Escape Routes: Buenos Aires for Single Travelers
By Gretchen Kelly
Yes, it does take two to tango, but Buenos Aires is one of the most single-friendly (and romantic!) cities in the world. Where else can you walk into an elegant turn-of-the-century café and be whisked off your feet to dance the tango by a handsome stranger in a fedora and pinstriped suit? And where else (now that the dollar has gone more southerly than Argentina itself) can a single traveler find a steak dinner for one with a bottle great wine for less than $30.00 US– and get the best table in the house, along with compliments on your high school level Spanish?
I traveled to Buenos Aires alone with nothing but a love of tango and a smattering of admittedly limited Spanish and never felt intimidated, out-of-place or afraid for my own safety. I came away with a deeper love for the music and culture of that most seductive of dances (sometimes called “the three minute date”) as well as a great pair of fine Argentine leather boots, four pairs of tango shoes and a new appreciation of the joys of Argentina’s malbec wines—some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.
I also met lots of other singlemindedwomen travelers who were doing the same thing. Some were real tango fans who took advantage of the great dollar to peso exchange rate to stay in BA for a month taking tango lessons and going to milongas (the tango parties that can start at midnight and last till dawn). Others were recently divorced women who fell in love with the sensuality that the dance gives as well as the femininity of the clothes (those ankle-strapped shoes!) and the elegance of the men who invariably ask you to dance, no matter how much of a beginner you are (they don’t even complain if you step on their designer-shoed feet).
My first day in the city, I headed for one of the oldest tango clubs in Buenos Aires, the Confiteria Ideal, on Suipacha Street, tango shoe store central. The tables and chairs in the old café were pushed back from the floor. A huge glass skylight lit the room. Middle aged men and women were dancing together – the men in crisp, white shirts, the women in 1940’s style dresses. No one was model perfect or size 00 but the way the men held these women – as if they were the most beautiful women in the world – was one of the most romantic sights I have ever seen. I ran right out and strapped myself into a pair of pumps and went off to take my first tango lesson.
Here’s how you can do it, too:
Dress well. It doesn’t take a lot of money to do it in Buenos Aires. You should choose a great pair of stylish tango shoes, fish net hose or the more elegant seamed 1940’s style stockings (all available at the shoe stores below). A swinging skirt that lets your legs move is also a must.
Take a few lessons at home before flying south. Learn the basics and then refine your technique through real dancing in the cafes and dance halls where the tango was born.
Know the music. You don’t have to dance to love the music of the tango. From the early tango bands to the “new wave” tango, the music is sensual, sinuous and as compelling as the dance itself. Buy a few albums of tango collections and get familiar before your trip.
Dance with everyone who respectfully asks you to. And dance out the full set. In life as in tango, it’s not nice to “shoulder surf’ your partner looking for a better catch while dancing with him.
Watch for the “cabeza,” the nod that means “will you dance with me?”
Where to Stay:
The Four Seasons Buenos Aires (http://www.fourseasons.com/) is one of the most elegant properties in the city. Housed partly in a mansion in Evita’s Peron’s old neighborhood of Recoleta, it is where the great tango dancing scenes between Madonna and Antonio Banderas were filmed for the movie version of Evita.
Along with elegant hotels like the Four Seasons and the famed Alvear Palace, smw travelers on a budget can stay in small “tango houses,” which are basically bed and breakfast places for tango students, often with shared kitchens.
Casa de Pilar — Lezica 3935. Tel: 4981-9245 or 15-40-52-34-27 is a well-respected tango house located in Almagro, a block from the beautifully retro BA subway.
Where to Dance:
The Café Tortoni built in 1858 on the broad Avenida de Mayo and hardly changed since the early days of tango, is a wonderful place for singles to try their first steps. The Café has regular classes and shows and is very relaxed and unintimidating. Most dancers and teachers here also speak English. http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/.
The Confiteria Idea is very retro and has regular milongas or tango dance parties where locals still go to dance. Again, you don’t have to be a great dancer to get asked here, but you might want to take a few lessons at the Tortoni first to feel confident. Confiteria Ideal – Suipacha 384. 4307-9840 – Matinee Milonga on Sundays from 5 PM, or Thursday nights.
Where to Get Those Fabulous Shoes:
Flabella, Suipacha 263, http://www.flabella.com/ is one of the most classic tango shoe shops in the city and a good place to get your first pair. From spiked to kitten heels they have it all. Only 20 shoes are made a day—and all by hand.
Comme Il Faut. Arenales 1239 – Puerta 3M. 4815-5690
The first shop in Buenos Aires to create “haute couture” tango shoes. Huge range of colors and styles and more expensive then most but worth it.
Where to Just Sit Back and Watch:
Señor Tango, http://www.senortango.com/ in San Telmo has a good show, good food and no problem seating single female travelers in front row seats.