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Tourism, Tango
Surge in Argentina

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Tourism, Tango Surge in Argentina

Monday, March 10, 2003 Posted: 3:16 PM EST (2016 GMT)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Tour guide Nicolas Patti expected only a few dozen tourists for his walking tour of the Buenos Aires haunts where the legendary tango began over a century ago.

Instead, a crush of more than 300 Japanese, American, British and other tourists, many shouting and shoving, surged into the Grand Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires, pushing their way past startled waiters serving afternoon tea.

"Wow, this is the first time we've done this tour and we're being overrun," the sweating tour guide said. "We knew people like the tango, but never expected this."

Sergio, left, and Gachi dance tango during the 5th Argentine Tango Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina.










Argentina still hasn't recovered from its worst economic downturn in decades. But the tourists kept at bay by last year's social unrest have started flooding back since the South American nation became one of the world's cheapest tourist destinations -- after a 70 percent devaluation of the peso. After a decade of one-to-one parity, the dollar now buys 3.19 pesos.

And a tango boom is accompanying the surge in tourism as the country braces for a record number of 4 million visitors this year.

Tango bars are packed, lavish stage shows are drawing tourists by the busload and CD remixes of tango greats like Carlos Gardel are selling fast to out-of-towners.

Then there are the dance contestants from Europe and Japan who flew here last week to take part in the Buenos Aires Tango Festival and its First World Tango Dance Championships ending on Sunday.

"I wouldn't have come here a year ago," said Ray Safi, a 35-year-old American on Saturday's tour of tango dives. "But now it's a real bargain."

Tango time

A dance that is by turns sexy and sad, tango gained fame in the 1990s on Broadway and in American movies.

Now that unrest has subsided here, the dance is roving a big draw as international travelers are newly discovering this cosmopolitan city dubbed the "Paris of the South."

Many pack nightly revues where professional dancers -- men in dark suits, women in evening gowns -- whirl on stage amid the smoke of dry ice and the wheezing accompaniment of tango's bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument.

"I'm not exactly a tango fanatic, but I sure do like it," exclaimed one Italian, Claudio Capraro, 47.

Any tourist who comes to Buenos Aires and hasn't seen tango hasn't been to Buenos Aires at all.

-- Silvio Palmucci,
Buenos Aires resident






Other tourists pack clubs and halls for lessons from tango masters. Or they soak up strains of tango floating off the cobblestone streets of the historical San Telmo district -- or the Boca waterfront where tango emerged from bars and brothels in the late 1800s after the arrival of European immigrants on wooden sailing ships.

The more adventurous even try their steps at dance parties called "milongas" like the one that blocked off an entire downtown avenue on Saturday night for a raucous street fiesta.

As one Buenos Aires resident, Silvio Palmucci, quipped: "Any tourist who comes to Buenos Aires and hasn't seen tango hasn't been to Buenos Aires at all."

International attraction

The tango that won fame in New York during the Flapper era and in the ballrooms of Paris between two World Wars today attracts followers from around the globe.

Masahito Namiki and Rui Saito flew from Tokyo to dance the tango, joining hundreds of couples for a week of competition that defied the southern hemisphere's summertime heat at an annual tango festival here.

"The tango is a very passionate dance," said Namiki, 27, who caught the craze five years ago in Japan. "It brings you and your partner together in a way words cannot express."

Namiki and Saito took classes in Japan from visiting Argentines. But it just wasn't enough. "Here one lives the tango, one listens to it and once dances tango all the time. In Japan it's just not the same," Saito said.

A couple dances tango on the street in Buenos Aires, Argentina.









Gustavo Sorel, a tango teacher giving lessons one weekday a block from Argentina's pink Government House, said tango is a local invention whose passion is universally understood.

“Right now there are lots of tourists here and many are coming because of tango," said Sorrel. "Anyone can learn the tango and everyone should learn in tango's birthplace."

But for many tourists, just watching the dancers is enough.

"Oh my God, I'm so impressed," said Bonnie Mion, a tourist from upstate New York with mouth agape. "It's an exquisite dance, sensual, beautiful and magnificent."

She added: "I'll be back again. No other place in the world has tango like this."

The tango is a very passionate dance. It brings you and your partner together in a way words cannot express.

-- Masahito Namiki, 27, Japanese tourist