If you’re a dance enthusiast in Buenos Aires, you’ve got to catch a glimpse of Argentine tango. The allure of this intimate social partner dance is irresistible and inextricably tied to the city’s identity. My impassioned taxi driver even told me that residents who don’t know how to dance the tango aren’t true porteños. While not every resident is interested in the dance (like my other taxi driver, who suggested: “Only old people know how to dance [tango], maybe those aged 60 or older”), the sensual partner dance remains an iconic aspect of Argentine culture. And you can watch tango in Buenos Aires at these three distinct types of venues for three unique experiences. Learn where to watch tango in Buenos Aires below, in addition to the pros and cons of viewing Argentine tango at stage shows, milongas and on the streets.
If you’d like to learn to dance, instead of just watching, a private beginners’ Argentine tango class in Buenos Aires is a great place to start.
1. Tango Spectacular Shows with Optional Dinner
Flashy, large-scale productions of Argentine tango are called ‘tango spectacular’ shows (or tango espectáculo, in Spanish). Attending a tango spectacular performance is similar to watching a musical on Broadway or in London’s West End. The shows are set in the one theatre and run night after night. Many venues sell tickets that include a dinner, as well as the show.
While most tango spectacular shows are permanently located in Buenos Aires, Germán Cornejo’s Tango Fire has toured the globe for more than a decade.
Pros of Tango Shows: You will see the world’s most talented tango performers on stage, dancing to live music in glitzy costumes. The dancers’ athleticism will be on display as their legs whip around at lightning speed and kick up to the heavens. Professional tango shows in Buenos Aires live up to their name; they certainly are spectacular.
Cons of Tango Shows: Some Argentine tango aficionados will argue that while choreographed tango shows are impressive, the dance loses its soul on stage. Many of the dancers compete professionally, as well as perform on stage, which requires a different approach than the social tango dance. Even the very best tango shows in Buenos Aires are viewed as ‘inauthentic’ by tango purists.
Verdict: It’s okay to be a tourist. If you don’t live in Buenos Aires, you are a tourist whether you do ‘touristy’ things or not – so you might as enjoy a tango espectáculo. Why would you pass up the chance to view the absolute top echelon of Argentine tango dancers and musicians?
Dining analogy: Going to a tango spectacular show is like visiting a Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s equally fancy – with a price tag to match. Expect to be surrounded by a smart crowd and to see plenty of things you’ve never seen before.
2. Milongas: Social Gatherings in Dancehalls
A milonga is a social dance gathering, which presents travelers the opportunity to see the popular informal Argentine tango scene. Milongas run every night of the week in Argentina’s capital, some with live music; and many venues offer dance lessons before the milonga begins. Attending a milonga in Buenos Aires is like hanging out a salsa bar in Miami.
If taking a class before a milonga sounds too intimidating, sign up for a private Argentine tango lesson solo or with a partner.
Pros of Milongas: You’re sure to find more locals than tourists at milongas, and you’ll see a variety of dancers on the floor in terms of age, skill and style. You get to watch the unique social aspects of the dance, seeing how dancers’ match up with partners between sets and make small chat between songs. Watching Argentine tango at a milonga here is a unique experience, since Buenos Aires is the global milonga capital.
Cons of Milongas: Although you can snag a table to watch the dancers on the floor, you may feel slightly self-conscious sitting there while everyone else sweeps around on the floor. Even if you are comfortably parked, you will soon realize that Argentine tango isn’t all about rapid-fire leg flicks and interminable series of tight turns. The moves aren’t as striking and obvious as in the shows, but watching the dancers improvise and feel the dance together makes up for it.
Verdict: Even if you’re not a night owl, drag yourself to a milonga! If the silver-haired dancers can stay up dancing until the wee hours of the morning, you can at least hunker down at a table and admire their moves. You’ll probably be surprised by their agility – and impressed by their mature artistry.
You may think dancing Argentine tango with seniors is strange, but tango champion Germán Cornejo learned to dance with his grandmother.
Dining analogy: Attending a milonga is like heading to a local pub or cafe. (Think of the Bull and Finch Pub in the “Cheers” TV show – or Central Perk if you’re more of a fan of coffee and “Friends”.) This is the ultimate authentic Argentine tango experience.
3. Outdoors: Street Fairs and Parks Around the City
Milongas and stage shows aren’t the only places to see Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires. You may also run into tango dancers on the streets, in the city’s parks or at small neighborhood fairs. There are a few outdoor ‘hot spots’ for tango dancers to perform, such as El Caminito in La Boca or in San Telmo.
Pros of Street Fairs and Pop Ups: There’s something sweet about running into tango dancers in an outdoor space, whether it’s at a market or in a park. You won’t be alone when you stop to watch the dancers, but it’s interesting that some residents carry on with their shopping, since they are already accustomed to seeing spontaneous bouts of tango. Viewing tango dancers out and about in the city proves how important the dance is to the culture.
Cons of Street Fairs and Pop Ups: If you go to the famous El Caminito Street in search of dancers in La Boca area, you will find that some tango dancers charge tourists to take photos of them. While it’s not quite as cheesy as costumed figures running around Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in California or around Times Square in New York City (we’re looking at you, Naked Cowboy, but you don’t care since your career is surprisingly lucrative), this practice is off-putting. It feels touristy in all the wrong ways.
Verdict: Don’t bank on seeing tango dancers gathering in the park or at street fairs; depending on where you stay, there’s a good chance you’ll miss them. But do enjoy the experience if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Dining analogy: Stumbling upon tango on the streets of Buenos Aires is like fortuitously happening upon a food truck, delightfully unplanned – and not always possible to replicate. It’s not particularly classy or refined, but it’s charming in its own way. It also tends to be more of a daytime thing.
Have you been to Buenos Aires or seen Argentine tango anywhere else in the world? And what kind of venue did you visit? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!