Category Archives: Music

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.

Karina

The Buenos Aires Podcast

I’m keeping today’s post short, because I’m directing you instead to a place that has already done the work of packaging up Buenos Aires insight and condensed into podcast form for your listening pleasure. It’s called the Buenos Aires Podcast, or B.A. Cast.

I stumbled upon the B.A. Cast a couple months into my time in Buenos Aires and listened to all the (as of then) released episodes in one sitting. The hosts of the 20-ish minute podcasts—which are in English—are Dan Karlin, a Buenos Aires transplant originally from the U.S. and Fernando Farias, a B.A. local. They work into the episodes such varied topics as Argentine history, current events and Spanish slang (lunfardo) lessons, as well as cultural happenings and the need-to-know, all while achieving that perfect tone and balance between the informative and funny.

I have now met both the hosts, but I didn’t know either of them when they found my post right here on this blog, Joining a Gym in Buenos Aires, and quoted it on their show. They often include interviews with other expats or locals on their show, and draw on stories and posts by others about the city, as they did with this blog. One of the most fascinating episodes, in my opinion, is Episode 20 of Season 1, in which discuss body image in Argentina and bring in some female guests to share their opinions.

Check out the YouTube B.A. Cast trailer here:

Even if you’re not living in Buenos Aires, if you’ve just visited once or hope to visit one day, I encourage you listen to some of the episodes. At the very least you’ll leave more knowledgeable about this crazy, pulsating city in the Southern Hemisphere, and the mama of a country in which it’s located. You have time to start and finish Season 1 before Season 2 debuts. Do it!

Karina

Parque Tres de Febrero

Buenos Aires residents are park people. The weekends are for filling green spaces with friends, spending hours relaxing with mate and music, or for strapping on a pair of rollerblades and circling the park. The city might not make for a long list of touristic must-sees to tick off, but I always recommend if people want to see Buenos Aires, want to get it, they should spent time at a park on the weekend.

My personal favorite is a leisurely 10 to 15-minute walk from my apartment, Parque Tres de Febrero. The 62-acre park, also known as the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo woods) encompasses a lake, rose gardens and fields (as well as a number of parrilla stands selling grilled meat and sausage sandwiches, or choripan). El Rosedal, which is the name for the rose gardens, is a sub-section of the park, and perhaps the most quixotic spot in the city.

On the weekends it fills with locals exercising in every way from capoeira and tight-rope walking to pick-up soccer games, couples paddling boats, parents treating their kids to sweet popcorn and loungers listening to concerts or some comedic performance. Below I’ve posted some of my photos below from numerous visits to the park. Don’t we all just want to look at pictures on a Friday, anyway?

In case you’re wondering: February 3, 1852 is the date Buenos Aires governor Juan Manuel de Rosas, one of the Spanish empire-appointed rulers (caudillos), was overthrown.

Karina

Buenos Aires Carnaval Murgas and Corsos

This year was an important one for Carnaval in Argentina. In 1976, the Argentine military dictatorship, the same one responsible for the country’s devastating Dirty War during which thousands disappeared, eliminated the nationwide Monday and Tuesday Carnaval holidays. La Presidenta Cristina Kirchner re-instituted them as public holidays at the end of 2010 to take effect this year, so March 7 and 8 were days off. Party!

Below is a clip of the Palermo corso, complete with murga, that took place on March 7, 2011.

Now, to explain the related tensions and complicated side of the all the dancing, drumming, singing and celebrating, I bring in Elena Pinsky’s expertise once more.

While murga as an art exists as a form of popular expression, and of parody and celebration (à la most celebrations of Carnaval in the world), the reality of murga, as with so many other things, is that it is a vehicle for exploring other social and political tensions in the city. Because murga in Buenos Aires is not highly institutionalized the way it is in New Orleans or in Brazil (nor is it as popular, in the English sense of the word, among porteños), there are some interesting class implications about murga, best highlighted by the fact that murgas do not form in the [upper class] Recoleta or Puerto Madero [neighborhoods], though Palermo does have a few. The navigation of murgas in the city is rife with drama — groups that think that murgas should be organized by some entity and groups that don’t, and the relationship between the murga community and the government is tenuous.

