Tango is a strong part of the identity of Buenos Aires. Born on the banks of the Rio de la Plata by the end of the XIX century, with immigrants and suburbial roots, tango was the lyrics and music of nostalgia, sadness and disillusionment. Despised by the rest of the society, it took years to this music and dance ―which had its golden age in the 40’s― to become massively accepted.
From Carlos Gardel to Astor Piazolla, tango created a cultural imaginary of mythical figures, poetic lyrics that speak a picaresque language (known as ‘lunfardo’), the unique sound of the bandoneón, and ―of course― a passionate and seductive partner dance that fascinates people from all the corners of the world.
You can breath tango and feel the nostalgia of old times while walking along iconic Buenos Aires neighborhoods, like San Telmo, La Boca, Balvanera, Boedo and Almagro, just to name a few. But you can also experience the present of tango, which is very much alive in the traditional ‘milongas’ where people of all ages gather to dance until early morning everyday of the week. (Just for the record: the word ‘milonga’ can refer to either a music/dance with some similarities with tango, as well as the place or event where people go to dance both rhythms).
During the day, Buenos Aires’ streets invite you to discover its gorgeous architecture while enjoying delicious typical food along the way. But when the night comes it’s time for a glass of red wine and ―why not― to explore the tango scene in town.
There are several options to have a tango experience in Buenos Aires. On one edge there’s tango shows, offering a sophisticated spectacle of dancers and live music. Even though they have an inevitable touristy feel, they are still impressive and worth visiting. On the other edge are the ‘milongas’, providing a less Hollywood-like but more authentic immersion in tango culture.
Those who had fallen into the charms of this dance can also take private or group tango lessons at almost every milonga and tango schools.
Heading to Buenos Aires soon? You can’t miss the experience of a tango night! Check out our trips in town and get inspired by this recommended places for a first approach to tango in the city.
‘La Ventana, Barrio de Tango’, tango show
At the heart of San Telmo ―one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires―, the converted building of a ‘conventillo’ (a big collective house where immigrants used to live) is home to a show that combines a three-course dinner, with a tango and traditional Argentinian music performance.
Since 1982, La Ventana provides a first-class tango experience, with talented dancers on stage and live music. The show starts with tango and follows with folkloric music from Argentina’s different regions. There are different options to choose from: you can take tango lessons before the show, include wine tasting, skip dinner and go straight to the show or go for the full package. You have to make reservations in advance, there’s a pick-up / drop-off service.
‘La Glorieta de Belgrano’, open-air milonga
In Buenos Aires, the places to dance tango are usually dance halls and community centers, though there are some exceptions. Every Sunday around 8pm until around 11:30pm, you can catch a well-known milonga in Plaza Dorrego, a square at the heart of San Telmo neighborhood. Another venue for dancing tango outside is La Glorieta de Belgrano.
This open-air milonga ―which has been around for 20 years now― takes place in a public park known as ‘Barrancas de Belgrano’, in the north of the city. Look for the covered circular gazebo with the bright lights on and you’ll be at the right place.
Regular dancers, curious and newcomers, all meet at La Glorieta around 8pm, with the last lights of the day. Here, tango high-heels coexist with old sneakers and the Argentinian ‘alpargatas’: everyone who loves dancing is welcome in without distinctions. Strict codes, sometimes frequent in the tango scene, are erased in this informal milonga. Everyone leaves their belongings in a pile in the center, the music starts and so begins the magic, as dance-couples move around the ceramic floor in a counterclockwise direction.
La Catedral, bohemian milonga
La Catedral is the most iconic underground venue in the city for tango lovers. An old warehouse in the neighborhood of Almagro which used to be a grain silo and ―since 1980― is simply known as ‘the temple of tango’. As soon as you go up the stairs, the bohemian ambiance of this laid-back milonga, with dim lights and a kind of grunge decoration will definitely captivate your senses.
Everyday there are group tango lessons for beginners, where you can learn tango’s eight basic steps and practice some moves. Many tourists visit this place, so instructors are used to speak in English too.
The true milonga ―where you can see seasoned dancers in action― starts around 11 pm. Tables and couches are disposed around the wooden dance floor, so you can have a privileged view of the dancers while you eat and drink something (the menu is only vegetarian). There are people of all ages, but most of them between 20-40 years old. Some days you can catch a tango show performed by a professional couple, which may also include some folklore dance.
The milonga is open everyday from 9pm to 4am. Tango lessons begin at 6pm. Tuesdays are the most popular day.
Ask for 2×1 entrance fee promotions (doesn’t include tango lesson). Entrance fee + tango lesson: $100 (around 5 USD). You can make reservations, though it’s not strictly necessary.
La Viruta, a classic
On the basement of the Armenian Cultural Association, a big saloon is home to one of Buenos Aires most famous ‘milongas’, La Viruta. A common saying about this place prays that ‘you arrive walking and you leave dancing’. You can start practicing on the sidewalk, where you’ll find the eight tango steps drawn on the floor.
This milonga opens its doors every day, under two different organizers: ‘La Viruta Tango Club’ and ‘La Viruta de Solanas’. It’s a great place for beginners and also for those who want to improve their technique, as they offer classes for all levels. You can also learn how to dance rock and salsa here. By 10 pm, classes are over and the milonga begins, after a nice dance performance of the tango instructors. Of course you can also go there and watch the dancers at the center of the room, while you have dinner and wine (simple food, low prices). Late at night ―Buenos Aires’ meaning of late can be around 2 or 3 am― the professional dancers arrive to La Viruta. Milongas end very late here and even breakfast is offered. Fees are around $150 Argentinian pesos and include all the activities of the day: classes, show and dancing at the milonga. Classes are group but you can ask for private classes too. There are bilingual instructors. It’s recommended to make reservations.