Japanese-Argentine tango champs speak universal language

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The Independent Online

Chizuko Kuwamoto and Diego Ortega can barely understand each other, but no words can bring them closer than the sultry language of the tango, a shared passion that got them top prize in the 2010 Mundial de Tango.

"She speaks very little Spanish. I speak very little Japanese. And we communicate by touch, sharing our feelings when we dance," 21-year-old Argentine Ortega told reporters after Tuesday's final competition.

Kuwamoto, 42, hails from Japan, where the tango has conquered many hearts in the past half century. She lives in Tokyo, where she learned musical theater and six years ago fell in love with the exacting dance born on the banks of the Rio de la Plata.

"Feel, feel, feel... no thinking," an emotional Kuwamoto explained the secret of her success after she and Ortega won the Scenery section taking first place in the tango championship held in Buenos Aires Luna Park amusement park this year.

In full tango gear - dark-gray suit, ivory tie over white shirt and a handkerchief sticking out of the jacket chest pocket - Ortega embodies the very essence of the 'tanguero' of the early 20th century, when the dance was most popular.

But the young man from the farming and fishing town of Colon, on the Parana River north of Buenos Aires, makes one concession to the 21st century: he wears a tiny ear ring that would have caused outrage among tango purists only 50 years ago.

"We both feel it (the tango) beyond our gaze... we feel it in the contact of our partner. It was... you know, a very moving experience," said Ortega, his hair impeccably slicked down in true tango style.

His composure was jarred somewhat late Tuesday when he heard Mundial de Tango host, Panamanian singer-composer-actor Ruben Blades announce: "and the winners of the Tango Scenery are..."

"It's impossible to explain what you feel when you hear your name, 'Diego... world champion... It's unbelievable! It's totally incredible," Ortega said.

Moments earlier, Kuwamoto held the audience spellbound in her tight, pearl blue dress with its mandatory deep side slit made so popular in the "milongas," the tango dance halls that crowded the red light districts and seedy dockside areas of Buenos Aires and other towns along the Rio de la Plata 100 years ago.

"To tell the truth, this year the level of competition was very good. Anybody could have won. But at the bottom of our heart, we felt we could make it all the way," said Ortega, who also lives in Tokyo but is not romantically involved with Kuwamoto.

Kuwamoto and Ortega left behind nearly 200 couples in the Scenery competition in the Mundial de Tango 2010 that began August 13 and also included the Salon competition, the more less spectacular, more traditional tango dance step.

Twenty-two couples reached the finals, including three from Japan, five from Colombia and one each from South Korea, Chile and Venezuela.

Last year, Kuwamoto and Ortega ended in 13th place in the Mundial de Tango held in Tokyo. They represented the Japanese capital in that competition, but this year they decided they would represent Ortega's home town of Colon

The tango in 2009 was declared part of the world's cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).