Tango in Buenos Aires
by Randy Lisle
(Randy is a well-traveled American currently living in Buenos Aires)
Tango (both dance and music)
is probably the most well known and important art form Buenos Aires and
Argentina have given the world. The origins of Tango are obscured by history, but have been traced back to about
1880 when the thriving port city of Buenos Aires served as a melting pot of
cultures, languages, music, and dances of the world.
In addition to the sailors and dock workers
characteristic of any port, the city was populated by recent immigrants from
Italy and Spain, as well as gauchos forced off the land by changing social and economic conditions, all of whom arrived at the
growing city looking for work ... and
for women. It was in the
prostibulos and the conventillos where this incongruous mix of European, African, and
Indigenous cultures, and their underworld of violence, crime and prostitution,
gave birth to an indiscreet music and dance that reflected and placated the
loneliness of their lives. The music and
expression of Tango is yet infused with the mournful sounds of loneliness and
despair, violence and betrayal that
characterized the lives of those who created it.
The port and its surrounding barrios set the stage for the cacophony of
cultures that would give rise to the Tango:
the sailors brought with them the African-infused rhythms of Brazil and
Cuba; the immigrants brought the sounds
and musical instruments of southern Europe; the gauchos brought the rhythms of
the campo, and the culture of the puñal (the dagger). From this cultural mix appeared the "compadritos" (small-time hoods) who
reflected in their music, their letters, and their dance the typical cuchilleros (knife fighters) duel that
characterized their social ambient. The dance emerged as an entertainment among
men as they waited their turn with the prostitutes, and these early tangos
rather than representing the sexual choreography that later emerged,
illustrated a duel, a man-to-man combat between challengers for the favors of a
woman, that usually ended in the symbolic death of an opponent.
As the dance evolved, sailors brought steps borrowed from the African
populations of Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay. Some theorize that the name Tango itself was borrowed from these
African-Americans. The dance during
this time became more characteristically sexual and reflected an "acting
out" of the relationship between the prostitute and her pimp.
Despite its lowly origins, in the 1920’s Tango left the brothels and
the underworld districts of Buenos Aires to reach the high-class ballrooms of
the city, but to do so it had had to travel to Paris and return triumphant.
Tango became at last a complete cultural expression, a gathering of myths,
values, traditions, and aspirations.
Beyond the historical and cultural symbolism of the dance, the Tango
exists today as a social connection among dancers. It has been described as the most sensual
dance in the world, or more bluntly, and more in keeping with it’s
humble beginnings, as making love for three minutes on the dance floor. This passion of the dance can be witnessed
and enjoyed in the many dance halls populating the city, from the classic dance
halls such as Cafe Tortoni (www.cafetortoni.com.ar)
and Confeteria Ideal to the young clubs such as La Viruta.
There you’ll find a blend of tourists
and natives, young and old, dancing to
the sensual bandoneon-infused rhythms of the golden age as well as to the beats
of tango electronico, such as Gotan Project and Bajo Fondo Tango Club.
Tango is perhaps the biggest tourist
draw of Buenos Aires, Argentina
bringing dancers and
spectators from throughout the world, Tango is not merely a tourist attraction,
nor is it a nostalgic glance to a glorified past. Rather, Tango is crystallized in the very
cultural breath of the city. From the
classic dance halls decaying from their
golden age glory, to the tango world championships held in August of each year,
to the new tango clubs popping up all
over the city, tango exists today as a creative expression of the cultural
vibrancy of the city. And the passion and sensuality that infuse the Tango can
be witnessed on the streets of Buenos Aires, from the raw sensuality of its
women to the lingering kisses of couples on the streets, passionate kisses that
bespeak the timeless inspiration of artists from Klimt and Rodin to the
greatest composers of Tango.
good way of penetrating the spirit of Tango and to enjoy its sensuous magnetism is to visit one of the many
restaurants that offer Tango dinner shows.
Among the best are the Piazzolla Center (www.piazzollatango.com), and La
Esquina de Carlos Gardel (www.esquinacarlosgardel.com.ar). Tango exhibitions are available throughout
the city, from La Boca to Palermo, and
are well advertised. For more information regarding Tango happenings, visit
those who feel caught in the spirit, and want to try a class, there are
literally hundreds of options to choose
from. Some of the venues that offer
classes for beginners as well as for more advanced students are Escuela Argentina de Tango (www.eatango.com) and Centro Cultural Konex (www.centroculturalkonex.org).
those of you who already know a few steps, there exist dance venues
throughout the city. La Viruta in Palermo, La Catedral, Villa Malcom, Club
Gricel (www.clubgricel.com), Centro
Cultural Torquato Tasso (www.tangotasso.com),
among countless others.