Tango for Real Buenos Aires a Definitive Tourist Guide

Tango Buenos Aires

You may have gleaned from various tango in Buenos Aires guides written by the team at Buenos Aires Stay Apartments that we were not big fans of glitzy and expensive tango dinner shows in Buenos Aires.  We have always recommended that our guests experience tango for real.


Tango Dancers Buenos Aires

I caveat the above statement about glitzy tango shows by saying our guests loved and highly recommend some tango shows in Buenos Aires and in later guides about the Buenos Aires tango scene I will pass on their recommendations.

Our tango in Buenos Aires guides are not about selling expensive shows and tours.  We actively encourage tourists who are interested in tango to take a little time out from sightseeing to learn tango dance.

Buenos Aires Stay Apartments encourage our guests to take tango lessons in Buenos Aires and see tango in its ‘’natural habitat’’ – the milonga.

The milonga is any space or event where tango dancers meet to dance tango.

We want our guests to dance tango in Buenos Aires fantastic milongas amongst Buenos Aires tanguero elite.  Only then, do you appreciate tango’s timeless etiquette, witness the “cabeceando” (when a man looks directly at woman moving his head discreetly to indicate he wants to dance) and understand tango’s unique culture.

buenos aires tango

Milonga in Buenos Aires

After the tango dinner shows are closed-up and tourists are on their way home to their hotels and apartments that’s when tango in Buenos Aires really hots up.

Even the professional tango dancers, fresh off stage, make their way to community centres, dance halls and even people’s homes right across Capital Federal to feed their addiction – to dance the tango.

Tango is a way of life for tango dancers in Buenos Aires, it is almost an underground nocturnal subculture and milongas are most definitely the right place to experience the purest and best tango.

Young and old, new tango dancers, professional tango dancers and men and women some in their 80s, many who have danced tango for 60 years plus, dance THEIR tango merging older styles with new. Their very personal dance styles creating the best tango show in Buenos Aires; this is where our guests get to feel the ”magnetic pull”, hypnotic beats and sensuality that draws so many into ‘’tango’s cult’’.

‘’Just for a moment close your eyes’’, one of my favourite but long lost tango guides told me, ‘’let the nostalgic sounds of the accordion accompanied by brass, guitar and drums transport you back to Buenos Aires belle epoch’’.

He told me, ‘’dancing tango is a journey – you will never stop journeying and never stop learning’’.

As long as you have mastered the basic steps and you are able to navigate the dance floor with your tango partner without tripping over other dancers, nobody cares how good or indeed how bad you dance tango.

Everyone is happy that visitors dance tango to learn tango – because they know it is the only way to improve. And, they know you will be back for more.

Non-dancers are welcome too. You can sit and watch with a good bottle of malbec, it is well worth the trip.

Tango History

There is much written about the origins of tango in the Rio de la Plata Basin, with both Argentina and Uruguay laying claims that tango has its origins in their countries.

Buenos Aires is viewed by most of the world and most historians as the home of tango.  And, one thing is sure, ‘When you watch the tango, you watch the very essence of Buenos Aires.’

We can be sure that “milonga” (dance establishments) and “the milonga” (an erotic and freer form of tango-like dance) predate tango.

The word, tango, is most likely derived from the Spanish term, ‘’Andalusia Tango’’, used to describe music of the same period.

The word tango is less likely a homophone of the Spanish “tambor ” meaning drum, also used by Spanish America to describe the hypnotic beat of South America’s slaves. I have read compelling arguments (far too technical for me) that seemingly prove African beats are embodied in the tango sound .

It is a very safe assumption that the scandalous and disreputable milonga dance was the starting point of tango dance in Buenos Aires. Some argue that tango is simply explained by the milonga evolving in the late 19th century to become more conservative and intertwined with European dance styles and musical influences.

The tango of the early 20th century is characterised by melancholy lyrics and smooth ballroom steps – the duple metre (2/4) into 4/4 and 4/8. This is the tango most of us know and love.

The population mix when tango emerged in Buenos Aires supports a wide variety of tango histories and anecdotes, but none that really get to the bottom of tango’s origins.

Many experts point to a lack of documentary evidence, which makes tango’s exact origins too difficult to call.

In the early to mid-nineteenth century the population of Buenos Aires was heavily weighted in favour of men. Buenos Aires is a port and therefore a main point of reception for sailors, traders and immigrants from all over the world. This thriving port also included creoles (a mixture of European and native people), mulattos (a mixture of white and black or native and black peoples) and after 1843, African-South-Americans freed from slavery.

Surely, the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries tango music and tango dance in Buenos Aires are nothing like the hypnotic beats and frenetic dance you can imagine emerging in the courtyards of San Telmo’s imposing Quintas deserted by the rich merchants because of Yellow Fever, crammed full of poor immigrant squatters, or on the shantytown corners of La Boca.

The early dance forms and music from Buenos Aires ‘’conventillos’’ must have been rich cultural collaborations, which later formalised and found their way to the bohemian dance establishments.

Tango orthodoxy tell us:

“A ballroom dance, musical style, and song. The tango evolved about 1880 in dance halls and perhaps brothels in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, where the Spanish tango, a light-spirited variety of flamenco, merged with the milonga, a fast, sensual, and disreputable Argentine dance; it also shows possible influences from the Cuban habanera.”

Buenos Aires was a wonderful melting pot of cultures and people. We know how wonderfully musical and talented in dance are both the tribes of Africa and native South Americans.  Their respective cultures destroyed, we can assume that stories, music and dance may have been all they had left to preserve their own cultures destroyed by greed and the Catholic church.

A little known fact is that barrio de Monserrat was once known as the Barrio of the Candoumbe Drum, because it was inhabited by former black slaves who brought their strangely rhythmic drum beats to the city of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires was a world apart from so-called civilised society of the day. It is certain that prostitution and homosexuality, like many other new-world ports, were main sources of entertainment, but the latter was exacerbated by the lack of women, which meant that Buenos Aires became a rather interesting mix of predominantly all-male entertainment establishments.

We find some accounts by visitors of the day that describe Buenos Aires as an ‘Inferno.’ Not because of the heat, but a Dante metaphor.

It is very easy to imagine Latin and African beats, and their exotic dance forms merging in the Buenos Aires’ predominantly poor and masculine society; throw in heaps of testosterone and the origins of tango the dance in Buenos Aires no longer seem such a mystery to me.

More Buenos Aires Stay Apartments Tango Guides:


Tango Dancers Buenos Aires

Tango for Real Buenos Aires a Definitive Tourist Guide



Best Tango Review Buenos Aires

Tango Buenos Aires for Real – Private Lessons & Guided Night Tours


Tango Apartments Buenos Aires

Tango Apartments Buenos Aires

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Tango Show Buenos Aires

Best tango shows recommended by Buenos Aires Stay Apartments


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Gay Tango Buenos Aires – Gay Buenos Aires Stay Guides


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Tango Lessons Buenos Aires Stay Apartments Guest Recommendations

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