Buenos Aires is one of the most interesting and complex places I have ever been. Usually When I arrive in cities, particularly ones I have never been to I usually go for a long run or a long walk to try and get the lay of the land. When I arrived in Buenos Aires and started to explore the city I simply started off going the wrong way. My first impression was terrible, a city that seemed to be a concrete jungle of cars and poverty, pollution and decay.
When I called home that day and checked in I remember telling my wife "what a shit hole", well, how wrong I was! If that first day I only would have turned to the right out of my apartment rather than left I would have started enjoying what BA had to offer sooner. However it did not take me long to rectify this mistake and I embarked on one of the most rewarding and enriching journeys into a country and cities history, culture, food and wine. I had come to Buenos Aires to sing the role of Kudryash in Jancek's Katya Kabanova, a role I had done before which afforded me a little more time to take a deep dive into all that Bueno Aires and Argentina had to offer.
After my inauspicious start It was one of my tenor colleges in the production that turned things around rather quickly. He had been on a walk (the right way) and had run into the international Tango festival that takes place every year in September he had heard about an open Tango class for beginners held in a fantastic public space at the end of Avenida Florida. He proudly reported his cultural find and emplored me to come along, sheepishly I did thinking that this was going to be a one off thing and done, I dont really see myself as a "dance" kind of person. When we arrived the street and venue were crawling with people, the tango class was probably over 100 beginners and lots of seasoned dancers. We were instructed by the teacher on the microphone in spanish to find a partner, some older lady grabbed me she was at least in her 70's, tough as boots, and you could tell she had just flicked away her cigarette. She impatiently but enthusiastically started to show me the first steps that a man takes in Argentine Tango, she was a great teacher and suddenly I was kind of hooked. Tango was not what I thought, it was less of a dance and more of a language and cultural experience, by the end of that 20 min lesson I wanted more. My colleague was on it and before I knew it he had us signed up for a daily Tango lesson at the Academia Nacional de Tango. With our brilliant teacher Victor we were put through our paces on an almost daily basis. We learned a new set of steps each class and at the end of the lesson Victor would make us dance with a partner he choose for us in front of the class, which mercifully was usually no more than 12 people and most of them regulars, but having to get it right was probably more nerve racking than the prospect of the impending performances at the very prestigious, historic and popular Teatro Colon. We started to hear about "Milongas" which are Tango dance parties that started late at night or early in the morning in various unknown venues. Gymnasiums or Industrial sites that were turned into dance halls with small Tango orchestras or a Tango DJ. All the boys and girls would show up with their dance shoes in bags and change into them at the venue. There were lots of Argentine's but many people who came to dance from all over the world. Boys on one side Girls on the other, but when the music started they would find a partner and hit the floor. It is an amazing thing to see a dance floor full of young people communicating through the Tango moving around a dance floor, some with incredible speed and precision. It is also very intimidating for a beginner. Tango is a dance that is where the man initiates a move and the woman responds and you have to know how to respond like a conversation. You build your dance skill like you build a language which makes Tango an incredible thing to learn. At a Milonga a litre of Beer was about a dollar and a bottle of wine was two or three, but no one would drink much, Tango requires focus and attention, it is not somthing you do tipsy. If you were there to meet a girl you had better be able to impress her with your dancing or she would drop you right there on the floor. It was impressive how little time people had to drink, they were there to dance! The dance floor moves with fluid precision and bumping into other dancers is a big faux pas, I think when I had rustled up the courage to get on the dance floor and found a girl willing take pity on me and dance with someone as bad as me I could hear the chorus of "tut tut's" and slightly heavy breathing of irritated dancers as I stepped on feet and crashed my way around the floor. Whoever the women were who did dance with me they were very patient and polite, but as bad as I was and as we all were the whole Tango scene is very seductive and addictive. There is something rewarding about feeling like your getting a little bit better with each lesson so that at the next Milonga you will just be that little bit better!
Opera tells the story of life. It sees beauty where others can't and exposes the ugly truth in what appears to be beautiful on the surface.