DANCING IN BUENOS AIRES
This is Jenny's 2008 update. Her coments are of historical interest, but you will need to check on current milongas when you visit. With the closing and re-opening of El Beso in 2012, along with other changes, the state of milongas is always in flux. Also note that the names of the milongas are exactly that — and a specific milonga (with specific organizers) may move to a different venue, day, and time.
Jenny's 2008 note: This is a new version of an earlier article that has been posted here on the website since 2003, now finally revised after my latest visit to Buenos Aires in February 2008. Much of that earlier information still applies, but I have added some new recommendations, taken out clubs that are now closed, and updated the contact info whenever possible. As is true of all guides, this one reflects my own personal preference for traditional tango, though I encourage you to get out and try some of the more "experimental" venues as well, such as Villa Malcolm — for milongas and practicas — and DNI — for classes. My advice is to try it ALL, and then decide what works best for you!
Many of you planning trips to Argentina have asked me where to dance in Buenos Aires. First of all, let me say how happy I am that people are actually going to visit this wonderful city (ciudad de mi unico querer — "city of my only desire" as Carlos Gardel sings). Basically you can’t go wrong, but it always helps to have a bit of guidance, especially for your first trip. I hope that what we have taught you here at Tango Downtown (respect for your partner and for the line of dance, a deeper understanding of the music and the difference between the various orchestras, and, perhaps most of all, the courage to simply get out and enjoy yourself) will serve you well in your travels.
So, here then, is a brief guide to dancing in Buenos Aires. ¡Disfrutalo!
The best way to start to navigate the plethora of milongas, classes, practicas, CD stores, shoe shops and all things tango, is to pick up a copy of one of the current tango publications — written by dancers, for dancers. Although these reviews attempt to be comprehensive, it’s always a good idea to call ahead for the most up-to-date information.
Here are the three tango magazines that were readily available at all the dance studios and clubs in 2008, all free of charge:
El Tangauta: Published monthly, so be sure to pick up a copy as soon as it comes out — they disappear quickly! Most of the articles in this "revista" are accompanied by an English translation.
B.A. Tango: Published quarterly in Spanish only, you can often find this helpful guide at some of the newstands and bookstores in town, especially those located in the tango "quarters" of San Telmo and La Boca.
La Milonga Argentina: The newest publication on the tango scene can be found online at lamilongaargentina.com.ar or at the various milongas, classes and practicas around BsAs.
There is also a nice "Tango Guide Map" published by Caserón Porteño (caseronporteno.com) which is also available around town at tourist information centers in Patio Bullrich (Posadas 1245) and BsAs Design Center (Recoleta) as well as in the upscale shopping center Galerias Pacifico (Av.Cordoba y Florida). They also offer lodging, classes and other services to help you negotiate the maze.
TEACHERS & SCHOOLS OF DANCE
You will be deluged by teachers of tango on every street corner (and sometimes even on the floor of the milonga — watch out!) and there are many, many talented and wonderful teachers of all styles. I encourage you to explore and find your own favorites, and to ask for recommendations from other dancers you admire. Try a group class first (a great way to meet the locals) and then, if you have the money and time, a private, where you will receive more personal attention (often in English). The teachers listed below specialize in "milonguero" style, which is the preferred style of dancing in most of the clubs, especially those in the downtown area.
LA ACADEMIA DE SUSANA MILLER has classes almost every night of the week, often followed by a practica and then an all-night milonga. The Academy features a number of fabulous teachers on staff as well as guest artists; you may even be lucky enough to catch Susana herself when she’s in town! Great atmosphere at Club El Beso (just off Corrientes at Riobamba 416 near Callao); you’ll feel like one of the family before the night is over. Go early and check out Susana Villaroel’s custom-made shoes at Artenesal just a few steps away (Riobamba 448). Call El Beso at 4953-2794 or email email@example.com for more information on classes, practicas and milongas.
FERNANDO LORES AND GERY GLUZMAN
ESCUELA ARGENTINA DE TANGO
PRACTICAS, MATINEES & MILONGAS
For those new to the BsAs scene (especially beginners or timid types), I advise that you start your adventure by investigating some of the many practicas that are available all over town and then slowly venture out to the afternoon "matinee" milongas, which generally start around 5:00 or 6:00pm and run until almost midnight. These are held in the same locations as many of the late night milongas, but are usually more open and friendly to the new-comer, and a great place to meet (and dance with) people who share your style and point of view.
