This weekend kicks off the most important 2 weeks of the year for any tango lover in Buenos Aires. From August 10 to the 23rd, the city celebrates its love for the dance that put it on the world map with the Tango BA Festival and World Cup!
Officially titled the “Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial” (or simply “el Mundial” to the locals), this whirlwind homage to preserving and spreading the cultural heritage of the tango has been taking place every August since 2003. While the public enjoys an array of free concerts, workshops, dance classes, films, and educational exhibitions, a small cadre of top-notch dancers from around the world fiercely compete to be crowned the World Tango Champions in one of two categories: Tango de Pista (Salon Tango), and Tango Escenario (Stage Tango).
If you’re a newcomer to the festival, navigating the maze of offerings can be a little daunting. So, this year, TangoTrips is offering this special guide at the outset of the festival so that you can be sure to hit all the highlights! And, since the official festival website doesn’t offer one, we have gone to the trouble to present a fully interactive Festival Calendar, translated to English, for your visual planning pleasure (scroll to the bottom!). But before you start drawing up your dream itinerary, let’s delve into a little background on this most special event in the tango universe…
The Mundial: A Brief Overview
The family-friendly festival is mainly broken down into two parts: the competition itself, and the range of accompanying free events offered to the public. The former stays pretty low-key until the grand finale at the historic Luna Park, which has been hosting every Finals event since the first year of the festival. The World Tango Championship event takes place over the final 2 days, and features live music from award-winning orchestras. Tickets to this red-carpet event are typically handed out a few days before on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, you can pick up your tickets on August 18th (see Event section below for details).
In the 2 weeks leading up to that event, spectators are invited to watch the competition unfold across all 3 rounds: Qualifying, Semifinals, and Finals. Although many skip the early tournament events and focus on the rest of the happenings around town, dance purists will delight in watching the competitors fight their way to the top with all the tingling excitement of any other porteño sporting event!
Every year’s festival has a theme, and this year it is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the death of Astor Piazzolla– the bandoneón prodigy and orchestra leader that played alongside tango’s greatest musical Maestros before breaking away to create a distinctly new sound for a new generation of dancers. Many music events this year will feature both original and fresh takes on his compositions in homage to this groundbreaking artist.
Beyond the competition and the thematic programming, this year offers 162 free events, more than half of which are music concerts either honoring an old master or offering a new interpretation of the classics. A close second is the strong array of dance offerings, featuring classes with some of BA’s brightest luminaries, open discussions with older milongueros/as about what tango was like during the Golden Age, and free prácticas and milongas every night featuring special performances (see the Events section below for more info).
At the helm of the festival is the Ministry of Culture, which sponsors the event each year and lays down the rules for the contestants. For festival programming, however, an artistic director is appointed to hand-select participating artists. This year, we have Gabriel Soria, the city’s most prominent tango historian and the president of the National Academy of Tango. Highly regarded in tango circles, this man’s knowledge of the roots and development of tango, just like his collection of tango memorabilia, is immense. His expert hand has selected a truly exciting program this year!
Attendance at the festival grows every year, and we expect a record crowd of over 600K in 2017. Likewise, the number of participating artists and venues is always increasing, with over 600 musicians/dancers/historians performing across 34 venues this year (although the majority of events are still held at the Usina del Arte in the La Boca neighborhood near the birthplace of tango). The official festival website provides a nice map on its homepage.
Long before the baton is raised at the opening night concert of the Mundial, the competitors are working their way up the ranks in a series of preliminary competitions held throughout Argentina and in major cities around the world. Winners of approved national and regional competitions get automatically placed into the finals, while runners-up get shuttled into the semifinals, allowing them to skip over the qualifying rounds taking place at the festival itself. These regional competitions include the European Tango Championship (held in early July in Italy), the Argentine Tango UK Official Championship (held during May-June in London), and the Italian National Championships (held annually the 2nd week of July in Rome).
As for Buenos Aires itself, their Municipal Dance Championships are held in May and crown winners in 4 categories: senior, adult, milonga, and vals. The competition is fierce, as the winners will not just go on to compete in the World Championship, but also become highly sought-after teachers of tango throughout Buenos Aires and the rest of the world. First place goes straight to the finals for this and all other municipal winners, while 2nd through 5th place go to the semis.
The competition rules state that couples can be of any nationality and must be at least 18 years of age on the first day of the competition. It is free to register and you don’t have to be a professional dancer to do so, encouraging the participation of everyone. Starting in 2013, there are no restrictions on the sex of each couple– they can be male/female, male/male, or female/female.
