After decades in the closet, classical dance forms such as ballroom, salsa and tango are now out of the mothballs and back on the dance floor. Dust is brushed off 1950’s sequined frocks, tuxedos are again looking slick and patent leather shoes for men are suddenly cool.
Ballroom dance is back in fashion and sweeping across nations around the world. Dance craze is so hot that even American football players have swapped their jock straps and helmets for a pair of tango shoes, some Argentine sounds and a slinky partner.
And given the skill, health benefits and glittering dresses, plus the incidental relationship counseling born of dance, the only surprise is that these dances were relegated to popularity’s scrap heap in the first place.
Showing just how it is done, world renowned Argentine tango master Roberto Herrera was recently in Bali with his tango troupe, Tango Blitz, as the centerpiece act for the Tango Bali Club’s second anniversary celebrations, held at the Canggu Club.
According to Tango Bali Club founder Stefani K, Herrera is one of the best tango dancers in the world. The opportunity to witness Herrera’s astonishing foot movements — which would make fellow Argentine soccer star Maradona proud — was a coup for the club, and is sure to attract greater numbers to this dance form.
Already the club has 40 plus members on its books, with more than one-quarter of them Indonesian nationals.
And while becoming steadily popular, the difficulty of tango has perhaps slowed its rise here when compared to other dances such as salsa and Latin ballroom. Even so, the numbers of those keen to attempt Argentine tango are increasing.
It is the footwork in tango that is so difficult, said Stefani, and “just getting the feel” can take between six and 12 months.
Watching Herrera and partner Tamara Bisceglia flick their legs between each other, brush feet within a moth’s wing beat, swing legs past shoulders, and flip each other in circles without stepping on each other’s toes, Stefani’s “so difficult” comment becomes one of the great understatements of the evening.
This pair is awesome — but they have been at it for a while.
Herrera’s dance bio goes back more than three decades, when he was already a sought-after tango teacher in Argentina. His star has been on the rise ever since with film parts, Broadway shows and performances around the world.
Stefani said tango masters such as Herrera kept the dance alive during its fall from grace in many countries.
When popular culture followers were shaking like wet cats to Chubby Checker’s Twist and Shake, head banging to Guns N’ Roses or doing a contorted Bus Stop to the Bee Gees reflected in the splintered facets of disco balls, Herrera was tangoing to an Argentine beat that dates back to the early 20th century.
Tango started out in the brothels of Argentina in the early 1900’s, according to Stefani, among foreigners down on their luck seeking solace with the local night butterflies.
“At the time there were a lot of immigrants to Argentina from Europe. They came seeking their fortunes, but in many cases, they failed. (The immigrants were) mostly men so they didn’t have their families with them. They went to the brothels to dance,” she said. At that time, she added, tango was a “melancholic dance” born from the frustration and loneliness of the immigrants so far from home.
This history also explains the slip dresses worn by female tango dancers and the 1930’s suits and shoes sported by the male dancers.
“The ‘old’ tango had slips and briefs for the women because prostitutes were the partners of the men in their baggy suits and two-tone shoes. That was the dance’s history,” said Stefani.
This latter-day tango was frowned upon by high society in Argentina, and few would have believed this sad dance pairing immigrants and prostitutes would become the national dance within three decades.
“Tango soon became the favored dance by Argentina’s wealthy young men, but it was basically banned,” said Stefani. “These young men went to school in Paris, taking the dance with them. Tango was a hit in Paris and became socially accepted.
Argentineans were suddenly proud of the tango and by the 1920’s, it was the national dance.”
Tango was to meet with another setback in its birth nation. The string of military coups in Argentina over several decades drove the dance underground until its reawakening in the 1970’s.
Charge d’Affairs of the Argentine Embassy to Indonesia, Alicia Falkowski Morchio, said the dance invited people “into a world of feelings so deep that senses prevail over words, setting your imaginations free to enrich this form of art, where nothing is completely unveiled but remains in the shadow of mystery”.
And it is the emotions loosed through the dance that has people around the world learning tango, stressed Stefani.
“There are no rules in tango, but the embrace is very important,” she continued. “The expression comes from the feet and legs, and the upper body is kept straight. Because of this, tango is called the ‘one body and four legs’ dance. The legs have their own expression and communication. That’s unlike salsa, where most of the movement comes from the hips.”
And while there may be no formal rules in tango, shaking the body about and doing your own thing is definitely a no-no. The elements laid down in the brothels of Argentina still apply, and tango is still very much a man’s dance.
“It is the man that makes up the choreography in tango, and the woman follows,” said Stefani. “Fast or slow, it’s up to the man, and every dance is different.”
A century later, tango is again taking the world by storm.
For more information on tango classes in Bali and Jakarta, contact Tango Bali Club by phone at 0812389423 or email [email protected]