As strains of tango music float over the dance floor, skirts swish, feet shuffle and couples get ready to step off. The practice session for beginners at the Argentine Tango Lovers of Long Island club is about to start.
Instructor Ana Padron stands in the middle of the dance space watching as the partners glide around her, stepping forward to adjust a dancer’s shoulder here and move a hand to the correct angle there.
Every Tuesday at Mirelle’s restaurant in Westbury the group offers lessons and a practice dance for beginner and intermediate-level enthusiasts. Every Friday there’s a practice session with a complimentary lesson for newbies in Levittown. Once a month they hold a milonga, a social dance and dinner at Mirelle’s.
Fans of this style of the dance — more improvisational and less stylized than ballroom or American tango — can indulge their passion without traveling to the city.
Dr. Engracio and Lilia Cortes of Roslyn have been attending dances and lessons for about a year, revisiting the tango after dancing it years ago. “Here there’s a lot of leg movement, and it’s very passionate and such a warm embrace,” said Engracio Cortes, a private practice oncologist. He likes its gracefulness and subtleties, he said. “There’s not this leaping about like on Broadway and in show dancing.”
When the couple, who are in their 70s, vacationed in Argentina, they visited tango salons to observe. It fueled their love for dance, said Lilia Cortes, who recently retired as office administrator at her husband’s practice. “They were dancing it so beautifully.”
Mary Wilmarth, 55, of Lindenhurst, has been attending dances and lessons since May. She appreciates the group’s patience as she learns the steps and movements, which are different from her early lessons in ballet, tap and jazz. “It’s beautiful to watch, with the long lines and long, draping materials, and the music is wonderful,” said Wilmarth, a secretary at Stony Brook University. Learning to dance close with a stranger is becoming more comfortable for her, and she likes the exercise and social aspects of dancing. “It’s a big escape after work, too, with such a different atmosphere.”
From steamy dance scenes in movies and love letters penned to the dance form in popular literature (“Hold Me Tight & Tango Me Home,” “The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel”), the tango occupies a special place in popular culture. Many draw their impression of the dance from movies and TV dancing shows, but those who attend Argentine tango events enjoy the more street form of the dance less influenced by ballroom dancing styles, with room for improvisation. Footwork isn’t as stylized as in ballroom tango, and the upper body embrace is closer, yet more relaxed.
Tuesday evenings start with lessons for beginners where dancers can practice basic steps and leg movements, then work on brush steps, walking and the all-important tango embrace before they sort themselves into leaders and followers.
“Keep your hand toward the middle of her back as you embrace. Don’t put it on her shoulder since it bears weight,” instructed Padron, 33, a co-founder of the Tango for All dance company in Manhattan, with her partner, Diego Blanco, who is also 33. She has been teaching tango to the Long Island group for about 10 years.
She calls out moves and, solo, demonstrates steps. Padron tells the group of about 20, “Rock, step up, back, open.” The dancers circle her, and she reminds partners they must know their role. “Followers, what’s your job?” she asked. “Yes, following. Good. If you want to lead, change roles.”
One of the beauties of tango, said Sherry Palencia, a co-founder of the group from North Babylon, is that dance partners feel a physical connection. “You’re not strangers anymore when you dance. It’s one body, four feet,” she said.
“It’s one of the times where it’s OK for a woman to follow the lead of the man,” Palencia said. “You surrender — it’s only three minutes.” She fell in love with the tango when she saw “Forever Tango” on Broadway and took lessons for several years. Palencia and her husband, Enrique, who declined to give their ages, formed the group with Carmen and Alberto Quintero of Elwood, both 69.
Along with the technical elements of the dance itself, tango has rules and los códigos — etiquette — about asking partners to dance with a glance and cabeceo — the nod — entering the dance floor, and who has right of way on a crowded floor.
“We’re always learning,” said Galo Tobar, 66, of Deer Park, a medical technologist who’s been dancing with the group since it formed 14 years ago. “You listen to the music and work on your technique. We share steps and try to help each other that way.” He and his wife, Margarita, 64, enjoyed tango music while growing up in Ecuador. In 2003, they discovered the dance on vacation in Buenos Aires, staying at a bed-and-breakfast that offered daily lessons. “We had the bug when we got home,” he said with a laugh. “It is our time together, Margarita and I. We connect.”
She agrees. “Tuesday is a cheap date night — you get dinner, dancing and a lesson for $15,” said Margarita Tobar. “We look forward to coming. It’s our therapy.”
While it’s the love of tango that keeps everyone coming back each week, Bill Stone, a dentist from Glen Cove, notes the social opportunities and chance to share a connection with your partner. “I’ll tell you, you ask a girl to dance and in three seconds you’ve got a gorgeous woman on your arm,” said Stone, who is 79, a dentist. He and his wife, Marion, who declined to give her age, wanted an activity they could enjoy together and decided to brush up on their ballroom dancing 10 years ago, but Stone found it too predictable. Then they found the Argentine Tango Lovers. He likes the music, its rhythms and the improvisation the dance allows. “It’s fascinating how you converse through the dance. It’s more fascinating than stepping on the beat.”
Argentine tango calls for a close embrace, and the basic eight-step foot pattern is done somewhat differently than ballroom tango, explains Con Artist, a dance instructor who offers a monthly milonga at a restaurant in Huntington Station (see box).
Among the social things the Long Island group at Mirelle’s enjoys are trips to Argentina and Greece for sightseeing and more tango.
“I love the social aspect,” said Sheila Rindler, 70, of Freeport, a therapist and longtime member of the group. “You don’t care what the person does in life,” she said. “It’s can you dance or not?”
Ready to Argentine tango? Here are some places to step out.
170 Post Ave., Westbury
Argentine Tango Lovers of Long Island argentinetangolovers.com; annual dues $40; call Sherry Palencia 631-242-0686.
Tuesdays, lesson, dinner and dancing, $20 nonmembers, $15 members; 7-7:45 p.m. beginners; 7:45-8:30 p.m. intermediate; 8:30-10:30 p.m.practice session.
Last Sunday of each month: Milonga — dinner and dancing, 7-11 p.m.; $30 nonmembers, $25 members;
Fridays, there’s a practice session with a free lesson for beginners at 8 p.m. at the dance studio, 14 Wolcott Road, Levittown, 8-11 p.m., $10. Bring snacks and drinks.
TANGO ARGENTINIAN STEAKHOUSE
99 W. Suffolk Ave, Central Islip
Last Wednesday of each month, tango dancing for couples, 7-9 p.m.; no dance instruction.
TRIBAL DANCE LONG ISLAND
26 Vernon Valley Rd., East Northport
Mondays, lessons by Con Artist, 631-972-8387, 7-8 p.m., $15 per class or 10 for $100. No partner needed.
LA HACIENDA RESTAURANT
1624 New York Ave., Huntington Station
Dancing for diners the first Thursday of the month from 7-11 p.m.; free lesson by Dragan Ranitovic and Con Artist, 8-9 p.m.
BALLROOM PALACE DANCE STUDIO
The Waterfront at Roslyn, 55 Lumber Rd., Roslyn
Wednesdays, beginner and intermediate Argentine tango classes by Eran Polat; fee, 8:15 p.m. Fridays, the studio hosts a social 8-10 p.m. that includes tango; $10 admission.
If you love going to the city, there’s a calendar listing for many locations that offer tango dance lessons, practice sessions and milongas at newyorktango.com
— KAY BLOUGH