Tango in the Afternoon Alfresco
Copley News Service

Think of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the word tango appears - the soul and pulse of the city. Without this seductive dance and heartfelt music, Buenos Aires would be stripped naked of its sensuality, passion and personality. Created by struggling immigrants more than a century ago, the tango entices both young and old worldwide. Countless travelers are lured to Buenos Aires just to dance or savor a sultry, artful moment of the Argentine tango - day or night.

DAYTIME DANCE - Tango is the soul and pulse of Buenos Aires. Daytime indoor and outdoor performances can be experienced in Barrio La Boca (pictured). CNS Photo courtesy of Argentina Tourism Board.

Whether one dances the tango or merely acts as a voyeur, it's difficult not to be moved when captivated by the intensity of two bodies embracing, legs entwined and feet slicing through each other in scissor-sharp kicks. When the music crescendos and the violins reach a piercing cry, accented by the powerful sounds of the bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument), the viewer becomes part of this seductive mystery.

Most of the milongas (dance parties) start at 10 p.m. for the portenos, or natives. However, for the weary tourist, dancing until 4 a.m. may not be feasible, especially after traipsing the cobblestone streets of the colorful neighborhoods of San Telmo and La Boca, rich in the tango heritage, or along the grand boulevards of the Centro and upscale Ricoleta and Palermo.

An ardent admirer and student of the tango, I searched successfully for places that I could experience earlier in the day - and even alfresco. There is something extraordinary about dancing or viewing the tango outdoors bathed by the warmth of the afternoon sun, inhaling the aromas of garlic, burning chorizos and warm empanadas permeating the ancient squares.


LOCAL COLOR - Most of the milongas (dance parties) start at 10 p.m. for the portenos, or natives. Most indoor venues with early hours are located in and around the city off the avenues of Florida, Corrientes and Mayo. CNS Photo courtesy of Argentina Tourism Board.
Most of the indoor venues for milongas, with early hours, are located in and around the center of the city off of the avenues of Florida, Corrientes and Mayo, while daytime indoor and outdoor performances can be experienced in the barrios of La Boca and San Telmo.

Confiteria Ideal, one of the most popular dance salons for afternoon and early evening tango, opens at 3:00 p.m. almost every day of the week. During my recent visit, I found myself returning several times to this salon, housed in a historic building of century-old European decor.

Downstairs at the restaurant, seasoned waiters who have been part of the establishment for 20-plus years saunter across the floor dressed in vests and bow ties with white napkins positioned over their forearms, all adding to the Old World charm. Upstairs, the silvery voice of Carlos Gardel, Argentina's 1930s heartthrob and soul singer, and the haunting compositions of Astor Piazzolla pervade the spacious ballroom. This venerable salon has set the stage for such noted movies as "The Tango Lesson" and "Evita."

Once touting opulence and old-world elegance, where well-known musicians, poets, writers, composers and tangueros frequented, the establishment now manifests a bit of wear in its peeling ceilings. However, in the dimly lit room, when I was caught up in the music and the dance, all I noticed was the brass fixtures, dark wood walls and chandeliers casting a yellow glow on the tightly knit couples circling the dance floor.

Just a short cab ride away from the city center I found Club Espanol, my other favorite tango salon, with a bit more polished elegance and intimate atmosphere than Confiteria Ideal. The $3 entrance fee belies the club's palatial appearance. Gold-filigree balconies adorn the building's exterior, with the entrance embraced by a polished, winding staircase and white marble floors and statues. I took the art deco-style, gold-cage elevator upstairs to a cozy, brightly lit ballroom of chandeliers and white-draped windows. Be aware that this popular locale can get a bit crowded later on in the afternoon and early evening.

Enjoying the art of tango outdoors can be a refreshing change from the close quarters of the dance salons. Tourists can enjoy street performers skillfully demonstrating the tango any day of the week in the vibrant, colorful barrio of La Boca along Carminito Street. For a few pesos, one can even twirl in the arms of a true tanguero. I certainly couldn't resist donning my tango shoes for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This working-class neighborhood stands firmly at the edge of the waterfront and the city's first port, dating back to the 1600s, with its lineup of tugboats. Along the boldly painted storefront facades a myriad of vendors can be seen selling their tango memorabilia, trinkets and paintings. Acting like a true tourist, I even succumbed to having my photo taken behind a human-size cutout of a tango dancer, just for a fun memento.


