In Buenos Aires, there are many reasons to start dancing the tango
Arriving in Buenos Aires really was a breath of fresh air. After three months of traveling in South America, this big city with its grand buildings and subway system felt very cosmopolitan indeed. My hotel was just off the Avenida Corrientes, a main thoroughfare like Broadway in New York; it’s chock full of theaters and bright lights. For this city girl, it was like coming home.
[pullquote]On the other side of town, in San Telmo, the most gorgeous dancing shoes are on display in tango shops. Like Paris, this is a city of artists – and it shows.[/pullquote]I soon discovered to my delight that Argentina’s capital city is the perfect destination for a Travel Belle, with charm and style in spades. Porteñas (the locals) stroll along the tree-lined boulevards of the Recoleta neighborhood sporting beautiful handbags and pausing to look at the mouthwatering confections in the windows of the many chocolatiers.
On the other side of town, in San Telmo, the most gorgeous dancing shoes are on display in tango shops. Like Paris, this is a city of artists – and it shows.
Travel Belles love books
My first destination, on the afternoon I arrived in Buenos Aires, was the El Ateneo bookshop on Calle Santa Fe, which happens to be one of the best bookstores in the world. It is housed in a former theater and retains all of the original features, meaning that you browse for books under a heavenly frescoed dome, take center stage for a cup of coffee and settle in to read in one of the theatre boxes.
Good books deserve such a stunning location and the two art forms work in such perfect harmony that it’s no wonder you will find people ensconced in almost every corner, whether they’ve been lucky enough to score a seat or not, nose buried in some great literary tome. I could have easily lost myself in there for hours.
In Buenos Aires, you don’t have to visit anywhere in particular to find great art. It is at every street corner, on every pavement, in every building. Even the main government building is a fashion statement; the Casa Rosada is a very stylish shade of pink.
At this time of year, with bright, crisp mornings and the first buds of spring appearing on the trees, Buenos Aires is truly beautiful. You can practice your tango steps with the handy pavement instructions outside the Confiteria Ideal, one of the oldest and most venerated milongas, or dance halls, in town. Or, admire the shop signs in the traditional tango script and the Banksy-style graffiti in San Telmo.
Still, the most artistic street in the whole of Buenos Aires has to be El Caminito, found in the working-class district of La Boca. I had heard that El Caminito comprised a few colorful houses, but it was far more enchanting than that. Out of gray surroundings, this incredible, eye-popping street appears.
The terraced buildings are all paintbox colors and there are huge murals of street scenes on every spare wall. It is a total tourist-trap, but here, that didn’t put me off. The gaucho dancers, the shopfronts with their artsy signs and artisinal products, even the meandering camera-toting tourists just somehow work here.
On Sundays, most of Buenos Aires shuts down, but San Telmo comes alive. It’s the day of the world-famous market, where the bohemian trades of antiques, vintage clothing, handicrafts and art spill out from the shops and onto the cobbled streets. It is a great place to wander round, looking at all the treasures on offer and maybe buying a few, while vendors offering hot drinks and empanadas wheel their carts around you.
[pullquote]After wandering around the markets of San Telmo with stalls full of tango-related items, and having fallen in love with the shoes, I decided to throw caution – and possibly dignity – to the wind. [/pullquote]Market stalls take over almost the entire length of the Calle Defensa, but my personal favorite area was the indoor market, which houses the fruit and veg stalls as well as the most wonderful Aladdin’s caves of antique and artisan items. It is open all the time and also well worth visiting on a weekday when it’s easier to have a relaxed perusal.
You can’t go to Buenos Aires and miss out on tango; the music, poetry and dance are the cultural lifeblood of this city. Milongas are all over the place, or you can watch a more formal tango show over dinner at many restaurants. Of course, if you really want to get into the spirit of it, dance classes are available.
And now it was clearly time to learn the tango in Buenos Aires
After wandering around the markets of San Telmo with stalls full of tango-related items, and having fallen in love with the shoes, I decided to throw caution – and possibly dignity – to the wind. I found a cultural center offering beginners’ tango lessons that very evening, when I was met by a very welcoming lady, who looked like the archetypal Argentinian dancer: tall and slender, raven-haired, red tango shoes on her feet.
She then introduced me to her not-so-Argentinian partner, Gerry from Ireland. And so the class began. I was spun around the room by each of them in turns, trying to take in all of their rapid instructions. “More resistance,” “relax,” “pivot.” My head swam.
Finally, Gerry said, “Stop trying to memorize. Just feel.”
That’s the amazing thing about the tango; it’s not a dance you learn by steps; it’s a dance that happens by unspoken communication with your partner. You don’t have to worry about where to put your left foot on beat four; you just feel what your partner is telling you and it happens. The moment you let go of trying to think about it all, you start dancing the tango.
Now, I’m not saying I looked like a proper tango dancer with all the kicks and pasos and twirls, but I very nearly felt like one. The fact was, after just a few minutes of learning, I had started to dance.
Despite all the wonderful things the city had already offered me, I think it was at that moment that I truly fell in love with Buenos Aires.