It Takes Everyone to Tango at Tanguíssimo

Barrel organs and violins wail faintly from stone steps that lead down towards a table adorned with sparkling coloured stilettos. Beyond this is a huge bright hall with plastic chairs encircling a huge dance floor. Women are seated along the right hand side and men the left.

Photo by Consuelo Mujica
Photo by Consuelo Mujica

This is Tanguíssimo, Chile’s largest Tango school where numerous experienced instructors take turns to dance with each learner so that a variety of styles can be experienced. Women’s costumes range from evening dresses and black lacy stockings to baggy joggers and t-shirts.

Photo by Consuelo Mujica
Photo by Consuelo Mujica

There are six levels to progress through at an individual pace. In the first classes, the basic steps and balance are taught and once these are achieved, the focus is on stylish foot shapes and synchronization with a partner.

It is only recently however, that Tango has been danced in such open, casual settings.

Jose Barrera Lucero, the owner of Tanguíssimo, explains that the dance used to be viewed as improper and was confined to underground venues. Jose, whose eccentric patent red shoes contradict the wholesomeness of his thick grey hair and woolen jumper, explains, “Tango was born when Spanish, Italian and French immigrants began dancing in the clubs of the working class suburbs of Buenos Aires in the 1890s. Originally it was danced between men in preparation for visiting brothels where the best dancers would attract the most beautiful prostitutes.”

Since brothels were mainly frequented by the wealthy sons of the Argentine upper class elite who often travelled, Tango was sustained and spread across the Atlantic.

Photo by Consuelo Mujica
Photo by Consuelo Mujica

The dance arrived in Chile through the port of Valparaiso, although the exact date is elusive.

“Tanguíssimo was founded in 1994,” explains Jose, “The dance was banned during the dictatorship and so it went underground for a while but in the last fifteen years, it has been standardized and its popularity has increased, especially among young people.”

This new generation of interest in Tango has been dubbed Tango-Nuevo, and has been inspired by electronic music such as that of France-based Gotan Project, who use beats and breaks with Tango instrumentals. Originally tango music had no vocal accompaniment but this changed in the early 1900s, Jose explains, when Carlos Gardel, disputably the most famous figure in Tango history wrote “Mi Noche Triste” (My sad night), the first recognized Tango song with lyrics.

Gardel allegedly introduced a melancholic nostalgia to Tango music, usually lamenting lost or unrequited love. This downbeat mood is what separates Tango from Salsa. “While salsa is tropical and extrovert, Tango is sensual, sexual and intimate,” adds Jose.

His three top tips for dancing it well are chemistry and trust between partners, an enjoyment of learning the steps, and a passion for Tango and its intriguing, colorful story.

Tango Lessons at Tanguíssimo
Avenida Bustamante 180
Phone: 9-8170138
Lessons Tuesdays and Thursdsays 8pm-10pm
CP$1,000 to CP$3,000 per lesson, packages available

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