From Chile To China, Argentina's *Hottest* Export Is The Tango

Tango in Turin
Tango in Turin
Nora Sánchez

BUENOS AIRES - A wooden dance floor, that familiar tempo of the music, a gesture of invitation. And the dance begins, counter-clockwise...

It does not matter whether it is the El Fulgor de Villa Crespo club or the Sunderland de Villa Urquiza or a dance hall in Moscow or Beijing. The tango has the same codes all over the world.

The milongas, Argentine dance music or dance event, serve as the best, cultural ambassadors for the tango. As a result, the Tango World Championship keeps gaining additional qualifying venues in distant places. New ones have just opened in Russia and China, where qualifiers took place for the World Championship that will be hosted in Buenos Aires this August. The European Championship took place earlier this month in Rome.

According to Argentina's Ministry of Culture, the Tango World Championship branches install themselves wherever there is critical mass of tango dancing. It is not by chance that the one in Tokyo, Japan has existed for ten years. Others include Terracina, Italy; San Francisco, USA; Montevideo, Uruguay; Chillán, Chile.

Starting this year, Moscow and Beijing can be added to the growing list. “After being declared World Heritage by the UNESCO, the tango continues to broaden its borders," says Culture Minister Hernán Lombardi. "That which is so profoundly part of Argentine identity also helps to attract more and more people to Buenos Aires.”

Micro Argentinas

The arrival of tango in a country means the opening of a whole self-contained market. “Right away, the tango clothes and shoes pop up, as do the Argentinian teachers”, tells Silvia Tissembaum, coordinator of production at the Festivals Organization in Buenos Aires.

Photo: Luca Boldrini

The Russian case is a good example. “The tango became so popular in Moscow that there are two, three, or more milongas per day. I have mine on Thursdays. It is called ‘Primavera’,” says Moscow’s Gogoleva Vera, who will also be attending the Championship in Buenos Aires.

“I always did ballroom dancing," explains Gogoleva. "Six years ago, my friend invited me to see him dance. I was so impressed by both the difficulty and the improvisation." After months of initial training, she now comes each year to Argentina to dance. "I love the tango: it is infinite in its emotions, communication, and technique.”

Meanwhile in China, tango is still emerging. The first milonga opened in Beijing three years ago with just three couples. Last month, at the Chinese capital's Cultural Diplomacy & Exchange Center, 25 couples danced at the qualifying competitions for the World Cup.

In August, the winners from the qualifying competitions will have to face their Argentinian counterparts. Wherever they may come from, these dancers share a common language. “In every city, the milongas are very similar to the ones in Argentina," Tissembaum explains. "These are micro-environments -- the codes are the same because the milonga spirit is the same wherever you go.”

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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