It's everywhere: On street corners. In dance studios. And especially at shows in San Telmo -- a neighborhood filled with the very cobblestone streets on which the dance was born.
No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without tango.
We decided to live it for three days of our 13-day trip to Argentina, staying in a historic mansion converted into a hotel dedicated to all things tango.
Mansion Dandi Royal, located on Piedras Street in San Telmo, doubles as a tango school -- offering guests daily lessons at a reasonable price.
A friend who'd previously visited Buenos Aires described the Dandi, with 30 unique rooms, as cheap and clean and a neat place to stay. We chose the three-night package and booked online. A three-night stay, daily breakfast, daily group tango lessons, airport transfers and a champagne-and-sweets welcome basket was $170 per person.
Even though it was built in the early 1900s, the mansion has modern amenities, including an in-room safe, cable television, Internet access and a rooftop pool.
Our room was small, but comfortable and quiet. It had a unique mural painted above the king-size bed that was similar to those found throughout the building. There was a winding wood staircase and intricate stained glass.
Except for a small wooden sign outside, the hotel can easily be missed.
But is shouldn't be.
The Tango Residential Academy, as the Dandi is called, offers a variety of private and group lessons in the Salon de Tango, where it's easy to imagine dancers from a previous era holding each other tight and moving to the haunting beat.
My husband purchased private tango lessons in the States in preparation for our trip. We were thrilled to know we'd be a step ahead of the novices. In three 50-minute lessons, we mastered what we thought were the first six sequences of basic tango.
Little did we realize that what we were taught was American tango. In Argentina, the tango is Argentine -- and the steps have a different twist.
But we held each other tight. Literally. The tango is danced chest-to-chest.
In the group lessons, there are usually about two dozen hotel guests and locals dancing -- including many single men and women who partner up during class. The instructors are patient and pleasant. They are used to adapting their lessons to various skill levels. More experienced dancers often work on difficult turns while the novices -- usually tourists -- learn the elementary steps.
The instructors vary from night to night. Some speak better English than others. Some are more demanding. The dance room, with a hardwood floor, is on the street level. A mirrored wall with ballet barre is opposite a cluster of tables and chairs.
Overall, we were very pleased with the results. We learned the basic Argentine tango step and a few more moves.
The area around the Dandi, while walking distance from both the shopping area and the Plaza Dorrego -- a popular place for public tango -- is in a part of San Telmo that is not well-maintained or well-lit. We had no problems walking to the top end dining and shops nearby, even late at night. But the streets can seem a bit foreboding at first.
The entrance to the Dandi is locked at all times and a security guard greets guests at the entry.
We used the Dandi as our home base for three days, with time to take in the sights and a Boca Juniors soccer game and to find a favorite restaurant -- La Brigada -- where we had the best steak, empanadas and Malbec wine we'd ever tasted. But it was clear that other guests-- from Ireland, England, Canada and the United States -- were all about the dance.
It was all they talked about. They went to the lessons and took in several shows of tango and milongas-- a faster dance. We saw only one tango show. As one Argentine put it, "Americans think the tango is Al Pacino in `Scent of a Woman' with a rose in his mouth."
The tango, we discovered, is about love and betrayal. Loneliness and hope for redemption.
The Mansion Dandi Royal is the perfect introduction.
IF YOU GO TO BUENOS AIRES:
Where to stay: Mansion Dandi Royal, www.mansiondandiroyal.com. The three night-four day tango promotional package is $170 per person.
Where to eat:
-- La Brigada: Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo. Great for steaks and Malbec wine.
-- Sottovoce: www.sottovoceristorante.com.ar.
-- Avenida del Libertador 1098, Recoleta. Excellent Italian food.
More information: www.sectur.gov.ar/ or www.easybuenosairescity.com/english.htm.
Teresa Mask: firstname.lastname@example.org
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