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Japan takes tango out for a spin

August 25, 2007|Bill Cormier | Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES -- Think "tango" and it conjures up sultry South American dancers burning up the ballroom. But the World Tango Championships has an increasingly Japanese flavor. No country outside Latin America has more competitors -- 11 -- in the field of 479. And three of those made it into today's 18-team finals of the stage tango category.

There among the men with slicked-back hair and double-breasted suits, the women glamorous in sequined dresses, were Hiroshi Yamao and wife, Kyoko, who drew shouts of "Bravo!" from a 1,000-strong crowd as they traced fast figure eights and danced themselves into the finals.

"You have to get out there and exaggerate and be real macho!" Yamao, 36, said with a laugh.

He wore a mustard-colored suit and yellow tie, his wife a silvery dress so snug she looked unable to walk, much less dance. But they wheeled and spun in a five-minute blur.

"I was really nervous out there," said Kyoko, 33. "I forgot some steps."

The two met at a tango class six years ago and eventually won a championship in Tokyo. Following their dreams, the couple got married, Yamao quit his job selling car air conditioners and they moved to Argentina's capital 14 months ago to train full time.

"My family at first was surprised," Yamao said.

The couple plans to return to teach tango in Japan, where you can find Argentine-style tango parties known as "milongas" every night.

Two other Japanese couples also made the stage tango finals: Reona Noguchi and Makiko Nishikawa, and Takeyuke and Arisa Urushihara. They compete today against 10 couples from Argentina, three from Colombia and one each from Chile and Russia.

Besides beef, wine and soccer, Argentina's tango is a big draw, reaping more than $100 million in annual revenue from shows, lessons, music sales and tango-themed hotels, said the event's general director Carolina Simon, who added that tango is going more global.

"In the first World Tango Championship, we had only 12 foreign couples in one category and 18 in the other -- very few. We could barely call it a world championship! This year we have 50 foreign couples in stage tango and 90 pairs in salon dancing. That shows the enthusiasm," she said.

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