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Friday, September 28, 2007

Buenos Aires: tango and experiential travel

I'm not sure if Sally Potter and her beautiful film The Tango Lesson were responsible or whether it's more indicative of a larger tendency in travel - to travel to learn - but the trend of foreigners travelling to Buenos Aires to take tango lessons is so extraordinary it constitutes a phenomenon. The dance has also enjoyed a revival among locals. Walk down any of San Telmo's streets in the early evening and glance through a door and you're guaranteed to see a traveller, young or old, in jeans and t-shirts, taking lessons from a dapper old gentleman in jacket and tie or a distinguished woman, her black hair pulled back into a ballerina's bun. There are tango schools all over the city and private lessons posted on notice boards at hostels and supermarkets. Hotels such as the wonderful Mansion Dandi Royal offer tango packages including lessons in their own tango salon. The most popular place to learn is in the splendid Confiteria Ideal, a faded old café with an atmospheric dance hall upstairs which operates classes day and night, followed by a milonga, or social dance, where you get to practice with the locals. You can read more about experiencing tango in our new book Buenos Aires Encounter, but what most fascinates me is the flourishing trend of experiential travel. Travellers want to educate their minds and stimulate their senses. Cooking courses in Tuscany. Arabic lessons in Damascus. Elephant trekking in Thailand. Wine-making in Napa. Travel choices increasingly seem to be as much about what to do as where to go. As the slogan of adventure and experiential tour operator iExplore says, people want to "come back different", while i-to-i, a site that offers volunteering experiences, teaching opportunities and community projects abroad, is all about "meaningful travel". I'm not so sure you need to do an organized activity or tour to fully experience a place. You can sign up for a course in something when you arrive. The important thing is to just go. Figure out what to do when you get there.


franki durbin said...

It's so sad to see that my husband and I are so much like the masses in this particular trend. We are in tango lessons and planning to go to BA this holiday season.

At least I smile knowing we are normally never so herd-like ;)

Prêt à Voyager said...

Love this comment you made: Travel choices increasingly seem to be as much about what to do as where to go. . . For me right now so much of travel is an exploration in design. One of my best friends called her study abroad year her "Art Pilgrimage" with key museums as a focus. I just know that when I'm in Cyprus next month I'm going to do my best to take my favorite gym/dance class "Body Jam" to check out the Greek version. I love trying to live like the locals - and not like a tourist - as much as I can.

Prêt à Voyager said...

If only I knew. I just had two friends return from Buenos Aires. They had a fantastic time, but I wish I could have recommended your book to them.

Lara Dunston said...

Franki - don't worry about the masses! Do what you love! Tango is popular for a reason - it's the most ******* sensual dance on the planet! My point was that more and more people are travelling with purpose and wanting to learn something and get beneath the skin of a city rather than just go and shop and eat. But - if you do get into the tango scene - promise me you'll also take in a peña or jazz as well.

Lara Dunston said...

Anne, your travel experiences (like your friend's art pilgrimage) is going to be so much the richer, don't you think?

Do your gym thing in Cyprus! Think of the people you'll get to know in the process! Love Cyprus by the way - parts are way touristy - hopefully your friends/family there will steer you in the right direction. Please post on your local Cyprus experience!

Prêt à Voyager said...

My coworkers come back from their travels and sure they've seen everything, but while museums are nice, sometimes wandering into alleys or sitting at a cafe can be much more rewarding at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong- I am constantly on the go when I travel, but I pick and choose what I know/think will interest me most, and at the end of my trip I have very few regrets of things I have left undone. I find it leaves me hungry for more (in a good way). . . As for Cyprus, there will definitely be posts on my blog. I'm going for a big fat greek wedding (she says it's like nothing I've ever experienced... and I used to photograph weddings). I will primarily be at the bride's beacon call, but please do send me any recomendations.