Argentineans sure do take their tango seriously. 

In the capital Buenos Aires, about 500 free dance lessons are being offered, and concerts and lessons began this week for the world's largest annual tango festival and championship.

It included a homage to Astor Piazzolla, Argentina's most popular player of the bandoneon, the concertina-like accordion that is synonymous with Tango.

Hundreds of professional dancers will compete in the championship and teach many the eight basic steps of the dance in the city where it was born.

Last year, Diego Benavidez Hernández and Natasha Agudelo Arboleda were the first Colombians to win the $7,500 first prize.

A jury of seven experts picked them over John Erban and Clarissa Sanchez from Venezuela after a danceoff between the two pairs. The couple finished the final round tied for first among 40 couples.

"It's a dream. You think it is impossible to achieve, but this is proof that it can," Arboleda said after receiving the first prize.

Tango is the embodiment of the "criollo" culture of Europeans and natives who settled around the Rio de la Plata. Born at the end of the 19th century, the music and dance reflect the passion, drama and melancholy of their experience.

The tradition was nearly forgotten, however, until singer Carlos Gardel popularized it in Europe and then brought it back home.

Now tango is celebrated worldwide, with many top dancers coming from Japan.

"In August every year this event brings together a whole community of musicians, dancers, academics and entrepreneurs," Mayor Mauricio Macri said in a statement. "We are united by a past, a common history and confidence in the future."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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