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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Only Champion is the Tango!

Ruben and I Dancing Final Round at La Rural in 2006
Two days ago the World Champions of Salon Tango 2011 were chosen at the huge venue of Luna Park in Buenos Aires.

The premier five winners are:
1st Place: Diego Julian Nenavidez Hernandez and Natasha Agudelo Arboleda -- Colombia

2nd Place : John Erban and Clarissa Sanchez -- Venezuela

3rd Place : Brian Nguyen and Yuliana Basmajyan -- USA

4th Place: Mauro Zompa and Sara Masi -- Italia

5th Place: Cristian Andres Lopez and Naoko Tsutsumizaki -- Japon
Unprecedentedly a tie between first and second place caused an exciting Dance-Off to pick the Champions. Here the two couples from Colombia and Venezuela dance three extra tangos at the end of the competition:

Also for the first time in the history of the Campeonato Mundial del Tango del Salon, no Argentine was among the first five.

The judges for the Tango Salon Finals were Maria Nieves, Miguel Angel Zotto, Eduardo Arquimbau, Julio Duplaa (organizer of the milonga Sin Rumbo), Carlos Borquez, Guillermina Quiroga and Jorge Torres. All but Julio Duplaa are known for performing on stage, choreographing, and touring. In fact, Eduardo Arquimbau was in the first tango show I ever saw, Tango Argentino, in the Pantages Theater in Hollywood in the '80s. And then on my first trip here in '97, I saw him perform at the Michelangelo in San Telmo with his wife, Gloria, and also took group classes with them at La Ideal. Maria Nieves, ex-wife and partner of Juan Carlos Copes, is a tango superstar. Guillermina is famous for her work on stage and in film.
The tango championships were created in 2002 to bring more attention to the art form and to bring money and business and more tango to Buenos Aires. It was only in 2001 that the country suffered a debilitating and traumatic economic crisis. "What shall we do to get the country out of the doldrums? I know, we'll have a big fiesta about what we know and do best--along with beef and red wine (and sometimes football.)" An influx of business and tango tourism could only help. And it did.

It began small and standards were lower and fewer. Dance rules were posted but not insisted on. Fewer pesos were awarded. Winners were older.

Then Argentine associations in several countries began to sponsor competitions on their home ground, the winners to get free travel to Buenos Aires to compete in the Mundial. Competitors figured out that it was "good" for them to come early and study with the judges on the panel. Beautiful young women figured out that flirting with the judges while wearing scanty clothing couldn't hurt either. Judges awarded prizes to students, favorites, and sometimes even family members (Maxi Copello the year we competed in the Metropolitano.) Everyone knew that the judging was prejudiced.

Soon the government realized what a great marketing and PR jewel they had in the tango contests, and advertized for participants around the world to come to Buenos Aires to compete. A Tango Festival was added, with free concerts, milongas, lectures, and classes to sweeten the pot. Venders paid to show their wares. It was a win-win situation for everyone. Tango tourism bloomed in August, and local citizens got free entertainment.

This year the pot turned a little sour for some. There was a big fracas in May over whether or not foreigners could compete in the Metropolitano, previously only open to residents of Buenos Aires, a law suit was brought by disgruntled Americans, and the whole city championship nullified. I didn't understand the problem as anyone could compete in the World's in August no matter where they came from.

And then out of 40 finalistas, of which 18 were Argentine, no Argentines finished in the first five of the traditional Tango Salon championship! While all the finalists were beautiful dancers and did a great job on the stage at Luna Park, it's very hard to believe that none of the competing Argentine dancers couldn't do as well. Salon tango has to be improvised, but certainly the three tangos danced in the above video--to popular recordings of famous tangos by Di Sarli, Fresedo, and Rodriguez--were practiced and choreographed, not led. Sorry. Take a closer look.

Diego Hernandez, the Colombian First Place winner, was overheard in an interview saying (smugly) it's as if an Argentine won the Cumbia Competition in Colombia. "Like there's no way in hell that's ever going to happen."

Some of the tangueros and milongueros of Buenos Aires felt like he gave them the finger. (Colombia is famous for its variety of musical styles and high-quality of dancing. Colombia music genres)

And many Argentine dancers feel that the government is giving away their tango. Or rather, selling it.

If Buenos Aires becomes no longer the Mecca of tango, if people can study in Bogota or Los Angeles or Tokyo with world tango champions, why should tango tourism continue to rise along with the high inflation?

From my point of view, Argentina never thinks or plans long-term; get it while you can seems to be the prevailing philosophy of everyone from the lowest to the highest. Planning and saving has never helped them in the past. So they go for the gusto.

'The good news is that this is growing fantastically year after year," a delighted Mayor Mauricio Macri said. Maybe he should think ahead a few more years?

In 2009, tango was declared by UNESCO to be a World's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations.

From the Huff Post:

The 24 members of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee of Intangible Heritage granted the tango dance and its music protected cultural status at its meeting in Abu Dhabi.

The designation may make Argentina and Uruguay, which both claim to be tango's birthplace, eligible to receive financial assistance from a specialized fund for safeguarding cultural traditions. It will also help both governments justify using public funds to preserve their most famous export after beef.

