First Tango in Buenos Aires

4 Jun

Tango. I’ve watched my share over the years, slick professional tango dance shows, Sunday nights in San Telmo and B-grade celebs embarrassing themselves on ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

I admire the artistry of accomplished couples, that ability to switch from fluid sinuous glides to staccato knee flicks and toe taps is mesmerising. However I’ve also felt uncomfortable at times, watching cheeks glued together, vacant stares, fake pouts. Exaggerated sexuality has the opposite effect on me.

More than that I’ve been ambivalent about the strong male lead. I adore partner dancing when there is subtlety and give and take in the lead. Nothing annoys me more than feeling pushed around on a dance floor.

Given all that I thought long and hard about whether I’d have a tango lesson on this visit to Buenos Aires. Web research brought up a venue, La Ventana, with high quality nightly shows and private classes on site. They were easy to communicate with so I trusted my instincts and booked a private lesson the afternoon prior to the show. Stuart’s knee is still not happy with lateral movement so he would sit out and watch.

My instructor was Professor Fecundo Novillo, an extremely dapper, beautifully scented, good natured young man, early thirties by the look of him. He outlined the differences between the three main tango musical families, confusingly called tango, milonga and waltz, and said we’d focus on tango in our one hour. He explained that he teaches the traditional tango comprising eight basic steps. Eight steps, how hard could it be?!

The first thing Fecundo demonstrated was the standard tango hold, showing me how the man leads mainly with his right shoulder blade. The woman’s left hand is placed directly over the right shoulder blade so you feel the impulse to move through the fingers. Revelation! The dancers’ latissimus dorsi (muscles on the side of the rib cage) maintain the frame of the arms while the shoulders stay relaxed. To make twists and rotations a slight inclination of the man’s shoulders is the cue to turn. So different from what I imagined.

Over the course of the hour we covered five of the steps and managed to dance a sequence without knees knocking or standing on each others’ feet. I was slightly hampered without tango shoes but improvised with my jiffy slip on flats and dancing mainly on the balls of my feet. By covering the ball of the shoe with a sock I could get enough slide to swivel while maintaining traction with the heel as needed.

Thirty minutes in some Milonga music came on and Fecundo decided to change it up. He led me in a fast Milonga and it felt great! I found it easier to sustain than tango.

Just as importantly Stuart thought tango looked achievable too and wants to take classes with me back in Brisbane. I can’t see tango supplanting flamenco but it will be fun to learn something new with Stu.20140603-180835-65315984.jpg
The show that night was spectacular. The venue was La Ventana’s upstairs dining room and bar with a raised stage. It seats about 50 diners and another 24 at tables by the bar. I’d bought just the show tickets as their meaty dinner menu would be wasted on me. We were seated at a dining table but were able to move to a higher table by the bar with a better view of the whole stage.

The look and feel of the venue and the show was the zenith of thirties elegance. I counted 18 performers: six musicians, two singers, and ten dancers (including the gaucho dancers). The ninety minute show was fast paced and slick with lots of gorgeous costume changes. I couldn’t have been happier. The only odd note was struck in the finale which required all the performers to stand to attention on stage to sing along to ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’. They even waved flags.

I need an Argentinian (maybe you Valeria?) to explain to me why they chose to sing the theme song from a British musical rather than something written by a national.

After the show the dancers invited guests up on stage to dance. Of course I accepted and had my twenty seconds of tango with a professional!

No photos of the show are permitted but here’s the bar!


And here’s some from San Telmo.



There is a lot to learn about this contrary country. While we were there the Government achieved a last ditch restructuring of the national debt which gives Argentina a little more breathing space. We had taxi drivers ranting about government incompetence and others who seemed entirely content with their lot.

For us, as travellers, Buenos Aires is an attractive destination, a thriving, relatively safe metropolis with a vibrant night life, good restaurants and great shopping. And with direct flights from Sydney it’s become much easier for Aussies. We’ll be back!

Buenos Aires travel tips:
Don’t buy tickets for the hop on hop off big yellow Buenos Aires Bus. Total rip off and rude to boot.
Do take the Subte underground to get around outside of commuter periods. Six pesos per ticket.



La Boca’s hallowed ground.








A very odd performance art piece with a man dressed as Evita singing ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ horribly off key while people cut up onions at tables in the square…..









The Subte is cheap but avoid peak hours.




Empanada man. I think I have the hang of it after watching him make half a dozen.

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