Love Affair With Tango
By: Andrea Gourgy, Toronto, Canada
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
We were positioned cheek-to-cheek on a Buenos Aires
dance floor. My eyes were closed, my arms wrapped tightly around
his neck as I followed his every delicate movement almost instinctively.
After a six-week extended stay in Buenos Aires, it wasn't until
this evening, my very last evening in the city, until I met Paulo,
that is, that I finally understood the tango.
Tango, a dance that was born of immigrants in the city slums, is
now in the air all over the capital: the music blares from restaurants
and canteens and one can see couples performing expertly in the
streets. I had never even heard a tango melody when I decided I
would travel to Buenos Aires to learn the 19th century dance. After
a 25-hour journey south from Canada, I finally made it to the dance
studio where I would spend the bulk of my trip.
Claudia, a world-renowned tango dancer and teacher, sat across from
me on a worn couch in her downtown Buenos Aires studio. 'First,
you must learn the rules of the dance,' she told me as she took
a sip of Mate (typical Argentinean tea) from a large silver thermos.
'First and most importantly,' she continued, 'the man must always
invite the woman to dance. And the woman should never say no.'
A lean, dark-haired woman, Claudia was obviously seasoned by years
of late nights and shady men in the tango scene; she looked significantly
older than her chronological age of 34. She proceeded to explain
the following rigid, but essential tango protocol: (1) A man makes
eye contact with a woman and nods ever so subtly to indicate that
he would like to dance with her. (2) The woman then nods in assent.
(3) The two get up to meet on the dance floor.
Argentinean men have very fragile egos and, according to Claudia,
if you turn down even one potential dance partner, no others will
risk your rejection. Should the woman not wish to dance with the
man who is nodding to her, the events should proceed as such: (1)
A man makes eye contact with a woman and nods ever so subtly to
indicate that he would like to dance with her. (2) She pretends
not to notice.
After this frightening lecture, Claudia paired us up with partners.
I was paired with a tall, stern-looking, German ex-pat who I furtively
named 'Schvitz' because he arrived to class directly from work without
stopping at home for a shower. Schvitz insisted on dancing cheek-to-cheek,
which, considering our difference in height meant my cheek to his
armpit. Unfortunately, my German cohort had not caught on to the
subtlety of the dance.
'Turn to the left,' he urged me in an aggravated tone. 'But you
are pushing me to the right,' I contested, too polite to point out
that Schvitz had never advanced to an intermediate course despite
having taken eight months of intensive dance classes.
For a woman, tango is about more than following your partner. It's
about being able to understand his interpretation of the music through
non-verbal cues. I knew I was not going to find what I was looking
for in Claudia's studio, so it didn't take me long to cut class
to head for the milongas. A milonga is a dancing den; it can be
held virtually anywhere: a bar, a community center, even outdoors.
Drinks are usually served, but the main event is always the dance.
The atmosphere ranges from chic to casual and one can witness expert
dancers of all ages. What counts here are your dancing skills, though
I tried desperately to compensate with heels that got
At first, my luck was not much better than at Claudia's
studio. My nerves caused me to fumble and step on the toes of my
unsuspecting partners. They all seemed annoyed. One even abandoned
me on the dance floor. Until my last evening, that is.
I was taking in my last bit of tango music and
ambiance when a handsome,
dark-haired man of about thirty made eye contact and nodded from
I nodded back and we met on the dance floor.
He put his glasses in his back pocket and held me close. We started
swaying back and forth to the music, barely moving at all. He alternated
the pace, from standing still to performing fast, leg movements.
I didn't step on his toes once. After a couple of hours, we were
sweaty, tired and drained; but we persisted. I executed ovements
that Claudia would have never guessed I was ready for. I learned
to flick my leg sensually between his legs. I learned to arch my
back and be dipped. I learned to add in my own freestyle embellishments.
I later found out Paulo was a tango photographer; he spent his time
interpreting the dance visually. So I suppose I should not have
been surprised that his dancing was so fluent and his interpretation
of the music so smooth. The truth is, all it takes is one good leader
to show you what the dance is about. And Paulo did that for me.
In fact, with the loud music in the background and my elementary
Spanish, I can't even be sure that was his name -- but I suppose
that's irrelevant to the lessons he taught me. My love affair was
not with him, it was, after all, with the tango.
For More Info:
You can go tango dancing any night of the week in Buenos Aires.
Since milongas come and go, your best option is to check out either
of the major tango magazines in the city, BA Tango or El Tangauta.
The web site www.tangodata.com.ar
is dedicated entirely to tango events in Buenos Aires and around
the world. Let'sTanGO! is a web site conceived of by a staff of
experienced journalists that promotes Buenos Aires culture with
Tango as a thematic core. Travelers can learn which dance dens are
recommended for beginners (some milongas are only for advanced or
intermediate dancers), which ones serve dinner, etc. Doing your
research before you travel will add to the success of your experience.
If you're starting from scratch, you'll need at least a handful
of classes before you'll feel ready to strut your stuff in public.
These are a few tango teachers who can help you get to that point:
Carolina Levin: Tel. 4784-2968 or email@example.com
Marisa Galindo: Tel. 4543-0018 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcelo Gutierrez: Tel. 4601-3421 or email@example.com
Safety for Women in Buenos Aires:
While Argentina does not have as high a rate of violent crime as
some of its South American neighbors, precautions are in order,
especially in Buenos Aires. The current economic and political crisis
has unfortunately led to a rise in both poverty and crime.
During the day, buses and the subway (called the "subte"
by locals) are perfectly safe. Don't ever walk alone at night, especially
in areas such as La Boca and Retiro. Never take taxis off the street;
always call a Radio-taxi (Tel. 4922-9999), or even better, take
a remise car where a driver will take you to your destination for
a fixed rate. My personal favorite is Remises Hola S.A., (Tel. 4786-5333),
Women travelers will find men in Argentina slightly more subdued
than those from other Latin American countries. They are unlikely
to squeeze your buttocks or harass you in public; they will, however,
hold you tight for a tango or yell out "mamacita" to you
from a car window. Just take it in stride and you'll be fine.