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Tango Effect: Argentina's most famous export has been making waves in Mexico for years, but there have never been this many die-hard aficionados. (Living in Mexico).

They have never met before, yet the couple embrace at first sight, closer and more intimately than many lovers ever do in public. From somewhere at the back of the room tender tones of a violin mix with the dramatic and yet soft touch of the bandaneon, forming into "San Jose de Flores"--a beautiful and lyrical song that speaks of affection for the barrio and the pain of lost love.

The intimate embrace of these strangers on the dance floor lasts only about three minutes. But this same magnetic touch draws couples and singles from all over the world by the thousands into salons to learn the steps of the tango.

And Mexico City is not behind the global trend. Tango is more popular than ever in this megalopolis and new venues for dancing it, taking classes and seeing live performances are popping up by the day.

"I like tango because of the dance. There is magic in dancing with someone you don't know, yet in complete harmony, embracing each other. Tango is passion, in which you have so many different themes that touch people--it is sensual, the ideal of love between a man and a woman," explains Monica Blanco, an Argentine living in Mexico. She was among the first professionals to start teaching tango Argentino here 10 years ago.

From panty liners to car insurance, Mexican advertising campaigns have incorporated tango music and images for years. But the real tango Argentino being practiced in salons with an almost religious respect for ethical codes, morality and discipline is quite a different movement altogether.

Just 10 years ago classes were few and far between in Mexico; the only tango taught in dance schools was choreography and there were no milongas, or places to enjoy social tango dancing.

Today, there are milongas for dancing all week long. On Fridays, tangueros dance the nights away in the Argentine Bar Arrabelero with live music, and a growing group of milongueros are also meeting Sunday afternoons in some of Mexico City's parks and plazas. New milongas are now being organized for Thursdays, as well as once a month on Saturdays.

The mixed group of Mexican and Argentine tango teachers have grown from one single couple a decade ago to upwards of 20 today. And for someone interested in learning a few steps, there are a plethora of classes to choose from every day of the week in locations spread throughout the city. There are more than four or five live performances to choose from both Fridays and Saturdays and most Thursdays.

"None of my friends and family understand why tango dancing means so much to me. I cannot go a Friday night without dancing tango. My friends and family tell me I am crazy, but what a wonderful way to be crazy. They have no idea what they are missing," says Charlotte Bronsoiler, one of the Mexican tangueras always found at the Friday milongas in town.

Tango's global popularity has piqued, fallen and risen again since it first surfaced in the lower-class suburbs of Buenos Aires during the second half of the 19th century.

Buenos Aires was a thriving port city and the destination of European immigrants trying their luck in the new world. These same immigrants took the first steps of tango as we know it today in the 1880s.

Being initially branded as the dance of street fights and brothels, the upper classes of Argentina rejected it. But after a series of tangos were brought to Europe around 1905 and embraced first by the fashionable set in Paris, and then by the Russian Czar and other European royalty, the Argentine elite gave in to the intriguing tunes and tones of the tango.

In Mexico, tango started gaining popularity at about the same time the first tango boom took place in Paris.

"Tango started in Mexico at the same time it won popularity in Europe. Mexicans have always payed a lot of attention to tango," says the Argentine folklore dancer Luis "Malambo" Rodriguez, who recently opened a new Argentine restaurant on La Fragua street in Mexico City's Tabacalera neighborhood. Rodriguez has brought in musicians and singers from Buenos Aires for weekend shows.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Mexico was a second home to some of the hottest tango singers and musicians from Argentina, and several of the greatest singers of all time. Libertad Lamarque and Hugo del Carril spent years living and performing in Mexico.

"But the real tango boom in Mexico started with the 1974 opening of the Argentine restaurant and dance bar "Corrientes 3-4-8 in Coyoacan," says Rodriguez. He first came to Mexico in 1976, accompanied by Hugo del Carril on one of his final tours of Latin America.

"When I came to Mexico, people weren't accustomed to seeing a lot of tango," he continues. "But starting in the '80s, a series of big international tango shows like "Tango Argentino" and later "Tango por 2" and "Forever Tango" started touring the world, and interest for dancing tango started to grow."

Indeed it did, and when the Broadway show "Forever Tango" first came to Mexico in mid-1998, the public received it with such enthusiasm that the initial performance run of two weeks was extended to six months, and many die-hard tango fans went back and saw it five or six times.

Cuauhtemoc Sifuentes, a 53-year-old architect, first became interested in tango after going to a couple of shows in Mexico City five years ago, and decided that seeing it was just not enough.

"I just liked it so much, was so fascinated with it, that I wanted to learn to dance it. Then, when I started taking classes I realized that it is very difficult to learn the steps and how to combine them. But I really enjoy it; tango allows me to express exactly what I feel, because the music makes you feel like you are dancing a poem," says Sifuentes.

