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If you visit Buenos Aires, take a chance and try to dance the tango. The cheap option is to try a group class but remember that it takes a while to learn anything.
For a short visit, take private classes at a place like Tango Taxi Dancers and actually dance basic tango within an hour and a half. After a couple of classes, they can accompany you to a milonga where it is possible to practise what you have learned, and discover a whole subculture. It is a very special experience.
You can dance with instructors or partners at all levels of experience, from beginners to experts. And in the milonga, because the locals shy away from tourists, a lot of visitors sit there not dancing. Once you learn the customs of the milonga and are out there dancing, the regulars may be more inclined to also ask you to tango!
To simplify, there are two types of tango in Buenos Aires: Tourist Tango, and Social Tango.
Tango Para Export (or Tango Para Turistas), is what you see in the tango dinner shows and on the streets of Florida and San Telmo. It’s stage dancing by young people in slit skirts and fedoras, characterized by choreographed lifts, jumps, acrobatics, and extreme poses. Music by Piazzola is the standard for tango shows.
This has nothing to do with the social tango danced by the locals in the social dance halls, the milongas, of which there are more than 70 every week spread all over the city. Tango de salon, or tango milonguero, is characterized by improvisation, a very close embrace, musicality, small steps, connection, and elegance. Music of the 40’s and 50’s is played by a DJ, who divides the tangos, valses, and milongas into tandas, or sets, separated by non-danceable music (a cortina) when everyone sits down.
Social tango in Buenos Aires has many unwritten rules, or codigos, such as that women and men sit separately, and men do not approach the women but use the cabeceo, or nodding of the head.
It’s fascinating to see a milonga in action, and a must-do experience for any visitor interested in tango, or the tango culture.
Here are two articles explaining where to go for social tango, and the different kinds of salons. Remember that where you go to dance depends on your age, dance style, the organizer, the day of the week, and the time of day (afternoon or night). There are milongas for everyone, young, old, gay, straight, traditional music or alternative. Just be sure that if you want to dance in one, you had better take some lessons first; if you don’t know what you’re doing on a crowded floor you can be a hazard to others and to yourself.