- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

Robin Robison can have a conversation with her husband without saying a word. They speak to each other through tango. She and her husband, Gary, of Warrenton, Va., have been enjoying the dance for about seven years.

The music and style of dance keep them coming back for more instruction. Practicing walking to the music has given them a good basis for other movements, she says.

“My husband likes it because the man is the leader,” Mrs. Robison says. “I do the embellishments that make him look good. Any age can do this. It crosses all age barriers.”

With a little practice, anyone can learn to tango. The dance originates from Argentina, but many variations have grown from it.

By nature, it is more impromptu than most ballroom dances. Argentine tango is passionate, sensual and expressive, says Carlos Gutierrez, owner of Joy of Dance Studio, based in Potomac. He gives classes at Elan DanceSport Center in Fairfax. Mrs. Robison takes classes with Mr. Gutierrez.

He hosts ongoing group classes and private lessons. No partner is necessary. The fee is $20 per class, $90 for six classes and $170 for 12 classes.

“When you feel comfortable with a person, you can have a more wonderful dance,” Mr. Gutierrez says. “Tango is good because you develop social skills. You can go anywhere, and anyone will want to be with you.”

An eight-count step gives dancers basic moves in every direction, says Susan Reynolds, a private instructor in Arlington. She charges $70 per hour for private lessons. For the month of March, she also is conducting group classes at Market 5 Gallery at Eastern Market in Southeast. Group classes cost $10 per person.

Starting March 23, she will teach a six-week series of classes at the Energy Club in Arlington. In the fall, she plans to teach at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. She teaches and dances with her husband, Constantino Bastidas, a native of Peru who learned to dance in the United States.

“Whenever we travel, we look for a place to dance,” Ms. Reynolds says. “Because it’s a social dance, you should grow every time you go out and dance with others.”

Along with the basic step, a standard dance embrace provides a framework for the dance. The leader’s right arm should be around his partner’s back, either to the center of the back or clear around the rib cage. The left hand should be about at eye level. The man takes the woman’s right hand in his left. Both elbows are dropped down alongside the body. The woman’s left arm is resting on the man’s right arm. Her hand is either on his shoulder or around his neck.

“You can learn patterns any time, but if you don’t get the position and connection, your dance never looks like tango,” Ms. Reynolds says.

More than the man’s arms, the man’s chest dictates how the dance will go, she says. His arms are kept firmly in the dance position and when his chest moves, his arms do as well. Partners can dance a little distance apart or chest to chest.

Walking is the most basic and deceptively difficult movement in tango, Ms. Reynolds says.

“If you can’t walk well, you can’t dance well,” she says. “A good teacher will spend a lot of time on walking. To walk close, in connection with another person, is difficult.”

Later on, dancers learn boleos, Ms. Reynolds says. The move can be done by men and women, either to the front or back of the body. The leg flies up, and the hips rotate. Ganchos or hooks are another advanced move where dancers kick between the legs of their partner, she says.

Dancing should be a visual interpretation of the music, says Terry Chasteen, a dance instructor at Chevy Chase Ballroom in Northwest and owner of International Dance Sport and Entertainment in Northwest. Ten classes can be purchased for $95. Individual classes are $11.

“We want to move side or forward or back in sequence to the music,” Mr. Chasteen says. “It could be fast. We could take two steps for every eight beats, one step for every four beats, or one step for every two beats, or you can take one step per beat of music.”

While interpreting the music, floor craft is essential, he says.

“You want to move around without having a wreck, not hitting someone,” Mr. Chasteen says. “It’s like driving on the right side of the Beltway, so all the other cars coming don’t crash into you or you don’t crash into them.”

Despite knowing tips and techniques, if the connection between the dancers isn’t good, the dance will fall apart, he says.

“If you think about steps and music, and you forget about connection, it’s like trying to drive a car without a steering wheel,” Mr. Chasteen says. “The follower never should be left guessing. They should always know where they are going.”

There is no end to learning tango, says Fabio Bonini, dance teacher at the Alliance Dance Institute in the Landmark Mall in Alexandria and owner of Forever Dancing in Alexandria.

“In six months, you can have a person dancing beautifully,” Mr. Bonini says. “For some people, that’s enough, but some people keep learning for a lifetime. Some people don’t want to get enough of tango.”

Mr. Bonini will take a group of students to Argentina from Sept. 22 to 29 to experience tango in its original culture. He offers an array of tango classes from $15 to $20 per class, with varying rates for group classes and packages.

“In Buenos Aires, people dance very close,” Mr. Bonini says. “Today, there are some movements where you dance open. You should find the most comfortable position for you. It could change in time. It varies depending on how people lead and follow.”

Although there is an American way of dancing tango, most people who dance Argentine tango think it’s a more generic ballroom dance, he says.

Tango milonga tango to faster-paced music and tango waltz, which is a combination of Viennese waltz and tango, are two popular variations.

“The American style is not authentic,” Mr. Bonini says. “To tell you the truth, the Argentine community hates it, but it’s nice if people know how to blend both because then you are a more complete dancer.”

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