An Authentic Tango Experience While Tackling the Language Barrier

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

When I announced my plans to travel to Argentina I knew immediately that there were several friends I absolutely had to get in touch with.  One was Kellen, a friend who had spent 3 months the previous summer in Buenos Aires as part of a fantastic study abroad program. He had honed his Spanish, danced up a storm, and met a bunch of amazing people.

When I told him about my plans I was immediately greeted by a giant smile which quickly transitioned into a list of places to see, foods to eat and friends that I needed to meet.  One of those friends was Kellen’s Argentine tango instructor and good friend, Rodrigo.

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

New Friends

Kellen quickly connected Rodrigo and me on Facebook and we began to chat.  The one catch?  English wasn’t one of the languages he spoke and…well…my Spanish could be called a lot of things but fluent is definitely not one of them. Not to despair though, where there’s a will there is always a way.  Before long we’d friended each other on Facebook and using my very basic Spanish and Google translate we were able to get acquainted and chat away.

By the time I arrived in Buenos Aires I had a list of tips, places to see, and suggestions from Rodrigo which were a huge help.  The real fun started during my third and final time in Buenos Aires when our schedules finally aligned.  We set a time and place to meet. As it worked out it was about a 10 minute walk from my hostel, located in the heart of the Palermo district.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. Here I was standing on a street corner in a fairly quiet part of Buenos Airies at 11pm waiting to meet someone I’d only seen photos of on Facebook. I didn’t have a phone, didn’t know for a fact if I was in the right spot or not, and wasn’t sure how well we’d be able to communicate given the absence of Google Translate.  Over the previous two weeks I’d spent in Argentina a lot of my Spanish had come back to me, but would it be enough?

As an odd assortment of people walked by I’m sure I left a few feeling uneasy as I tried to make inquisitive eye contact while making that haphazard “is it you?” face. Eventually Rodrigo arrived and with a warm smile introduced himself. We said hello and chatted with each other breaking through the initial awkwardness that makes communicating hard.  As we (or perhaps more I) started to relax we began walking and he told me that it was too early to Tango yet (yep, 11pm is the Argentine equivalent of 6pm elsewhere!) but he had a few friends he wanted me to meet.

A five minute walk brought us to an apartment where I was introduced to several of his friends: A group of several Argentinians and an Israeli exchange student. We quickly got acquainted and made our way to the rooftop terrace where they had a table and set of chairs. The evening air was warm and delightful.  It was also still fairly light out as it was the heart of Argentina’s summer.

They had ordered pizza and picked up several liters of soda and beer. As it turned out the evening was a bit of a post New Years Celebration among friends. A celebration I felt very blessed to be included in.

As the meal and conversation transitioned from eating, we prepared for a bit of dancing. The table was moved to the side, the ipod switched to Tango music, and the performances and lessons were on!

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

The Dances

Despite my background in Ballroom and focus in Latin dance, Argentine Tango has always eluded me.  Which is to say that even the basic was something that I had previously only seen, but never danced. The beat, the rhythm, the flow, it was all new and I quickly found myself more than a little confused.   Luckily under the guidance of Rodrigo, and several of his patient friends, I learned the basic box and at least started to get a feel for the dance while only periodically mangling the poor girl’s toes.

Once sufficiently satisfied that I’d gotten the basics down to Argentine Tango and sensing my background in slightly more fast paced/constantly paced dances they introduced me to the Milonga.  This dance, which shares the same name as many of the city’s tango venues, is a faster, constant version of the tango. Wikipedia explains the Milgona as, “Milonga,(in 2/4 time) has a strongly accented beat, and sometimes an underlying “habanera” rhythm. Dancers avoid pausing, and often introduce double time steps (incorrectly called syncopation and more appropriately called traspies) into their walks and turns. Milonga dancing uses the same basic elements as tango, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm, and figures that tend to be less complex than some danced in other varieties of tango. Some tango instructors say that tango steps should not be used in milonga and that milonga has its own special rhythm and steps, which are quite different from tango.”

While the beat was easier to relate to for me, I have to admit that the speed and execution left me more than a little baffled and confused.  Still, it was a fantastic introduction to a dance which was both passionate, engaging, and exciting as well as being an entirely new dance for me.

To my surprise we finished the lessons out with a third and far more traditional dance, the chacarera (I believe).  The dance was a zero contact partner dance which resembled a traditional waltz or Victorian era dance.  A fun line dance of sorts, it consisted of a number of turns, pauses, a bit of tap dancing, and then a final salute which left both partners near embrace without touching.  While I initially thought it was just a fun cultural dance they were sharing with me, later I’d learned that it was actively used and danced in the Milongas.

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

The Milonga

As 3:30AM quickly approached Rodrigo and I said our goodbyes and our thank yous before setting off into the night.  I assumed that we were probably done with the evening, but quickly realized that it had just started. As we made our way back out to the street he explained that the good tango clubs in the area were just getting going. Before long we arrived at one such venue, located in the spacious basement/bar area of a large building.  The area was packed with a ring of small tables lining a large rectangular dance floor.  My guide quickly chatted with one of the local waiters, who he obviously knew, and found us a seat.

Before long we were joined by two German girls we had bumped into on the walk over and had been introduced to by one of Rodrigo’s friends who had decided to call it a night.  The girls were in Argentina learning Tango and quickly took the dance floor where Rodrigo launched them into a series of fantastic routines. His tango was skillful and an absolute delight to watch.

