Tango and Salsa in Buenos Aires

From the packed and thumping boliches (nightclubs) to the sultry tango, dance is an important facet of Argentine culture. While I didn’t grow up in tutus or performing in dance recitals, I do love to dance, and living in Buenos Aires has given me the opportunity to indulge that and attempt to actually add some technique to my grooving. Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, and while it is the obvious choice for shows and lessons here, it’s salsa I have gotten into dancing. Latin Americans from all parts live in Buenos Aires, and salsa, which is hugely popular, is a dance that seems to unite them all.

Below are my recommendations for where to watch, try and appreciate both tango and salsa.

To See Tango

Most visitors to Buenos Aires make it a point to attend a tango show, and rightly so, as the city is the pulsing heart of the dance, the “vertical expression of horizontal desire.” Problem is, for every quality tango show in the city, there are perhaps two to three tourist trap attractions. Therefore, when my family came to visit I was careful about selecting what show we would attend. The BAExpats forum guided me to Tango Emoción on a small stage at Centro Cultural Borges in the heart of downtown. The above video clip is from the show, though unfortunately a little too shadowy to see the fancy footwork in all its glory. There was not a bad seat in the house and the show’s patriarch, an elderly Argentine man plucking the piano with gusto, interacted with the audience and made the whole event even more intimate and entertaining. Check the Centro Cultural Borges site for information about similar shows and other events. It boasts some great art programming.

To Dance Tango

I can only provide limited guidance on this front, because while I am the first to stop and admire tango dancers, I’m not particularly drawn to learning the dance myself. (I think I’m intimidated by the technicality of it all.)

Tuesday milonga at La Catedral, by Karina

Still, I can attest that La Catedral is a popular spot for dancing tango. The space is a converted theater with a laid-back vibe and art hanging from the walls and high ceilings. I’ve been and felt just as comfortable sitting at a table, downing some of the tasty vegetarian grub from the kitchen and Argentines’ favorite Stella Artois as my beginner friends participating in the milonga, which is the name for a place/event where people dance tango. La Viruta (mentioned below) also offers tango lessons and holds milongas.

My roommate, who studied dance in college in the U.S. and has been taking tango (as well as salsa) classes regularly recommends the following:

Best place to take lessons for beginner-intermediate level: DNI-tango. They have a good beginners’ milonga the last Saturday night of every month and also have a nice weekly milonga on Saturday afternoons from 4 to 7 pm.

For a classic and traditional tango milonga visit Salón Canning on Monday or Tuesday night when they have a beginning/intermediate class at 7 pm, advanced class at 9 pm, and then milonga.

La Catedral has an excellent tango night on Tuesdays with a class at 8:30pm and then milonga. They also have good milongas on the weekends. There also is a good tango class at Zarasa Tango at 7:30pm on Wednesday nights.

For tango nuevo check out Villa Malcolm on Friday night when they have a class and then milonga 11:30-3am. Then head over to La Viruta for more tango/salsa dancing from 3am-6am.

Other places that people have mentioned to me that are good for tango but I have not seen yet are: Práctica X, Boedo Tango, Confiteria Ideal, El Beso and Asociación Armenia on Thursday and Friday nights.

To See and Dance Salsa

Every Tuesday you can find me at La Viruta, a space (bar-equipped) in the basement of an unassuming Aremenian cultural building on Armenia street in Palermo Soho. For AR $25, you gain entrance to three hours of salsa cubana lessons and practica, or free-dance sessions. The structure of the night is lesson-practica-lesson-practica, which gives dancers the chance to dance with partners in any level and practice their newly learned moves. I love La Viruta because I find it to be a relaxed, friendly environment to learn and practice salsa—the practica is key—and on Tuesdays it is filled with people shimmying and shaking across the dance floor. Go to both learn salsa and observe some impressive dancers at work.

Azucar Belgrano is another favorite salsa spot. I have only been on Mondays, though, on which there is no practica. After attending classes with the free-dance portion at La Viruta, I have realized that really makes all the difference in learning, because there won’t always be a teacher there calling out your next steps.

