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Steve and I aren’t very good tourists so sights or ‘must-dos’ are often an afterthought to our time in cities. We scan guidebooks and blogs for anything that stands out but mostly we focus on the restaurants and cafes, which give a good clue to the type of area they’re in. We prefer to explore rather than follow a trail of tick boxes. That said, we do sometimes find our interests cross paths with the beaten tourist track, and trying tango was one of them – especially at the gorgeous La Catedral.
Tango is something you’ll see mentioned in every guidebook to the city. It is the native Buenos Aires dance that has experienced a revival in recent years with many young people returning to their roots. Go to the popular tourists spots – San Telmo market and the Boca – and you’ll likely see performers dancing it in the street. We weren’t so much a fan of those displays, as although impressive, they feel staged, a little like living statues.
La Catedral bohemian paradise
What we wanted was to learn a few basic steps and watch some experienced dancers simply dancing rather than performing. The best way to do this is to go to a milonga with a dance lesson before. There are plenty to choose from in the city and if we had been serious about learning the dance properly then we’d have gone to a local tango hall. However, we have a serious aversion to anywhere with strip lighting and a peaked interest at the word bohemian, so we instead opted for La Catedral. The old, ramshackle warehouse is lit by candles and coloured fairy lights, and strewn with artwork including a massive 3D leather heart that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a bohemian paradise that attracts both locals and tourists.
The dance lessons take place at 7 and 9, although expect them to actually start at least an hour later (ours started at 10:45). The lessons are packed, mostly with tourists, which is good if you want to blend in but terrible if you want to learn anything more than basic steps. We bumped into people more than a few times, but definitely learned something, and we’ve been able to practise since, including on top of a snowy mountain.
After the lessons, the milonga begins and the more seasoned dancers start to arrive. Some of the learners persist on the dance floor, but this is a time better left to the professionals. We had a great time being dazzled by their elegant dance moves.
Tap dancing latin-style
The night we went there was also some live music and a display of tap dancing by two fabulously Latin men. You can see a bit in the video below.
La Catedral is a good example of when something shouldn’t be shunned just because it’s touristy. It’s an incredible setting to experience the romance and passion of tango. You certainly won’t be the only foreigner there, but you’ll also hear lots of Spanish voices too, drawn to it because of its unique atmosphere.
As an added bonus, the entire menu is vegetarian including pizzas, tapas and hot mains, such as a stir fry and a polenta dish. The food isn’t special but we enjoyed it.
Entry to La Catedral costs $25 pesos and a lesson costs an extra $15 pesos.