BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - The sexy, sensual world of tango is experiencing a shake-up, as same-sex couples compete for the first time in the world championships in Argentina, where the dance was born.
The crowds in this traditionally conservative bastion of machismo culture, surprisingly, seem to embrace the change.
Enthusiastic cheers and massive applause rang out in a Buenos Aires exhibition hall for Juan Pablo Ramirez and Daniel Arroyo, as they danced to a 1940s classic.
"It takes two to tango," Ramirez told AFP, elated after his successful performance, "but they don't necessarily have to be different sexes."
Ramirez, a 34-year-old Argentine professional dancer, and Arroyo, 18, are among four same-sex couples -- including three male pairs and one female -- competing in the 11th annual world championship.
"There is a macho culture," Arroyo conceded. "But there are older people who appreciate us.
"We aren't doing anything transgressive," he said, adding "society isn't ready. It's a slow change, with pauses."
The dance partners said they are trying to excel in the wider world of tango, not just a gay subculture. "Our goal is for people to say, 'what good dancing!'" Ramirez said.
A relaxation on the tango circuit
Although same-sex couples are now seen as out of the ordinary in the milongas (dance halls) where tango is celebrated amid a cult of masculinity, the origins of the dance tell a different story.
Born in the brothels of the 19th century, the dance was at that time performed by pairs of men -- women were initially prohibited from participating in a dance considered prostitute-like, historians say.
Gustavo Mozzi, a musician and composer and director of the tango championship, told AFP that same-sex couples were never officially barred from the competition, though they never entered in the past.
This year's entries show "there is a relaxation in the tango and milongas circuit. An opening," Mozzi said.