Word of advice for the evening milongas: go late! The best dancing starts well after midnight. I always try to stay on my hometown (Albuquerque) time to make the most of my trip; the three-hour time difference (or 4 or 5, depending on the time of year) means it only feels like it’s 1:00am when I’m out dancing at 4:00! Most of the clubs are packed, at least on a good night (and when else would you want to go?) and competition for space can be rough. Just remember to mind the line of dance and, if you are really freaked out, work your way into the very center of the floor where there is a bit more room (and no one will see your mistakes).
American and European men might have a harder time getting dances than their female compatriots, as most Argentine women prefer to be formally introduced before dancing with a stranger. This is where going to the group classes (and practicas) can really help out; you’ll meet the locals in an informal setting, start to dance with them and then, through them, with their friends. You can also ask the organizers of the milonga to introduce you to a few people; they are usually more than willing to do this, as it is a way for them to flaunt their skills by making their guests happy. Getting a good table doesn’t hurt either, and they can also help you with this, especially if you call ahead for reservations. (P.S. It is ALWAYS a good idea to wait at the entrance and have the organizer seat you; that’s what they excel at and you can never go wrong taking their expert advice! Plus, it’s a good place to see and be seen by the other dancers as you enter and ups your chances for dancing with them. Also, for both men and the women, you are much more likely to get a good table for dancing with the locals if you go alone; groups and partners are generally seated in a less conspicuous part of the club.)
Finally, a note about the difference between clubs and milongas (and there IS a difference). Please note that the various clubs host different organizers and milongas on different nights of the week, and so what might be a great evening at one club on one night may be a total bust on another (for example, Club Gricel, one of my favorites on Fridays and Mondays, has a Saturday night milonga for couples only, and if you are alone, they won’t even let you in the door!). For this reason (as well as helping you get a good table), it really helps to become familiar with the names of the organizers (or at least know the name of their milonga) as well as the night of the week and the location of the club at which that milonga is held. To further complicate matters, most locals will merely refer to the address, or a shortened version thereof, when they are recommending places to go. For example, "miercoles en la tarde en Humberto Primo" refers to the Wednesday matinee at the Centro Región Leonesa, located at Humberto Primo 1462, which is the same hall in which the famous "Niño Bien" milonga is held on Thursday nights — but it is definitely NOT "Niño Bien" ¿viste? I recommend carrying a small notebook and jotting recommendations down, then cross-checking with the tango guides for more information before you set out for the evening.
EL ARRANQUE at Nuevo Salon La Argentina (Bmé. Mitre 1759 off Callao). El Arranque is still one of the best ongoing matinees in town, where many of the older milongueros come to strut their stuff. It generally runs every afternoon of the week from about 3:00pm until 11:00. Call 4371-6767 for more information.
PARAKULTURAL at Salon Canning (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 near Cordoba in the Palermo district). A very good way to start your first week in BsAs, with organizer Omar Viola’s roving milonga (it reappears in other guises and other places other nights of the week, though the Monday one is the best in my opinion). Friendly faces at the door, good food at the bar, a beautiful wooden floor and a relaxed and friendly crowd. Silvia Ceriani (teaching partner to Pedro "Tete" Rusconi) is the DJ on Mondays, and the music can’t be beat. Call 4832-6753 or 15-5738-3850 (cell) for more information.
LUNES DE TANGO at Club Gricel (La Rioja 1180 near Independencia in the San Cristobal district). This is by far one of my favorite milongas, organized by the lovely Patricio and Adriana, who also work their magic on Wednesdays at Cabrera Soho. Club Gricel generally attracts a very sophisticated and classy crowd and Mondays are no exception. The dancing is always impeccable (vs. Parakultural, which can be a bit messy and chaotic at times) and the men all wear their best suits and ties. Call 4755-4620 or 15-4531-9977 for more information.
