We interviewed Rodrigo from Montevideo about gay life in Uruguay and also learned all about the origins of queer tango.
What’s the first country that comes to mind when you think of tango? We're guessing Argentina, right? You'd be half right. Back in the 1880s, the tango was invented by the urban lower classes in the Rio de la Plata basin, which includes both Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
As such, both Argentina and Uruguay claim equal ownership of the tango. In 2009, they made a successful joint application to have tango listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
We attended the Uruguayan LGBT Chamber of Commerce conference where queer tango was showcased by these two extremely handsome Uruguayan boys, Juan and Rodrigo:
We were spellbound, completely transfixed! Sure they're damn hot, but we also wanted to learn to dance like that!
stalked tracked them down and found out they not only dance tango, but also do classes at the famous Teatro Solis in Montevideo. After a few lessons, we sat Rodrigo down to find out more about queer tango and gay life in Uruguay.
Buenos dias Rodrigo, please introduce yourself:
Hola chichos, my name is Rodrigo Fleitas. I am 35 years old, from the Uruguayan city of Canelones in Uruguay, which is around 1 hour away from Montevideo.
I’m a tango dancer, tango instructor and currently work and live in Montevideo.
Is Juan, your dance partner also your boyfriend?
Hahaha – no! Juan is my childhood friend and we went to the same dancing school growing up. Juan has a girlfriend.
I am gay though and don't have a boyfriend at the moment.
How long have you been dancing tango?
I’ve been dancing tango since I was 14 years old. I started dancing Uruguayan folk like gato, huella and malambo at the age of 10. After a while I realised my true passion was tango, so I started taking lessons. When I was 15, I was invited by the National Tourism Department to represent Uruguayan Culture at the Borsa Internazionale del Turismo (BIT) in Milan and the Feria Internacional de Turismo (FITUR) in Madrid.
From then, my career as a tango dancer started growing and I became the National Tango Champion in 2010. Currently, I dance tango from Mondays to Saturdays at a local milonga and also teach private classes.
When did you start dancing tango with a male partner?
The first time was in 2006 for a tango show I organised in Las Piedras city. I performed it with a friend and people really loved it.
I discussed it with Juan and he also loved the idea so we started practicing together professionally and began performing at various shows across the country.
What’s the common reaction from people when they see 2 men dancing tango?
At the start of the choreography, the most common reaction is whispering. But by the end, most are mesmerised by it and we always receive a loud applause.
I can see why seeing a male couple dancing tango could be perceived as shocking for some people. Many believe tango is a sensual rhythm, so seeing 2 men involved in a tango performance could be startling at first.
But remember, dancing tango with a male partner is not my choreographic invention. Since the beginning of tango in the 1880s, male-only tango dancers used to practice among themselves for up to 3 years prior to their debut with a woman.
This was the main reason why I started dancing tango with a male partner: to showcase the true roots of our tango history.
What's gay life like in Uruguay, was it easy growing up?
I never had any problems growing up. When I came out to my family and friends, it wasn’t a problem at all. Everyone supported and accepted me without any problems.
Uruguay is an extremely gay friendly country and I never experienced any homophobia. By comparison, I did my studies in Business Administration and Management in Texas, USA and could see a huge difference. Texas is far more conservative with LGBT rights compared to Uruguay so I was completely in the closet there.
What’s your favorite gay bar and club in Montevideo?
We have 3 popular gay bars here. My favourite is Il Tempo, which is always a great night out and has some really funny drag shows.
Cain disco is larger with a younger crowd and Chains Pub attracts older gays and bears. I obviously tell my friends to check out the Nomadic Boys gay guide to Montevideo for more info and for places to stay in the country your guide to gay friendly hotels in Uruguay.
Are there any gay events not to miss in Uruguay?
In Montevideo we have an annual gay pride parade in October called Marcha por la Diversidad. It started in the 1990s and only 300 turned up. Now it has become a huge event, attracting thousands. Last year’s attracted over 30,000 people.
We also have Punta Pride every February. This is more recent, but has become extremely popular. It's less political and more party focused, set on the beach in Punta del Este.
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Where would you take a lover for a romantic date?
There are many places, but my absolute favourite is a stroll, hand in hand, down the Rambla beach promenade along the coast, right up to the famous Montevideo sign.
I love this walk, it's super romantic, especially at sunset. I also recommend coming early in the morning when there are fewer people around.
What makes a good leader/follower in tango?
A good leader and a follower should be able to empathise with each other. They form a unit and have to dance together. Therefore both need to know what it feels like to lead and be led.
Good tango leaders need to be able to inspire confidence in their partners as if their embrace was the safest place in the world. I think a good embrace is one of the most important things to achieve understanding and connection between leaders and followers.
On the other hand, the follower needs to entrust, wait, and enjoy.
For you boys, I think Sebastien is an excellent leader and Stefan better at following:
What are some of the highlights of Uruguay you recommend to gay travelers?
My favorite place in Uruguay is Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento, especially during the summer months (December to February). Punta has some of the best beach parties which I love to go to every year with my friends.
Colonia is a really pretty city – super romantic and also UNESCO listed. The historic quarter in particular is really pretty, dating back to the late 1600s and preserved in the same style ever since.
Happy travels are safe travels
For more inspiration:
- Read about how we learned to dance queer tango ourselves
- Check out our 10 interesting facts about Uruguay you didn't know
- We have a gay travel itinerary for Uruguay as well
- Check out our gay travel guide to Argentina
- As well as our gay city guide to Buenos Aires
- We also have a gay guide to Mendoza, Argentina's wine capital
- Check out these interesting facts about Argentina
- As well as our favorite foods and drinks from Argentina you have to try!