Strictly Ballroom! Tango Championships Begin

Couples from all over the world flock to Argentina for tango championship.

ByABC News
August 15, 2007, 3:31 AM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Aug. 15, 2007 — -- Buenos Aires kicked off its fifth annual International Tango Competition with a dancing news conference Tuesday on a crowded midtown pedestrian walkway.

A total of 479 couples from 154 cities and 28 countries around the world are competing in the two contests, one involving dancing the more traditional Milonga Ballroom tango and the other, a more European-style choreographed tango.

About a dozen couples participated in the opening festivities. Among the flashy dancers was Neville Waisbrod, a South African native, and his British-born dance partner, Allison Fiddler. They both now live in New Zealand where the tango bug bit them.

"Tango has become really a big thing in New Zealand," said Waisbrod, a designer with his own business in Wellington. "There are about 500 people who dance tango on a regular basis in the country."

For Waisbrod it is his third tango vacation in Argentina, but it's the first time he has entered a competition. Fiddler, a midwife from Auckland, has experience in championships and even got to the semifinals in last year's edition. However she says there is no pressure because "we are here to have fun, nothing else."

The Tango championship is one of two annual events that highlight the importance of tango to Buenos Aires' social and cultural life; the other event is the weeklong tango celebration every March that culminates in a huge dancefest beside the centrally located obelisk monument.

In recent years tango and tango tourism have become an important source of revenue for the city's economy. A recent survey for the city's cultural affairs department noted that tango tourism accounts for more than $400 million for the city.

In the five years since 2000, tango tourism jumped by 43 percent to 815,000 annual visitors. Tango vacationers included 40 percent from Europe, 30 percent from the United States and Canada, 15 percent from the rest of Latin America and 25 percent from the rest of the world.

Tourists can choose from more than 40 tango dinner shows available in Buenos Aires. The International Tango Competition is a big part of the tango boom, doubling its attendance in 2005 to 100,000 in 2006. Tango Week in March is expected to attract 200,000 spectators to its events.