July 25, 2010 / 4:40 PM / in 7 years

Gay tango festival puts new spin on Argentine dance

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters Life!) - Two men locked in a tight embrace step in time to the mournful chords of a tango. Gustavo Aciar follows his partner’s lead, but halfway through the melancholy song, he takes charge.

The nostalgic music and passionate moves are the same as those found in most Buenos Aires tango clubs, called milongas, but a gay tango festival is giving a new twist to a dance that traditionally maintains strict gender roles.

“Tango has to adapt, just like a language,” Aciar, 45, an opera pianist from the Argentine capital, told Reuters. “And gay tango is enriching the language of tango.”

The event is an offshoot of the bigger International Queer Tango Festival, which was launched in 2007 to increase interest in the dance among the gay community in the country, which became the first nation in Latin America to allow gay marriage this month.

At a workshop held as part of the weekend festival, there were none of the women in high-heels and dapper, suited men normally associated with the quintessential Argentine dance.

“Gay tango takes tango to another level-- the macho leader can become the sensual follower,” said Kalervo Barker, 47, a tourist from Wales, who danced a few songs with Aciar.

“Tango is so sensual and for me dancing with a man is more sensual when leading or following, there is a little flirting and I don’t want to flirt with a woman,” he said as the mainly male participants went through their steps.

They got a chance to put their classes in practice later that night at the Academia Bien Porteno milonga.

Laura, a 38-year old Argentine economics researcher said it was still difficult for gay couples to dance in mainstream milongas, despite generally liberal attitudes in the capital city.

“I would prefer for integration to be a reality,” she said as she took a breather on the dancefloor. “But it’s difficult for people from the community to enter more traditional milongas, so this festival is important.”

Buenos Aires is a popular destination among gay travelers and this weekend’s mini-festival also sought to take advantage of an influx of European tourists on summer vacations.

A boom in tourism during the last decade has rekindled interest in tango, which was born in Buenos Aires’ immigrant neighborhoods.

Traditionally the man leads the woman, but if no women could be found to accompany them, so-called tangueros would perfect their steps with each other.

“What the books don’t say is that while some men did it for the practice, others did it because they loved it,” said Augusto Balizano, 40, one of the festival’s organizers.

“And why shouldn’t I dance tango with the object of my desire?”

Editing by Helen Popper

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