Additional information and resources Elena recommends:

One group of organized murgas

More background

Soy Murguero

City of Buenos Aires Carnaval site

Plus: The first TKGO Buenos Aires Carnaval post

-Karina, again with the contributions of Elena Pinsky. Additional thanks/credit to my friend’s novio, Maxi, and this Expanish blog post for the history.

Carnaval in Buenos Aires

The world’s biggest party — Carnaval — culminated and concluded Tuesday. While Rio is the number one Carnaval destination, Argentina throws some serious celebrations of its own, from non-stop Gualeguaychu madness to dances in the streets of Buenos Aires.

The Carnaval celebrations in Buenos Aires consist of murgas and corsos. The corsos are the parades, and murga refers to the art, or the song and dance, and the community-based groups that perform it. The celebrations are a mix of loud drum beats, singing, flamboyant costumes laden with fringe and people moving in what looks like a mix of fluid break dancing and capoeira, touching the ground and kicking high. People of all ages come out, and children, as well as some adults, sprint around the periphery, spraying each other mercilessly with foam, shrieking and giggling. (Enter corso/murga territory at your own risk. My friends and I were doused, but it’s all in good fun and quickly dissolves without a trace.) The photos below are from the corso I attended in Palermo, on Darwin between Gorriti and Cabrera streets.

Carnaval in the Streets Buenos Aires

Drums Carnaval Buenos Aires

Street parade Buenos Aires Carnival

Corso Buenos Aires

Carnaval Buenos Aires

One of my good friends from college, an anthropology major, wrote her senior thesis about murga, based on research she conducted and collected here in Buenos Aires. Funny enough, she is currently living in another Carnival capital, New Orleans. While she understandably couldn’t send me an email on Mardi Gras, she was kind enough to send me one the following day. Here’s an excerpt:

Murga is a form of popular art — that is, of the people. Murgas are groups that form according to neighborhood, and largely represent the neighborhoods from which they come, though people from all over the city are welcome to join. Murgas come together year-round to practice murga, which involves dancing, drumming and singing (less musical, more parody-esque; one song type of song that murgas sing is called a crítica and jokes or parodies current events and figureheads). In one way, the goal of a murga is to salir en las calles durante todo el Carnaval (go out on the streets for all of Carnaval). But the community that forms year-round through a murga is also essential.

Coming Friday: Video of the Palermo murga from March 7, 2011 and information about cultural tensions related to murga, thanks to our resident scholar and my friend, Elena.

Karina for TKGO, with the much-appreciated expertise of Elena Pinksy

Saving Money in Buenos Aires

It is easy to live big on American dollars in Buenos Aires. My first weeks in the city I got continual thrills out of evaluating the prices of things in pesos and dividing by four, which is the current approximate conversion rate. But, a traveler’s mentality toward money is different from a resident’s, and I have finally begun evaluating prices pesos against pesos, rather than pesos to dollars. Now my thrills come from saving pesos while still enjoying all Buenos Aires has to offer, rather than thinking of how comparatively cheap a steak or taxi ride is here compared to in the U.S.

For all my fellow recent college graduates, and because I’m pretty positive saving money is a universal pleasure regardless of where one is in the world or how much he or she makes, I present my personal list of money-saving tips, based on my current life and experiences in Buenos Aires.

An Argentine 100-peso bill, worth about $25 U.S.

Food

Everyday

Shop often, but only for what you need. I was used to making big weekly or bi-weekly trips to the supermarket, but I have found I save more money, waste less food and eat more of what I want and need (than what’s simply around) when I shop day-to-day. I pass a small grocery store on my way home from work, and on my walk from the office I think about what I plan to eat for dinner that night and pack for lunch the next day. Then I buy what I need, and that’s that.

Break down your food shopping, and search out the cheapest produce stands and butcher shops. The general consensus is you will pay less for the same products in the smaller, individually owned grocery stores than in the big-box grocery stores. Investigate this and see what works best for you, though, because while I swear by the small places, my roommate sticks to the large Disco on our corner and often receives 15 or 20% coupons off entire grocery orders.

