At any time of year you’ll find tango in Buenos Aires, but for two weeks each August this sensuous, seductive dance becomes an obsession. Its provocative beat permeates the air and seems to drift into the streets from every window. It’s the annual Tango Buenos Aires Festival, running Aug. 12–25 this year, when half a million dancers and enthusiasts take over in the city where tango was born.
The main event of this two-week extravaganza is the Mundial de Tango, where top tangueros from all over the world compete in the Salon Tango and Stage Tango competitions at the city’s Luna Park. It’s the world’s most important tango championship. But first comes the nine-day La Festival, a city-wide celebration that kicks off with a massive open-air milonga where thousands tango through the streets.
This street dancing brings tango back to its local roots: It was born in the streets of the San Telmo and La Boca barrios in the 1870s, a music and dance of lower-class Porteños. After half a century it moved from those rough immigrant barrios of Buenos Aires to worldwide fame in the Roaring Twenties, and from the streets to upper-crust ballrooms.
Throughout the August celebration, enjoy tango shows (tangos de salon), tango film screenings, free tango classes, concerts, dances and even exhibitions of tango-related art. Be prepared to relinquish the street at any time of day or night to couples breaking into a tango; for top-flight choreographed performances, go to the Teatro Astor Piazzolla. For spontaneous dance, live music and recordings of legendary tango singers like Carlos Gardel, go almost anywhere.
You don’t need to be able to dance to enjoy watching the pros perform their measured moves or to applaud the spontaneous street dancers in the barrios. But it won’t take long before you’ll want to do more than watch. If you already tango, you can take to the dance floor at a milonga, the neighborhood dance halls scattered throughout Buenos Aires. If you don’t tango, look for one like El Beso, run by La Academia del Tango Milonguero, where they give lessons. El Museo Mundial del Tango — The World Tango Museum — also gives lessons on weekday afternoons.
The competitions and most events are free, but you’ll need to pick up tickets in advance. Ask your hotel concierge where and when they are available; he or she may be able to get them for you.
Between performances and dancing classes, practice your sultry glances as you feast on world-famous Argentinean steaks and sample wines from Mendoza or less-familiar Argentinean vineyards of San Juan, Salta and Río Negro.
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