Drive down Cesar Chavez on a Saturday night and you might flash back to a certain sensual scene from Scent of a Woman: a string quartet playing “Por Una Cabeza” while Al Pacino moves deftly across the dance floor. But the deliberate tango seeps from building that houses no crystal glasses or Upper East Side Ballroom. The brightly colored, cactus-adorned exterior of the squat fixture smacks more of beatniks than bureaucrats. Yet Esquina Tango, "Austin's Tango Corner," is well worth a look inside.
Inside is a scene to inspire even the most cautious beginner. Folks of all ages chat around small tables littered with wine glasses, fruits and cheeses, looking out on a well-worn wooden floor. A friendly, make-yourself-at-home atmosphere emanates from a shelf of worn stage shoes to borrow and a candlelit corner of homemade snacks. To top it off, Esquina Tango doubles as a cultural center and its walls are adorned with rotating art exhibits, usually tango-inspired photographs and paintings.
The crowd is varied - everyone from a group of date-goers meeting with old friends to twenty-somethings in tie-die there for the dance lesson. The highlight is a couple in their seventies, dressed to the nines and putting everyone else to shame on the dance floor.
The evening commences with a half-hour lesson in Argentinean Tango by the house instructors accompanied by an iPod hooked up to the speaker system. You learn the basic step and turn - a deliberate walk that's a far cry from Zorro's dramatic rose-clutched-in-mouth rendition. Soon after a string quartet joins the gathering and the regulars begin filling in the room. The rest of the night is free-form; couples chat and eat, occasionally rising for a few dances, settling back in to greet new-comers. Singles ask one another to dance, the more expert dancers steering around beginners to avoid crashes.
The hosts are friendly and will recommend a close place to buy a bottle of wine if you forget yours. They might even delay the dance class until you come back, bottle in hand. There are plenty of parking spaces and snacks to go around, and the free-flowing format allows for disparate personalities and dance-levels to co-mingle (or draw back into a romantic corner) quite comfortably.
Tangoers of all levels can enjoy Ensquina Tango. As Pacino puts it best, the theme here is, "If you make a mistake and get all tangled up, you just tango on." All in all, it's the best thing going for $10 on a Saturday in Austin. Whoo-ah.