- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina

At this Buenos Aires hotel, there’s more to lodging than a soft bed and a breakfast buffet. Travelers can sleep, eat and dance tangoall under one roof.

Welcome to the Abasto Plaza Hotel, which bills itself as the only five-star tango theme hotel in Buenos Aires. Here, corporate travelers are the main business, but tourists from as far away as Europe and Asia also are finding a place to kick up their heels and enjoy the ultimate tango experience — without leaving their home away from home.

Guests sleep in rooms decorated with tango motifs, eat in a hotel restaurant with a nightly show by two tango champions and shop for dance shoes in the hotel’s tango boutique.

Even the concierge is a “tango guest relations” manager whose uniform looks like a black tango dress and whose job it is to set up guests for nightly dance lessons on the hotel mezzanine and arrange tango tour packages downtown.

The marketers are intent on capturing a growing group of tourists drawn to Buenos Aires by the moody, melancholic dance that began on the waterfront a century ago and has gained admirers the world over.

After Argentina’s deep economic crisis of 2002, the tango industry is doing its part to help fuel a tourist boom as more than 1 million tourists arrive each year to what is an affordable South American destination in the wake of a searing devaluation.

Today, tango also is being taken up by young Argentines and infused with elements of hip-hop and other dance styles. Broadway-style reviews and Hollywood films with tango plots keep international interest high, and many tango schools offer inexpensive lessons all around Buenos Aires.

“They say if you come to Buenos Aires and you haven’t danced tango, then you haven’t been to Buenos Aires,” says 19-year-old Brazilian tourist Emilene Faria, a hotel guest taking her nightly tango lesson.

She giggles as an Argentine tango instructor leads her through her paces, proud to pull off the eight basic steps that are the foundation for the tango dance.

She and 12 other Brazilians and a sprinkling of European guests partake of the nightly classes on the hotel’s marble floor, dancing before a sepia-colored mural of an old Buenos Aires marketplace.

“Come tango with the World Champions. An unforgettable experience” reads a poster set up in the hotel lobby, beckoning would-be customers to step inside for lodging and lessons.

Sandra Silva, the tango guest manager, shows off two luxury suites, each with its own oak dance floor for private in-house lessons. Large mirrors and a large-screen TV are positioned nearby to enable students to check their moves against the recorded lessons on DVDs.

Pooped after training? There’s also the Tango Cafe bar in the suites and a whirlpool bath on the balcony, perfect for soaking tired feet while taking in the skyline.

“Tango really does bring the people in,” Miss Silva says. “Just watching someone dance tango makes you want to dance. It’s just so sensual, but it also has its technique.”

Tango dance contestants frequently have stayed at the hotel, including a Japanese couple who won second place in stage tango at the Third World Tango Dancing Championships in July. A large group of Japanese tourists also visited recently, shuttling off to tango shows and dance halls for ballroom tango fiestas called milongas. Visitors even can visit the nearby house of one of tango’s late and legendary crooners: Carlos Gardel.

Gaspar Godoy and Gisela Galeassi, who won the World Tango Championships two years ago, provide lessons to the hotel’s guests every weeknight before performing at dinner.

“There is enormous interest in tango,” Miss Galeassi says. The two have taught visitors from all over, including Americans, Europeans and neighbors from across South America.

“One, two, three,” Mr. Godoy shouts as about a dozen hotel guests stumble to recorded tango music across the floor.

Norwegian Army Capt. Tomas Nordbo and his bride, Caroline, laugh as they try their tango steps. Capt. Nordbo says his wife already dances a mean salsa but he thought he would surprise her with a “tango honeymoon.”

“I thought we could do something different together, and tango is slow enough that it’s easy for me to catch up,” Capt. Nordbo says as he throws his ramrod military bearing into the dance.

He seems to be having so much fun he loses track of his wedding day. “Honey, how many days are we married? Five days? Yeah, five days,” he shouts above the music as they tango across the floor.

• • •

Escuela Argentina de Tango and the Abasto Plaza Hotel, Av. Corrientes 3190, Buenos Aires; visit www.abastoplaza.com or call 54/11-6311-4466. Rates begin at $200 a night (plus a 21 percent tax) and include breakfast, use of the gym and tango lessons. The $600 suite has a tango dance floor, and classes are given in the room. Weeklong packages are available.

A tango festival will be held from Feb. 24 to March 6, and the world tango championship is scheduled for August.

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