I also have heard good things about Hanoi and Cuba Mía, though both are still on my to-do list. Hanoi apparently is smaller than La Viruta, which gives students more one-on-one time with the teachers. In addition to lessons, Cuba Mía is supposed to make for a fun, happening Friday night out of salsa.

One More Place to See Dance

Teatro Colón before a show, by Karina

You might not catch tango or salsa on stage, but perhaps you can snag tickets to a ballet at the majestic Teatro Colón, what I consider the city’s most impressive and opulent building. If you plan to go I urge you to spring for the pricier tickets, because many of the seats, even if only AR $20 less than the best, are often uncomfortable have obstructed views.

Also: Don’t be surprised if you hear of Argentines taking flamenco classes or see posters advertising flamenco shows. I have a couple Argentine friends who take flamenco lessons, and its popularity makes sense in a city where almost half the local population claims Spanish heritage.



7 responses to “Tango and Salsa in Buenos Aires

  1. Fantastic post. I would have loved to spend more of my brief visit to Buenos Aires dancing. As it was, I met up with a local friend who showed me around to one of the basement dance venues for an incredible evening watching live Tango. I’m a Latin/Ballroom dancer, but have never crossed into Argentina tango, so it was all a bit overwhealming/left me doing more watching than dancing. I also lacked the time to hit one of the local salsa clubs which is something I really hope to do when I have the chance to return.

    Despite the touristy nature and cost I did end up checking out Cafe de los Angelitos for their show/performance on my friend’s recommendation. It was positively fantastic. Hands down one of the best shows I’ve seen. Even if the service and waiters were absolutely miserable.

  2. Thanks so much for your insight, Alex! I definitely recommend going salsa dancing next time you are in town. There is a lot of passion and energy for the dance in Buenos Aires, and I always have so much fun, even though I’m currently only an intermediate (at best) dancer.

    As for tango, the additional recommendation is appreciated. I’m conversing with one of my roommates, who studied dance in college in the U.S. and has been taking a host of tango classes here, about additional suggestions for milongas in the city. From what I understand, the “real” tango dancing is what is happening in the basements, like you said, rather than on stage at shows. Still, not everyone visiting is going to make it to one of the underground joints, and it can be so nice to sit back and just take in all the music and dancing.

    I hadn’t heard of Cafe de los Angelitos prior; is it similar to Cafe Tortoni? While I love the history and ambiance of Cafe Tortoni, I have heard from multiple friends that the tango shows there are passable, especially because they cram attendees into a very tiny space.

    • Correct, Authentic Tango in the Malangas is very different from show Tango. Which is like competitive Salsa vs. Social/Club Salsa. I highly recommend both, as each has its own charm. Also, when i met up with my friend/tango instructor he taught me three dances, not just basic Tango. One was a traditional group line/ballroom dance, the other was a fast paced dance. I forget what he called it, it may have been the malanga.

      The cafe I mentioned is quite formal: http://www.cafedelosangelitos.com/en/show-de-tango/show-de-tango-galeria.php few shots of the venue and performances on there. Their shows are like going to see a Broadway performance or the Opera and reflect that in their cost.

  3. I wish that over the last 6 years in all of my travels to BsAs I had taken tango classes. Such a gorgeous dance! And I’m a HUGE fan of the music!

  4. Nens! The photo of the tango space on your blog says La Viruta – it’s from Catedral though, right?
    (I would recognize that crazy heart on the ceiling anywhere!)

  5. La Catedral is considered an underground place for tango, not by any means a traditional place for dancing.

    Cafe de los Angelitos and Cafe Tortoni are small venues for tango shows. There are many tango houses that offer dinner and show packages which only foreigners can afford. The tango is choreographed for performance.

    If you want to see how the older generation dances socially, you can visit a milonga like El Arranque and see average people enjoying an afternoon/evening of tango, milonga, and vals.

    12 years in BsAs for tango

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