The tango’s evolution from back-street bordellos to high-society ballrooms proves that sexuality cannot be contained by class—passion is in everyone. That passion is celebrated every August during the Tango Buenos Aires Festival. Pairing this famously intimate dance with a half-million spectators may seem strange, but the festival’s artistic director Gustavo Mozzi insists there’s no better platform. “Tango is at a time of growth, evolution and expansion, and the more the festival is in tune with the booming, effervescent scene, the more it turns into a live, provocative space.”
The tango may have originated in Argentine brothels. This dance oozes sex and is a visual metaphor for the very ritual of seduction.
It Takes Two
The roots of tango stretch back to the 1800s, when the port town of Buenos Aires saw a preponderance of influences—from culture and art to music and dance—meld together. Tango, which is a mixture of European stoicism and African extravagances, has ambiguous roots, but many theorize that it started amongst lower-class citizens and may have originated in Argentine brothels. This dance oozes sex and is a visual metaphor for the very ritual of seduction. In 2009, tango was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The festival’s organizers call it “the world’s biggest tango extravaganza,” and although most of Buenos Aires has tango fever all month (and pretty much all year), the festival is officially 18 days long. It begins with La Festival, a 9-day celebration of tango shows, recitals, classes, milongas (dances) and film screenings at venues across the city. La Festival opens with a massive open-air milonga, where you’ll find tens of thousands of tangueros dancing along the streets.
These opening ceremonies generate excitement for the Mundial de Tango (Tango World Championships). Last year, 8,000 people came to Luna Park to cheer on the world’s best tango dancers, who performed myriad variations of the traditional form. Legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel is the event’s emcee, and you’ll hear his lustrous baritone throughout the various competitions. His roots trace back to the 1920s, when he began singing accompaniment for dancers in Buenos Aires. The championship is an elegant, classy affair, and dancers will be dressed to the nines; it’s good idea if you are, too.
Planning on learning to tango? Classes and milongas take place every day for tango enthusiasts of all skill levels. Although no one would call tango easy, it’s not as hard as you think; just bring your passion and patience.
Professional Argentine tanguero Daniela Borgialli says it’s a lifelong commitment. “The people who are most attracted to it are the people who love a challenge—always,” she says. “They learn something new and then it's like, ‘Well, wait a minute…how does this work?’ and then there's more. The next thing you know…10 years have gone by and you’re still going.” No one conquers the tango in mere days, but like any complex relationship, it will continue to challenge and seduce you over the course of a lifetime.