FREE TANGO LESSONS AT ARGENTINE CONSULATE
By Donna Lamb
February 12, 2003
Did you ever watch people dancing the Argentinean tango and feel you'd give just about anything to dance like that?
I did. I was enthralled by the way qualities I didn't usually associate with each other - formality, sensuality and playfulness - come together, giving this dance its unique character. I loved the way the dance partners, from the waist up, look like two exceedingly dignified, even haughty, personages; yet, they're cuddled up together cheek to cheek in a close embrace - while, from the waist down, their legs and feet engage in an intricate, mischievous game of footsie.
Frequently, the extremely serious facial expressions and elegant demeanor of the dancers' upper torsos and arms make it appear as though they have no idea of the wild and wonderful things going on down below. There is all manner of adroit interplay of the feet and legs that is at once tremendously sexy, frolicsome, but also surprisingly intellectual because of the speed and precision with which it is carried out.
I was totally captivated by the passion, the intimacy, the subtle humor - and yes, the drama - of the Argentinean tango. However, my budget, alas, did not permit dance lessons. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that the Argentine Consulate holds free tango classes every Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 2:00 PM. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore this stately but steamy dance form.
MULTI-CULTURAL ROOTS OF TANGO
Discovering the roots of tango, you realize it's no wonder that it unites several disparate qualities. It was born out of a diverse mingling of humanity, and it went on to cut across cultural barriers.
The Rio Plata Institute's website states, "Although tango has come to epitomize the glamour and elegance of high society, with women in sleek, glittering evening gowns and men in tux and tails, the tango was originally popular in society's underbelly - the impoverished neighborhoods and brothels of turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, Argentina. As immigrants from Europe and ports unknown streamed into Buenos Aires during the 1880's, many gravitated toward the port city's houses of ill repute where they looked for a distraction to ease their sense of rootlessness and disfranchisement as 'strangers in a strange land.' From this heady, intermingled cultural brew emerged the tango."
As to the music of tango, the Institute also tells us that even though musical historians disagree as to its exact origins, it is generally accepted that the tango borrowed from many cultures. "It has been suggested that it came from three main roots: The Havanera from Havana, Cuba, The Spanish Milonga from Spain and the Candombe from Africans living in Argentina."
The name tango has various suggested origins as well. It may have come from the word for drum "tambo'o," or perhaps the name reflects the feelings expressed in the music and was taken from "Zhango," an African god of thunder and fire.
While there is mystery as to the exact details of its birth, there is no question that the tango has had a very definite effect and enjoys immense popularity worldwide.
Two excellent instructors, who are generous enough to contribute their labor, teach the Argentine Consulate's tango classes. They are Alicia Cruzado, originally from Tucuman in Northern Argentina, and U.S.-born Fran Chesleigh. Their love of the tango is evident, as is their desire that others care for it, too, and learn it with ease. They each have a wonderful teaching style that helps take the fear out of studying the tango, whether you're just starting from scratch learning any dance form, or have a solid background in dance.
Alicia Cruzado noted that this program was begun exactly one year ago this month. It was started with the crucial support of Juan Carlos Vignaud, the Ambassador and Consul General of Argentina in New York City. He then went on to assist with the creation of the Argentine Tango Society, which strives to increase and develop the tango community in New York. She described its president, Jo Fish, as "an excellent supporter who gave us the chance to create this space."
When asked, "What do people get out of doing the tango?" Cruzado responded, "The tango is a special dance. You don't learn a routine. Tango is very creative; you can develop your own personal style. You can do something extraordinary with this dance because it's got so much improvisation."
She went on to explain that tango is very sensual. "It makes you feel more like a real woman and a real man." And she pointed out that you certainly don't have to actually be in love with a man you dance with, but you are in love with him while you dance. "When you dance, it's a wonderful partnership," she said. "This dance is incredible because it's not only the passion, it's the intimate connection with another person, the being part of one other for maybe three minutes during the dance. The music transfers your feelings to that person.
"Each moment there are wonderful things," Cruzado continued. "You make love in that moment. It's sexy and lovely, and passionate."
Now, I ask you, who could resist that? No wonder the classes are so well attended!
One student now in her second term is Kaisha Johnson, a musician trained in classical music and jazz. She works with JazzReach, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating new audiences of jazz listeners.
Explaining what brought her there, she said, "I fell in love with the music." About the classes she commented, "The experience has been absolutely fabulous. You meet so many people, beginners as well as people that have been immersed in this dance for so long and just enjoy doing it because they're passionate about it."
There is also Marissa Tiamfook, who attends the classes with her friend, Joseph Varghese. "I'm a salsa and swing dancer," she stated, "and Joseph told me he took tango lessons. I'd never tried it before but really wanted to because I love dancing. I'm a beginner, but I like the rhythm and love the teachers, who are great."
Another student, Ernest McGray, told me after his very first tango lesson, "It was something I'd always enjoyed watching, and I wanted to give it a try. I've taken ballroom, salsa, merengue, and I wanted to include this." When I inquired how he liked the class, he replied, "Very much. I'm definitely coming back."
To learn more, contact the Cultural Director at (212) 603-0400. The Argentine Consulate is located at 12 West 56th Street, just off 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Photos by Donna Lamb, except as marked
Alicia Cruzado with Annie Lee
Teachers Alicia Cruzado and Fran Chesleigh
Ernest McGray and Annie Lee
Donna Lamb and Sergio Segura (Photo by Ann McGowan)
Marissa Tiamfook with Joseph Varghese
Kaisha Johnson and partner Bob
Jurgen and partner
Alicia showing Jurgen a step