Arts, Culture & Media

Video: Salon Tango Championships in Argentina

A piece of Argentine history is the focus of the Geo Quiz. We are looking for a historic arena in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. It is a few blocks from the famous Plaza de Mayo, near the banks of Rio de la Plata.

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The arena dates back to 1932 when it began as an open air stadium for boxing matches and also served as a venue for carnivals and concerts. It was there in 1944 that Juan Peron met Evita, an actress at the time. He was on the fast track to become the president of Argentina.

The place where they met holds a special place in the nation's heart and still hosts boxing matches, concerts and tango. In fact, it held the finals of the World Tango Championships this week.

The answer is Luna Park Stadium.

Earlier this week dancers from around the world flocked to Buenos Aires to compete in the World Tango Championships.

Declared by UNESCO as part of the world's "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity," Tango seems to be catching on across the globe.

More than 400,000 people participated in this year's festival and international dancers shocked the public, beating the Argentinians at their own game.

For the first time in history, the top five ranking couples in Salon Tango were foreigners: This year's champions were from Colombia with runners up from Venezuela, Italy, Japan and the Unites States.

By Melaina Spitzer

Earlier this week dancers from around the world flocked to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to compete in the World Tango Championships. Declared by UNESCO as part of the world's "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity," tango seems to be catching on across the globe.

At this year's championships, international dancers shocked the audience in Buenos Aires with an impressive accomplishment. For the first time in history, the top five ranking couples in the "salon tango" category were foreign.

That includes an American pair of dancers: Brian Nguyen and Yuliana Basmajyan, from San Francisco. They never thought they could make it to the World Tango Championships. In fact, they never even planned on becoming tango dancers.

Brian said he started out doing breakdance and salsa. "I ran into tango by accident," he recalled, "and from then on, I converted… because it really was the dance for me."

Basmajyan told a similar story. And it wasn't easy for either of them, because of their family backgrounds.

"I'm originally Armenian," said Basmajyan. "I came over to the States at the end of 1998. And I'm coming from a very traditional family and culture. So this is against what our culture would normally do."

Basmajyan said her family wasn't happy when she decided to become a tango dancer. "I've gone through a lot of struggles, [but] now they feel more comfortable about the idea that I'm pursuing tango and hopefully it will get better with time. This is my passion and I want to follow my heart," she said.

Nguyen can relate. His parents came to the US from Vietnam after the Vietnam War. And he said being Vietnamese-American comes with certain expectations.

"I'm expected to be an engineer or a doctor. But I didn't decide to be any of those," Nguyen said. "So of course my parents were mad at me for a really long time."

Brian said his family is coming around now, encouraging him. But he can still feel their disappointment.

"My parents are always thinking, man, he should have been a doctor," But, oh well. I push on because it's my passion. "

And in Buenos Aires, Nguyen and Basmajyan's passion was put to the test.

At the salon tango finals, the dancers were rushed to the stage to begin the competition. Salon tango is traditionally danced at milongas, or social tango gatherings. And unlike the highly choreographed "stage tango," this competition was all about improvisation.

Ten couples took to the stage at once, gracefully circulating counter-clockwise before a panel of judges. Basmajyan stood out in her bright red velvet dress. And Brian's slicked back hair was reminiscent of tango's golden age, in the 1940's.

After four rounds of competition, the scores were announced. A Japanese pair came in fifth. The Italians were fourth. And Basmajyan and Nguyen placed third.

Taking the equivalent of the bronze medal in salon tango was a big deal for the American pair, especially because they were only a hundredth of a point away from a three-way tie for the top spot.

The Colombian and Venezuelan pairs went on to compete in a dance-off for first place. And it was the Colombians who emerged as world champions.

Backstage after the competition, Nguyen said the win changes everything. "Now it feels really good!" he exclaimed. "I think everybody can relate to this. I mean, you go through life looking for a way to prove to yourself that you're worth something. And I found that in tango."

As to what they'll do next, Basmajyan said it's time to get down to work. "Get ready for next year, to compete again and dance more and travel more," she said.

But first, Nguyen wanted to celebrate by pouring some wine into their third place cup.

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