After spending several months in Argentina, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had my first real encounter with tango just last week. Yes, I had seen bits and pieces of tango — I had passed by a group class performing in a square in San Telmo, paused to watch dancers putting on an impromptu show in Plaza Serrano, and of course I had heard Carlos Gardel crooning from radios in taxi cabs and street corners — but I had never sought out the dance myself. When visitors from home came to see me (and Buenos Aires) last week, I finally decided to put an end to my tango-free streak and began researching shows.
There are plentiful options for viewing tango in Buenos Aires. Milongas, or tango dance halls, often have a class early in the night before opening up the floor to dancers of all levels, but I had heard rumors that if you attend a milonga you might be swept up and invited to dance with a stranger, which sounded intimidating given my complete lack of knowledge about the dance. A dinner tango show sounded more up my alley for a first encounter with tango: I wanted to take it in at a safe distance. The dinner shows range in price and production value: some have elaborate lighting schemes and over the top wardrobe concepts, while others showcase a more classic form of the dance. I asked a porteña friend for some recommendations, and she suggested I try one of the more intimate venues as an introduction to tango.
I made my way to a small tango salon in San Telmo where a host quickly led my friends and I to a table so close to the stage that I was nervous I might get kicked by one of the dancers’ heels. Fortunately, the performers were very skilled and despite a few high kicks and seemingly close calls, I managed to stay safe throughout the show. The whole experience was incredible: watching the dancers’ strength and passion was inspiring, and the orchestra, who sat right behind the dancers on stage, played a perfect accompaniment to the precise yet intimate dance. The show featured several interludes: one with an eclectic singer performing a dramatic love song, and another where a special guest joined the band with a music box. The dance itself looked both difficult and effortless: the dips and lifts must have required great strength on the parts of both the male and female dancers, yet the smiles never left their faces and they rarely seemed short of breath.
At the end of the show, my friend and I were impressed by the performance and envious of the dancers’ considerable abilities. Watching tango really opened my eyes to the passion and beauty that Buenos Aires thrives on, and although I’m still not sure I’m quite ready to take the stage myself, I just might try out a milonga one of these days.