Argentine tango fans in a twist over virtual world championships

Almost six months into the Live Event lockdown there is already a long list of events that do not work without a live audience or at least don’t work as well.

You can add to that list Argentina's much-cherished Tango World Championships which opened yesterday in Buenos Aires and which have had to move online due to the coronavirus.

What exactly does that mean for a tango championship?

Well, instead of hundreds of dancers competing in an arena in Buenos Aires in front of a panel of judges, the pandemic means participants are competing virtually. And competing virtually means the judges have to rely solely on videos sent in by participants.

This is what has enraged tango purists.

Although Argentina reported a record daily 8,713 cases on Monday, the Buenos Aires city council decided to go ahead with the annual event even though much of the city—including its famous milongas, or dance events —is shut down.

‘We are betting on a tango festival that adapts to the situation we are going through because of the pandemic. Different, but with the same vigour as in previous years,’ the government’s head of culture, Enrique Avogadro, said.

Enrique Avogadro
Enrique Avogadro is Secretary of Culture and Creativity at Argentina's Ministry of Culture

So organisers and their duly appointed jury will sift through videos to select a shortlist, which will then be submitted to a public vote via social media.

But the festival's new form has angered some purists, according to Agence France Presse reporting.

‘Recording a video that you can edit is not the same thing as dancing on stage in front of a jury,’ said Virginia Vasconi, a choreographer and regular member of the jury.

Nor does she back the idea of dancers being allowed to compete and be judged individually – the ultimate taboo for a dance intended for couples.

‘Tango is danced in couples, there can't be “one” champion. Then that dancer goes to a milonga and you realize they can't dance with anyone,’ she said.

At last year’s Tango World Championships Estefanía Gómez and Fernando Rodríguez were winners of the category Tango Escenario, dancing their champions dance: ‘Kicho’ by Sexteto Mayor

In Buenos Aires, where rehearsal rooms are still closed because of the lockdown and choreographers and students can't get together to practice, local dancers feel at a disadvantage compared to participants from other countries where there are fewer restrictions.

But Vasconi, pictured below, says there ‘is no credibility in being a virtual champion.’

Virginia Vasconi, Julio Balmaceda
Virginia Vasconi and her regular dance partner, Julio Balmaceda, who started dancing together in 2015

The World Tango competition and the accompanying festival are normally an opportunity for Argentina's tango dancing community to work.

Last year's festival drew more than 500 couples, as well as 500,000 people who attended shows, classes and recitals over the 10-day duration.

However, the online version leaves hundreds of Argentine dancers on the sidelines, who are calling for state aid to offset their losses.

‘We are going through a critical moment when the cultural tango industry is sinking. There is no work,’ said Julio Bazan, president of the Association of Milongas.

The association, which has about 30 members, has lambasted the organisation of the virtual festival.

'It's ridiculous. They should redistribute the budget to the workers who ensure that tango continues to live in the 191 milongas in Buenos Aires where a million people come every year, supporting tourism,' he said.

Author image
Charlie Charters is a former rugby union official and sports marketing executive turned thriller writer whose debut book Bolt Action was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2010.
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