January-February 2007

Tango!
A Beginner's Tale

By Meg Hoffman 

On a recent trip to San Francisco my husband and I decided to include an Argentine tango lesson as an anniveTango Photorsary treat. So, on the Sunday we were in San Francisco, we took an early evening bus down Polk Street from our hotel, got off south of Market and walked a couple of blocks to Heron Street.

Heron is really an alley, as we had seen on the map, but when we arrived at dusk to find ourselves in a short cul-de-sac occupied by car repair shops and decorated with some vivid graffiti, we began to get nervous. And we couldn’t immediately find number 19, Studio Garcia. Curiosity won out, as we stuck our heads in an open doorway where we could see past a cluttered vestibule into a lime green dance studio lined with mirrors and lit with huge white paper lanterns. Inside, about sixteen people taking a lesson. The nice man at the desk took our $15, which included both a beginning and intermediate dance lesson, and the dance party—or milonga—that began at 8:30 pm.

We quickly joined the dance lesson taught by Natasha and Ken, who had the dancers divided into “leaders” and “followers” (thus avoiding any awkward gender assignments). The students were practicing a swaying balance step as a prelude to the more complicated footwork of the quicker rhythms of the dance. As newish tango dancers, we had some trouble mastering the more complicated steps, especially (for me) the coyly crossed ankles out of which I was supposed to pause and then step backwards without losing my balance. Yet, when the sensual and sweet music began, we were compelled to keep trying.

A couch and some café tables and chairs were pushed up against the one wall, along with a coat rack. A few other people from the first lesson hung out and watched the second lesson, likely as amazed as my husband and I, at the syncopated intricacy of the dance. The man at the door walked by and whispered, “About 9:30, all the great tango dancers show up.” Between the second lesson and the beginning of the milonga, disc jockey Emilio arrived to cue up a luscious assortment of tango music, and Ken and Natasha put out a very nice spread of fresh croissant sandwiches, fruit and cake. This was all included in the door price.

After 8:30, dancers filed in, took off their wraps and began find partners—women in slim skirts with ruffled or handkerchief hems and fabulous shoes, men in nice slacks and shirts. As the music started, couples began to pause and swirl to the voluptuous rhythms, some leaning into each other in a near faint, others more gymnastic, all having a great time. Even though my husband and I were tango pikers, we were mesmerized by the spectacle and stayed until about 11:00 to watch (later we went back to our hotel room to practice).

Tango Soma is located at Studio Garcia, 19 Heron Street, off 8th Street between Harrison and Folsom, in San Francisco 415-436-9300. Dances and instruction are held every Sunday evening. A beginners’ lesson starts at 6:30pm followed by an intermediate lesson at 7:30pm. The milonga goes from 8:30 to midnight.

In my area, Argentine tango taught by Paul Palmintere, is located at Buddy and Laurie Schwimmer’s 5-6-7-8- Dance Studio at 624 W. State Street, Redlands. Phone 909-335-0721; contact 909-885-7606, www.TangoTurtor.com; tangotutor@aol.com. It happens every Friday, 7:30 to 11:30pm.

In the Los Angeles/Santa Monica area, Argentine tango is taught by Makela at various locations. Contact her at 310-740-2007 (www.makelatango.com). For other local dance lessons and venues see www.tangoafficionado.com.

Postscript: A recent article on dirty dancing in the L.A. Times noted that “tango originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century.” Further, they reported that at the time the “Vatican tried to suppress ‘this animal dance of irresponsible languor and high-breathing passion.’” Oh, yeah.