By Matt Chesterton
Updated: January 20, 2017
Bernardo Galmarini / Alamy

Dancing tango is nothing like dancing in the street. By no means can every guy grab a girl, and it really does matter what you wear. True, you and your partner could build a ballroom extension in your house, don sweatpants and sneakers and practice your steps far from prying eyes. But the tango gods will see you. And they will frown.

Better, I say, to take a more holistic approach to your tango studies. (This from someone who only had one lesson in his life, the trauma of which still lingers.) Start with a private lesson or two: most hotels will put you in touch with a teacher, or you can reach out to one of the more reputable schools, such as Mora Godoy Tango or Escuela Carlos Copello. Your instructor will not only put you through the basic paces but also introduce you to what might be called the lore of tango—its various codes and customs, its many dos and don’ts. Then take a group class at one of the milongas (dance halls) recommended here. And don’t sue me if you get addicted.

La Viruta

Any nerves you may have about your first class or milonga will melt away upon entering this classic venue, as friendly and unpretentious as the tango scene gets. Various levels are catered for, from elementary to advanced, and there are classes every night of the week. Hang around for the milonga, if only to watch and learn.

La Catedral

Housed in a building from 1880, this strange and seductive venue looks like a cross between a barn, an artist’s atelier and the set of a Tim Burton movie. At least two classes are held every night of the week, and the milonga that follows attracts a young, we’ll-sleep-when-we’re-dead crowd. The tangopolis doesn’t get any cooler than this.

Confitería Ideal

Always fading but never quite gone, this century-old “tea house”—as it was originally conceived —is one of the best and most beautiful places for tango beginners to take their first steps. Unusually, some classes take place during the afternoon, so if you’re planning to embark on a 24-hour tango crawl (it’s more than possible), this is where you begin.

Sr. Duncan

For an off-the-wall class in an off-the-wall place, try this bar in Almagro, housed in a sprawling old mansion with Art Nouveau features. Live shows here run the gamut from stand-up comedy to jazz—but Tuesday night is always tango night, with a class at 8 p.m. followed by a live band and dancing. The price is a la gorra (literally, “in the cap”)—slang for “pay what you want.”

Club Social y Deportivo Villa Malcolm

This is a beloved community center, where kids and adults go to practice martial arts, play soccer or simply sit and gossip over a café con leche with medialunas. But tangueros turn up Thursday nights, when there’s a free class for all levels at 9 p.m., seguing into a milonga and show that goes on till late.

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