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It wasn’t the movies that popularized Argentina’s tango, though one might believe so from seeing Hollywood’s clichþd appropriations of the dance on the big screen. The dance sprouted in the multicultural outskirts of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century, particularly in its brothels, where barrio dwellers began to dance to improvised, wailing music, simulating the relationships between prostitutes, their pimps, and their cowboy clients. When universal suffrage came to Argentina in 1912, the newly empowered peasantry spread the tango to the rest of the country’s population, including its upper-class intellectuals. Soon, the dance was taking Paris by storm and becoming popular in the United States. While political repression in the early ’30s brought about suppression of the tango, it was revived later in the decade, its dangerous undertones gradually fading away as it became a nostalgic symbol of a bygone era. Tonight, the National Building Museum’s “Tango Festival ’99” celebrates the tango with a performance by chamber quintet QuinTango (pictured), which will interpret both contemporary and traditional tangos accompanied by guest artists including singer Marga Mitchell and bandoneon (a German instrument similar to the accordion) player Raul Jaurena. As the music plays, ballroom tango champions the Savoys and others will dance various tangos, including the traditional Argentine milonga and European salon-style dances. At the end of the evening, QuinTango will give audience members a chance to try tangoing for themselves. At 4 p.m. Sunday, May 23, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $15-25. (703) 218-6500. (John Dugan)