Argentina’s Tango World Championships moves online due to virus

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – Argentina’s annual Tango World Championships got underway yesterday, but instead of hundreds of dancers competing in an arena in Buenos Aires, the pandemic means participants are competing virtually.

Coronavirus restrictions in the South American country, which reported a record daily 8,713 cases on Monday, mean the judges have to rely solely on videos sent in by participants – angering tango purists.

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 venues – 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 city’s head of culture Enrique Avogadro said.

The organisers will also allow individual competitors for the first time.

Veronica Pascual and Sergio Saucet dance tango in their house in Buenos Aires. PHOTO: AFP

The 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.

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

Nor does she back the idea of dancers being allowed to compete individually – 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 realise they can’t dance with anyone,” she said.

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 said there “is no credibility in being a virtual champion.”

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 president of the Association of Milongas Julio Bazan.

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.