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Two to Tango

My memories of cultural dance performances are not fond ones. Taking the stage to a thunderous “A-LOHHH-HA” and demonstrating the hula to hundreds of tourists at the Polynesian Cultural Center was not my idea of a good time when I was 10. Then there was that time at the Greek Easter festival when an elderly man pulled me into a humongous dance circle to solicit a good laugh at my expense. But I digress…

More recently, I met my mother for an indulgent week of eating and shopping in Buenos Aires. I was keen to distinguish us from the tourists who had no doubt shelled out lots of cash to see one of the famous tango shows (you know, the ones with live horses on stage?). Being cheap – I prefer “frugal” – I mused that only tourists go to those shows. Travelers like us sit in bars until 4 a.m., drinking Malbec and smoking cigarettes, even if we’re ardently anti-smoking at home.

Determined to prove me wrong, my mother dragged me to Confiteria Ideal one midnight. Shows may be for tourists, but Buenos Aires’ contagious joie de vivre is vehemently pronounced in any of the city’s authentic tango joints, or milongas. Eva Perón used to sneak upstairs to the Art Nouveau ballroom where she spent hours watching and perfecting this intensely concentrated dance. Throngs of people waited for a glimpse of her in the street, while couples tangoed on the balconies to keep them from storming the building. Today, Ideal is like a time capsule: the bentwood chairs and tables for two, the Art Nouveau ironwork, tobacco-stained walls and elderly widows with lipstick rubbed onto their cheeks, waiting to be asked to dance at 3 a.m. Everything about this place is perfect. The nostalgia practically makes you cry.

If you plan to see real tango, here are a few tips:

1. Tango etiquette is taken very seriously.
2. Don’t go earlier than 11 p.m.
3. There is a $5 cover charge at Confiteria Ideal, but there is no drink minimum.
4. Lessons are offered earlier in the day.
5. Most of the authentic tango shoe shops are located down the street, on Sui Pacha, with Marc Jacobs-like styles that start around US $35.


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