Tango. It’s synonymous with passion, chemistry, melancholy, and a whole host of stereotypes which work to craft an image of a dance traditionally charged with drama and emotion (as well as being just a little bit machista).
Whether you’ve never set foot in a milonga or if you’re a master of fancy footwork, it’s fair to say that tango is pretty difficult to avoid in a city where its presence is seen everywhere from street corners to nostalgic neighborhood bars to glossy, high-priced tourist shows.
Although every tango dancer seems to have that annoying ability to make it look utterly effortless to any left-footed spectator (author included), those who have attempted to join in the fun will know that in fact, tango follows a set of strict rules and codes of how each participant must move their feet and move together as a couple. The skill lies in the ability to choreograph a complicated set of moves that are well-balanced between both dancers.
Created by European immigrants who arrived to Argentina back in the 1880s and drawing on the mix of indigenous, African and European cultures, tango produces sentiments of sadness, loneliness, and melancholy (perhaps the most porteño of emotions), depicting the lost love and yearning of those newly arrived settlers. While tango has evolved over the last hundred years or so and has accommodated changes within society, it’s certainly true that old habits die hard.
Unpicking and deconstructing these codes and stereotypes specific to Argentine tango, Laura Falcoff’s play “Así Se Baila el Tango” humorously analyzes and explains everything, from how the male should ask his partner to join him, to how to get out of dancing with someone you’d rather avoid. It’s the play you need to see to both get your head around all of these complex codes of dancing etiquette and tradition as well as laugh at how easily these subtleties can be misunderstood.
The maître d’ of the milonga (played by Laura Falcoff), is a middle-aged, brusque, and unfussy woman dressed in a smart skirt suit who narrates the pitfalls, confusions, and techniques of tango as a dancing couple demonstrates to the audience. The spectators, mainly composed of local theater fans, are all well aware of the sharp observations and quick humor of the narration; and as a result, they might find themselves sniggering at relatable incidents to which the tango dancers among them had no doubt fallen victim.
Traditionally, of course, tango has always been a rhythm led by the male, with the female always following a couple of paces behind. The man is usually in charge from the outset, from selecting his dance partner to then finding the correct balance of movement and footwork that allow him to lead. But times are shifting, so along with simple more frivolous changes – like music becoming more upbeat and a little less gloomy – changes to gender leads are not uncommon either.
Addressing subjects such as the male’s role as a leader, the sensuality between the dancing couple, and the delicate balance of movement, as well as the oddities of milonga etiquette, the play is light enough to be amusing to someone with zero tango knowledge as well as relatable for those who are VIP milonga frequent fliers. Set to a background of both earlier tango classics and modern day rhythms, the work incorporates a pointer that is often used to demonstrate each tiny movement and gesture, stopping and starting the music to illustrate tango’s evolution. For me, an audience member with little knowledge of tango’s distinct intricacies, the play was a perfect mix of being both highly informative and a source of some funny yet relatable gender differences that just as easily occur outside the milonga as within.
Daniel Sansotta’s standout performance is particularly notable, especially when dramatically demonstrating the facial expressions of a rejected suitor. The combination of his slumped shoulders and lowered eyebrows, along with the maître d’s honest, occasionally cruel (but always funny) observations easily send the audience into fits of laughter. Another equal highlight is Camila Villamil’s representation of a woman both desperately and politely trying to avoid the gaze of a man she was so obviously not interested in dancing with. Not just relatable to milonga dancers, this moment resonates with any woman who has dared walk down the street, anywhere, ever (sigh).
The theater itself, El Portón de Sánchez, is a delightfully discreet independent venue, so low key in fact that it’s actually pretty difficult to locate. Hidden behind an unassuming door, visitors could be forgiven for walking past it entirely, the only indicator that you’ve arrived in the correct place being the number posted on the door. As such, the experience is that much more intimate and personal, a well-received alternative to the often larger, more impersonal mainstream theater options.
Upon entering, the space is rather informal – there’s no assigned seating and seats aren’t numbered. Plan to arrive on time, and in the time-honored Argentine tradition, line up as soon as you have your ticket to ensure you get the pick of the best seats.
“Así Se Baila el Tango” is on at theater El Portón de Sanchez (Sánchez de Bustamante 1034) every Saturday at 6 PM through July 7th. Tickets are AR $250 for the general public and AR $200 for students and pensioners. For more details or to reserve tickets, head to their website.