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Lebanese tango through political turmoil

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The Beirut International Tango Festival kicked off its annual five-day ballroom dance and performance at the historic St. George Yacht Club & Marina the last week in April. Four hundred participants from 34 countries – all sporting sleek black attire – flashed silver heels and white shoes as they twirled across the dance floor, lost in the fluent and dramatic moves of the Argentine tango.

The dance became popular here in 2003, when the stage production of “Tango Passion” came to Lebanon. Admirers learned the significance of the Argentine tango, which originated in the suburbs of 19th-century Buenos Aires. It is a cultural dance, its music and lyrics expressing the history of the Argentine people.

The Lebanese have adopted the tango as their own vehicle for expression. With their political and social narrative in a perpetual state of imbalance, they passionately convey their emotions from love and playfulness to anger and despair through fluid tango moves.

The Lebanese are hooked, thanks in part to the festival’s founder, Mazen Kiwan, who made the tango community more accessible to the general public rather than just to the elite.

“I find the Lebanese [captured by] the beauty of the dance,” he says with pride.

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