Hard hit by lockdowns, Buenos Aires’s tango industry struggling to recover
By Veronica Dalto
Buenos Aires, Jun 3 (EFE).- Tango shows in Argentina’s capital are slowly bouncing back from the harsh blow of pandemic-triggered lockdowns, with that industry still in a transition phase while waiting for foreign tourism numbers to recover and the current economic crisis to recede.
Fans of that dance form that originated in the River Plate region are now able to attend traditional formal tango shows, with dinner included, although those venues are currently only open on weekends.
Informal “milongas,” where tango novices can take a dance class, see a small demonstration and share the floor with seasoned dancers at community centers and dance halls, are now open every day, albeit with lower attendance than usual.
Although the coronavirus crisis has waned, economic activity in Buenos Aires has picked up and Argentina’s borders have been open since November 2021, tango halls are still suffering due in part to Covid-19 rules – such as the need to show proof of a negative test – that make foreign tourists hesitant about making travel plans.
“The recovery is extremely slow,” Claudio Campos, head of the subcommittee on tango houses of the Chamber of Cafes and Bars and owner of the El Querandi tango venue, told Efe.
Attendance at tango shows is currently about 50 percent lower than usual for this time of year, according to Campos, who said those establishments are now at around 10-20 percent capacity as opposed to 40 percent.
“Even though this is low season, it’s more pronounced than usual,” he said.
Campos, however, stressed that the tango houses have not shut down nor reduced their numbers of musicians and dancers while they wait for “things to really change starting in October,” when the high season begins.
The main adjustment has been to cut back on the number of days. Those venues now only open on weekends as opposed to every day, or they may only put on a show it they have sufficient reservations.
“The passer-by isn’t left without a tango show,” he said, explaining that there is “an explicit agreement among colleagues” to steer those potential customers to other tango houses – a “solidarity” that was rarely seen prior to the pandemic.
The Covid-triggered lockdowns exacted a hefty toll on the sector.
Several dozen milonga establishments were unable to hold out and shut down permanently.
Those that remain are still opening every day, but with smaller crowds. “There aren’t enough people for all the milongas,” the treasurer of the Association of Milonga Organizers, tango instructor Oscar Garcia, told Efe.
Lower tourism numbers partially explain the drop in demand, although a high annual inflation rate that hit 58 percent in April also is making it more difficult for people to spend money on that form of entertainment.
This has given rise to new tango consumers who have been given the name “milonga hippies” – people who gather at open-air venues to dance in sneakers and without the possibility to sit down at a table.
“We’re in a readjustment process,” Garcia said. EFE