I decided to get acquainted with and practice all South American dances as we travel. After forro in Rio, I was curious about tango in Argentina and in Uruguay.

Tango in Uruguay

Tango is a national asset in these countries, and there are plenty of events around them, such as festivals, free tango lessons and donation based tango shows on the streets and in restaurants.

The first thing I learnt about tango in Uruguay was that it’s also called milonga. Actually, milonga is a faster version of tango but the steps are very similar. (Even in the tango museum in Buenos Aires they couldn’t give me a more specific distinction, but I’ve found some sort of explanation about the relationship between milonga and tango.)

The second thing that I realised about tango is that it’s not that seductive and elegant as I thought, but quite inclusive instead. We were lucky enough to be in Montevideo during the (free) Tango Festival and at the milonga corner we saw disabled and gay dancers and people from the street with their backpacks on their back joining the social dancing. In Buenos Aires we came across a free tango class where disabled and non-disabled people learn together. (Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to this event in time.)

Stefania Colina and Juan Martín Carrara dancing tango at the Montevideo Tango Festival
Famous Uruguayan tango dancers, Stefania Colina and Juan Martín Carrara at the Montevideo Tango Festival

Tango in Argentina

In Buenos Aires’s hipster San Telmo district there are plenty of tango shows on the streets, for donation. We found the styles quite varied: it ranges from more theatrical to more technical. I never realised there are different ways of dancing tango! We got inspired by the theatrical elements and decided that if we ever dance swing on the street, we will add some theatrical elements into our routine 😀

“It takes 2 to tango, right?” – how to try tango in Argentina

Of course we did try dancing tango ourselves. We chose from the plenty of free tango classes that dancing schools offer as a taster. Compared to swing there are much less moving. the basis of the dance operates with body weight shifting from one leg to the other. The dancers don’t look at each other or down to their feet so the follower gets signals only from the posture of the leader. And this is very hard to do! I’m glad we tried tango, and we might try it again elsewhere in Argentina, but it didn’t become our favourite.

Orquesta Utópica playing a concert in CCK Buenos Aires
Orquesta Utópica playing at a free concert in Buenos Aires where we are sitting in the 2nd row due to changing clocks

Tango music in Argentina

Tango music is traditionally played by a guitar, a bandoneon (a small accordion) and maybe voice. Read more information on the instruments and the origin. Tango is very popular with old and young alike. In normal bars there is improvised tango as musical entertainment. We went out with our couchsurfing host to one of the local bars and people shushed each other in order to hear the music that was provided by a guitar and accordion player and rotating singers. I’m always amazed when seeing that young people are so into their national music! As it’s so popular, there are a lot of fusion bands that mix traditional tango with other music styles. We went to a (free) tango concert of a cool band from Rosario (a town north of Buenos Aires) called Orquesta Utópica who added other instruments: different types of violins, flute, drums and piano. Listen to their latest album that we heard at the concert.

A little anecdote about an important tango singer, Carlos Gardel

He is one of the most important pioneers of the early tango music. He introduced changes in style that later marked the start of a new era in the history of tango. His work encompasses over 1500 records and many films where he stars.

But, his birth place and thus nationality is claimed by 3 nations: Argentina, Uruguay and France. Uruguayans and Argentines have fierce discussion about this topic, and if they haven’t made worst enemies about which is the best way of drinking mate, they will surely about this. The thing is, he was probably born in France, but he had Uruguayan passport but the first recorded place of living is in Argentina. Find out more about Gardel.

Have you ever tried tango? Can you dance any other dance? Tell us more in the comments section below!

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Who am I?

Anna is a world citizen, an avid traveller, a passionate environmentalist and a digital nomad. Writing about her year backpacking through South America, she tries to encourage everyone to discover this beautiful continent as a traveller or a digital nomad and pass on her love for responsible travel.

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