Buenos Aires, Argentina
I tangoed once and I haven’t tangoed again since. But the one time I did, the one time I danced along to the music of Astor Piazzolla and Osvaldo Pugliese, it was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, tango capital of the world. Although the sounds of tango music captivate me, drawing me in with the sounds played by the orquesta tipica (a sextet that generally consists of two violins, piano, double bass, and two bandoneons), it is the performance the dancers put on, not for an audience, but for the diva that is tango. There is no basic step in tango, as it relies heavily on improvisation, but the movements of the dancers’ bodies, the sensuality of their facial expressions, this is the true art of tango. It is not just danced, but rather lived out there on the dance floor.
A tango lesson and show is a must for first time visitors to Buenos Aires. Truthfully, I really didn’t want to attend one; I was afraid it would be the Argentine version of the cheesy flamenco performances put on for tourists at cheap rates throughout Spain. I much rather wanted to go to a milonga, a place where tango is danced, a place not for tourists, but for anyone skilled in the art of the tango. A place you can go to where it doesn’t matter if you have a partner because there will be one waiting for you. One of my favorite scenes from the 1996 film adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita is at the beginning during the “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” musical sequence. The young Eva Peron has just come to Buenos Aires, having followed the man she loved who she thought loved her back, only to find out he had used her and now she had nothing. As the music progresses, Evita is often seen dancing a slow moving tango in a dusty and aged milonga. The saxophone solo in this is quite striking. I, however, was not at the level of Evita in regards to my tango skills and thought the authentic milonga experience was out of my reach.
The hostel where my friend and I were staying recommended a particular tango show company. Although I’m sure they were getting a cut for having brought business to the company, I reasoned it didn’t matter. The company we chose was most likely as any other.
I swear that if you’re not Latin in some way, shape, or form, your body and its nervous system are simply not programmed to dance such intricate moves. Although my friend and I earnestly tried to mimic the steps we were being taught, we didn’t quite “get there.” I was slightly disappointed because we were not being taught the steps right away one thinks of when they think of tango-the woman’s right leg bent in-between her partner’s legs, her left leg perfectly straight and erect in the back, her back slightly arched. I remember nothing of the steps I was taught at my one tango lesson, although I suspect that even with my two left feet, had I had bi-weekly classes like I did with the sevillanas dance class I took while studying abroad in Seville, Spain, I probably could have danced an average version of the tango.
After our slightly laughable but memorable dance lesson, we enjoyed dinner and a tango performance. For me the best part of the evening was none other than me being able to completely impress all of my table mates by asking the waiter, en espanol, what type of fish we were having. Got to love being able to show off every now and then.
The tango is truly a sensual dance. I could see why the upper classes at one time had deemed it a shocking dance, one that only the poorer masses would embrace, those individuals without “decorum” or “class.” In fact, the tango in Argentina had developed and taken root in some of the city’s immigrant and lower class slum areas. It is not a dance in which the male partner holds his female partner at proper arm’s length. In fact, the tango is danced in what is sometimes a very closed embrace, in which connection is chest-to-chest. It is dance with movement of deep feelings, not one with stiffness and reserve, not a dance that is danced methodically time and time again.
My favorite part of the evening though featured the bandoneon, a type of concertina that is the crux of the orquesta tipica. Originally intended as an instrument for religious music and popular music of the day in Germany, it was brought to Argentina by German sailors and Italian emigrants in the late 19th century, where it was incorporated into local music including the tango. For me, the bandoneon set the scene for the dancing. It wasn’t the bandoneon accompanying the dancer, but rather the dancer accompanying the bandoneon. Ironically enough, the night my friend and I returned to the United States, the bandoneon musician was actually on our flight to Miami. I knew this as he had unmistakable long dreadlocks.
As a lover of all things Latin, I am immensely interested in learning many of its cultural dances-the salsa, the merengue, the cumbia. But it is the tango that I am the most ardent about. It is a dance not just to kick back and let off steam, but a dance to truly get into, a dance to respect. And hopefully one day I will perhaps even feeling brave enough to walk through the doors of a Buenos Aires milonga.