If you’re looking for a tango lesson in Buenos Aires, La Catedral is definitely the place to be. It’s a little out of the way, and you won’t get the added frills of a professional tango performance, but the spirit and ambiance can’t be beat.
We took the metro to Medrano on a Saturday night and then walked a couple of blocks. From the outside La Catedral looks like an abandoned warehouse. The sign that reads ‘Tango’ is worn and hard to notice. But from the moment we stepped inside the main room, we couldn’t help but smile. There’s a long, old, wooden dance floor that leads to a bar and tables in the back. The ceiling is so high it almost disappears above you. Everything is cast in shadow, and the wine is cheap. We arrived ‘just on time’ but ended up being able to drink an entire bottle of wine while we waited for things to officially get going. This place isn’t catering to tourist expectations.
The lesson itself was different than the other dance classes we’ve experienced. There’s a lot of closing your eyes and trusting your partner to move you around the room. Tango is known for its passion, but its spirit is smooth and calm. Most of the lesson we just walked and shifted from side to side. When the traditional tango ‘box’ was finally introduced, it was done as something that can be worked in organically. Staying fluid, and wordlessly responding to the pressure of a leading hand, that’s where the passion comes from. Learning tango, apparently, isn’t about ‘drilling the steps.’ It’s more like tuning into a particular style of movement.
But after the lesson is when things really started to get going. The volume went up and dancers who really knew what they were doing started to take the floor. Locals arrived in a steady stream and we felt grateful that we had arrived in time to stake out a table. We ordered some food, and another bottle of wine. We befriended the only other English speakers around (they also got this recommendation from someone who lived here), and every few songs we ventured onto the dance floor to try out our limited repertoire of moves. We left at a bit past 1AM and the place was still filling with new arrivals.
Bottom line: if you’re in Buenos Aires you need to tango. The shows are impressive but if you’re not content to be a spectator, then La Catedral is the place to be.