Competitors in the Salon category dance to 3 different songs (which they don’t know in advance) on two consecutive days and are judged on a scale from 1-10 for their ability to execute a strictly limited repertoire of classic milonga patterns in a musical way, the elegance of their walk, the connectedness of their embrace, and their mastery of respectful floorcraft technique. In other words, more than just being great dancers, they need to have also mastered all the skills that make you successful in a real milonga environment. Scores from the various judges are added and averaged, ensuring that they have a chance to impress a wide range of judges with varying tastes.
Competitors in the Stage category, on the other hand, have much more artistic license to incorporate acrobatic/balletic movements. In the qualifiers, they dance a choreographed piece to a song they select of up to 4 minutes, and are judged on their technical prowess and choreographic originality. They have two opportunities to perform their piece in front of different judges.
In the semifinals, both categories get only one chance to impress the judges, of which there are 6 at this stage. Appointed by the Association of Teachers, Dancers and Choreographers of Argentine Tango (AMBCTA), there 5 judges for the qualifying rounds and 7 for the finals. See here for footage from last year’s semifinals event at the Usina del Arte.
The winners of the semifinals and the 1st place winners of the Municipal Dance Championships compete in the finals– an exciting event that draws rock-concert-like crowds and usually features ~20 couples in each category dancing both on the big stage and projected screens, punctuated by live music from top-tier orchestras and coverage by every major news outlet in the city. For footage of the winners from last year’s event, see here (Salon Tango) and here (Stage Tango).
The dates and times for the competition events at this year’s festival are listed on the calendar below, but here’s a quick summary:
- Salon Tango: Mon, Aug 14 – Tues, Aug 15 @ 11 am
- Stage Tango: Wed, Aug 16 – Thur, Aug 17 @ 11 am
- Salon Tango: Sat, Aug 19 @ 10 am
- Stage Tango: Sun, Aug 20 @ 10am
- Salon Tango: Tues, Aug 22 @ 7 pm
- Stage Tango: Wed, Aug 23 @ 7 pm
For more information on how to get tickets to these events, click here.
The Events: Overview and Highlights
As in prior years, the programming for this year’s festival contains an exciting array of free concerts, exhibitions, workshops, dance classes, milongas, and a product fair featuring dance clothing, shoe, and music vendors. To aid you in selecting the right events for your tastes, we have divided them into 4 helpful categories, which are color-coded on the calendar below:
- LISTEN – events primarily related to music (colored BLUE)
- LEARN – lectures, films, and exhibitions primarily related to the history and culture of tango (colored ORANGE)
- DANCE – events of interest to dancers, including classes, milongas, and performances (colored GREEN)
- COMPETITION – events that comprise the competition aspect of the festival (colored PINK)
Looking at the calendar, some helpful trends start to emerge. FIRST, note that most events are concentrated at the Usina del Arte in the La Boca neighborhood– a huge former factory warehouse converted into an arts center that amply serves festival patrons by offering multiple theater spaces for hosting events. You can’t go wrong by simply showing up every day at this site at 11 am and seeing what unfolds! Of course, if you’d like to be more strategic about event selection, feel free to copy any events you wish from the calendar below onto your own with a single click!
SECOND, the events of interest to dancers tend to be clustered into the same times of day. Namely, classes tend to be held at 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm, and 6:30 pm, while prácticas start around 7:00 pm and milongas at 11:30 pm. About 1/3 of the classes require advance registration by sending an email to [email protected] and indicating the class of interest, but this mostly applies to the intermediate/advanced classes (beginner classes are open to all).
THIRD, the majority of special events are primarily musical in nature, with a large gala-style concert each night featuring music in homage to a famous orchestra or prominent tango musician. These tend to occur between the hours of 8-9 pm; look out for them below!
Finally, rather than try to cover all the highlighted events here, TangoTrips has marked one event per category (LISTEN, LEARN, DANCE) per day as “featured.” You will find these prefixed by a triple star (***). This designation means that our team of tango experts considers this an event not to be missed, so if you can only attend one event each day, make it one of these!
Enjoy the festivities, and don’t hesitate to contact our native English-speaking tango experts here at Tango Trips if you happen to be in town and have any questions about how to make the most of your festival experience. Also, check back with us here on the blog for more coverage of the festival as it unfolds!
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the origins of tango, be sure to sign up for one of our authentic milonga tours where we delve even deeper into the music, the culture, and the dance. Also, like us on Facebook to keep up with all the tango happenings in Buenos Aires!