Monday, December 20, 2010

Tango At La Catedral...

Buenos Aires is the birthplace of Tango. And it has been said that Tango is the soul of the city, the blues is to Chicago, and Jazz to New Orleans. But here the connection between the music, and the very substance of the city runs deeper than I believe any other place on Earth.  Only here do you find pictures of long dead Tango singers still plastered on alley walls. Only here do you see Tee shirts, key-chains, and every sort of touristic good, covered in a line from a 90 year old song...(See above Quote)

It only fitting then, that as part of my life here, that I should try my hand at Tango. And given that my friend Max was here, and I wanted to do something a little out of the normal drudgery of daily life, we decided that this would be a good time to return to a cherished little stop that all holds a fond place in our collective memory; La Catedral.

This is not my first visit to this lovely hole in the wall. Way back when our dearly departed friend James (Departed from BA, not from the world of the living...) was the master of all things late night in BsAs, he had taken us to this hidden sanctuary after the meeting one night. James if nothing else, had a one of a kind ability, a gift rather, to talk with the locals, and learn from them about where to find the best hole in the wall bars, the little nooks that held the best restaurants in town. The knowledge of this site's existence, I believe to be among the finest of his many his finest acquisitions.

This was just such a place, that would require you to defeat that classic Catch-22 to find it; you will only find it if you already have been there, and you will never be there if you cant find it...Located on an obscure street in the middle of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of down town, and far from the glitz and glamor of Palermo Hollywood/SoHo, this is not where you would expect to find such a gem as this. When you walk up to the door, all you are greeted with is a normal inconspicuous looking door, and then upon entry, you are similarly unsurprised when you see a simple folding table with a equally inconspicuous looking man sitting there. You give him the 20 Pesos for the lesson ($5 US), you then receive a ticket and off you a yet again simple staircase that leads up to the unknown. After passing through what seems like a labyrinth of hallways filled with unassuming discarded pieces of everyday finally enter through a door to find yourself underneath what at first appears to be a enclosure...only after you walk around it do you realize that it is a enormous stage, nearly 50 feet by 20 feet.

Then raising your eye upwards, you begin examine your new surroundings and you start piecing things together. You ave found yourself in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse/factory, that has been converted into a dance hall(if you thought this, you would be correct). With a large bar at one end, a large dance floor area in the center, that is flanked on all sides by random couches, tables, chairs, and other assorted furniture sourced from what one would imagine was some kind of Argentine garage sale. The rustic, and almost down and dirty poor surface here, fits perfectly with the roots of Tango, which emerged from the slums, and working classes in late 19th century BA...When you are in La Catedral you almost get the feeling what it must have been like for these poor beaten, battered and bruised souls, who only found refuge in dance. 

Our Experience

Me and Max arrived early (very Taboo in Argentina...oh well) and took in the scenery while we waited for the girls. Like any forward thinking, intellectual guy, I made sure we had 4 girls to me and Max...(always have more girls than guys...Duh)

After talking with the young lady who would be our instructor for the evening, we were pleasantly rewarded for our wait, when our lady friends arrived. As the class began, we were given a brief into to Tango 101 by our teacher. After explaining the origins, and the moody, "wine flavored" nature of the dance, we were giving our first, and according to our teacher, most important lesson in Tango...How to walk with style. After walking around in circles for a while, learning to drag our feet with class, and eloquence, we finally were allowed to couple up, and try the moves for ourselves.

Now when it comes to Tango coupling, there is one thing that is quite important to remember. (I got so much flack for this statement before from my Argentine friends, I felt so vindicated when I hear our teacher say these words...) Our teacher explained to us, that this dance is all about improvisation. More than any other dance that I have learned, the Tango has a deeper connection with its accompanying music. As such, each individual Tango (Dance) must be crafted to suit the specific song that is being played at that very moment. From the abrupt twists and turns of the flowing emotion carried forth by the BanoneĆ³n, to the strikingly personal lyrics that often cut to the very soul, the dance mirrors the music in every way.

After our brief, but helpful lesson, we were more or less left to our own devices as the rest of the evening unfolded. With a growing crowd for the for the second "intermediate" lesson at 10, we decided to hang out a bit and enjoy the scenery, and each others company. One of my favorite things about this place is that you get a feeling of being free to dance, or to simply lounge with your friends on the comfy sidelines. You feel no pressure at all to have to dance, but should you choose to do so, you will not in the slightest bit feel out of place, or that all of the attention is focused on you as if you were in the spot light. (even though there is a huge spot light in the middle of the dance floor...)

So after we had a few beers, and a couple of freshly made Empanadas...we had a few more turns at the dance floor before clocking out at a "reasonable Tango Hour".

After reviewing my previous comments, all I can say about my experience here at La Catedral, is that words do it no justice, pictures only show half truths, and my ramblings of good times gone by, will only serve to create in you a desire to visit this enchanting place yourself. But I predict that you will go there with a certain unrealistic expectation, and find not something that is lower than you had imagined, but a place so charming and so engaging, that it exceeds the highest preconceived notice you could possibly entertain.

Notes To Readers:
La Catedral is located at Sarmiento 4006
10 Pesos just to dance, 20 Pesos for lesson and dancing
Beer is cheap about 15 Pesos for a liter, and Empanadas are about 3.50 Arg each.

Classes run every night at 8PM and 10PM, but Tuesday night is the standout night.

Jess and Gilda drowning in the blackness...

Me and Abby "Tearing it up" least that how well we thought we danced...


  1. ok, when are you going again? we're in.

  2. Oh how I love that place!! Is that crazy old guy Peter still there (the one who'll give you a free lesson of his own in exchange for a hand placed a little lower than it should be)?? You can never have proper dance lessons without dirty old men bossing you around on the dance floor ;)

  3. I dont know if he is still there...Because I dont think he likes me enough to offer me that...But dont worry, I am pretty sure there are still plenty of dirty old men left in the world.