Pressed up against the doorway like two lovers in an alley, the Tango Dancers spring forward when the note of the violin changes. They take their tussle out into the colourful streets of La Boca, Buenos Aires. Argentina’s dance, the Argentine Tango, is severe and volatile, yet beautiful to watch.
“The tango is everything in this city,” says Eve*, a university student who moonlights as a tour guide. We are sat having coffee — the standard cafe con leche — and watching the dancers in the next restaurant across so we don’t have to pay them afterwards. “It’s how they make a living. This is their art — you’d pay an artist in a market so why not a dancer?”
The violin stops and the Tango Dancers ask for tips from the patrons. Tourists give them their spare coins. The Tango Dancers reject photo opportunities from anyone who isn’t willing to pay.
[Porteños] are expressive. We are passionate. We are stubborn
La Boca is where Buenos Aires began and the first Porteños, the nickname for people born in Buenos Aires, settled. It is older, more rundown than the centre. It might be touristy, but it is in La Boca where the people’s spirit thrives and hasn’t been diminished by the European salivating found in the rest of the city.
“This is Buenos Aires: the colour, the clashes and the grace of the tango. It’s a pull between two people, fighting that attraction before embracing it,” explains Eve, and listening to her, its hard not to think that she is talking about the entire city.
Architectural incentives mean no building is the same and if you look up from the street, a war of styles dominates the skyline. “Buenos Aires is a creative place and we don’t want our architects to be restricted,” says Eve. “The heavy European influence is slowly going away.
“The city where we live reflects us. We are expressive. We are passionate. We are stubborn. A friendly — what do you call it — chat? A chat in the bar won’t stay a friendly. But, we love each other.
Don’t mention our political history. It’s more complicated than Madonna singing from a balcony
“Just don’t mention the Falklands,” laughs Eve. “As a British person, that would be bad for you. We are taught from the very beginning that those islands belong to us.” I let out an uneasy laugh.
“Also, don’t mention our political history. It’s more complicated than Madonna singing from a balcony. I get nervous on my tours talking about politics.”
Eve describes Porteños as liking to “argue and party”, a combustive combination that can cause a night to change.
“My favourite part of the city is the Obelisk on 9 de Julio Avenue. Every protest or celebration ends up there. We celebrate a goal in the football by marching to the obelisk. We protest new laws by marching to the obelisk.
“We march to the obelisk many, many times.”
There are many protests in Buenos Aires — two in the week I was there — and they are easy to get swept up in. The Avenue used to be the widest in the world, a symbol of wealth and power that is now the staging ground for fighting the government.
“Like any city, there are two parts: rich and poor. And we disagree with each other so much,” says Eve. “The mural of Eva Peron, for example: on one side, she smiles at the poor, on the other, she lectures the rich. The mural is on a government building, and was built by the previous government.
“The current government do not light it up at night. No one can see her.”
The violin starts playing again. The Tango Dancers get into frame. After spending time in Buenos Aires, it is easy to see why it is called the Argentine Tango. The push and pull, the passion — there is no person quite like a Porteño.