The Passionate Dance - Page 2

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La Boca’s colorful buildings
THE MOUTH: La Boca, the neighborhood from which tango grew  (Photodisc/Getty)

Today La Boca is one of the city's main tourist attractions; the locals no longer need to paint the houses different colors—but they still do, for the sake of tradition and to amuse the visitors. These days the major draw for the locals seems not to be the tango, but the soccer stadium of the Boca Juniors, Argentina's top soccer team. But tango still lives here, mainly on Sunday afternoons when Camintas, Boca's main street, teams with tourists and street dancers who put on hourly shows for the crowds. Here in La Boca one will see the tango in its natural habitat: unpolished and raw, if a little rehearsed.

From the streets of the poor barrios the tango moved indoors, to chic salons with marble floors and massive gold-framed mirrors. In the 1920s Buenos Aires was full of these—most hosting live music and milongas daily. You can still find the same slightly worn glamour and low-key elegance of tango preserved at the two most famous Buenos Aires tango landmarks, Café Tortoni and Confiteria Ideal.

While both host nightly tango shows, by day Café Tortoni is mostly a lovely spot to enjoy a café cortado—porteño-style espresso with a drop of hot milk. But Confiteria Ideal is truly a tango Mecca. The ornate building, immortalized on screen in Alan Parker's film Evita as the backdrop for Evita and Che's turbulent tango, lives and breathes tango from the moment it opens at noon till the last milongero leaves the dance floor at 4:00 a.m. The downstairs functions as a café—a cavernous space framed in dark wood with massive light fixtures perched on massive pillars. The upper floor, where the light pours in through a stained-glass ceiling and bounces off the marble floor polished to a sheen by scores of shimmering feet, hosts a tango lesson each day in the early afternoon, and then usually two milongas—a matinee danced to a boom box (or these days, an mp3 player) and a late-night dance with a live tango orchestra. Even if you are a tango novice and have no intention of stepping out onto the dance floor, attending a milonga is an authentic porteño experience.

If you didn't visit Buenos Aires to dance the tango, the least you can do is attend a proper tango show. Some locals scoff at the idea of the staged tango performances as over-priced spectacles created exclusively for tourists and having nothing to do with the heart and soul of tango. But for a visitor, a beautifully choreographed performance in a spectacular setting, sometimes complimented by a delicious dinner, is a guilty pleasure too tempting to miss.

For many, the Piazzolla Tango Show is the elegant evening of tango worth splurging on. The theater itself is a stunning piece of Art Nouveau architecture, located in the beautifully restored Galleria Guemes building in the Microcentro neighborhood. This lavish venue, with its wine-colored carpet and gold balconies adorned with velvet curtains, is a throwback to the days of early 20th-century glamour and excess, when dressing for dinner required a tuxedo or a shimmering silk gown. Visitors may choose to opt for just the performance accompanied by champagne and appetizers, or make a full night of it and start with a three-course prix fixe dinner. The show itself lasts an hour and a half, and features live music, professionally trained dancers, dazzling lights, and spectacular costume changes. As different as it may appear, the tango on this stage is the 21st-century descendant of the same dance that shuffled on the cobblestones of the poor barrios of the old Buenos Aires over 100 years ago. Behind the exaggerated acrobatic moves and the music that's sometimes more techno than tango, remain the fluid, passionate rhythms that made this dance so popular in the first place.

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