USA Tango Championships

From Tango Express, February, 2012

Dance Like a Star (or With Stars in Your Eyes)

So you think you can tango? Then get ready for the 2012 Argentine Tango USA Championship, April 5-8, at the San Francisco Airport Marriott. The contest, officially sanctioned by the Ministry of Culture of Buenos Aires, is only in its second year in the U.S.

Andrea Monti and Hugo Valdez, master tango teachers and performers, have spearheaded the effort to bring the championships to the United States. In October, 2009, when UNESCO declared Argentine tango as part of the world’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” the couple decided it was time to bring the prestigious competition to the United States. And they did just that last year. Read More.Andrea and Hugo, ardent lovers of tango who met in 1998, teach their salon style to people in the Bay Area and around the world. They’ve been dancing tango for many years-16 for Andrea and 26 for Hugo. “Tango, it’s everything, the love of my life,” says Andre, “Once tango enters your life you can’t leave it.

“It’s the best addiction you can have,” she says, and that seems to be the case for many of us. Whether you compete or not, she says, “The event is fabulous, you get to see people dance, perform.” The four-day event includes workshops, performances, live music and milongas. [See full schedule.]

Like tango itself , the championships are a labor of love. “It was very difficult organizing it,” says Andrea. “We had to follow all the rules from Buenos Aires. The government sent up a representative to make sure everything was in order. The judges have to follow the same criteria in scoring. But the response was very good last year. We were happy.”

Dancers can compete in either or both of two categories of tango dancing-Stage and Salon. The winners in each category move on to compete in the Tango Buenos Aires Dance World Cup (Tango Buenos Aires Mundial de Baile).

Since most of us dance tango as a social dance, the Salon category is apt to attract most entrants. Salon dancers are scored on musicality, posture, and embrace. Says Andrea, “You may be good at the steps and at technique, but if you don’t step with the music, you’re not going to win. You must dance on your axis in close embrace, too.”

She notes that salon is not milonguero style. “Salon involves opening up for the figures, while in milonguero you dance very close, almost never open. The salon embrace is more flexible, not sharing axes or weight. The head position is different-in milonguero, partners look to opposite sides. Salon couples look to same side and there is more air between partners. Steps are longer in salon-no high voleos no ganchos. Everything is done on the floor. No off-axis moves, no volcados or colgados. Embellishments are OK, but no higher than the knee. Salon style is about elegance, the posture/embrace, clean technique, and clean steps.”

Andrea and Gato are not judges this year. So they can teach their style, which has always been salon. Andrea is teaching a very advanced ladies’ technique. “You need to know my system before you can take it. It’s very difficult,” she says.

A couple of tips for the Salon category: Andrea says even the best of dancers should consider getting coaching because “everything becomes more visible on the stage or floor.” Also she advises, “It is important that people know all the orchestras that may be played, not just the popular ones. Otherwise they get nervous during the competition if it’s the first time they hear this music.”

Competing is open to everybody from an intermediate level and higher, professional and amateur. “I know many people are against competition,” says Andrea. “But the promotion and diffusion of tango through this event is very big. Last year, I noticed how the people who registered improved. Because of the challenge, they practice, work, go to privates, workshops. They learn navigation, floorcraft, get special attention to coach them. The level of dance improved in the whole community. People told me they saw it in the milongas here. This is very valuable.”

Last year’s Salon tango winners were Yuliana Basmajyan and Brian Nguyen from Los Angeles, who write, encouragingly, at their website: “We are ordinary people with problems of the common folk.” Brian and Yuliana went on to take third place in Tango Mundial 2011 Salon Category, in Bueno Aires.

So, whether you consider yourself ordinary or extraordinary, imagine yourself among the tango addicts who flock to the World Tango Championships at Luna Park, the historic arena in Buenos Aires that dates back to 1932, and where finalists compete with la crème de la crème of Argentina tango.

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