In Buenos Aires, produce stores and butcher shops populate every block, whereas large grocery stores are less frequen. As a rule, produce and meat in the smaller shops are cheaper, fresher and more local than what you’ll get at the larger grocery stores. Not all stands, though, sell for the same rates. I’ve located what I think is the cheapest (and tastiest) near my block. The other day I purchased a huge head of lettuce, two tomatoes, two avocados and a bunch of asparagus (about 10 stalks) for $11.50 pesos, or less than $3 USD. Also, since you’ll be buying it all ripe, it is best to follow the above advice of buying regularly.

Dining Out

Find coupons. Coupons are everywhere! I currently subscribe to Waku, Cuponica, Groupon Buenos Aires and Living Social Buenos Aires to receive their daily deals via e-mail. Some of the offers are for Pilates classes and teeth whitening, yes, but the many of them are food-related. Also — and this is particular to Buenos Aires — Guia Oleo, which is the Buenos Aires restaurant guide bible, issues a number of free restaurant coupons. You also will find food coupons in random places, like a 20% off sushi coupon with your grocery store receipt. (Note: Some Buenos Aires coupon sites, might not accept international credit cards.)

Similarly, look into what you already have going that comes with discounts. Prime example: Ironically enough, my gym membership gets me 15% off at a nearby helado (ice cream) place.

Go for local fast food. In Buenos Aires, empanadas, pizza and choripan (chorizo sausage on bread) are beloved local foods. They also come super cheap. Less than $4 pesos can get you a warm, stuffed empanada — baked here, not fried, so don’t feel too bad about it — and a piece of pizza or choripan with some chimichurri run around that price, too. Whenever I don’t feel like cooking but still want to feel “cultural” (as in not hit up Burger King or its ilk) I search out a new local empanada, pizza or choripan place.

And if you are craving sweets, visit the factura wall at your local bakery. Facturas are pastries that cost about $1.50 pesos each. Small enough to avoid guilt, big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Also, choose between wine or water when dining out. I’m half kidding, but water is not complimentary here, you know.

Nightlife

Get on a list. You can find a list for anywhere if you try is a theory developed (and proved) while studying abroad in Barcelona. The same holds for Buenos Aires, where boliche (club) culture is especially strong. Club promoters do most of their work via Facebook, so a simple search for “____ lista” or “_____ invitados” (inserting the name of the club you want to go in the blank) will turn up groups and profiles with free admittance entry. Additionally, a Google search can turn up some legitimate Web sites for list information, such as this one for Buenos AIres. It doesn’t hurt to try to meet the promoters, too, because they might start to come to you with less-publicized events, such as free dinners. (Seriously!) Most of the time, finding a list also translates to skipping any silly bouncer business and lines at the door.

Investigate deals. Find a favorite bar, or many favorite bars, and look into any specials they have, like nights when girls drink free or beers are especially cheap. At many places, “happy hour” has been known to go until 2 a.m. America might be the land of deals and buying in bulk, but Argentines can’t say no to good drink specials, either.

Also, and this is probably another obvious one but I will say it anyway, cheap tickets can be found to pretty much any show or event. Just look for student deals or the cheapest day to go.

Avoid buying drinks out. This holds true whether you’re in Chicago or Buenos Aires, but drinks will always be cheaper when you make them yourself. If you plan on going to a boliche, too, you won’t be leaving until probably 1:30 a.m., so use the time beforehand to arrange a social little previa (pregame). Argentines embrace the concept of previas, so make some friends and make some plans!

Sightseeing & Events

Hold on to your student ID. That expiration date? Probably not noticeable to the woman working the ticket desk at a museum in Buenos Aires. I’ve used mine a number of times without a hitch, and it usually gets me a significant discount — often free — entry. Otherwise, look for free or discounted days.

Read local event calendars and culture sites. A good place to start would be the websites of local culture publications (the print versions work, too, but you’re more likely to find up-to-date details online), such as TimeOut. You’ll find the most interesting, in-the-know, and often free events.  Some popular ones in Buenos Aires are Vuenos Aires, the aforementioned TimeOut Buenos Aires, What’s Up Buenos Aires and (thanks to my Twitter friend @AustinWiebe), the official city agenda. In New York City I relied heavily on nymag.com for similar info. Expat forums also are especially informative in this aspect; see “ALSO:” below for my praise on that.

