Arts & Entertainment

Argentine tango lovers forced to dance solo during pandemic

By Aitor Pereira

Buenos Aires, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- The essence of tango resides in a couple’s face-to-face contact, their passionate embrace and the sensual and synchronized movement of their bodies, aspects of the dance that largely have been lost in recent months due to Argentina’s coronavirus restrictions.

Even so, this art form that is the heart, soul and pride of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) region has not been abandoned during the pandemic. Whether completely alone or with an unresponsive broomstick as their partner, tango practitioners have continued to refine their technique despite the new social-distancing reality.

The Covid-19 quarantine in Argentina began more than six months ago and, while the restrictions have been somewhat eased and many business activities have resumed, the milongas (venues where tango is danced and tango, vals and milonga musicians perform) remain shuttered.

Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of people like Oscar Garcia, a milonga organizer and tango instructor for the past decade, students can quench their thirst for this captivating dance via online classes.

“It’s very difficult to dance by yourself. Our idea is to bring into people’s homes some entertainment, a period of recreation, a period where you have fun dancing, even if you’re dancing alone and feel ridiculous because you’re dancing alone,” he told Efe. “And we make them (the students) grab a broomstick, or a balloon or a handkerchief, and I assure you that after dancing for a while you feel different.”

Around 5,000 families have been directly affected by the pandemic-triggered closure of around 500 milongas nationwide and to date they have not received any institutional aid, according to figures from the Association of Milonga Organizers (AOM).

Designers of clothes and shoes used for tango and other workers also have felt the financial sting of the hiatus.

“Since the pandemic began, we haven’t received any kind of aid. They might say they (have provided support), but we haven’t received anything concrete,” said Garcia, who is affectionately known in tango circles as “el Colo.

Although the present form of tango began informally in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the mid-19th century, the industry has become highly professionalized due to its importance as a major tourism draw.

A prime example is the iconic Caminito alley in Buenos Aires’ Boca neighborhood, a popular tourist spot because of its brightly painted houses and professional tango street dancing.

“Millions of people come here every year from all over the world. They come to do a tourist route. They go to Iguazu Falls, they go to El Calafate, they go to Patagonia, but … many come (principally) for the tango,” Garcia said.

One Buenos Aires-based event that plays a important role in Argentina’s tango culture is the Mundial de Tango (world tango dance tournament), which in 2020 was held exclusively via Internet.

Controversy surrounded the competition this year, however, with many of the country’s leading instructors and professionals boycotting the event after saying they were asked to participate on short notice and with no compensation.

“On top of us being out of work … you want us to do this for free? So everyone in tango, or the vast majority, refused. We didn’t participate at all,” Garcia said.

It remains unclear at the moment when the milongas will reopen, although aficionados and professionals alike are seeking approval for a coronavirus protocol that will allow them to return to the dance hall, said Andrea Fachelli, who has been practicing tango for the past six years.

“Maybe it’s possible with a mask – for me, it wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience – and taking all the precautions … I’d be up for it. I really am so much looking forward to dancing,” she told Efe.

Fachelli is among those who have discovered a new way of practicing during the pandemic. In her case, although she occasionally uses a broomstick or a chair as a point of reference, she prefers to maintain the aspect of the embrace, even if it means hugging herself.

“I prefer to construct an embrace, which has a technique to it, and thereby feel like I’m dancing with someone,” she said.

Fachelli said she will continue with online classes twice a week to improve her technique, although she hopes to return soon to a milonga and hear the sound of the orchestra and bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument closely associated with tango).

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