As the sun set behind the Buenos Aires Obelisk, dozens of tango dancers from around the world turned the avenue Diagonal Norte into a milonga on Saturday afternoon for the final of the Tango World Cup.
Duo Suyay Quiroga and Jhonny Carvajal, representing Buenos Aires City, won the classic tango (tango de pista) category. Rapturous applause reverberated to Plaza de Mayo as they gave a brooding, passionate performance in gothic black to Mi Dolor by Juan D’Arienzo and Osvaldo Ramos.
Julián Sánchez and Bruna Estellita, also representing the capital, were the champions of stage tango (tango de escenario), the more acrobatic variant in which participants are allowed to jump and break their embrace. In the seniors category, the prize went to Sergio Decrin and Sandra Leal, from the city of Rosario.
The performances of the 40 classic tango couples and 20 stage tango couples were each judged by panels of seven experts, who awarded them scores out of 10. The prizes went to the dancers with the highest average. Some of the dancers had come from as far away as Bali and Thailand.
“For us, it’s like a massive privilege,” said Adrien Bariki Alaoui, a French dancer living in London. Alaoui represented the United Kingdom in the finals of the classic tango category with his partner, Davlanti Lo. He had been to Argentina before, but not for the championship. “The extra weight of representing a culture and a country is very very nice,” Alaoui added.
While Lo has been dancing tango since the age of 15 in her native Greece, Bariki Alaoui picked it up as an adult, when he was living in Argentina in 2017. A typical week included over 50 hours of dancing, at group classes during the day and then at milongas from 9 or 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. every night.
Lo was 22 and Bariki Alaoui 27 when they won the British competition that gave them a direct ticket to the semifinals of the world championship. The pair was the youngest UK couple to qualify and the first to represent the UK in the finals.
“There’s no magic recipe,” he said. “I knew I had to invest if I wanted to be successful.”
Tango may be Buenos Aires’ emblematic artform, but it’s evolving, too. “You can see that the jury is starting to award prizes to people who take more risks,” said Luciano Brizzi, director of London Tango Week, who traveled to Buenos Aires for the contest. “It’s more unstructured, or less uniform.”
Tango has at times drawn criticism for reinforcing gender stereotypes. The dance typically features a male and female partner, with the man taking the lead role. Men are also expected to invite women to dance at milongas. But Buenos Aires is home to a growing queer tango scene that rejects these norms. Same-sex couples are beginning to dance in the championships now, Brizzi said.
Bariki Alaoui and Lo now run a tango school in central London, where they receive students from all over the world. “For us, London and the UK was a big, welcoming land, full of immigrants, and the history of tango is the history of immigration,” he said.
Brizzi believes the quality of the acts on display in Buenos Aires this week shows that tango is flourishing around the world.
“The level is incredible, really,” he said.