Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 00:05 UK

Global recession to a tango beat

Veronica Smink
BBC Mundo, Argentina

Tango dancing in La Boca, Buenos Aries, Argentina

The international financial crisis and the outbreak of swine flu have had a profound effect on Argentina, including what many see as part of its very essence - the tango.

The country's tango industry has been badly hit this year.

The number of foreign tourists coming to Argentina has fallen sharply because of the global financial crisis and the outbreak of swine flu.

"At the moment we are seeing a fall of around 70% in the number of people coming to see the shows," says Luis Veiga, president of Argentina's chamber of tango venues.

Some tango shows have been forced to close temporarily, and some might now have to close down altogether if things don't improve, he adds.

Rise and fall

Tango is seen by many in Argentina as part of the heart and soul of their country. It has also become a lucrative source of revenue.

Our tango shows have more 30 cast members, sometimes we had more performers than audience
Guillermo Divita, tango club owner

Visitors to Buenos Aires can take in dinner while they watch a tango show, or even learn the dance at a tango salon.

The growth of tango venues came about after the fall of the Argentine economy at the end of 2001.

The devaluation of the country's currency, the peso, suddenly made Buenos Aires a cheap place to visit, attracting millions of visitors from around the world.

Argentina's half-dozen traditional tango venues soon multiplied, with dozens of new tango shows.

Between 2007-2008 Argentina's tango shows made about $80m in profits.

But then the effects of the world's financial crisis began to bite.

The outbreak of swine flu in Mexico this year dealt another blow which has been difficult for many shows to overcome.

"It never rains, but it pours," says Guillermo Divita, owner of the BocaTango show and restaurant.

He told BBC Mundo that currently he only manages to get bookings for a third of the tables for his popular supper show.

Foreign visitors

According to Luis Veiga, about 80% of those who visit the tango venues are foreigners.

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"Between September and March, the majority of the visitors are Europeans and many of them come to Buenos Aires on the cruise ships."

In 2008, more than 130 European and US ships made a stopover in the capital of tango.

However this year the prospect could be very different.

"At the moment, we don't know how many ships to expect or how many passengers they will bring, but hotel reservations have dropped considerably, compared to other years," he added.

Other, once frequent visitors who no longer visit the neighbouring country are the Brazilians, many of whom cancelled their winter holidays in Buenos Aires before the big increase in the number of swine flu cases.

Argentina has so far recorded a higher number of fatalities from the disease than many of its neighbours.


Without their regular clientele, some tango venues are looking to diversify to attract an audience.

Tango performers in Buenos Aries
The number of visitors to tango shows has dropped dramatically

"We are trying to attract more people by selling tickets out on the streets and with special prices for Argentineans," Guillermo Divita explains.

And he is only opening for four days a week instead of the usual six.

"The thing is, our tango shows have more 30 cast members, sometimes we had more performers than audience."

According to Luis Veiga, about 70% of the expenditure of these venues goes on contracting personnel, so it is difficult to cut costs without losing employees.

However, many Argentines hope that once the economic crisis passes and the worst of swine flu is over, there'll be a tango renaissance on the streets of Buenos Aires.

"We are going to pray for that," said Veiga, with his fingers crossed.


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