigners who visit Buenos Aires can get info about milongas, lessons, gatherings, reserve tables together, etc. I have no affiliation to them, but I have been following the discussions in the group and believe it is a great resource specially if you don’t know your way around Buenos Aires.

I hope these tips are useful to you. Let me know what you think in the comment section and feel free to share!

See you on the dance floor!

*Photo of Buenos Aires by Juan Pablo Mascanfroni. Photo of couple dancing in milonga by Claudia Soto.

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