All About Argentine Tango…
Travel to Argentina with me & learn all about Argentine tango! There’s a secret language to the dance that only some people know ~ & you need to talk with true tango-lovers to figure it out. Buenos Aires is the perfect place to learn tango, as it’s the “World Capital of Tango.” During my three-week stay, I took a guided “Tango Tour” of the city, took lessons with pros, watched professional tango shows at places like world-famous Cafe Tortoni, & my personal favorite: visited milongas all over the city, where “regular” people who love tango go to dance.
In the process, I learned ALL about Argentine tango ~ or at least, A LOT! And I’m writing this post to help you make the most of your Buenos Aires tango experience.
What You Need to Dance Tango!
The most important thing when dancing tango: the shoes. Women need high heels with a strap ~ to keep them well-anchored, able to twist & glide. Even women I saw dancing in their 60’s & 70’s were wearing short heels! Same goes for men: wear a dress shoe with a slick bottom, the easier to glide with.
Best Places to Tango in Buenos Aires
- Take a “Tango Tour” of Buenos Aires: The best way to learn all about Argentine tango & get an introduction, is by taking a “Tango Tour” of the city with a local guide. Find these on “Airbnb Experiences” or Trip Advisor. It’s a great way to connect with locals & get more personalized, intimate tours. Cost: $18-40+
- Watch a Professional Tango Show: Professional tango shows can be found all over Buenos Aires, & are specifically meant for tourists. This is where professional dancers put on a choreographed show. Lessons may be offered first, & the show usually comes with dinner. Cost: $35-70
- Visit “Caminito Street” in La Boca: Caminito is a colorful street located near the port in La Boca, where tango originated. Cafes & bars offer outdoor seating here, & nearly all feature professional tango dancers. Sit back, enjoy some wine, & watch the show ~ but be aware, they may ask if you want to come up & dance or take a photo with them (tip is expected)! It adds to the fun. Visit before 8PM daily. Cost: Free.
- Take Tango Lessons: There are dozens of places to take tango lessons in Buenos Aires. I took mine with the #1-rated couple on Trip Advisor: Lucia y Gerry. La Catedral del Tango also offers classes every day. But your options are endless. Cost: $10-70+ (depending on lesson length)
- Visit a Milonga: If you really want to learn all about Argentine tango ~ visit a milonga. I list the best milongas for every day of the week below! This is where locals dance tango, so it’s much more intimate & engaging than simply visiting a touristy tango show. You can also try dancing yourself! Cost: Free to $10+
Short History of Tango
Tango started in the port towns near La Boca: it came in with the immigrants ~ particularly the Italian ones. But it was the particular fusion of Italian, Argentine, & African influence all combined that led to the birth of tango. Originally, tango was looked down on as being “beneath” the upper classes. Poor workers who lived around the port of La Boca would dance with the only women available to them: hookers.
Around the turn of the century, when Argentina was experiencing enormous wealth, young men from the upper classes started venturing down to La Boca for “late night adventures,” & through that, became introduced to tango. When these wealthy young men traveled to Paris ~ then, the cultural capital of the world, they’d often show off their tango skills. Parisians found the dance so raw & seductive, that it caught on like wildfire. And as our guide told us, “once it caught on in Paris, it caught on everywhere.”
When Parisians “accepted” tango, it became acceptable in Argentina ~ even to the upper classes. By World War I, it had caught on virtually all over the world. Then along came tango’s most important figure: Carlos Gardel. With his debonair, matinee-idol looks & beautiful baritone, he traveled the world performing, singing, & dancing tango ~ which ushered in tango’s “Golden Age,” during the 1940’s. He is an iconic figure even today in Argentina, & tributes to him can be found all over Buenos Aires.
Tragically, Gardel died in a plane crash at the age of 45, at the height of his fame & international popularity. Because he brought tango to the world, Argentina & Buenos Aires especially have memorialized him forever: he is the guardian angel watching over the city, insuring that tango stays alive throughout the ages.
Best Milongas in Buenos Aires
So you’re in Buenos Aires, & you’ve already visited Caminito Street & seen a tango show. Maybe you’ve even taken a lesson. But now, you’re ready to watch people dance tango in a less formal environment ~ & possibly even try some steps yourself! How can you learn all about Argentine tango after all, without trying it yourself?!
