By Laura Termine (AFP) – Sep 30, 2009
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina and Uruguay, which have long fought over who invented the tango, buried their differences to earn UNESCO's recognition of the dance and its music as a world cultural treasure.
The United Nations cultural organization granted the sultry tango dance steps "intangible cultural heritage" status during a meeting of 400 experts in Abu Dhabi.
The two Latin American countries jointly submitted the "symbolic universe" of tango to UNESCO's list of cultural treasures, setting aside a longstanding feud over which one was the birthplace of legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel.
Tango and candombe -- Uruguay's drum-based music that is part of its African heritage and was also honored by UNESCO -- flooded Uruguayan airwaves in celebration.
"We are thrilled. It is wonderful," glowed Hugo Achugar of Uruguay's National Culture Office.
But tango teachers and fans in Buenos Aires sounded a more cautious note, fearing the dance would lose its essence.
"I fear that in going global, tango will lose its identity and cease to belong to the Rio de la Plata," Anita Monteagudo, director of the "Tango Brujo" dance academy, told AFP.
Tango is intimately linked to the history of the Rio de la Plata, the natural border between the two countries, and the melting pot of poor immigrants and former slaves who settled in the river basin late in the 19th century.
Regardless of the cultural disputes between the two countries, Uruguayans and Argentines "are the same people, expressed in two nations," said Argentine historian Felix Luna.
"I am thrilled about the designation, but they robbed us because it's our cultural heritage," said Jorge Vieites, manager of the nearly century-old Ideal candy shop, where dances and tango lessons take place each day.
Vieites said he felt as though someone had taken his favorite toy, "because I am a little selfish."
Achugar was more conciliatory toward rival Argentina.
"We think it is fantastic that this was done together with Argentina, because our roots are shared," he said of the sultry dance honor.
"It is recognition of our cultural contribution to the world. People listen and dance to tango today, even in Japan."
A Japanese couple last month won the tango World Championships in Buenos Aires, dethroning Argentina, whose dancers have dominated the contest for years.
Paris alone has more than 20 milongas, as the tango dance halls are called, while in New York, fabled tango spots such as "la Nacional" draw a packed crowd of aficionados each weekend until dawn.
Hernan Lombardi, the top cultural official in Buenos Aires, and his Montevideo counterpart Eduardo Leon Duter both announced huge tango parties to celebrate, with singers from the 1940s invited as star guests this weekend.
"This is a tribute to all those who have supported the tradition over the years, who passed the poetry and dance down through the generations, as part of their oral tradition," Lombardi said.
Buenos Aires officials called on neighbors to participate in a major milonga next weekend in the city's working class neighborhood of Boedo to celebrate the UNESCO recognition.
Argentine singer Susana Rinaldi and Uruguayan musician Ruben Rada are set to participate, along with a slew of other artists.
The sensual cheek-to-cheek stride of a tango dancer, rose clenched between the teeth, has become a global byword for Latin passion.
In Argentina and Uruguay, tango is a proud and deep-rooted tradition of dance, poetry and song, closely bound up with the history of the region and kept alive by aficionados young and old in dozens of milongas.
Omar Viola, who chairs the milongas association of Buenos Aires, expressed hope that the UNESCO prize "will help support young people involved in tango and not performers who are already established."
"Any recognition of a cultural treasure of Buenos Aires like the tango is good," said Viola, organizer of the Parakultural Canning milonga, one of the nearly 80 tango dance and music groups operating in the Argentine capital.
"The bureaucrats are one thing and the artists are another. Laws and state support for tango have been limited so far."
Thousands of tourists descend on Buenos Aires each year to learn and dance the tango, which has helped fuel Argentina's economic boom after the peso was devalued in 2002.
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