There's some debate over the origin of the tango, but there's no arguing that this art form grew up in the heart of Argentina in Buenos Aires. In the late 19th century, tango developed in the city's brothels where women from around the world worked, bringing influences from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Poland. It quickly moved to ballrooms where men danced together to live music performed by trios playing the flute, guitar and violin. The dance movements evolved as composers wrote new music and lyrics featuring soulful poetry and narratives were added. In the 20th century, the musical groups expanded and the instruments came to include the bandoneon.
Today, tango is a cultural staple in Buenos Aires for both locals and visitors who want to learn the romantic art. There are dinner shows where professionals tell the story of this passionate dance and casual dance halls where locals and tourists dance alongside each other celebrating the country's great passion.
Tango Dinner Shows
A tango dinner show unfolds with first-rate dancing and singing, allowing guests the opportunity to sit back and take in the beautiful and skilled dancers on the move. Most shows combine dinner with the live dance performance; you may join in later in the evening or just watch the show.
Bar Sur hosts the oldest show in the historic San Telmo neighborhood. Visitors nestle into this cozy corner bar and take in the performance that runs nightly from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. with singing, dancing and plenty of romance.
The show El Viejo Almacon is a dramatic spectacle with an orchestra sextet, 4 dancing couples and impressive singers dancing and singing their way through the tale of tango in Buenos Aires. Arrive at 8 for the dinner show with classic Argentine steak, chicken or Arco Iris trout and then stick around for the show at 10.
The Our Tango show at El Querandi is a 5-part journey through the history of tango from its humble beginnings in late 19th-century bordellos to the sexy modern stylings of Astor Piazzolla who shaped modern tango for the country. The dinner show program includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and drinks while the show package includes a glass of champagne, beer or wine and a plate of cheese to snack on while you enjoy the spectacle on stage.
The sweeping deep-red dining room and stage at Piazzollo Tango Center of Art and Spectacle is just as awe-inspiring as the dance itself. Located at the elaborate Geumes Gallery, this swanky theater hosts a nightly tango show based on tango legend Astor Piazzolla's "Estaciones Portenas" that takes diners on a journey through the seasons from spring through summer, autumn and winter. The 90-minute performance begins at 10:15 with an option for dinner beforehand at 8:45.
There are tango dance halls known as milongas all over the city where seasoned dancers, beginners and even observers come together to tango. Many milongas offer dance lessons where you can get the hang of the steps before swirling around the dance floor. A live orchestra provides the music, usually in sets of 3 to 5 songs called tandas, during which partners stay together taking a small break after the last song.
The dance floor is always pleasantly crowded at La Virtua as locals glide around and gracefully switch partners. But the real draw is the impressive roster of lessons with bilingual instructors, private lessons and group classes with a variety of levels so you can continue to learn new moves as your skills develop. You can bring a partner for lessons or come alone and have no worries of filling your dance card. In addition to tango, you may hear salsa or even rock and roll playing for a diverse dance party. The club is open from Tuesday through Sunday, and the party rolls on until 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Salon Canning at Scalabrini Ortiz Avenue 1331 is a grand and airy milonga with high ceilings and a lovely polished dance floor that's one of the best in the city. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, dancing begins at 10:30 and goes until 4:30 the next morning. There's always a lesson at 10:30 that is included in the admission fee, and you may call ahead to reserve a table where you can rest during breaks from dancing.
The Confiteria Ideal is an historic bar and dance hall with tango shows as well as dance sessions and lessons. Teachers guide newcomers in dance steps every day of the week in mid-afternoon and evening classes. There are matinee milongas from 3 to 8 p.m. most days and evening sessions begin around 10 and stretch into the wee hours of the morning.
In addition to the traditional clubs, there are trendy and unique spots that beckon tango dancers to do their thing in a different setting. La Catedral at Sarmiento 4006 is favored by a young, hip crowd that shimmies and shakes in this converted factory. La Marshall at Maipu 444 is a relaxed and gay-friendly milonga. In its welcoming environment, men and women are free to dance to classic music or, on different nights, more contemporary and even electronic tango tunes. Classes begin at 10 on Saturday nights, and the dance floor fills from 11:30 p.m. until 3 a.m.
Dancing in the Streets
Tango dancing isn't always contained behind closed doors. It's not unusual for tango to spontaneously break out in the streets, particularly around Plaza Dorrego's Sunday outdoor market. If you miss an impromptu dance party during the day, head to the plaza on Sunday night at 8 for a romantic spin around the square under the stars and rows of twinkling outdoor lights.