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Sourou's next goal is competing in the 2022 World Tango Championship
Sourou's next goal is competing in the 2022 World Tango Championship | Photo courtesy of Sourou Noudogbessi

One man is on a mission to bring tango to Africa

As I researched tango, I discovered a much more intense emotional connection than I had known until then. I realized that tango is much more than knowledge of a well-executed technique. I think it has to do with the connection of souls through time, and that it can happen in any corner of the world with people from different cultures.

Sourou Noudogbessi
Interview Subject
Sourou Noudougbessi, 50, is a Benin native who currently lives in Argentina and is pursuing his passion for tango dancing. A former soccer player and economist who spent many years in France, he is now looking forward to competing in the 2022 Tango World Championship and eventually returning to Africa to share his love of tango with his home continent.
Background Information
Tango is a famous form of dance originating in Argentina.

Learn more about tango

Watch the 2016 Tango World Championship winners perform

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—I don’t fit the mold of a typical tango dancer. I hail from Africa, lived in France for years and only recently moved to Argentina. However, my passion for this dance style runs deep.

Benin is a French colony, and the official language is French; however, indigenous languages exist. In the Fon language, my name means “life is a mystery, be patient.” It is a fitting name, as it is patience that I rely on when I train in and spread what I find so meaningful: Tango.

Leaving a poverty-stricken homeland in Africa for France

I spent my childhood in Benin, a West African country that is one of the poorest in not only Africa, but the world.  Illiteracy is high, while stable, well-paid employment opportunities are low; many people are barely able to subsist. In this cycle, people are doomed to poverty for life.

My father died of an illness when I was 2, and my mother raised nine children on her own. Somehow, I was able to educate myself, but our poverty made life extremely difficult.

At 12 years old, I decided to migrate to France to escape these conditions that felt so inescapable. One of my older brothers had settled there a few years earlier, so I moved into his home and helped care for my niece.

Despite the loneliness, isolation and overwhelm that came with life in this new country, I did not give up. I chose a path of sacrifice and study.

I remember my first day of school in France; my brother asked me to take my niece to her school before going to class myself because he and his wife worked. I was only 12, and I did not even know how to get there in the first place. I finally arrived, late, and introduced myself; I said, “I am Sorou, and I am here to study.” I was scared and unsure, but that attitude of perseverance defined me.

Discovering a love of tango

I went on to graduate college and found a job in the finance industry as an economist. I continued living in France, though I missed my family and found it tough to survive at times. However, my mother was a fierce and hard-working woman who taught me to be insistent; I learned by her example.

I returned to Benin for a visit every year. Despite the drastic improvements in my prospects, I felt unsatisfied and like my life lacked a deeper meaning.

I did foster other interests besides my work, including a love of dance. I salsa danced for several years. But everything changed when a friend in France took me to a club with tango nights.

I have never felt anything like what I felt that night. I learned about the milonga genre of dance, which is like a precursor to modern tango. I had never listened to music so carefully, but what moved me the most was the dance I saw unfolding in that place.

As I researched tango, I discovered a much more intense emotional connection than I had known until then. I realized that tango is much more than knowledge of a well-executed technique. I think it has to do with the connection of souls through time, and that it can happen in any corner of the world with people from different cultures.

To dance with a partner, you need to be present. Your body and energy need to focus on what is happening here and now; you need to embody the experience. It is a way of dialoguing and meeting with others; it goes beyond the movement of bodies. I believe that experience can achieve a deeper, healing bond with other human beings.

Dedicating my life to my new passion

When I felt the tango’s embrace, I realized that it was what I had been searching for. That is why, two years ago, I settled in Argentina to study it and hone my skills as much as possible. 

I invest 800 Euros (about $900 USD) per month into pursuing my goal to be a professional tango dancer in the form of private lessons with the best instructors in Argentina, as well as clothes and shoes for dancing.

In addition, I invest my time and effort to develop my ideas around tango. I take classes with a fellow African living in Argentina; we are researching tango from a biomechanical perspective. That is, we think that tango should not just be taught as a set of steps; we believe it derives from the organic movement of the human body and has an ancestral African basis.

I am not sure how this desire got inside me; I just know I want to dance authentic and intimate tango. I want to understand the spiritual side of the dance, which makes me feel closely connected to my ancestors. It’s as if tango is a message from my ancestors, and I give them tribute when I dance.

What comes next: competition and bringing tango to Africa

I’ve competed in one local competition, and my next goal is to participate in the 2022 Tango World Championship. It has nothing to do with a title and everything to do with the belief that leads me to fully explore this dance as a way of achieving union with others at a much deeper level than any other cultural and social activity.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I haven’t returned to Benin since my move to South America. However, I hope to visit following the World Cup and spread all I’ve learned about tango to my countrymen so they can discover the same passion I have.

Tango should not be thought of as something that belongs to one country; a technique, or an industry, but rather a tool that can unity humanity.

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I am Rita Piris, an Argentine journalist and audiovisual communicator. I'm interested in technology and data visualization and convinced that access to information technologies is a means of democratizing information and culture.