Thursday, April 2, 2009

Going Clubbing: No Rose Necessary

“Extend one foot out, gently, as if you’re testing for thin ice…good!” Robin Thomas, an Argentine tango instructor, surveys the circle of eager dancers surrounding him. It’s a Monday night, and a group of about twenty undergraduate and graduate students, professors and community members have ventured out to the Fields Center for the second in a series of five “absolute beginner” classes offered by the Princeton Tango Club. Soon, the music will start, and the circle will disperse, everyone pairing off to practice the moves they’ve just learned.

While currently a graduate student organization funded primarily by the small fees the group charges non-Princeton students to attend their classes, Princeton Tango Club (PTC) is working hard to receive recognition as an undergrad group as well. Grace Haaland ’12, is one of the undergrad students the club has been attracting lately. “I didn’t dance before Princeton,” she told me, “but once I got my first taste of the larger tango community, I was hooked.”
The idea of a community of dancers came up several times in the course of the conversation, both with Haaland and other club members: “I don’t know what it is about tango…people just like to travel [for dance events]!” says Anca Chereches ’10, who often goes to New York City for weekend “milongas” (the name for a tango dance event) herself. On campus, PTC fosters this sense of solidarity through weekly classes and open “practica” (a term for unstructured practices), as well as monthly milongas attracting students from nearby universities. This past November, the club hosted their second Princeton Tango Festival, a weekend event attended by over two hundred participants and featuring master classes taught by various instructor couples, practica and several milongas.
Pausing to observe the pairs moving together around the room with varying degrees of success, I asked Chereches whether participants were expected to attend with a partner: “Not at all! In fact, that’s what I like about tango: unlike ballroom dancing, you are trained to dance with any stranger rather than just one specific person. We’re constantly rotating partners.”
Another perk? The shoes! (Sorry, guys, but yours aren’t as exciting as the girls’…) Haaland and Chereches both eagerly pulled out their strappy black heels when the topic of footwear came up. I must have looked skeptical when I saw them (Three inches high?!), because Chereches laughed and assured me, “I can’t walk in them…but I can dance!”
I was disappointed to learn, however, that no one actually dances with a rose between their teeth. “Maybe in ballroom tango, which is more about performance, they might,” Haaland conceded. Argentine tango, in contrast, places the emphasis on the individual couple. “Most of what we do is invisible. It’s all about learning to pay attention to your partner’s balance; when you dance with one of the instructors, you feel like you’re floating!”
Roses or no roses, it seems that Princeton tango is here to stay.