Pablo Gonzalez, Corrientes province representative in the major malambo category, dances the malambo northern style in Laborde, Argentina. (Mario De Fina)

A father adjusts his son's hat. (Mario De Fina)

You’ve probably never heard of the small Argentine town of Laborde, but it is home to a unique competition. Since 1966, a prestigious folkloric dance competition has taken place there, the National Festival of Malambo de Laborde. The festival brings together malambo dancers from across the country, each vying to become the next champion.

Malambo is a traditional dance done by Argentine gauchos that involves a sustained tapping of the feet. During the National Festival of Malambo de Laborde, the competitors reach very fast speeds while performing, speeds that have been likened to that of a person running the 100-yard dash. Instead of the mere seconds that take place in the foot race, the competition requires that the gauchos perform the dance for five minutes, sustaining the dance moves for the entire time. It is a feat that requires a lot of technical and athletic abilities.

Winning the competition not only crowns a champion, it also bestows a unique honor on the victor. To preserve the prestige of the competition, its champions have made a pact: When a person has won the competition, they can never enter it again. The malambo the winner performed is their last, as far as the National Festival of Malambo de Laborde is concerned.

In January, photographer Mario De Fina traveled to the town to see this extraordinary competition and document it. Here is what he saw:

A man adjusts the pants of a young malambo dancer. (Mario De Fina)

German Vargas, San Juan province representative in the juvenile malambo category, poses for a portrait in a dressing room. (Mario De Fina)

A young malambo dancer waits to participate in the malambo minor quartet in Laborde. (Mario De Fina)

A malambo dancer is silhouetted against the sun as he performs in the minor malambo category. (Mario De Fina)

A man and a boy, both dressed in the northern malambo style, embrace before the boy dances. (Mario De Fina)

Kevin Ariel Bilbao, Santa Cruz province representative in the "infant" malambo category, shouts at the end of his presentation. (Mario De Fina)

Juan Vicciatti, La Pampa province representative in the minor malambo category, cries after his performance. (Mario De Fina)

Maximo Ramirez, Neuquen province representative in the major malambo category, goes on stage to dance. (Mario De Fina)

Four dancers, San Juan province representatives in the major malambo quartet category, train for their performance. (Mario De Fina)

Diego Schmidt, Misiones province representative in the major malambo category, dances the northern style. (Mario De Fina)

A dancer receives a tension-relieving massage. (Mario De Fina)

Julio Cesar Cajal, Tucuman province representative in the counterpoint malambo category, practices in a dressing room minutes before going on stage. (Mario De Fina)

Ivan Ocaranza, Santiago del Estero province representative in the special juvenile malambo category, looks toward the sky and crosses himself before going on stage. (Mario De Fina)

Jonatan David Aguirre, Catamarca province representative in the major malambo category, at the end of his performance. (Mario De Fina)

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