Tango on the rise in organized dance parties

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003

CHICAGO The music had barely flowed out of the portable speaker in the square when Ed Pamintuan whisked his wife, Cindy, onto the cobblestones.

Reviving a dance associated with their parents and grandparents, the couple tangoed into the night even after the nearby cafe had closed, onlookers had gone home and others had petered out.

''When I dance, it's just the music, my partner and nothing else,'' said Cindy Pamintuan, 54, who steps out in black suede heels each week to attend a tango dance party, called a ''milonga,'' on Chicago's northwest side.

Held in rented halls, parks, dance studios and restaurants from Seattle to Boston, such events are fueling a slow but steadily growing appetite for the century-old tango.

After watching the Broadway show ''Forever Tango,'' the Pamintuans quickly tapped into the network of dance parties weekly or monthly affairs organized by dance studios, clubs or those with tango fever.

The couple tango twice a week in Chicago and sometimes drive to Milwaukee monthly to dance. Often they drop by a milonga when visiting other cities, such as Los Angeles or Toronto.

On the same night the couple danced in Chicago, dozens tangoed under a white tent on New York's Pier 63 and at a VFW hall in Cambridge, Mass.

''People are addicted to it; you can't stay away,'' said Reba Perez, who owns Empire Dance studio in New York and hosted the milonga held on a metal barge docked at Pier 63. ''Tango has been pretty steady, going strong.''

Tango began over a century ago in the bars and brothels of Buenos Aires after European immigrants arrived there on wooden sailing ships. It grew in popularity during the 1920s and between the two world wars, then resurged in the mid-1980s.

Few people showed up at tango parties in Boston several years ago when Vicky Magaletta and her friends first began holding them.

Now, about 85 people turn out for the weekly milongas organized by the Tango Society of Boston, where Magaletta is president. The group sponsors a 24-hour tango event hot line and has 2,000 paying members. Hundreds more tango on the Weeks Footbridge in Cambridge, Mass., when there's a full moon.

Illana Rubin, a 43-year-old dance instructor in Seattle, said the seductive music and passionate moves lure people in.

''It's a very addictive dance form,'' said Rubin, who hosts weekly milongas. ''People see a lot of legs and motion, but really underneath it all is a lot of emotion and body communication.''

Back on Chicago's northwest side, twisting legs told silent stories of seduction.

The sounds of bandoneon the instrument and soul of tango lured couples to the softy-lit square, their legs intertwined, cheeks pressed together, bodies locked in a tight embrace.

The bodies glided as the accordion-like instrument breathed and sighed, issuing forth melancholic tunes of love and longing.

''It leads you into this quiet beautiful place. The more you can let everything fall away and just enjoy that time, it becomes irresistible,'' said Beth Braun, who hosts and DJs the weekly milonga.

She started the milonga three years ago to bring tango out into public spaces and get others hooked.

Between dances, Francesca Gaiba, a die-hard salsa fan who is growing to love tango, said, ''It's a lot about sexiness.''

On weekends, the 31-year-old straps on 3 1/2-inch red suede heels, bought in Argentina, and wears a stunning red skirt with a high slit that shows off her legs and leg movement.

Her friend Sudhi Uppuluri introduced her to tango after becoming addicted five years ago.

Uppuluri had traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and New York to attend milongas. He's even rethinking a job offer in Ann Arbor, Mich., because he said the tango scene there is too small.

''You can dance tango in all kinds of moods happy, nostalgic, melancholy,'' he said. ''There's a lot of heat, a lot of love, a lot of anger.''

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