There are very few places left in Buenos Aires that still evoke the majesty of Tango’s yesteryears, for many, that is Salon Canning. From the moment you walk in the door, down the long hallway towards the white double door ‘entrance’ to the dance floor, you know you’re in a special place. The walls are lined with pictures of dancers that have come and gone, artwork and photography from local tango artisans. The entry hallway almost looks athenian, almost. It may help that the columns outside add to that idea.
Stepping into the main parlor (there is only one), as you scan the room you note the bar on the left side, the DJ directly diagonal to you, and the shear volume of people! The size of the space, is very airy (not very cool) but airy in it’s feel. The walls have long, panorama paintings on them. Assuming you didn’t make a reservation ahead of time, you’re not going to find a seat (by yourself), let alone a table. On any given Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights the place is absolutely packed from 10 pm until about 3 am, and it’s standing room only during the 2 performances (yes there are performances) a night during the ‘high season’ (End of Dec – Middle of Feb) when it’s insanely hot.
The dance floor is a huge square parquet and until recently, was showing it’s age, along the bar side, the flooring was losing its cohesion. Heels were getting caught in the cracks, and then there was the warp in the bar side corner too, and a second smaller one about 10 feet away. The floor was refreshed recently, so most of those problems have been ‘smoothed’ out.
The tables along the bar side are all taken up by a cornucopia of who’s who in the local tango scene, the famous, the performer/instructors for that night, plus their friends, and friends of friends, and the local tango gods convening. Be warned that nothing that you do will get noticed by this crowd. Nothing. They don’t care. They’ve seen it all before. And if you’re goal is to impress them, then walk well with your partner. It’s not the flashy vocabulary that impresses them, it’s your ability to walk, walk well. Look sharp.
There are classes, usually 2, before the Milonga starts. And they’re usually full, so get there early assuming you’re wanting to study with the maestro/a of the house for that night. Classes are extra. Prepare to spend at minimum about 200 pesos. The entrada is currently about 120 pesos. The drinks alone will cost you another 25 at minimum. And that’s not including any food your might order. There is a constant stream of cabs running to and from this place, so the most you’ll have to say to your cab driver is “Salon Canning por favor ?” and they’ll take you there. There are a number of bus lines that go to and from, and it’s within walking distance of La Viruta and Villa Malcolm.
Now to the one thing you really want to know about. The rest of the above is just filler to the real thing you want to know about – the dancing experience!
One thing to be aware of when going to any milonga in Buenos Aires is that just because the music starts does not mean that immediately you’re going to be dancing. No. More than likely as shown in the video above, you’re going to spend a bit of time talking with your partner. It’s very loud in the milongas, because of the talking! So let’s start with the simple question “Do you need to know Spanish (Castellano) to dance with your partners ?” No. Mostly what you’ll find in the high season at Salon Canning is a mixture of north americans and europeans, and a good number of dancers from asia. Fewer and fewer local dancers come to the milongas in Buenos Aires because of the high cost. And now…onto the dancing part.
Are you going to be challenged ? Yup. Is it all close embrace ? Yup. Is there no space between the couples ? That’s putting it mildly. You’re going to be right up against the couples around you. You’re not going to have a whole lot of room to move when dancing, so think very small, very, very, very small dancing in a tight space. Is anyone using cabeceo/mirada ? YES!!! Is there any alternative music ? Not bloody likely! Is there any Open Embrace dancing ? There’s no room on the floor for that noise. How many tandas can I dance with the same person ? 1 and then expect to clear the floor. This is customary in most milongas in BsAs. The smaller, less formal milongas you may see partners hanging out on the floor, but generally that’s a no-no. Do you need to bring your knapsack/daypack ? No! Bring your shoes, some money, and that’s about it. Seriously you’re not going to need anything else. How long are the tandas ? Depends on the night and the DJ, but 4 is the minimum, going up to 6 to 8. Are there any other dances at the Milonga that you have to know aside from Tango, Vals, and Milonga ? Yes. There are usually 2 tanda breaks. One for Chacarera, and Argentine Zamba (not the Samba you’re used to seeing). And the other for ‘Rock and Roll’. Dance them, don’t dance them, it’s your choice. How long are the performances ? Generally the length of 3 songs, unless it’s a very special performing couple. Is there food ? Yes. Argentine milonga food. Not a real meal. Which is to say you’ll find Medialunas and Empañadas and not much else. Is there live music ? Yes. Some nights, you can expect a live performance by one of the local tango orchestras for a few tandas. Is there water/drinks/beer/wine/coffee/tea/champaign ? Yes, and the water is bottled by the way and ain’t cheap. Nor is anything else for that matter. There is a shell gas station a block away that has everything you need and is a lot cheaper. How is the ‘level’ of dancing ? Depending on the night, and the time of the year, there’s usually a high caliber of dancing that should be expected. Clean, clear, leading, and following at a rapid pace, following the line and lane of dancing. Do you need to follow the line of dance or can you do your own thing? Yes you must follow the line of dance!!!!! Emphatically so. Usually there are 3 to 4 lanes of dance, and not following the line of dance will get you shot or removed from the floor. Will you find someone to dance with ? Yes and no. If you’re a woman of a certain age, then understand that there are 300 other women in the room of a certain age and they’re all looking at the same 10 guys. Which is to say … don’t. even. 🙂 If you’re a man of a certain age, then assuming that you’ve been dancing in Buenos Aires before and assuming that know a few people in the room, then yes. You’ll have a few tandas because you’ve been ‘seen’. If not, and assuming you have not come with friends or dancing partners, then you’re going to have to work the room. Good luck with that. Can you reserve a table ahead of time ? Yes. Call the number below early in the day. Spanish will be helpful here. Very helpful. Will the maestros dance with you ? It depends on how well you speak Spanish, who you know, how close you to any one of the 8 tables along the bar side, and how long you’ve been in BsAs. If you’ve been there for the requisite 2 weeks, then the answer is more than likely ‘not going to happen, so don’t even think about it’. If you’ve been there for about 3 to 4 months at minimum, you might get a ‘hola’ or ‘che’ but generally not unless you’ve been introduced personally and/or studied with them and even that’s a stretch. Is it all that perfect walking or is there ‘crazy’ dancing ? It’s a mixture of walking and mostly turning, milonguero turns and molinetes, coupled with rock steps, patter, and ocho cortados. Knowing your 8 major turns would be very helpful here. You’ll need to be very facile with your turns in tight spaces and musically done as well. Do you need to know colgadas, volcadas, or anything of the ‘fancy’ stuff ? No. No one is going to expect you to know anything more than can you walk, can you embrace, and can you hear the music and interpret it. Chillax dude! Do you need to be a stellar, or amazing dancer to be there ? No. You do need to have been to more than a few milongas. It’s going to intimidate you, because of it’s size, and the shear volume of dancers all packed into one very hot and sweaty room, and the speed at which the rotunda is moving. Or in this case, not moving. That part will intimidate you in either role. The rest will be very similar to any other milonga you’ve ever been to. It’s just that this milonga is in the heart of Palermo, and there are 300+ people in the room all looking to do the same thing you are.
And one last question: Should you go ? YES! It’ll be an eye opening experience on multiple levels. Don’t assume that you know what it’s going to be like, because quite honestly you don’t know unless you go. And each night is different. Unless you’ve been there a double dozen times, as with any milonga in Buenos Aires, it changes, the character of it changes on a regular basis. #SocialTango #SocialDance #ArgentineTango#TangoDancing
The address is Av. Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 and their phone number is +54 11 4833-3224.