As the night went on the venue would play a series of 5 songs back to back before some sort of old rock jam would blast on as a sign to rotate or take a break.  Then every 10th song or so they would play an Chacarera or two, which were equally fun to watch!  Though possessed of a flimsy understanding of the bare basics for both, I have to admit that I opted to sit, relax and watch the dancers without ever joining them.  Perhaps after a chance to practice a bit more, and to force the basics of Argentine tango into my memory, I’ll be up for the challenge.

By 5:30AM I could barely keep my eyes open and the wear and tear on my body from the previous week’s travels and New Years festivities came crashing down upon me.  I bid the girls goodnight, thanked Rodrigo for one of the most delightful evenings I’d had in Argentina, and began my walk home.

He was a truly wonderful host and one who patiently put up with my dreadful Spanish and bad jokes while sharing his culture, music and dance with me.  My first night at an Argentine Milonga will always stand out as one of my favorite dance experiences and easily one of my fondest memories from Buenos Aires.

**The photos in this post are of  Rodrigo and his dance partners used with permission from his facebook. Impressive ehh?

Inspired to learn a bit of Tango or at least listen to some?  Browse Amazon’s digital Tango Music library.

A Year In Review

Preikestolen, Norway

Two thousand ten was a spectacular year.  A year that told the world, “Yes, you’re really in the 21st century and no, it’s not going anywhere”.  It was a year which history looked to with grand aspirations, dreams and expectations. It was a year that brought great strife, both in the form of economic and military struggles as well as brutal natural disasters. Yet, it was also a year that brought a sense of economic recovery, fantastic new milestones in science and reminders that the future will always be bright for those who choose to shape their destiny.

Professionally – On a more personal level 2010 was a spectacular year for me.  Many may be wondering why I’m writing a year in review post nearly two weeks into 2011. Well, the answer lies in just how busy, adventurous and enjoyable 2010 was.  The truth is, this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and type out my thoughts or even to truly reflect on 2010 as a whole.

On a professional level I saw significant growth.  I was able to continue to weather the tail end of the financial recession in a workplace I enjoy with people I have the utmost respect for despite being in an industry that was nearly obliterated by the great recession.

I continued to grow my web-based projects and launched http://travelresourcelist.com which has been well received and supplements my http://ultimatepackinglist.com resource site which has also continued to grow and receive widespread praise.  In addition to these projects I launched http://youtube.com/travelanswers which has been an enjoyable side project.  All the while, these projects further supported the continued growth and health of this site, VirtualWayfarer.com.  2010 saw VW pay for itself and turn a small profit, as well as increase its web presence and following. Not bad for a side hobby!

From a personal branding point of view 2010 saw me rank in several top 100 travel personality/blog lists, quoted on MSNBC Travel, and across a variety of major travel oriented web blogs.  The year also provided an opportunity to return to Ignite Phoenix and deliver a second presentation to a sold out, 700 person audience. This time on the power and advantages of solo travel.  The year also presented me with the opportunity to return to Arizona State University where I gave three guest lectures. Two on Global Communities and Virtual Worlds and one to Journalism students on the value and benefits of blogging and social media. Lastly, the year provided the opportunity to meet a wealth of local travel professionals and bloggers through the Arizona Travel Tweetup series which I organized, launched and hosted.

2010 also saw me begin my preparations and exploration into a return to school in the pursuit of a Masters and PhD.  With 8 applications in to top tier schools last year set what I hope will bring new adventures, challenges and great growth in motion. Exciting!

Alex in Patagonia

Travel/On The Road – I could not have asked for a better series of trips.  2010 offered me a rare opportunity in which I enjoyed both summer solstices (northern and southern hemisphere) in near polar locations.  In the northern hemisphere I enjoyed it in Central Norway, in the southern hemisphere I celebrated it in Tierra del Fuego Argentina, often referred to as ‘el fin del mundo’ or the end of the earth. These locations offered long days, short nights and amazing memories.

In 2010 I added 5 new countries to my list.  Though two of those (Chile and Peru) were only quick airport layovers I experienced Norway, Denmark and Argentina thoroughly for the first time while revisiting Ireland, Mexico and Germany which have become old travel companions and friends.

In total I spent approximately 38 days in 2010 abroad.  This was split between a 20 day trip and a 18 day trip.  Where I welcomed 2010 on a sandy beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico I bid the year goodbye from a steamy rooftop terrace in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In addition to my trips abroad, I also realized the opportunity for some regional domestic tourism with extended weekend trips to Northern Arizona.  While there I re-visited the Grand Canyon for the first time in years while enjoying a spectacular sunset, photographed the painted desert, explored Flagstaff through the eyes of a tourist and re-visited Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.

The year also brought the opportunity to connect with old friends. Some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, others of whom I’d met last year on the road during my travels.  They hosted me, entertained me and shared their native culture, cities and lives with me, which was a pure delight and incredible gift.  Similarly, my adventures presented the opportunity to make a wealth of new friends from the world over who I look forward to hosting or visiting in the not-so-distant future.  On a related note, I hosted my first two couchsurfers in 2010 which introduced me to two delightful people, while meeting up with several others for coffee.

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

In Review – There’s no doubt a lot which I’ve left out or overlooked, but in truth it’s just icing on the icing on the cake.  This past year was an incredible one. One which I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.  So, while I’m sorry to see it go, given all the great things it offered I cannot wait to see what 2011 brings.  The promise of new discoveries, new adventures, new growth, new experiences, and new people with powerful lessons and incredible insights.

Goodbye 2010 and welcome 2011.  Let the adventure continue!