Argentina’s prideful attitude may have led it to become a second-rate economy, but the same attitude has served it well in its one great and unique contribution to world culture: tango, recognized by UNESCO as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage.”
Year after year at the annual World Tango Competition, Argentine dancers dominate the top ranks of Stage Tango, more glamorous and difficult than the other category, Salon Tango. This year was no different. The top three pairs were all from Argentina.
Dancing tango well is not just a matter of technical skill, which can be learned by others. The Japanese are unequaled masters of such skills, and have been competing since the beginning of international tango competitions in 2003. In 2009, a Japanese couple, Hiroshi and Kyoko Yamao, made history by winning the championship in Salon Tango, in which a loving connection between the dancers is more important than a haughty attitude. In Stage Tango, where that attitude is paramount, only once has a Japanese woman, Chizuko Kuwamoto, managed to reach the top — and only by dancing with an Argentine partner.
Juan Fabbri, the owner of Tango Porteno and Esquina Carlos Gardel, the two most expensive and important tango clubs in Buenos Aires, believes that what foreigners (including me, a student of tango for years) are missing is the “El Cachafaz” factor. El Cachafaz was the nickname of a legendary early-20th-century dancer — Jose “Benito” Bianquet. The word, from the ghetto dialect of lunfardo, evokes “impudence, danger, manliness, mischief and shamelessness.”
Mario Morales, a top tango choreographer, who has trained a string of tango champions, put it to me slightly differently.
“To dance tango well, you need corazon [heart] and passion. Foreigners are more circumspect. We Argentines put our hearts first and maybe think later,” he said.
That insight arguably provides the best explanation of why Argentina excels at tango — and why it is failing to remain in the First World, where it once belonged.
Sin-ming Shaw, a former visiting fellow at Oxford University, is a global private investor.
Copyright: Project Syndicate