I’d bet you anything that, unless you were born and raised in Argentina, the word ‘Argentine’ conjures up the image of Malbec, meat, and tango. Well, while the love for asado and the sheer volume of bodegas in the country can’t be denied, the last stereotype is one that doesn’t ring true so much these days.
Granted, as a tourist scratching the surface of Buenos Aires, it’s hard to escape the lure of tango, with the scattering of costumed dancers on the streets of La Boca, and the iconic image of the classic Argentine couple entwined in the provocative dance on every refrigerator magnet and postcard up for grabs on Florida street. Even as a long-term resident it can be easy to think that if you haven’t experienced tango, then you haven’t experienced Buenos Aires. After all, the dance that is now a ballroom classic has its roots deeply buried in the history and charisma of the city.
The story of the Argentine tango starts at the turn of the nineteenth century, when an abundance of European immigrants populated the city, bringing with them a rich variety of elements of music and dance. This led to a sultry mix of waltz, mazurka, and polka being danced to the sounds of violins, flamenco guitar, and bandoneón, and all of that was wrapped up neatly with the innate sounds and movements of Argentine folklore. What came out of that turbulent mix was, at that time, considered a bit of a mating ritual between men and the women they were courting. In fact, the dance was taken so seriousl, that men would often interpret the female part on their own for up to six months before they were ready to try it on a real human woman. How, um, chivalrous.
Well, not only has the dating scene thankfully moved on from that context, but the dance scene has moved on significantly as well. Of course, the story of the Argentine tango is an interesting one that we all love, but it doesn’t truly reflect the Buenos Aires that exists today.
In fact, there are a multitude of creative outlets in the form of different types of dance and the more you see, the more you’ll realize that placing upon Buenos Aires the solitary label of tango is a serious injustice. Today, if you head out into the city, you’ll find anything from salsa to cumbia to hip hop, and once you have discovered the life and soul that BA has for each of these, you might just forget all about tango.
By definition, salsa is a Caribbean dance originating in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Dominica. It made its way throughout the world during the 20th century and is now danced in clubs, classes, and depending on where you are exactly, even the streets of many countries around the world. Buenos Aires has a huge salsa scene and many places to experience it, whether you want to dance it like a pro, try it as an amateur, or watch from afar.
For classes, there are many places to choose from, including La Viruta and Azucar in Palermo, El Toque de Cimarron in San Telmo, and La Salsera in Villa Crespo. You may have already heard of some of these places – La Viruta is well-known for its milongas every weekend and has been a popular destination for the city’s rookies and professionals alike for years. But if you know it only for it’s milongas then you should head there for a night of Salsa to experience a whole other type of vibe.
The thing that is wonderful about Salsa is the sheer energy of the dance. If you watch a couple dancing salsa at one of these parties, you can guarantee they will be sweating from head to toe, and always smiling. What’s more, the live music that complements the dance in these settings gives the experience that extra something special. Head to El Toque de Cimarron for their Salsa concerts every Thursday and Saturday, or to La Salsera on a Friday or Saturday to see what we mean.
You may be thinking that hip hop is a sub-genre of dance that has come and gone, along with chunky gold chains and low-hanging jeans, but this is a genre of music that is more alive than ever in the city. With the growing popularity of the genre, it has made its way from underground venues and house parties and plays a powerful part in Buenos Aires’ nightlife.
In fact, in the summer months Centro Cultural Recoleta began hosting weekly events of ‘Cultura Hip Hop’ with free amateur shows of rap and dance every Saturday and Sunday. The event has been so popular that it will continue throughout May and June every Saturday from 3 PM until 8 PM. The events include rap battles, dance showcases from various dance schools, DJs, and graffiti workshops. And don’t think you have to have the swag to be accepted here – it has one of the most inclusive vibes you can imagine. So much so, you could probably show up wearing a top-hat paired with multi-colored spandex and no one would bat an eyelid; in fact, you would probably be encouraged to join in on the fun straight away.
The movement of hip hop into Buenos Aires culture has by no means happened by half measures. We’re talking genre-specific dance schools, hip hop culture clubs, club nights, and a general vibe of coolness scattered throughout the city. You can find hip hop dance classes at schools like Full Dance and BA Dance Club, which both offer urban dance classes for all levels.
Or you can skip the classes and go straight to the Hip Hop Culture Club in Palermo which hosts parties every weekend, or SWRV for one-off events. Niceto Club also often host Afromama which is a night dedicated to hip hop and R&B. These parties are encouraging the growth of the hip hop scene in Buenos Aires and have already made it into one of the fastest-growing genres of BA nightlife.
As with Salsa, Cumbia isn’t exactly a new craze for Argentina. In fact, the origin of Cumbia dates way back to the 17th century, when it was invented by African slaves who were brought over to Latin America. The exact part of Latin America that can claim the roots of the dance is still up for discussion; however, the Cumbia that we know today has influences of Argentine folklore as well as Colombian and Mexican Cumbia.
The dance and the music have understandably evolved drastically since then, and today Digital Cumbia has taken over the party. You will have danced to this already if you have been to any given standard boliche ever – they dedicate at least one or two songs in a given night to Cumbia and in general you either love it or you head straight to the bar for another drink to avoid it.
But the best places to truly experience the combination of music and dance of Cumbia are the places where no one cares who is watching. Places where the crowd listens to the music and dances how they interpret it. There are many clubs in the city that have nights dedicated to Cumbia and these places keep the spirit of the music and the enthusiasm for it alive. For example, Konex occasionally host a night called Cumbia Konex which includes DJs, dancers and a generally outrageous night. La Magica also hosts Cumbia parties which draw huge crowds of people who are all prepped to experience Cumbia at its best.
Dancing to Cumbia isn’t something that is exactly taught in dance schools, and what is seen as classic Cumbia is considered by some as a sort of branch of Salsa. However, one group specifically worth mentioning, is FLOW Altas Wachas. This is a group that formed in 2009 and consists of women who create their own rhythm from a fusion of Cumbia with other styles including Hip Hop, Twerk and Dubstep. The exact style of dance that they specialise in could be debated all day, but the group is only becoming more popular by the day. They welcome all women to try their classes, details of which are on their Facebook page. You can also catch them performing in various clubs and culture centres throughout the city.
If you experience a combination of any of these places, either by going to watch from a distance, taking a class or getting stuck in at a club or concert, we can guarantee that you will have experienced the true rhythm of Buenos Aires and you won’t give tango a second thought.