Learn the seductive Argentine dance

Word to the wise: Cabezazo is the traditional way of asking for a dance. A man tilts his head, and makes eye contact with raised eyebrows. The women either smiles and gives a small nod, or pretends she hasn’t seen it.

In a red-lit smoky ballroom, a couple slide across the dance floor cheek-to-cheek, serious and steeped in sex, both sombre and seductive. This is the quintessential image of tango, and of Argentina itself. It is impossible to imagine one without the other.

It is thought to have begun in the brothels of San Telmo. Poor immigrant men would dance together in theatrical steps, while waiting their turn in the bedroom, with such erotic passion, that at first it was considered too obscene for women. But when Argentine musicians took tango to Paris at the end of the 19th century, it quickly swept through Europe causing a sensation.

The music was originally instrumental, rooted in Spanish melodies with an African drum-based rhythm, until Carlos Gardel, the songbird of Buenos Aires, sang Mi Noche Triste (My Sad Night) and changed the sound of tango. His smoky lament mourning long gone lovers and the hardships of life epitomised the porteño spirit.

In the last decade tango has undergone a total revival, and now you will see young hip travellers dancing with wizened old-timers. With bands like La Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro experimenting with traditional tango, it is constantly being reinvigorated, expressing both old and new Buenos Aires.

It is an improvised dance of sliding steps and leg kicks, which can be intimidating when you first enter a milonga or salon de baile. Start off by watching some dances, then take lessons at somewhere like El Beso, or the free classes at many bars and hotels, and finally go to a milonga to really experience what makes this dance unique.

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