Lifestyle & Culture

Nina Danilova: Berlin is the funky European capital of tango

Clärchens’ Mirror hall

Over the past two decades, Berlin – once primarily recognized as the world’s techno capital – has also become a global tango hotspot. A vibrant expat hub celebrated for its creative spirit and cultural diversity, it boasts numerous clubs dedicated to Argentine tango.

How did Berlin become home to one of the world’s leading tango scenes?

The history of Argentinian tango started in the working-class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. Slowly, it gained popularity and moved into more affluent parts of the city, soon becoming part and parcel of Argentinian cultural export.

Musicians and dancers started to travel and, during the first decades of the 20th century, brought tango to Europe. With the turbulence of the 20th century, however, tango fell into oblivion. It was only in the 1990s when it suddenly experienced a new take-off. The Berlin Wall had just fallen and the city was attracting artists and experimenters of all kinds, tango dancers included.

Soon enough, Berlin became home to the biggest tango community outside of Argentina (although some say that these days Paris follows hard on heels).

It takes two to, well, tango

Tango is a social dance, which means one does not need a fixed partner to go to a milonga (tango
party). Same is usually true for beginners classes as there is a constant rotation of partners. Even though it still takes two to tango, the roles are not anymore constrained by gender and it is quite often that women learn to lead and men — to follow, or even take up both roles from the very beginning as in Queertango Berlin.

If it wasn’t for Berlin, I wouldn’t be dancing. I have been dancing tango for more than 10 years.

After uncountable hours of restless dancing and numerous friendships, it is hard to imagine my life without it.

Surprisingly, what got me hooked at the very beginning of my dancing journey was Berlin and its jazzy tango scene. At the time, I was new to the city and was looking for an active hobby which would also help me meet new people. So, when someone advised me to try out a tango place in Mitte called Nou, I decided to give it a shot.

Complex moves and deep connections

I was soon captivated by the dramatic music, complex moves and the deep connection between partners needed to make the dance happen. Most of the schools offer classes in English and attract a genuinely international crowd. As I became a frequent visitor to classes and milongas, I discovered that it is in Berlin where tango is as versatile as it gets.

For instance, according to the website hoy-milonga.com, on an ordinary Thursday – apart from a handful of regular lessons – there are seven milongas to attend! Whether you feel like dressing-up or prefer to keep it informal, look for a younger open-minded crowd or prefer a truly traditional setting — the choice is abundant to suit everyone’s fancy.

Which milongas to check out? There are so many to choose from and it is easy to get lost.

Here are some of my recommendations:

Milongas at Nou
Conveniently located tango school that offers several milongas a week including one for beginners and a milonga with non-tango music. It also has a good bar and a really cozy design.

Ballhaus Clärchens
More than 100 years old, Clärchens is one of the few remaining balhaus (ballrooms) from the 20th century. Milongas take place on Tuesdays and are usually preceded by a tango lesson. On special occasions, milonga happens in Clärchens’ Mirror hall on the second floor — a spectacular venue preserved in its original form.

Strandbar
Perhaps the easiest way to spot tango dancers is to visit the open-air milonga at Strandbar in Mitte, just across the Museum Island, on a warm Wednesday evening. Relaxed atmosphere and a nice view on the river make it quite special.

Tango Rouge at KitKat

Yes, you are not mistaken. It wouldn’t be Berlin, if there wasn’t a regular milonga in one of the oldest co-ed fetish clubs in town. A strict dress-code is applied: “playful, kinky, fetish, carnival, crazy, sexy, extremely elegant.”

La Cathedral by Tangoloft

This Tuesday milonga literally takes you to church. Here one can dance to neo-tango (contemporary tango compositions) tunes in an unusual location in Charlottenburg.

I have chosen these five venues for you but there is so much more than that. If you generally enjoy tango music, feel like immersing yourself into a truly fascinating dance and are curious to meet a new crowd, don’t hesitate to discover what Berlin’s tango scene has for you.

And the tunes of tango will do the rest to keep you dancing!

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Read more about Berlin here in Dispatches’ archives.

Website | + posts

Nina Danilova is an art writer and contemporary art curator. She is about to finish her PhD
in Culture Studies. She grew up in Russia and lived in Germany, Estonia, Italy and
Portugal, where she is currently based. She is passionate about history, languages, food,
and dancing.

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