Japanese tango duo look to hold on to world dance crown

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The Independent Online

You can take tango out of Buenos Aires, but it seems you can't take Buenos Aires out of tango.

That, at least, is the thinking of the reigning champions of Mundial de Tango, the world tournament of this passionate-yet-precise dance which is underway for the next two weeks in the Argentine capital.

That's why Kyoko and Hiroshi Yamao, the title-holders and the planet's top tango duo since 2009, at times consider swapping their native Tokyo for Buenos Aires, the city most associated with this Spanish-derived melding of hips and chests to fast footwork that has become their obsession.

"This is our fifth time in the Mundial de Tango and we think sometimes about coming to live in Buenos Aires," Hiroshi Yamao, 39, told AFP at the official launch of this year's competition on the weekend.

He and Kyoko, 35, owe their marriage to tango.

"We love so much the communication and seduction this dance has. In fact, we met each other dancing in a milonga (tango dance hall) in Tokyo," he said.

Starting next week, the Japanese pair will face 400 couples - Argentines and foreigners - in the classification round of the competition, whose finals will be decided August 30 and 31.

This week, essentially a warm-up, will see hundreds of art shows, conferences, films and free dance classes dedicated to tango take over milongas and streets in Buenos Aires.

"It's a must-see public festival," the artistic director of the event, Gustavo Mozzi, said.

"We've been dancing since we were 14," boasted Pocho, an 86-year-old contestant paired with his wife, Nelly, 84. "We were born and have always lived together in tango and in the milonga."

Another couple, Lidia Casella, 64, and Ruben Diez, 74, who won the capital's metropolitan title in 2008, proudly noted that tango was declared part of the world's intangible heritage by UNESCO last year.

"Everything is said in the embrace: heart, synchronization and musicality. It's very Argentine," Casella said.

"World culture recognizes tango, and vice versa," Buenos Aires's official in charge of culture, Hernan Lombari, said.

"Tango's mystery is in its passion. That's why it is recognized globally. Buenos Aires has many cultural passions, but tango is basically at the top," he said.