When visiting Argentina’s capital, watching a Buenos Aires tango show is something everyone should do. During my last trip to Buenos Aires, I decided to join a tango class and even though I’m a total beginner, it was one of my more memorable experiences in Buenos Aires.
The tango is so entrenched in the Argentine culture that you couldn’t possibly write a list of things to do in Argentina without including some kind of tango experience.
In Buenos Aires, especially, the tango permeates the city’s soul and there’s no escaping.
As you wander around, you’ll hear crowds cheering as the flick coins into a hat while tango dancers twirl around a public square.
If you’re like me, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the dancers.
It’s easy to become spellbound by their sensual movements and hypnotic music.
Watching the tango on television in Dancing With The Stars might be fun but the impact of seeing the tango danced live in its spiritual home of Buenos Aires is dazzling.
In the Argentine capital, the tango is as iconic as the Opera House is to Sydney or the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. And there’s no better way to experience the culture than to join the dance.
Visiting Argentina’s capital? Here are 15 fabulous things to do in Buenos Aires.
- The Argentine Tango
- 6 Ways To Enjoy The Tango in Buenos Aires
- 1- Book a room in a Buenos Aires Tango Hotel
- 2- Take a tango lesson in Buenos Aires
- 3- See a Buenos Aires tango show
- 4- Watch street tango
- 5- Go to a Milonga
- 6- Attend the International Tango Festival in Buenos Aires
The Argentine Tango
The tango originated in Argentina in the 1880s, thriving in the seedy port areas, where the working class danced to escape from the grim reality of life.
The music is a fusion of vibrant rhythms from the cultures of African slaves, haunting melodies from Italy and mournful wails from the German concertina-like bandoneon.
The recent revival in the dance’s popularity among the younger generation has seen a host of clubs catering to portenos (residents) in their 20s pop up around the city.
6 Ways To Enjoy The Tango in Buenos Aires
1- Book a room in a Buenos Aires Tango Hotel
A boom in tango tourism in Buenos Aires has seen tango-themed hotels spring up all around the city.
These hotels are handy to stay at as they offer daily tango lessons and tango shows.
Some even have themed tango rooms, suites with private timber dance floors for dancers to practice on, tango concierges, tango boutiques and tango fashion parades.
My husband Roger and I stayed at Mansion Dandi Royal, which is a hotel in a historic terrace in the bohemian barrio of San Telmo.
The hotel has 30 rooms with king-size beds, claw-foot bathtubs and rooftop lap pool.
Tango paintings hang on the walls, tango music is piped into the rooms and there are even tango television channels.
The best places to stay in Buenos Aires for tango is in the barrios of Palermo and Recoleta or at Mansion Dandi Royal in San Telmo for its historic atmosphere.
Mansion Dandi Royal, 36 Piedras Street, San Telmo offers rooms and breakfast from US$70 ($87) a night plus taxes. Check out more Buenos Aires hotels here.
2- Take a tango lesson in Buenos Aires
Tango lessons are offered everywhere: in youth hostels, cafes, dance academies and milongas (dance halls).
Attached to the hotel we stayed at, the Dandi Tango Academy offers daily group lessons in their tango hall.
I was keen to learn the dance but for Roger, dancing in public is more frightening than jumping out of a plane with a parachute.
Truth be known, he’d rather go to the dentist than come to a tango lesson.
We joined a class in the tango hall, which had a springy original 1920s floor and a cafe.
Two other couples were standing at the side of the room looking as lost as we felt.
Our instructor, Nahuel, began the lesson by teaching us how to embrace.
Nahuel placed his right hand around my back and raised my right hand with his left, asking the other men to mimic the action with their partners.
He took us through a basic step sequence, first demonstrating the men’s steps and then the women’s.
Soon we were off and dancing.
Well, kind of.
Nahuel glided gracefully around the hall shouting at us to straighten up and keep our eyes off the floor, making corrections to each of our movements before leaving us on our own to practice.
We shuffled around the dance hall bumping clumsily into each other.
A dark-haired waiter took pity on us and offered some tips while Nahuel instructed the intermediate dancers.
Then Nahuel returned to teach us another sequence.
“Try not to bounce up and down; slide like this,” he instructed me, moving his feet in long sweeping movements.
I soon get the hang of it and by the end of the hour, I was hooked on the Argentine tango.
I loved it but Roger hated it with even more of a passion then he did before the lesson.
Tip: Bring a partner who is keen to learn to dance!
Tips on how to take tango lessons in Buenos Aires
- Check out the credentials of potential teachers. One of the best ways is to watch their dancing style on Youtube.
- If your intention is to dance socially, make sure you learn salon and not stage tango.
- To avoid being overwhelmed, take a few tango lessons before your trip.
3- See a Buenos Aires tango show
Buenos Aires is a city that never sleeps and there are plenty of Buenos Aires tango shows to choose from.
Keep in mind most Buenos Aires tango shows start and end late, and include an optional dinner.
Most Buenos Aires tango shows also include transfers from your hotel.
Here are some Buenos Aires tango shows you will love.
After our lesson, we attended the tango show at the Mansion Dandi Royal, Tango Real, which is a five-act performance that illustrates the history of the tango.
Find out more here
Rojo Tango Show
The sleekest tango show in town is Rojo Tango, performed in the trendy Phillip Starck-designed Faena Hotel and Universe. Rojo Tango is also one of the most expensive tango shows in Buenos Aires.
Piazzolla Tango Show
Experience live tango at Buenos Aires’ historic Güemes Gallery in Buenos Aires.
Porteño Tango Show
The 1940s Porteño Theater was where Maurice Chevalier made his tango debut. It’s a lovely venue to soak up the historic atmosphere in a place where the Buenos Aires tango was performed at its peak.
4- Watch street tango
Touring the city, you’ll encounter the tango everywhere.
Street dancers tango along the sidewalks and the vibrant tourist district of La Boca bustles with market vendors selling colourful paintings of tango scenes.
5- Go to a Milonga
in a milonga, we’re fascinated by the body language as men scour the room for a willing dance partner and women return the gaze with a coy tilt of the head.
Here’s a list of excellent milongas:
- El Beso
- Nino Bien
- La Baldosa
- Porteno y Bailarin
Visiting a milonga for the first time can be a little intimidating, so if you’d like an expert guide or prefer to go in a group here are some milonga tours you can book.
6- Attend the International Tango Festival in Buenos Aires
Plan your trip to Buenos Aires in August, when thousands of tango dancers and enthusiasts flock to the birthplace of tango to attend two weeks of concerts, classes and milongas.
If you can’t dance the tango, going to this event will certainly give you the best chance to learn!
The highlight is the Mundial de Tango, which is an international tango championship where the best Argentine tango dancers from around the world come to compete.
The championship has two categories – traditional tango salon and escenario.
The difference between the two is the first category involves improvised dancing, where dancers will not know what music they will be dancing to while the second category is choreographed stage tango.
I’ve marked next year’s International Tango Championships in my calendar.
All I need to do is take a few more Argentine tango lessons first!