So where do you go? To a milonga, of course! There are milongas all over Buenos Aires, & they all have different feels. Every night of the week, there’s a milonga going on somewhere in the city.
Best Milongas by Day of the Week
Monday Milongas = Milonga Parakultural at Salon Canning, Scalabrini Ortiz 1331, Palermo Soho. Arrive at 11:30PM, but performances start at 2AM. This is one of the best general milongas in Buenos Aires, meant for all ages. Also open on Tuesdays & Fridays. And it’s in the fashionable Palermo Soho district, which means you can grab a fashionable dinner first.
Tuesday Milongas = La Catedral del Tango, Sarmiento 4006 (by Calle Medrano), Buenos Aires. La Catedral is a Buenos Aires institution, & is a great place for beginners to give tango a try. They offer tango classes everyday between 6-7PM, but the official milonga starts at 11PM. Dress is casual & many people stay to practice after classes.
Wednesday Milongas = Maldita Milonga, Perú 571, San Telmo. We went to this milonga after a tango lesson, listened to live music (an orchestra or live band performs here every week), & got to try out our new steps! I loved the atmosphere, & it was great (but rather intimidating) to watch fantastic dancers on the floor. Arrive before 10:30PM to get a table, or make a reservation. If you want to see live music, this is your spot.
Thursday Milongas = El Yeite Tango Club, Av. Cordoba 4175, Buenos Aires. This is the young & hip, late night milonga. Meaning: it gets good around 3AM! If that’s too late for you, you can always show up at 1:30AM & get started “early.” On Thursday nights, they also offer salsa & bachata here on the downstairs dance floor. This club is where a lot of the best dancers go & is high-energy…so, maybe not best for beginners, but a good place to watch! Also open on Mondays.
Friday Milongas = La Viruta, Armenia 1366, Buenos Aires. Located right smack in the middle of trendy Palermo Soho, La Viruta is more of a nightclub than a milonga ~ but they definitely dance tango here. It’s a late night spot, & gets good between 2-4AM. They’re open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, & Sunday ~ & if it’s too crazy for you, there are plenty of bars & restaurants nearby to duck into before or after.
Saturday Milongas = Milonga Cachirulo, Avenida Entre Ríos 1056, Buenos Aires. This is a more traditional milonga & an earlier one ~ meaning, it starts between 10-11PM. Men & women sit on opposite sides of the room here, & if men want to dance with a woman ~ they’ll attempt to make eye contact with her (as described above). If you don’t want to dance, make sure you’re seated with friends & away from the dancers.
Sunday Milonga = La Milonga del Indio, Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo. This is a great milonga to visit after strolling through the famous San Telmo Market, that happens every Sunday on Defensa Street. The milonga starts around sundown, or when the market closes, making it one of the earlier milongas. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, & you can find a seat anywhere in Plaza Dorrego to watch the dancers.
This was my favorite part of learning all about Argentine tango: learning the secret “language” of the milonga!
In a traditional milonga, men & women sit on opposite sides of the room. It reminded me of a junior high dance! As the new set starts, men eye the women from across the room, getting a feel for who they want to dance with. If they’re interested in a particular woman, all the man does is make eye contact with her, & raise his eyebrows. That’s it.
If the woman smiles or nods acceptance, that’s considered a “yes,” & the man walks over & officially ask her to dance ~ knowing she’ll accept. On the other hand, if the woman doesn’t want to dance ~ she simply looks away & doesn’t hold his gaze. Simple as that! Our guide, Maria, told us this helps to minimize feelings of rejection, as well as any awkward encounters. The man can then move on to find another partner, & the woman can wait for a partner who better suits her ~ or simply rest if she’s tired!
If you’re visiting a milonga for the first time, & really don’t want to dance ~ that’s perfectly fine. Just tell the hostess, & they’ll seat you in a section for “non-dancers.” In this way, you won’t have to decline dance offers. Maria told us that it’s best to dance at a milonga after having at least one lesson, to keep up with the flow of the dance. Also, be sure to tell partners that you’re a beginner if you decide to dance!
All About Argentine Tango…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post all about Argentine tango. I hope it enhances your visit to Buenos Aires & Argentina! When I was in the middle of my tango lesson, I thought to myself how great it would be if more Americans learned how to dance tango. It’s a great lesson in intimacy ~ & a great lesson in letting go of judgment & ego, to make way for learning. What a greater sense of connection we might feel.
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