Thursday, 14 February 2013

Milongas of Buenos Aires: Porteno y Bailarin

If you're mega, mega cool, you can arrive here late and sit at your reserved table, but for the merely mega cool, this is one where you need to arrive early. Arrive late and you are directed to a second floor, hidden away in a back room. We were careful to arrive early and passed through to the main floor.

Premier floor or not, the space is tiny. We looked at it, and the parade of people lining the edges, and wondered why on earth they could get away with a whopping 35 pesos entrance charge. (That was about $7 at the time and on the high side for Buenos Aires.) Then we joined in and found out.

This is the strictest line of dance I have ever seen. There simply is no room to do anything but follow closely the couple in front and try not to foul the couple behind. Every so often, someone will break into the tiny, tiny space in the centre, at which they will be trapped there. Quite rightly, no one is going to let you back in line. Your boorish behaviour got you into that situation and now it's your job to get out of it without interrupting the smooth progress of everyone else.

It sounds as if it would be horrible to dance in, but in fact it's surprisingly liberating when it works. You're not going anywhere, so you can just focus on your partner and making tiny, tiny steps really perfectly. They have to be perfect, though, because you will be watched. One of the BsAs movers and shakers gave me the tiniest acknowledgement as we passed his table and it was all I could do not to fall over. Tangueros have no secrets in this town. Someone once told me that if you disgrace yourself at a milonga here, everyone will know in every other place you visit for the rest of your stay. I have a horrible feeling that that is quite literally true. It does mean that a place like Portenas y Bailarin is not especially relaxing. Occasionally, people do get too close or make a minuscule error in a turn and the traffic backs up. Suddenly your partner is not the most important thing - not being the guy to crash is. You were in this perfect place and now you're tense and unhappy. I watched it happen to others. You just have to concentrate on bringing everything back together and getting to that perfect place again. It's a Buenos Aires perfect place and I don't think we'll ever find it in London, which is very, very sad. It comes from a tango culture, and a whole room full of people happy to restrict their figures to the half a square metre available. Did you know you can link three figures quite nicely without the leader moving his feet more than six inches? Neither did I until I went to Porteno y Bailarin.


  1. I've always wanted to go to Buenos Aires. And I could think of nothing better than watching people do the Argentine Tango, such a beautiful, sensual dance.

  2. I have been to Buenos Aires several times and, despite the dirt, the street crime, the crumbling infrastructure and the uncomfortable politics, it is absolutely my favourite city in the world. I love it with an utterly insane passion. It's not just the dancing, though that's wonderful, it's the energy and sheer joy of life there. And the people are unbelievably kind to a foreigner whose Spanish is still limited to a few words and who is forever getting things wrong.

    As far as the dancing goes, you're much better off doing it than watching it. There's a flourishing tango scene in the UK now. In London, you can dance every night, if you want to. And there are some excellent teachers. (Though there's some terrible teachers as well, so you have to choose carefully.)

    I try to keep this blog reasonably light and upbeat, but if you want a note on some of the less palatable aspects of Buenos Aires when I last visited, check out