Today in Buenos Aires this year’s Mundial de Baile de Tango kicks off with the salon qualifying rounds and the annual showcase of tango elites, controversial judging, beautiful outfits and frantic gossip starts over again. Are you in the love it or loathe it camp? Whichever way you lean, it is a major fixture on the global tango calendar and an interesting slice of tango life. This year I’m following one contestant with particular attention and can’t wait to see how she gets on.
For anyone new to the Mundial, or Dance World Cup, it is the high point of the annual Buenos Aires Tango Festival (“TangoBA”), a two week celebration of tango in the Argentine capital. The Mundial has a complicated entry and scoring system and the judging is sometimes bewildering, contributing to the excitement and high drama of the event. Contestants are local or international: they can enter the qualifying rounds; skip to the semis or finals as winners or runners up from the Buenos Aires City Competition (“Metropolitano”); or enter the finals as winners from the international preliminaries held in the spring and summer. Confused? This Wikipedia article gives a brief overview.
Dancers compete in either Tango de Pista (salon) or Escenario (stage). Naturally the latter is choreographed and open to artistic expression. The salon competition is improvised within strict rules, with points for musicality, connection, expression and walking. From the TangoBA website:
The couples in Tango de Pista will compete in group performances dancing to three songs, recorded or played live, selected by the Organization. In the Stage Tango category, each couple will compete individually, dancing to one song of their choice that may not be longer than four minutes.
Here’s a taste of the rules for salon:
Once formed, the couple must not separate while the music is playing…All movements must be made within the space allowed by the couple’s embrace, so as not to get in the way of the other couples dancing. The leader may invite the follower to walk and/or turn to their right or left, without taking steps backwards on the dance floor…Couples may change the dynamics and speed during a song…Within these parameters, the couple may perform any commonly used figures of “social” tango, including barridas, sacadas al piso, enrosques, etc. Jumps, figures that involve lifting both feet off the ground and any other choreographic possibilities typical of Stage Tango are completely forbidden…As is typical in a dancehall, couples must constantly move counterclockwise without going backwards. They will be allowed, if needed, to walk one or two step backwards at most…If a couple performs more than two phrases in the same spot, obstructing the circulation on the dance floor, the Jury may consider lowering their score.
Within these rules some beautiful, expressive tango is possible, as a quick peruse of videos of winners in previous years will demonstrate.
Fans of the Mundial are drawn to the opportunity to witness new talent, enjoy the thrill of watching the performances and the addictive high drama of winners and losers. The stage competition showcases breathtaking skill and both salon and stage competitors can experience a boost to their careers from taking part.
Critics recoil at the idea of tango as spectacle, so far removed from what the dance actually is. There is discomfort in the rigidity of a competition, of scoring an improvisational dance that has strong roots in expression. Finally, its judges have been criticised for a scoring bias towards Argentinians – it is notoriously hard for anyone else to win. Scroll down the past winners list if you find this hard to believe.
For further reading, the excellent tango blogger Ms Hedgehog has written extensively on the dramas, scoring and music of the Mundial over the years, including the Vincent and Flavia “Tango Champions” mystery.
Personally I think so long as the Tango de Pista competition avoids dictating the dance (despite rigid rules it is still essentially improvisational), it cannot stray into Ballroom championship territory. I also think a hefty pinch of salt must be taken with the whole thing, as with any competition in which a few individuals judge an expressive art form that millions feel passionately about.
I don’t have enough personal experience to love it or loathe it and instead sit firmly in the cautiously-curious camp. This year I’m paying particular attention as one of my tango heroes is competing. Mirabai Commer, my teacher from my time in California, is getting ready to enter the stage competition. A veteran of the Mundial (she competed in 2010), she is a workaholic and genuine talent with an infectious enthusiasm and wonderfully positive teaching style. A lifelong dancer she’s been in tango for over 11 years, training in Buenos Aires for 5 of those before establishing her career in California. I’m excited for her that she’s returning to have another go at the Mundial. She’s taken an interesting route to get there: in May she flew to Buenos Aires, competed in the Metropolitano, found a partner for the Mundial, choreographed a routine and tried it out on audiences at milongas, and managed to find time to source a fabulous costume! You can read her blog here, a lovely snapshot of her personality and an interesting insight into what it takes to be a competitive performer.
Here’s the latest video of Mirabai’s routine for the stage competition with her partner Leandro Haeder. Look out for Leandro’s sharp head movement at 1:12, the sign of polish and finesse needed at this level.
Good luck, Mirabai and Leandro!
Update: 25/8/16: watch videos and live streams of the semi finals via the Facebook page of 2xtango: https://www.facebook.com/2xtango/
Mirabai and Leandro can be seen in the Pista qualifying round video which was posted 22 August at 20:29. Look for the long white dress! Their Stage qualifying round video was posted 24 August at 20:58. Their routine starts at minute 21:32.
26/8/16: Mirabai and Leandro are through to the Stage semi finals! Here’s their performance at the preliminaries on YouTube.
29/8/16: Mirabai and Leandro didn’t make it to the final 19 couples, finishing 26 overall after the semi finals – quite an amazing achievement considering they’d only been dancing together 3 months! Here’s the video of their semi finals performance:
1/9/16: The winners of the Pista on 30th August were Cristian Palomo and Melisa Sacchi of Argentina. In the Stage final on 31st August, the winners were Hugo Mastrolorenzo and Agustina Vignau of Argentina, who used an unusual prop to highlight the music they danced to. See the videos on YouTube here: Pista, Stage.
Interestingly, dancers from Colombia did particularly well this year, finishing third in Stage and fifth in Pista. A former student of my talented shoe supplier made it to the final. Valentin Arias Delgado competed in Stage with his partner Diana Franco Durango. They are from Manizales, the hometown of Mr Tango Shoes and maestro Jorge Nel Giraldo.
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