It is comments such as Sifuentes' that has tango "trapping" people into spending hours and hours learning the steps and refining detail and technique.

Roberto Macias, a 23-year-old dance teacher, finally signed up for a tango lesson after years of teaching salsa and merengue. And he immediately fell in love.

"Dancing tango has its very own special edge to it, the steps can be complicated, or look complicated, yet it has this natural touch to it because you can only do a move in line with the body. Tango is just completely different from any other dance here in Mexico."

The word tango may be synonymous around the world with Argentina, but there are some local tango aficionados who claim that tango may have been born locally. Such is the theory of Jesus Martinez of the Mexican Tango Academy:

"At the beginning of the last century there was a very strong tango presence in Mexico that persisted through the 1920s. It is very possible that people started to dance the tango, or primitive milongas (which was the dance that evolved into the tango, hence the name milongueros for tango dancers) in Mexico before they started in Buenos Aires.

"When the 'habanera' movement--which, as its name indicates, came from Havana, Cuba--started its movement down to South America, where its rhythm and style were picked up and integrated into the tango, it first passed through Mexico, and people here may have started dancing tango a little bit before it actually started in Buenos Aires," says Martinez.

Despite his claims, historical evidence to prove this is either poorly documented or does not exist. Many myths and theories disagree over how and from where tango really originated. Music historians agree that the music is inspired by a combination of habanera, Andalusian tango and milonga, and most theories agree that the beat of the tango was borrowed from the traditional African music played on drums or tambourines by Caribbean immigrants in Argentina.

"Tango really is an international product, and not something that only belongs to Argentina. Today, tango is an international dance and on the Internet you can find hundreds and hundreds of pages about tango," says the internationally acclaimed Argentine tango teacher and dancer Fabian Salas, who spoke to BUSINESS MEXICO during a recent visit here.

For Mexicans there is another tango-related twist, as Argentine-born Coco Potenza--recognized as perhaps the best bandaneon-player in Mexico--argues: There are strong similarities between tango and mariachi and ranchera music.

"Tango has always been recognized in Mexico and the people not only like it, but really appreciate it. What of course happens here is that Mexicans see tango as a brother to ranchera music: both are dramatic, passionate, sad, with some humor, and both deal with the same themes of love and losing love," says Coco Potenza.

Whatever the reason, tango has never been more popular among Mexicans to watch, and learn to dance.

"The movement in Mexico has been a reflection of the global tango boom, but the real boom right now is in tango dancing," says Martinez.

Professional tango dancer Monica Blanco agrees.

"The tango movement we see in Mexico today started about 10 to 12 years ago, but back then it was only taught in the terms of choreography ... there were no milongas for social dancing. But tango is by nature an improvised dance," explains Blanco. "Now there are a lot of places to take classes--you see a very good level of tango in Mexico today. There is a great appreciation among people here for tango," she says.

But she also cautions that while the big tango shows have increased tango's popularity--especially with the younger generation--too much commercialization can also be negative.

"It's very important that we don't forget to preserve traditions when we teach tango, and that we remember it's not only about fancy steps, but also has a culture and tradition behind it," she says.

For tangueros like Sandra Garcia, a 21-year-old mathematics student, understanding the music, lyrics and culture is essential for frilly enjoying the dance.

"It's a dance that expresses so much, not just passion, but courage and pain. I love everything about tango, the words to the songs and all that is said in a few lines, and I like that I can express any kind of feeling I have in the dance," said Garcia.

Maja Wallengren is a global commodities reporter based in Mexico City who has a burning passion for everything related to tango.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tango Right Now in Mexico City: the Hottest Shows in Town

La Biela

"Tango Passion" (Thurs.-Fri.-Sat.)

Musica y canta con Coco y Freddy Potenza

Baile con Sandra y Roberto

Sonora #123, Col. Condesa

Mexico City

Tel.: (5)286-2112, (5)286-0116

La Parilla Argentina

"A Todo Tango" (Thurs.-Fri.-Sat.)

Musica en vivo y canta con Gabriel Fernandez y Marcelo Sobredo

Baile con Alejandro y Abril

La Fragua #4, Col. Tabacalera

Mexico City

Tel.: (5)566-5542, (5)566-5593

El Bar Arrabalero

Milonga--social dance (Fridays)

Musica en vivo con Domingo Scapola

Calle Dinamarca, cross-street Marsella,

Col. Juarez

Mexico City

Tel.: (5)592-7303

La Lena Argentina

"Show de Tango Argentino" (Fri.-Sat.)

Musica en vivo con Osvaldo Potenza

Baile con Diego y Karina

Montevideo #433, Col. Lindavista

Mexico City

Tel.: (5)754-3518
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico A.C.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wallengren, Maja
Publication:Business Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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