In a huge ballroom at a Buenos Aires cellar, the tables have been piled. On the orchestra stage, the piano lid is shut close to unplugged speakers and conjure pictures of tango celebrities.
The empty, shadowy dance floor in the Viruta Tango Club is a sign of the pandemic-induced crisis facing musicians and dancers of the art form known for close physical contact and measuring partners.
Like other venues of its kind, the Viruta club has been closed since March 8, 2020, around the time which Argentine authorities decreed a strict quarantine in hopes of decreasing the spread of COVID-19. The club used to host tens of thousands of tango dancers between Wednesday and Sunday.
“For those of us who make a living out of tango, our self-esteem is about the floor,” said Horacio Godoy, a dancer, historian and team organizer who walked across the Viruta dance hall, which, once in full swing, recreated the atmosphere of the 1940s era when tango became a popular amusement.
“We’re more emotionally than financially bankrupt,” Godoy said.
Equally damaging has been the closing of borders, preventing the coming of tourists, the main source of financing for your local tango industry. Tango tours abroad have also been pinpointed as Argentina continues to endure high coronavirus caseloads over a year following the pandemic began. There have been more than 80,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the country.
Godoy, that earns a little money by instructing virtual tango courses to foreigners, said that capital for dancers and musicians in the mayor’s office are not enough to pay for expenses at the Viruta club. Of 18 employees, only three have kept their jobs.
“The town of Buenos Aires can’t offer history like Rome and Paris. It does not have a shore to offer like from the Caribbean. It doesn’t have gastronomy on offer like Italy. It doesn’t have waterfalls or glaciers. The city of Buenos Aires has tango,” he explained.
According to the Federal Assembly of Tango Workers, the cultural mainstay had employed several 7,000 individuals throughout Argentina. But between 2020 and this year, some 40 tango clubs out of a total of 200 in Buenos Aires have closed permanently.
Ahead of the pandemic, there were approximately 40 tango apparel and footwear companies and presently a dozen survive, the group stated.
Although it’s a symbol of Argentine culture, tango doesn’t receive any specific subsidies.
“There were never public policies created for tango, so that’s why we are so vulnerable.”
Mora Godoy, who educated tango actions to Barack Obama and received standing ovations for her global performances, has had to close her dance school.