SUNDAY SPIN - On Sunday afternoons during the Feria de San Pedro (the city’s most popular flea market) in San Telmo’s Plaza Derrego, lively performers fill this artsy arena with the soulful song of the tango. CNS Photo courtesy by BEVERLY MANN.

Perhaps the heart of the tango can be found on Sunday afternoons during the Feria de San Pedro (the city's most popular flea market) in San Telmo's Plaza Dorrego, about a half-hour stroll from downtown along Calle Defensa. Lively performers fill this artsy arena strewn with an array of antique shops and cafes, where every corner sizzles with the soulful song of the tango. Once the home of the rich and famous, San Telmo today is a charming Bohemian enclave. In 1871, the onslaught of yellow fever overcame the area, and the fabric of the environment changed.

Here I took a break from the hectic crowds, relaxed, people-watched and viewed the performers from the window of the nearby Cafe Dorrego. I enjoyed an alfajor (caramel layered cookie) and coffee in the 150-year-old cafe lined with Gardel photos and names of past clientele deeply etched into the dark grain of its wood interior.

Later I stopped to watch an afternoon tango performance at the popular El Balcon Restaurant off the square. The brightly painted walls and stage served as a colorful backdrop for the dancers. As I intently watched the intricate footwork and intimate glances exchanged by the performers, I realized how much more than the visual is expressed through the tango. Centuries of rich history, fortitude and fervor are delicately wrapped in each laser-sharp leg move piercing through space. But best of all, I was able to experience all this in broad daylight in an early afternoon in Buenos Aires.

IF YOU GO
Pick up the pocket-size B.A. Tango guide at one of the local cultural centers, or go online to www.tangonoticias.com to discover an overwhelming listing of tango classes, shows and milongas (parties). Always call to double check times and days. Many of the dance salons below have milongas or dance practices during the evening, with entrance fees ranging from $2-$5.

EARLY MILONGAS
Confiteria Ideal - Suipacha 384, www.confiteriaideal.com, phone 5265-8069. Milongas start at 3 p.m. and last until 9p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday one flight upstairs in this landmark building. Here is one of the best dance floors with great ventilation in a comfortably lit, spacious environment. Downstairs is a reasonably priced restaurant serving typical Argentinean meat and fish dishes. Several nights a week an array of Candela tango shoes are on display. Club Espanol - Bdo. de Irigoyen 172, phone 4201-7199 or 15-4175-7874. The elegant dance salon offers its milongas from 3 until around 8 p.m. on Thursdays only. El Arranque - Located at Bartalome Mitre 1759, phone 4371-6767. Early milongas are on Thursdays 3-10 p.m. The ambience is uneventful, bland and without the old-world charm and energy of the other neighboring dance salons.

SHOWS
El Balcon - Located off Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. Tango shows begin at 1:00 on Sundays in tandem with the Feria de San Pedro Telmo (Sunday Flea Market). Teatro Astor Piazzolla - Centro de Arte and Spectaculas, Florida 165, www.piazzollatango.com. This was by far one of the most spectacular dance and music performances that I've seen, set in a lavish, red-carpeted theater with gold-leaf balconies and ceiling. The dancers, musicians and singers were flawless in their execution. If you see just one tango event, this is it. It's worth staying up late for. Dinner and show begins every day 8:30-11:45 p.m.

WHERE TO BUY TANGO SHOES
Don't even attempt to dance without the proper shoes. Here are some of the reliable places to shop for tango gear.

Candela - www.candelatango.cjb.net, e-mail perlajuffe@tutopia.com. Tango shoes are custom-made and prices are incredibly reasonable for the quality of these handmade shoes, which costs three times the price in the United States ($50-60 per pair, versus $150).

Artesanal - Tomas M. de Anchorena 537. Has a large selection and some on sale. Shoes average $55 to $65. This small shop is strategically located in Abasto, the neighborhood of Carlos Gardel's Museum and Casa.

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