After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Campeonato For Change

Next weekend begins the Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango which segues into the Campeonato Mundial. More foreigners than ever are coming to Buenos Aires from all over the world to compete in the biggest tango contest of them all. Last year the winning young couple in tango del escenario was from Columbia

Ruben and I aren't competing this year; last year was fun and we did very well--finishing #15 out of more than 500 couples, and me the only foreigner in the Metropolitano to make it even to the semifinals.

Even last year we noticed how things were changing. In all the separate sections of the contest, it was the young and professional who won, never mind if they didn't follow the written rules of the judges on how to dance. If rules are ignored with impunity, the rules will eventually change or be eliminated altogether.

As Tito Palumbo editorialized in his magazine, B.A. Tango, there should be two divisions in the Campeonato: one for professionals and the other for social dancers.

I advocate four divisions--the two categories of professional and social also being divided by age; under 40 and over 40, or at least, the social and the milonga categories. Then the Campeonato might really mean something, with the winners truly representing their divisions. It's ridiculous to have a 60 year old milonguero competing with a 25 year old professional.

A multitude of foreigners come to compete and bring back with them to Buenos Aires the "Tango Para Touristas" that is wildly popular overseas and that is carried around the world by teachers on tour like the plague. Other countries only see tango on TV and in big stage shows, and that's the tango they want to learn. So touring teachers provide athletic choreography, kicks and lifts and spectacular tricks and lots and lots of figures.

But that's not tango as danced by the real people in the salons of Buenos Aires. (At least not yet.) That's probably not the tango that these same youngsters will be dancing when they are old. When their youthful exuberance fades, they will begin to look for the milonguero style of the close embrace, the connection to the music and their partner, the sensuality and improvisation that milongueros have always danced. And I hope it will still exist.

With all this international injection of flashy tango for export, will the dance change? Foreign people by the hundreds from all over the world are enchanted with this form of tango, and since tango tourism has become huge in Argentina, certainly tango as is danced in Buenos Aires will be impacted. It has to. For all that tango is beloved here, it is also a business, and tango businesses go out of their way to attract dancers from the four corners of the globe to Buenos Aires--the big reason for the Mundial.

How ironic that dancers travel so far to the Mecca of tango to see and study the dance in it's pure form in the middle of its culture. But they bring likes and tastes and experiences and styles that, by the sheer number of foreign dancers, pollute what they want to see in its original state. When a milonga is half-full of foreign dancers doing leg-wraps, colgadas, volcadas, and elaborate adornos, won't this make an impression on the Argentines? Certainly some of them will want to do it too.

When the old milongueros are gone, will people be dancing stage-salon tango in dance halls to see who can boleo the highest and gancho the fastest? Just like when tango came back to Argentina from Paris in the 20's, it had become a different dance. So it will change again with all of the cross-pollination of the Campeonato Mundial and the travelling salesman/ tango teachers who sell the buyers what they want.

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