You don’t have to be able to dance tango to go to a Milonga in Buenos Aires. And if you are letting a little thing like that hold you back, then you are really missing out on having a local experience. There are plenty of other things you can do at Milongas instead of dance – mainly just sit back and watch, drink a glass of wine, chat with locals, and take photos.
One of the most fascinating things about Buenos Aires to me was the tango culture. Tango was everywhere in Buenos Aires from cheesey tourist dinner shows (but wonderful dancing), to shoe boutiques, to tango schools, to milongas (tango dance halls). It felt as if everyone knew how to tango but me in Buenos Aires and unfortunately I didn’t have time to take any lessons myself. But luckily when I arrived in Buenos Aires I met Ute, a tango dress designer from Barcelona, who just happened to be staying at the same little B&B I was staying at in the Almagro neighborhood. We hit it off immediately and I was gladly pulled into her tango world (or maybe I actually pushed myself in!) as I started to accompany her to milongas late at night to photograph her collection, and the nightlife for her Website and Facebook page. From her I learned you never go to a milonga before midnight – which made for some pretty late nights in Buenos Aires!
I was mesmerized by the dancing – the slow deliberate movement that seemed to ooze sensuality and passion. Each little flick of the foot, each step slowly taken, each lean in, each squeeze of the hand had meaning that I tried to decipher. I had never seen a dance where people danced so intimately close – cheek to cheek – with strangers. People of all ages danced which led me to believe that this really was a cultural phenomenon and not simply a fad that was dying out as the generations aged.
I went to 3 very different tango clubs each with a distinctive personality. Sueño Porteño‘s decor felt as if I had walked into my old 1970’s roller skating rink. It had a big dance floor, lots of seating, old chandeliers and a red hue throughout. Noche de Luna (open on Wednesday nights) was more modern and small, but I loved how the men all sat on one side and the women on the other side of the dance floor – it reminded me of grade school dances. Then one night I also found myself at the young hip La Cathedral which felt more like a rave club in an old gutted out factory building.
Even if you can’t dance, head out at midnight for one of these milongas and get a truly local experience. Simply sip a glass of wine, sit and watch the slow, rhythmic movements of the tango.
Next visit to Buenos Aires…I’ll be dancing – but for now, I remain behind the camera.