This article is illustrated by this one photo only--stage tango, or Tango Gringo. Is this the dance and music (Gotan Project, Piazzolla) that UNESCO aims to preserve as the cultural heritage of Uruguay and Argentina?

I'm wondering what "protected status" means. Here's what Tito Palumbo thinks.

He writes about the UNESCO designation in Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial, in B.A.Tango, November 2009:   

Money seems to be the reason.

It was considered that Tango is seen as extravagant and exotic
The Minister of touristic culture of the City of Buenos Aires must have lobbied.
A Tango Dance School is mixed up with the milongas.

 The tango phenomenon is very widespread. Luckily, its extinction is not expected in the short or medium term. What appears in this declaration is an interweaving of interests among politicians, individuals with privileges and tango merchants with the intention of increasing their power and filling their pockets at the expense of not only local tax payers but also the entire world's population. The following step will be asking the United Nations for funds. It's none of our business; tango exists and remains despite their ploys to live on its fame!

In a wrap-up article today, La Nacion wrote, that the only champion is the tango:

...the final feeling was that, judging by the criteria of the jury, no 
Argentine fell short of the most important category of this competition,
the Salon Tango category, which is the style (along with the "milonguero")
that locals dance with passion, frequency, and some skill in the vernacular milongas. 
How is it that no one has won anything?, Ask the most outraged... and... no.
Of course, the Colombians deserve the prize, but that does not mean that
 the level of local dance has declined or that we are losing the throne.
 What hurts a bit, I think, is that two strangers will see the world
 with "our" flag, because, tango, despite of being a world heritage
 possession, Argentines still feel entitled to maintain custody of
 this beautiful creature which is leaving large dividends for those
 involved, directly and indirectly with it.

As a friend told me, perhaps it is a feeling a bit childish, but
 is something like an "I lend it to you, but do not break it." 
As for my personal opinion, I quote these Argentine sources because I'm a little uneasy to criticize the country of which I am a guest, and the field in which I and my milonguero partner make our living. I am an outsider in Argentina but after so many years and so much attention paid, I must offer my point of view on this huge endeavor, the Campeonato Mundial. ( This post only refers to salon tango. Tango to me is about improvisation, emotion, connection, the embrace--ingredients of traditional social tango de salon, or tango milonguero.)

Money does seem to be the reason. But in the long run, yes, the only champion is the tango!


Anonymous said...

Ricardo Vidort, Amanda Lucero and many others with decades in the milongas competed in the first city competition. They didn't win because they weren't connected with the judges. Nothing has changed.

Diego and Natasha are well connected. The organized the Bogota festival for two years and hosted Carlos and Rosa Perez in July. They also won the last-minute competition milongueros of the world that was hardly publicized in BsAs, but somehow they knew about it. They were registered for the World Cup, but came the first week in August to compete and won the new competition.

The tiebreaker was good press. Colombia v. Venezuela. The Colombians hosted Perez at their championship; the Venezuelans hosted Dispari. Both Perez and Dispari are judges of the competition. Perez is known for having his students win the World salon title. This was all arranged as it always has been. Take enough coaching from the judges and pay your dues.

Dieudonne said...

Good point Cherie, Tango wins , and will always win, because Tango will always be there for those who care enough to go after its essence.

La Milonga Del 126 said...

After reading JanTango's comment I could tell which couple was coached by Perez and which one Dispari. I have taken a couple of classes with Jorge Dispari and one with Carlos and Rosa Perez, and the couple in white did some of the same patterns Dispari teaches in his classes. Sounds like none of the contestants from Argentina were coached by Perez this year, which seems to be a prerequisite to win the contest.

Angelina said...

Thank you Cherie, for a really balanced and well-written account of this event. It is really difficult to find a good account - in either English or Spanish - and I know many Aussies are interested. I'll link to this blog on both TangoAustralia and Angelina's blog.
We have given up sending people for the time being - it is a costly and unrewarding exercise for those doing the organising at this end - though reading about the judging may put them all off.

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for saying this but I see no personality or originality in either of the couples.

They are beautiful dancers, but... I don't know, after a while these things just get so old and everybody looks the same.

Anonymous said...

Love this post.

What do you think about 3rd place going to dancers from the USA?

Anonymous said...

Hi Cherie, I have looked at this video but I'm not sure I can see what you see in terms of it not being an improvisation. Is it some of the decorations? I would really like to understand so could you give me some pointers? Thank you

tangocherie said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Tina, I know what you mean. But the passion and improvisation we love is still to be found--just not on stage at Luna Park!

Delmar, I don't have an opinion about my own country winning 3rd. I put them in the same category as the other 4 couples: beautiful foreign salon dancers who are cookie-cutter clones in how they look and dance.

Anon, why not tell me who you are so we can have a conversation about this or anything else? I keep saying I'm going to prohibit anonymous comments.

Chris said...

Thanks for tha article Cherie.

And for the video of the competitors.

It's good these couples all have different numbers on their backs. Because I certaintly wouldn't be able to tell them apart by their dancing...

tangocherie said...

Right on, Chris, and sadly so.

We tell our students that they need to dance who they are, not like us or any other teacher/performer. There are many, many wonderful ways to dance the tango--not just one.

But the competition dancers, maybe because they've been trained by the same teachers, all dance well and identically. Where's the personality, the passion, the presence--the art--in that?