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These shoes were made for dancing!

March 8, 2011 4 comments

My first pair of Tango shoes!

Yesterday we had our first private tango lesson. Two blocks away from the apartment is a dance studio which our teacher rents by the hour to give lessons to couples who want to learn the traditional tango. Cristian unlocked the door to the studio whilst asking questions about previous dance experience and then without much fanfare, turned on the sound system, took hold of my hands in his and we were dancing the tango!

In an hour and a half he had shown us the embrace, the basic steps and even some adornos! He said we were good and that we can go and dance at a milonga this friday if we want!

So of course, my friend Kate and I decided to go shoe shopping today and we found ourselves at Comme Il Faut – a beautiful showroom of handmade tango shoes Just off Libertad on Arenales a few blocks from Teatro Colon. Today is a bank holiday in Argentina so I called this morning to confirm they were open.

You can see my purchase here – I am in love with these shoes! Can’t wait to wear them at the lesson tonight. Or perhaps I won’t – I’d be devastated if they got scuffed! Or then again – life is for living and shoes are for wearing – especially these tango shoes!

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A charming old Milonga

February 9, 2011 3 comments

By Beryl Cook

After over a month of Spanish classes I am ready to enter the world of Tango. We’ve been swapping emails with a lady called Jan who, originally American, has lived in Buenos Aires and specifically in the world of milongas for the past twelve years. There is nothing Jan doesn’t know about milongas and the traditional tango songs.

So yesterday, when we received an invitation to join her at an afternoon milonga in Balvanera (on calle Bartolome Mitre), we jumped at the chance. Milongas in Buenos Aires take place in any space which is large enough to hold a couple fo hundred people and 40 or so couples dancing at the same time. Nuevo Salon de Argentina is no different. It looks like a bingo hall from the outside. The milonga was organised by El Arranque tangos.

We paid (Ar$14 for las damas and Ar$16 for los caballeros) and entered the hall at just past 5pm. There were around 80 people in the hall and a very large percentage of them dancing. Milongas are not for people who want to come and watch and drink and chat. These are serious places where people come to lose themselves in the music and dance.

As we sat down, we watched the dancing couples moving anticlockwise around the dancefloor and soon spotted Jan (we had seen her photos on her blog). Jan was there with an old milonguero (turning 82 this year) and dancing cheek to cheek to a tango song in the middle of a tanda.

A tanda is a set of four songs which you dance with your partner. A tanda usually consists of three tango songs and a waltz because there were many more tangos recorded than waltzes.

Jan explained how the milonga tango is about the embrace, the feel of the music the rhythm, the passion and how the man dances for the woman but the woman should totally surrender to the man. This is why you sometimes see the ladies dancing with their eyes closed.

At the milonga I didn’t see any of the kicks and flicks I expected to see in a tango dance. I left learning a lot about the different styles. Milongas are the traditional way to dance a tango What you see on the streets of San Telmo and on Strictly Come Dancing is a performance tango popularised by those who dance tango for the profession not for the heart as milongueras do.

Thanks Jan, for the introduction to Milongas!

San Telmo

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Filite - local ornate lettering

If there is one place in Buenos Aires where tourists flock to, it’s San Telmo. It’s an older barrio than others and the narrow streets are full of hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants and dozens of antique shops on the central street of the barrio – Defensa.

Around San Telmo, the shop signs and other signs are often produced in this flowery lettering called Filete. It’s local to San Telmo and Boca and is associated with tango. In the 1960s/70s, the local buses used this font on their signs but in the mid 70s when the authorities tried to ban tango from Buenos Aires (the administration felt it was a vulgar dance and didn’t want the world to associate Buenos Aires with it!), they also banned filete font from public transport systems.

Dancing tango in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo

Sundays are the best day to visit San Telmo because Defensa is closed to traffic and hundreds of hawkers line the street selling everything from mate bombillas, art, jewellery to shawls, food, gelados. I stopped to buy a shawl as the temperature would drop slightly in the evening.

Because last night was the last Sunday before Christmas, the market was unusually busy and full of festive charm. Dozens of different bands paraded the street.

Later, sitting in Plaza Dorrego, some of the ship’s passengers met up – drank lots of Quilmes and watched some tango as the night wore in and the stalls around us packed up and went home.

Parade down Defensa

Let’s Dance

October 13, 2010 2 comments

When people think of Argentina, they think of Tango (though many think of steak!). When I get to Buenos Aires, I want to learn to dance the tango so did some research into it and it came as a surprise to me that the dance form was only born just over a 100 years ago. I thought of it as a much more ancient form. Here is an interesting excerpt from a great book I am currently reading called Bad Times in Buenos Aires by Miranda France.

The tango started life as a symptom of a city with growing pains. A hybrid of sailor’s song and Italian dance tune played on a German accordion, the genre was born in the ports of Buenos Aires around 1880 when the city was still a frontier town and more than half its inhabitants were new arrivals from the poorest parts of Europe…..Tango became the anthem of a generation of homesick and sometimes desperate immigrants. Usually set in Buenos Aires, the songs always yearned for a happier past. Many of them were addressed to the singer’s mother or an ex-lover. Often the sentiment was desperate, suicidal…….

Soon after the haunting music was invented, it was accompanied by a strange dance which in view of the shortage of women at the time, men danced with each other – hence the wary physicality of some movements. By the turn of the century, the city’s brothels had started hiring out their women as dance-partners by the hour, but tango’s popularity was still restricted to sailors, low-lifers and small-time assassins…… ‘Perhaps tango’s real purpose is to give Argentina the certainly of having once been valiant’ Borges wrote.

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