PLAZA BOHEMIA (Maipu 444 off Corrientes, one block up from Florida). This newer club is home to many of the best milongas these days, and every evening is a bit different (though many of the same dancers come here frequently). Tuesdays, Juan Lencina is your host for this matinee milonga (called "Sentimental y Coqueta"), which runs from about 6:30pm until 2:00 in the morning. The floor is small (but oh, so lovely!), so be sure to practice those tight turns before you come. Call 4581-0014 for more information.
PORTENO Y BAILARIN (Riobamba 345 off Corrientes near Callao, just down the street from El Beso, so you can do both in one night if you’re pinched for time). This is a popular club with foreigners in the know, but there is a lot of good local dancing out there as well. You’ll have the choice of two floors to dance on in this L-shaped club, which hosts a very sympatica milonga on Tuesday nights. Call 4932-5452 or 15-5153-8626 for more information.
SARAZA (Saraza 951 near Parque Chacabuco). I took the chance on this neighborhood club in 2008 and was very pleasantly surprised to walk in and discover that I had seen the organizers at another milonga downtown. I immediately felt at home, and was graciously seated at a great table for dancing (in this club, as is true in many milongas, the single men sit in a row of tables on the long side of the floor, facing the single women, with couples and groups at the tables at the ends of the floor; with the bright lights, it feels a little like being in front of the firing squad, but, hey! You’re here to DANCE, right?). Call 4925-5830 for more information.
ENTRE TANGO Y TANGO at Centro Región Leonesa (Humberto Primo 1462 near San Jose). This is the matinee known as "miercoles en la tarde en Humberto Primo" which is held in the same place as Niño Bien (which continues to dominate the tango scene on Thursday nights). But today is Wednesday, and organizer Luis Trapasso (who also does another "Entre Tango y Tango" here on Fridays) has managed to corner the market with this afternoon milonga, which attracts many of the best traditional dancers in the city and is definitely worth a try. Call 4704-6338 or 15-5620-5970 for more information.
A PURO TANGO at Salon Canning (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 near Cordoba in the Palermo district). This used to be one of the best early milongas in town, until "Humberto Primo" took over. But you can still drop in and check out some of the best older dancers until around 10:00pm, which leaves you plenty of time to have a nice dinner and then head over to Cabrera Soho (see below) for the rest of the night. Call 4832-6753 for more information.
LA NACIONAL (Adolfo Alsina 1465 near Callao). Very traditional. A wonderful place to go and watch the older milongueros navigate the floor, although in 2008 it was looking a little worn around the edges (most of the other clubs have been repainted and redecorated in celebration of the slowly recovering Argentine economy). Call 4307-0146 for more information.
LA MARSHALL at Plaza Bohemia (Maipu 444). Held in the same location as many other fine milongas, this is the one night at Plaza Bohemio when the gay crowd can relax and enjoy dancing to the beat of their own drummer. A nice addition to the BsAs tango scene, in my opinion. Call 4912-9043 for more information.
MIERCOLES DE TANGO en Cabrera Soho (Cabrera 4845 in the now very popular and renovated Palermo district; you can get a great meal at any of the many fine restaurants there, or enjoy the food at the club; their empanadas were to die for!). This topped my list in 2008 for the best overall ambiance; black and white photos of jazz musicians lined the walls, clips from Solo Tango were projected up near the ceiling, the music was divine (almost ALL late Golden Era instrumentals, which created a very sophisticated and elegant mood), and two of the most generous hosts you’re going to meet in BsAs. Patricio and Adriana create a similar mood — and attract a similarly classy crowd — at Club Gricel on Mondays. Call 4755-7620 or 15-4531-9977 for more information.
NINO BIEN (Humberto Primo 1462 near San Jose). This is THE place to see and be seen on Thursday nights and may be the best milonga in town, as far as attracting a broad spectrum of dancers. Many of the biggest "stars" of tango are here and it’s a real joy to see them dance socially, with their friends and students. Reputed to have the best floor in town, the place simply can’t be beat for its spacious and lively atmosphere. The only drawback (and it is a huge one) is that it can be VERY crowded, leading to a lot of bumper-car action and near-fatal disasters. So go late, order a bottle of champagne and dance with people you trust. Call 15-4147-8687 for more information.
