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Paul Ben-Itzak
DanceSpots
Argentine Tango
United States
Texas
Richardson, TX
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Argentine Tango in Texas

by Paul Ben-Itzak
July 17, 2010
Richardson, TX
Argentine Tango goes Hawaiian at PJ's Dancetique
RICHARDSON, TX — Unforewarned straddlers who happened to wander into the spic-and-span storefront dance hall one recent Thursday night, perhaps attracted by the neon sign which set it apart from its neighbors in the small mall in this Dallas suburb, with the red letters spelling out "PJ'S Dancetique" framed by a blue rectangle, might have been forgiven for not knowing if they were in Texas, Hawaii, or Argentina. For if it was milonga night — held every third and fourth Thursday, the fifth when there is one and sometimes Sundays — it was also Hawaiian month at PJ's, and that meant the male halves of the 10 or so couples of all races, shapes, ages and sizes dancing the milonga as we entered were wearing loose-fitting Hawaiian shirts, co-hosts PJ Ward and Josie Moffitt were wearing leis as they greeted guests, the tables were decorated with totem-heads and DJs Val Marchesoni and Ben DeLa Vega (also a co-host and co-owner of PJ's) were playing snippets of Hawaiian-style drums or the Hawaii 5-O theme songs for the cortinas that punctuated the tandas for this very warm Argentine tango milonga on a typically sultry summer evening in Texas.

Besides the pink neon "Tango de Luna" sign at the base of the DJ table, what drew me in immediately — not just to PJ's but to a complete Argentine Tango ambience — was Marchesoni's music, a mix of rarities from the '30s and '40s including Orchestra Tipica Victor (OTV), Trollo, and other tunes Marchesoni had collected not just from the 'net, but the old-fashioned way, on regular trips to Buenos Aires from which he typically brings back 500 'pieces' to add to his collection.

And the music for the dances — at this point alternating between tangos and waltzes — wasn't the only element of the dance that was seasoned. Edward, who with his companion Marty had driven the hour from Fort Worth to Richardson, confirmed my impression that some of the more confident partners on the floor seemed to be older men. (Although students should take note: A student ID gets you in free to Tango de Luna; others pay a modest $10, which includes a light buffet and drinks like a fruit-filled punch.) "What's really great about Argentine tango is that all ages can dance it," Edward explained. "And sometimes the older guys are the better they get." So whereas younger men might rule in a salsa hall because of the prime put on pure energy, in Argentine tango women of all ages will often prefer the older partners because they are often more experienced.

What I noticed is how everyone mixed it up, dancing with different partners. In fact, this is good for your dance, as Moffitt explained. "You can't take your partner with you in a valise when you travel. So if you dance with different partners, this allows you to better adapt when you go tango dancing in a foreign place."

But be careful: As regular Argentine Tango readers of ExploreDance may know, but I didn't, if it's appropriate to ask even an accompanied woman to dance, if she has a date you shouldn't do so for more than one tanda (or set of three tunes).

I said ask, but actually, as was explained to me, when it comes to asking — and responding — the eyes have it. The man, seated on one side of the room, is supposed to look at the woman, seated on another side, he wants to dance with; she can say no by simply looking away, or yes by the eye contact. Among other things, this avoids embarassing the guy if the gal says no. If there was one criticism I heard of the set-up at PJ's, it was that it wasn't particularly conducive to this modus-operendi. The rows of tables at right angles to each other on the walls intersecting at the entrance were filled with a hodge-podge of guys and girls so that, in fact, to ask someone to dance you did need to go right up to them. As for the dancing itself, I noticed that with a couple of exceptions — one woman had a particularly supple fashion of leaning against her partners — the pairs danced farther apart than I imagined would be the case. (And this despite that the impecabble bathroom at PJ's offers a crystal carafe of green mouthwash and paper cups to go with, to make physical proximity more pleasant. And, if you want to get more intimate, next to the history of tango on another table is a volume of "The 100 Best Love Poems of all time.")

At one point, as I sat rather inertly and forlornly at one of these tables looking yearningly at the dancers, a woman asked if I was dancing. I said that I'd been advised — and agreed — that Argentine tango was not one of those dances in which one could simply wing it, thus having had no instruction I was refraining. Another woman, Patricia, who was there with her friend John, hearing our conversation, explained that it is indeed considered bad form to have lessons on the dance floor during the dance party.

Then a few minutes later, Moffitt insisted that I try it out, pointing out that, etiquette aside, if I were to write about the Argentine tango scene, I really should experience it first hand. Any dances that involved organized steps are not my strong suit; the last time I tried it, at a French folk dance afternoon in Paris, I stepped on so many partners' feet they gave me an honorary emblazoned third foot. When Moffitt told me that all I needed to do was walk towards her with my legs and feet facing hers, I thought I just might break that Paris record here in Texas. So I started by deliberately placing my left leg outside her right in a well-intentioned effort to avoid stepping on her, but she kept insisting my leg needed to directly face hers. And while I was hyper-conscious of not stepping on her feet, Moffitt explained that in fact it was that very hesitating that made it worse, because it restrained her, whereas things would go smoother if I simply marched steadily forward and trusted her — gave her the power — to retreat as we spun around the dance floor. We only bumped one couple, and Moffitt said I did all right. "It's like learning to walk again," she said. "When you're a baby, you learn to walk by accident. In Argentine tango, you need to re-learn to walk, because that's the key to being a good Argentine tango dancer."
Couples at the Hawaiian theme night of Tango de Luna

Couples at the Hawaiian theme night of Tango de Luna

Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


The marquee says it all for Tango de Luna at PJ's Dancetique

The marquee says it all for Tango de Luna at PJ's Dancetique

Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique


Photo © & courtesy of PJ's Dancetique

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