Buenos Aires, tango is in the air
Born in the back streets of Buenos Aires during the late 19th century,
tango, the sensual ballroom dance, is as much a part of Argentine
culture as bife de chorizo (strip steak) at the local parrilla (barbeque
And tango music is the soundtrack for the city.
I stroll down Avenida Corrientes, past the Broadway-style theaters,
and hear tango music drifting from the record stores. The orchestral
sounds of Carlos Di Sarli and Osvaldo Pugliese soar above the broken
sidewalks. Carlos Gardel, the country’s most famous tango singer
(long deceased, but as popular as ever), serenades pedestrians as
they navigate the pavement.
I jump into a taxi and am treated to a heartbreaking tango performance.
This time the music comes from a car stereo. The singer’s voice—raw,
feminine, a tad melancholy—is accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
The taxi driver eyes me in his rearview mirror. Perhaps he notices
that I’ve tilted my head, intrigued by the soulful guitar solo.
He reaches over to the passenger seat and hands me a copy of the
featured CD: “Argentina … Flor de Mina”, by Lulú,
a local favorite.
The guitarist’s name is Orlando Gómez. As it turns out,
Orlando Gómez is also the taxi driver. At night, he plays
guitar in the bars, restaurants and recording studios of Argentina’s
largest city. During the day he drives a taxi. From this rolling
record store he sells me a copy of “Flor de Mina” for
30 pesos ($9.50).
At Velma Café, a small concert venue in barrio Palermo, I
am sitting with tango violinist Jacinta McPhillamy. Drawn by her
love for tango music, Jacinta relocated from Sydney, Australia. She
is one of the rare foreign musicians accepted by a local tango orchestra.
On this particular night at the Velma Café, Jacinta will play
a few songs with Alfredo Piro, a popular tango singer. Somehow, Alfredo
introduces Jacinta while she’s still seated at my table and
she nearly chokes on her chardonnay. She leaps to her feet and runs
past rubbernecking spectators to the stage, where she should have
been minutes earlier. This adds even more drama to Jacinta’s
dramatic violin solo. When she finishes the piece, the audience gives
her a rousing ovation.
On a warm December day in Parque Tres de Febrero near Palermo, tango
music drifts from a gazebo. Like many tango songs this one sounds
antiquated, vaudevillian. It seems to crackle through the horn of
an ancient gramophone. And yet, the music pours from a pair of brick-sized
speakers hooked up to a notebook computer.
Compelled by the moment and the music, four friends tango in the
gazebo. I sit on the floor, watching their fluid postures and fighting
off a tidal wave of envy.
Within minutes, a third couple appears. They join the strangers on
the gazebo floor and just like that, an impromptu melonga (tango
dance party) begins.
Every Sunday in barrio San Telmo, tango performers lay a makeshift
dance floor on the concrete ground of Plaza Dorrego. A crowd gathers
to watch their bodies clash. The music, the applause, the “ooohs” and “ahhhs”—all
these sounds drift across the street and into my living room window.
Normally, I rush outside to watch the performers. But every once
in a while, I lay on the sofa, listening to the music, imagining
myself as a competent tango dancer.
I need to dance.
El Tangauta magazine (the leading source for tango-related information
in Buenos Aires) lists more than 500 group classes in a given week.
Add to these an unlimited number of private lessons and it’s
easy to see why Buenos Aires is the world capitol of tango.
On Mondays and Fridays, I take lessons at La Academia Tango
Milonguero, a prominent school in the city center. On Tuesdays
I train at Estudio de Esquina. I’ll never be a polished professional.
But in a city where tango is as close as your next breath, blending
in on the dance floor is enough.
more information on tango in Buenos Aires, visit
El Tanguata magazine at www.eltangauta.com
or Tango Data at www.tangodata.gov.ar
Two of the best tango classes are La Academia
Tango Milonguero (Riobamba 416; 4953-2794) and
Estudio la Esquina (Sarmiento 722, 4th floor;
Buenos Aires is home to more than 150 weekly
melongas (tango dance parties) that last until
6:00 a.m. The most popular venues are Club Villa
Malcolm (Cordoba 5064; 4383-7469); Salón
Canning (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331; 4342-4794); El
Niño Bien (Humberto Primo 1462); La Virtua
(Armenia 1366; 4774-6357); and El Beso (416 Riobamba;
(To call from the U.S. dial the international
access code (011), the country code for Argentina
(54), the city code for Buenos Aires (11), and
the local number.)