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Buenos Aires Tango Festival and World Championships 2013

Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia 2011

 

It´s that time again! The city is buzzing with all that is tango, bringing warmth and excitement to a notoriously chilly time of year. August heralds the arrival of the annual Buenos Aires Tango Festival y Mundial and it is not just for dancers. There are more than two hundred shows and activities including: orchestra performances, singers, professional dance performances, classes and workshops, milongas and, of course, the international stage and salon Tango Mundial Championships.

 

This festival runs from the 14th August until 27th August and with something special happening each day, visitors to Buenos Aires have no reason to not delve into this event and take in some amazing live music performances. At the Centro de Exposiciones (the hub of the festival), you’ll find the one-stop-market for all products tango. Take time to visit the Centre and feel the excited hum given off by the people browsing shoes, watching tango performances, meeting old friends and planning which class to take next.

 

This year showcases a focus on the Bandoneon (To Bandoneon, With Love), an instrument once described as having a voice of melancholy and loneliness as if it had been abandoned and ignored in the gutter of a cobblestoned street, left alone in its lament as the cold, grey rain pours down around it.  Arriving in Argentina in the late 19th Century thanks to the German and Italian immigrants, the bandoneon (type of concertina) has made itself home within tango music. An essential to the tango orchestra, it captivates the audience with the power and beauty of its haunting, sensual voice which arises from the concertina being stretched and squeezed.

 

The last singing legend of the golden era of tango, Alberto Podestá, is also giving a concert which promises to be nothing short of amazing, full of nostalgia and the voices of tango past.  From a younger generation, El Tango Vuelve Al Barrio (Hernán “Cucuza” Castiello, voz

Maximiliano “Moscato” Luna, guitarra) is a duo who perform regularly and are taking tango right back to its grass roots. It’s not unusual to find their small barrio concerts still going (complete with audience singing), as a sun comes up over the streets of Buenos Aires.

 

For further details, head to the Festival website. The page is in both English and Spanish and gives details about event locations, a day-by-day programme and information on how to obtain tickets. Nearly all events are free and available to both locals and tourists.  Be warned. Getting tickets can be a chaotic process. In a city this large (plus an additional 400 000 visitors expected), queues for getting tickets start forming early morning. To avoid being disappointed, be prepared to head in early (with puffer coat and hot coffee) to grab the best spot in the line. It is not unusual for the ticket queue to form a snake several blocks long.

 

What: Buenos Aires Tango Festival and Mundial (World Championships)

When: 14th - 27th August

Where: Various venues including Centro de Exposiciones (Av. Figueroa Alcorta y Av. Pueyrredón)

Website: http://festivales.buenosaires.gob.ar/tango/festivalymundial13/web/en/index.html

Admission to events: Mostly free

 

Falling with love with tango in Buenos Aires

Dancing on Avenida de Mayo

Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia 2011

 

I can still pinpoint the exact moment when tango moved from a hobby to an obsession. One winter afternoon several years ago, I was taking a private tango lesson with a visiting Argentine teacher. The dance studio was a large open New York style loft with mirrors lining one side and a warm brick wall on the other. As the final strains of the bandoneón were dying away, I was brought to rest with my 9cm shoes drawing softly to a close over the wooden dance floor. Within the dance embrace, the only moment that existed was between us and the music. Worlds away from the everyday system and completely content within myself, I was having my own personal ‘tango moment’. And it was in this moment that I knew I needed to learn all I could about tango and this required drastic action.

 

Living in New Zealand, approaching 30, single and without dependents, I took the assertive yet frightening step to sell everything, quit my job and move to Buenos Aires to immerse myself within the tango lifestyle. It was not an easy decision to leave behind a job that I loved, friends and family but such is the pull of the desire to dance tango. Although not entirely sure what this would encompass, stories of dancing 7 nights a week, dancing outdoors at antique markets and all night milongas excited my heart and inspired dreams of how the experience could be. Armed with not much more than a pair of Comme Il Faut shoes and a spanish phrase book, I took the plunge to see how tango was really lived.

 

It surprisingly took me several weeks to start attending regular classes after arriving in Buenos Aires. Initially, advice on where to go and who to learn from was free flowing, and animated discussions about teaching technique left me confused about which style was right and, indeed, what tango really was. Names of dancers, singers and tango styles become muddled with verb tenses and conjugations as I tried to increase my understanding of Spanish to truly understand the poetic lyrics of tango which were being played to me night after night.

 

Tango has its heart within Buenos Aires and the city is very quick in capturing the adoration of those who visit it. The glamour of, and my intense infatuation with the city, took several months to calm down. The city is chaotic in its traffic, schizophrenic in its architecture and warm in its people. I befriended a local porteño, who began to unravel the mystery of tango by showing me the grass roots of Buenos Aires, introducing me to milongueros and taking me to local milongas and music gigs, providing a break from the sometimes heavily attended main circuit milongas. Those that come to this city to learn tango, can find themselves immersed in a culture of rising late, drinking coffee, eating medialunas (the local pastries) and passing time by soaking up the atmosphere of this crazy, volatile and intoxicating city. The cobblestones streets of San Telmo can be a photographer’s dream and the hidden cafes and local haunts are just waiting to be discovered. It is a city that demands to be experienced.

 

I have learnt that sometimes visiting milongeuros are more accomplished in the steps, but the local dancers have something special running through their blood that is immediately apparent at the moment of embrace. After spending time in classes, I realised that the success of my adventure to follow my passion did not ride on my ability to dance like the stunning show dancers whose legs move with speed and intricacy, but to have a knowledge and understanding of the emotions and history that this dance expresses. Tango is more than simply making magic through leading and following steps. It is a conversation of the heart, soul and body of two people. Observers may not realise that they are watching beautiful dancers sharing their own moment removed from everything except the music and the energy of each other.

 

Four months after moving to Buenos Aires, during a tanda at the Tango Mundial, I remembered that I had come to Buenos Aires to “learn” tango. My initial dreams had been of five-hour-a-day classes followed by the night’s milonga and a vampiric lifestyle. Instead I found that the city crawled under my skin, coaxing me to look past the tango as a dance, and understand it as a living and breathing entity. It is a strong thread that is woven throughout this city and a main lifeline in everyday living.