Argentine Youths Tune In to Tango

Some 75 percent of teens say tango is tops, sparking a revival

Mariana Dragone, dark ponytail swinging, dances as though glued to Pedro Benavente.

A teen, Ms. Dragone adores the tango. In his 20s, so does Mr. Benavente. They're not alone. Tango is back in fashion in Buenos Aires, and the under-30 crowd may well be the reason.

"I do the tango more for what it signifies than for the dance," Benavente explains earnestly. "My tango is a tango of the people, a political and social fight. It ... is a product of a mixture of different cultures, and it was born in a moment of crisis in the country."

Dragone has been dancing since she was a child. "When I was little, I used to go every Wednesday to the milonga [cafe]. I loved it there," she says. "There were no teachers, just the old men who danced with you.

"Today, there's no music that represents the young people," she says. "Now young people are going back in history to look for what is ours ... to find our identity."

It's 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Luciana Valante has just arrived among a throng of youths who tango on the dusk-lit dance floor at the Club Almagro. "I can't say why I dance it; it's a feeling, powerful," she confides. "When I was 14, I took a class. I was enchanted. But I didn't have the money to continue. Five months ago, I started again. Now, I'll never abandon it."

Across Buenos Aires, young people are fervently embracing the tango, music and dance long considered a relic of their grandparents. A recent survey found that about 75 percent of teens like the tango, but only a fraction can dance it. Daniel Trenner, a New Yorker who takes Americans to Argentina to tango, calls youth interest "an explosion" involving thousands under the age of 25.

In fact, in this city of 12 million, tango clubs now cater to youths, offering a "Noche de Jovenes" (teen night) several nights a week. On tango night, youths don't arrive before midnight. They don't leave until dawn.

"Today, kids are interested in the dance, its music," says Hector Stamponi, one of Argentina's most-revered tango composers, who began to play the tango at 14. "The high schools call me to come talk about its history."

Recently, Argentina's parliament passed a law to promote the tango as a national treasure. Now, the Education Ministry is seeking ways to incorporate tango and other Argentine art forms in public schools, so that teens don't have to pay for private lessons.

Educators are considering making tango and other national folklore a specialty to study in high school. Others are trying to establish a set of university courses so students can get a degree as a tango dancer, musician, or academic.

The city's largest high school already has regular classes for teens. At Buenos Aires clubs, young enthusiasts call tango a path in their quest to define their place in Argentina's new, emerging democracy.

At their tiny studio, bordered by a flowery courtyard, Rudolfo and Gloria Dinzel, Argentina's most famous tango couple, say they have taught for free for years at about 50 city schools, trying to expose children to the tango.

"We think many young people don't dance it because they don't know it," says Gloria Dinzel. "Our job is to open the door. If they know it, they will always stay with it."

That couldn't be truer for Dragone, who dances every Sunday in San Telmo Square for tourists. "It's like flying," she says. "When my eyes are closed, I feel like I'm dancing with the love of my life. It's beautiful. Then I open my eyes ... and [it might not be] the person I imagined.... But for those three minutes with my eyes closed, dancing, it was love."

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