Mon­te­v­ideo: No longer the for­got­ten cap­i­tal of tango? ‘LIK­ING LOS­ING FOOT­BALL’

Uruguay city mayor plans to re­vive dance dom­i­nated by their Ar­gen­tinian neigh­bors

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LIFE - By Katell Abiven

MON­TE­V­IDEO: Ev­ery night, 69year-old Edin­son chooses one of his 11 pairs of dance shoes, slips into a smart suit and heads out to dance tango in the clubs of Mon­te­v­ideo, a city that is look­ing to breathe new life into an old tra­di­tion, one that has long been eclipsed by its more fa­mous neigh­bor, Buenos Aires.

“I’ve been danc­ing for 10 years now,” said Edin­son, a re­tired sol­dier, and this styl­ized exit from his house has be­come a nightly rit­ual, “no mat­ter what the weather is.”

With a nod of his care­fully coif­fured-head, he in­vites a woman onto the par­quet dance floor, where they skill­fully glide past other cou­ples in a club that is al­most hid­den be­hind a cov­ered mar­ket.

It is here that the Joven­tango (“Young tango”) as­so­ci­a­tion or­ga­nizes so-called “mi­lon­gas” ev­ery week, evenings of dance that are open to ini­ti­ates as well as to the merely curious and the pass­ing tourist.

Tango was born in the late 19th­cen­tury, be­hind the closed doors of sa­lons in Mon­te­v­ideo and Buenos Aires be­cause the spec­ta­cle of dancers press­ing pas­sion­ately against each other was orig­i­nally deemed to be too steamy to be per­formed in public.

It later gained popularity and then re­spectabil­ity af­ter it spread to Paris.

In an ironic twist of his­tory, to­day in Uruguay tango is “rel­e­gated to some­thing old peo­ple do,” fumed Martin Borteiro, who like his wife Regina Chi­ap­para is a for­mer pro­fes­sional dancer.

At the start of the year, Martin and Regina were called on by the mayor’s of­fice to come up with a di­ag­no­sis of what is ail­ing tango in Mon­te­v­ideo, with an eye to de­vel­op­ing a strate­gic plan to re­vive the dance.

The pic­ture painted by the cou­ple was bleak: fewer and fewer mi­lon­gas, older dancers and less public sup­port. In a sign of how far the de­cline has gone, only one lo­cal maker of tango shoes still ex­ists in the Uruguayan cap­i­tal.

“The cur­rent tango com­mu­nity is very frag­ile,” Martin said. “Mon­te­v­ideo is the city where tango was born, so there is a dan­ger of some­thing van­ish­ing which is part of our iden­tity, part of our tra­di­tion.”

Este­ban Cortez, a 43-year-old tango teacher, re­fuses to coun­te­nance it: los­ing this dance would be “like los­ing foot­ball for me, it’ll never hap­pen” in a na­tion in a coun­try where soc­cer is al­most like a re­li­gion.

“If our tango dis­ap­pears, we will disappear as a coun­try,” he said.

His wife Vir­ginia Arzuaga, 40, who is her­self a teacher, noted that the dance had been named part of the world’s cul­tural her­itage by UNESCO in 2009.

“And when some­thing is named a cul­tural her­itage, it’s be­cause it’s about to die out,” she said.

“There are those who’ll tell you, ‘when the tango bug bites you are lost, it’s a voy­age of no re­turn,’” Vir­gina said, re­flect­ing on the grow­ing popularity of the dance over­seas, in par­tic­u­lar in coun­tries like Turkey, Rus­sia and France.

“It’s a shame that here, in a city with so much tango in its his­tory, it’s not ap­pre­ci­ated, val­ued or cher­ished,” lamented Joselo Fer­rando, 45, who runs one of the city’s main tango events, Chamuyo.


Uruguay’s tango afi­ciona­dos gaze en­vi­ously across the waters of the Rio de Plata at the neigh­bor­ing Ar­gen­tinian cap­i­tal, where tango is king, and its fame has spread around the world.

“The most ob­vi­ous com­par­i­son is with Buenos Aires, which has made it a ques­tion of their iden­tity and worked to pro­mote it both in­side the coun­try and abroad, as a sell­ing point for tourism, which is an im­por­tant source of rev­enue,” Fer­rando said.

In Mon­te­v­ideo, “we still have so much to do, in­clud­ing broad­cast­ing the mu­sic in the me­dia, teach­ing the dance in schools and train­ing teachers,” he added.

But in re­cent months, the tide may have be­gun to turn: a tango mu­seum has opened and a ma­jor new fes­ti­val, dubbed “Mon­te­v­ideo Tango” is sched­uled to take place on Oct. 27.

Pi­anist Al­berto Magnone, 71, works in an area of the his­toric city cen­ter that is filled with stat­ues and painted mu­rals to re­mind lo­cals and tourists alike of the cap­i­tal’s role in the his­tory of tango. It was here, in 1917, that “La Cumpar­ista” – the most fa­mous tango tune of all time – was com­posed.

“Tango was a joint prod­uct of both Uruguay and Ar­gentina, but it was we who didn’t give it the place it de­served,” he said.

The mayor’s of­fice hopes to launch its plan in July, based on the di­ag­no­sis set out by Chi­ap­para and Borteiro, the for­mer pro-dancers.

“The strate­gic plan will be: ‘Mon­te­v­ideo, lo­cal tango, a far cry from the tango-spec­ta­cle, on the stage,” said Jorge Navratil, di­rec­tor of the city’s cul­tural pro­mo­tion cam­paign.

The aim will be to “cre­ate new au­di­ences, both on the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional lev­els, and put Mon­te­v­ideo back on the world map” of tango, in­clud­ing the cre­ation of a mu­nic­i­pal or­ches­tra ded­i­cated to tango mu­sic, along with a public outreach to high schools, shows and a public works project to pre­serve the her­itage.

Be­cause tango is “like a language: when you stop speak­ing it, it dies,” he said.

The tango emerged si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Buenos Aires and Mon­te­v­ideo in the late 19th cen­tury.

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