Talk to locals. Sure, you want to see the famous architecture and cruise through the notable museums, but when it comes down to it, sightseeing is about getting to know a place. Talk to locals to see how they spend their weekends, and that’s when you’ll do some real “sightseeing.” For example, park life is a huge part of the Buenos Aires lifestyle. People spend hours upon hours in parks on the weekends, drinking mate (read Tara’s explanation of Argentine’s mate drinking here) kicking around a ball, playing music and most importantly, just spending time with friends. And that costs nothing.

Communication

Bring a cell phone. Of all those old cell phones you have stuffed in drawers at home in the U.S., I bet at least half of them can be unblocked and used in another country. One of the biggest money wasters that comes with setting up life in a new place is buying an overpriced cell phone in the country you are in that features technology rivaling only the Nokia you used to play Worm on. Bring an unblocked cell from home and you will save money and have a nicer phone. Just make sure it operates using a SIM card, and you can buy a new card in your country for super cheap and get it going.

Get on Google Voice! And buy a Magic Jack. I do miss my family and friends in the U.S., sometimes too much. Thanks to the newly debuted Google Voice, though, I can call and text them, and anyone else in the U.S., for free (!) right from my computer. It is truly amazing. Google Voice is new, though, so it does not always work, and that is where the more reliable Magic Jack comes in. One of my friends in Buenos Aires is a flight attendant on leave; she travels often and swears by the Magic Jack. How it works is, you purchase the jack to plug into the USB port of your high speed internet-connected computer. You then plug a phone into the other end of the adaptor, and can use the phone to make or receive calls from the U.S. and Canada.

ALSO:

Use Twitter. Follow local journalists, bloggers, personalities and publications to get insight on what people are up to that sounds fun and cost-effective. People cannot help but broadcast a good deal or fun event, and I for one, do not mind! I have made a “Buenos Aires” list on my account so I can quickly check out what is going on in my current city.

Read Forums. The Buenos Aires Expat blog truly amazes me. It is a goldmine of advice, resources and tip-offs for everything related to Buenos Aires and expat life. I have posted looking for advice on buying polo tickets, best nearby beach getaways and finding Thanksgiving turkeys, and receive a slew of knowledgeable responses quickly. Additionally, because many expats are adventurous people looking to experience as much as possible, you hear about events and activities you might otherwise not have learned about. I have found CouchSurfing’s groups to be a good resource, too.

Don’t buy clothes — share. Or use cash. Living with two other girls = two additional closets, so I have not felt the need or desire to buy new clothes here, yet. If you do shop, pay in cash and ask for a discount! In many South American countries, the big secret is that the labeled price is for credit cards. Pay with cash and sales personnel will discount your purchase. Be sure to ask, though, because they will not always offer.

That’s my best advice so far, and I would love to hear any recommendations you have. Every peso saved is another peso toward travels during my time off around Christmas!

Karina for TKGO

Fuerza Bruta in Buenos Aires

It took me coming to Buenos Aires to finally make it to Fuerza Bruta.

I had wanted to go in Chicago, but missed it. Then I set my sights on New York City when I was home over the summer, but it didn’t work out. It’s best it happened in Buenos Aires, though, because here is where the show originated.

The interactive, acrobatic, near-no-dialogue show has viewers standing in a high-ceilinged, enclosed room for the duration, which is about an hour. The actors move through the crowd, fly from the ceiling and slide across a wet plexiglass pool above viewers heads.

Fuerza Bruta is a show you can interpret however you like — some fairly common themes like a man running on a treadmill are pretty easy to pick up on — but I would be shocked if you didn’t have fun. It is a high-energy design and engineering marvel, and it becomes a raining dance party I wanted to go on for hours.

Below are chronological clips from the show, which while thrilling, do little to convey the energy, intimacy and engagement of the show. The show tours internationally, and is now playing in Buenos Aires and New York City, with Bogota and Puebla coming soon. If you’re in any of those places, I highly recommend purchasing tickets. My friends and I are considering going back for round two.

Karina for TKGO