Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tango in Buenos Aires: some useful tips

This is a follow up post on Buenos Aires tango after the ‘What I saw in Buenos Aires’ one. I will try to focus more in practical issues, as many of my impressions are there. I will only repeat the rough classification of the two tango waves, as this is an important reference… There are certainly subcategories, but those two may not make it for an essay on the subject, but I think are enough to help you find your way around. Names and places are partially important as you may be probably going to the same 3-4 venues every night, but the ‘milonga’ is different. There are historical milonga names though (e.g. El Beso), as there are standard place (e.g. Salon Canning), which are not a guaranty for every night. Once you are there it will be straight forward to understand what is what.

On one hand you have tango ‘milongero’ where things are more formal in all senses; dress code, attitude, dance style, etc. In many of these milongas you may have to adapt to the eye contact code, which can be roughly explained like this: men and women sited and glances start to cross all over the room as the cortina is about to finish. The thing is quite simple. If you want to dance with someone you look at him/her and she/he does the same. Then eye contact, nod for an invitation and then dance, as eye contact implies approval… Usually the dance floor is packed, so take it easy and protect yourself from wrong steps, as people anticipate to watch and evaluate. Similarly don’t try to ask someone to dance if you don’t think that he/she will accept as this will result probably in a ‘no for life’. Patience is important… This is the tango in its traditional form here in Buenos Aires and places can be El Beso, Salon Canning, Nino Bien, etc.

Second group is the ‘practikas’ ring, which is an initiative of different groups with a more fresh approach on tango. Within this you will have a place to dance every night, among younger people and the vibe is very similar to the one you find in most good European milongas. The level of tango is extremely good, or at least it often can be, as you may have more that 50% of professional dancers on the dance floor.

Separation in geographical terms is also rather straight forward. If you prefer classic style most of the milongas are located in the center, mostly San Telmo, Monserat. If you go for the practikas you will be 99% moving in the area of Palermo, Palermo Soho and some names are Practika X, Tango lab, Tango Cool, etc. If this is your choice you should arrange accommodation in Palermo close to Scalabrini Ortiz and you may even be able to do everything on foot! For the ‘milongeros’ walking several blocks in the center at night is not recommended in general.

After the milonga/practika, ‘all the roads lead to Rome’ which in that case is ‘La Viruta’ lasting at least until 4 in the morning and gathering all the die hards. For me this is the most characteristic place of Buenos Aires tango… Early in the night, before 1:00, things can be ‘strange’ the least.. Bad dancers (feels like they were passing by), a mess on the dance floor, long tantas of cumbia and rock and roll, even competitions, but once you know what to expect, you may end up loving even this! And once the other milongas are over, everybody comes there and the place can be transformed into an all star milonga! You can see any professional dance there and sometimes sensational things happen. For me this is where you see what tango is in the city. From the 100% popular (in good and bad sense) situation early till the extreme quality late in the morning. Plus the free classes and the amazing ‘show’ at 20:00 every Sunday! Don’t miss it!

So to cut a long story short, when you arrive, you have to meet some people, e.g. a good way is by taking some classes and get some names and addresses. Or go to la Viruta at 3:oo in the morning and ask the people you dance with! There are also several free tango guides distributed in schools and milongas and they provide from partial to too much information (tangauta is good for example). Once you start, then it’s easy; every night you will be able to spot the main milongero and Nuevo place and then it’s up to you. After spending a couple of weeks trying places, you will eventually settle on your preferences, but it’s likely that you will be also preparing bags to go back home! No problem… Next time you know that you will be prepared!!