LUJOS at El Beso (Riobamba 416). Lucia Serra and Oskar Kotik organize this very special early milonga on Thursdays at El Beso (also check out their "Lujos" on Sundays at Maipu). For my money, this is the best night of the week to enjoy El Beso, as most of the more flamboyant dancers (and virtually all of the foreign thrill seekers) are heading out to Nino Bien to cut it up (and, if you’re so inclined, you can always start out here, have a nice dinner at midnight, and then go late to Niño Bien). Call 15-4199-5902 for more information.
LA GLORIETA (Echeverria y 11 de Septiembre). This outdoor milonga is a nice alternative to the clubs if the weather is good. Generally held Thursdays through Sundays in the gazebo in the park known as the "Barrancas de Belgrano" north of the city center, this informal milonga is characterized by its relaxed, neighborhood mood, which literally feels like a breath of fresh air. Call 15-6304-8185 for more information.
ENTRE TANGO Y TANGO at the Centro Región Leonesa (see above).
LO DE CELIA (Humberto Primo 1783 just off Entre Rios). Highly recommended by the locals as THE place to go for very, VERY traditional, milonguero style dancing. It’s just a few blocks away from the Centro Región Leonesa, so if you feel like wandering over for an hour or so, it’s an easy walk there and back. Call 4304-2438 or 15-4945-2678 for more information.
CLUB SIN RUMBO (Tamborini 6157 near Constituyentes in the Villa Urquiza district). If you are feeling like exploring the roots of tango in an authentic neighborhood setting, then hop a cab and head out (and I mean OUT - it takes at least a half hour from downtown) to the "Cathedral of Tango" as it is known to the locals. Definitely a place where you will want to introduce yourself to the host as a visitor (they won’t let you in if you don’t). The style of dancing here is generally more orillero (literally "of the outskirts," i.e., more open and raw) than in the clubs downtown, and it is a wonderful thing to behold. Call 4574-0972 for more information.
CACHIRULO at Plaza Bohemia (Maipu 444). Organizers Norma y Hector do a fantastic job on Saturdays at this popular club, and many of the same folks who come to the Tuesday and Sunday matinees are here tonight as well. Call 4932-8594 or 15-4577-0434 for more information.
MILONGA DE LAS MOROCHAS at El Beso (Riobamba 416 off Corrientes near Callao). Advertized as being held in Buenos Aires and Toulouse, France (which used to be one of the best places in Europe for milonguero style dancing), this milonga is a great choice for Saturday night. Expect to dance until they bring out the coffee and croissants at dawn. Call 4953-2794 for more information.
LA CALESITA at Club I.M.O.S. (Cdro. Rivadavia 1350). If it’s summertime, definitely head out to Nuñez for this wonderful outdoor milonga under the stars. The patio floor is mighty hard, though, so wear your comfy shoes. Come a bit early (9:00pm), and you might catch the vals class taught by Tete and Silvia. Call 4743-3631 for more information.
SUNDERLAND (Lugones 3161 in the Villa Urquiza district). Located in the same neighborhood as Club Sin Rumbo (see above), Sunderland is the ultimate tango trip, if only to witness some very fine (and VERY traditional) dancing to scratchy music under bright fluorescent lights on the huge (and VERY crowded) floor of an indoor basketball court. You really have to know people here if you want to dance, as it is mostly local couples who attend and everyone appears to have known each other since birth, which they probably have. Call 4541-9776 for more information.
MATINEE at Confiteria Ideal (Suipacha 384 near Lavalle). No guide to dancing in Buenos Aires would be complete without mention of this wonderful old Art Deco building, located in the heart of downtown. Classes, practicas, live music milongas — they have it all! Go upstairs and have a drink, dance a set and soak in the atmosphere that inspired Sally Potter in her film "The Tango Lesson" (and continues to inspire dancers from all over the world). Afterwards, complete your pilgrimage by pausing to admire the shoes in the window at Flabella (Suipacha 263) or at many of the other tango stores that line the street. Then wander over to Cafe Tortoni, the hangout for tango poets and musicians past and present (Avenida de Mayo 825 near Calle Florida). With cafe cortado in hand, sit back and enjoy the perfect ending to what I hope will be for you the first of many perfect trips — dancing in Buenos Aires!
Chau y un abrazo grande,