Every Wednesday night, a group gathers at the Skybarn on Syracuse University campus. It is a mixture of students, community members, men, women, old people, young people, Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, Latinos, and more. What brings them together is Argentine tango, a dance that has enjoyed a strong following across Upstate New York for decades. In addition to Syracuse – Ithaca, Buffalo, Utica, and Geneva all boast their own tango communities and many dancers travel from city to city to take classes and dance with new people. These tango events include “practicas” where dancers gather informally to practice and learn from one another, and “milongas” – more formal social dances with lots of wine and food.
As I learned more about tango, I began to wonder how an Argentinean dance spread so far and attracted such a diverse array of devotees. The story begins in Buenos Aires during the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a powerful seaport, the city had lots of traffic coming in and out from Europe and other parts of the world. Tango had developed locally but carried strong influences from abroad. Many of its most influential composers have Italian names and the instrument most associated with tango – the bandoneon, is of German extraction. Buenos Aires was plagued by a lack of women compared to the number of men, and tango grew in popularity as a way of allowing men some contact with the opposite sex. Though it started in the brothels, bars, and rougher areas of Buenos Aires, the dance was spread across the world by sailors. It would catch on in Europe and eventually across the world.
At its basic level, Argentine tango is based on walking in unison with your partner in connection to the rhythm of tango music. I call it “walking while hugging”. However, as it develops for the individual dancer, it becomes an incredibly creative dance. Individual movements are strung together in an infinite number of ways in an improvised manner, so that each tango danced is a unique experience. Additionally, you can dance to the melody of the song instead of just the rhythm. Rather than memorizing figures, dancers develop the connection to their partner so that each step is communicated individually. When the connection is strong, the result is magical.
If you are interested in visiting a tango community near you, the local schedules are summarized below:
Syracuse: Wednesdays at the Skybarn on SU Campus (7:30 pm – 10:30 pm)
Ithaca: Thursdays at the Baker Portico on Cornell Campus (7:00 pm – 10:00 pm)
Utica: Sundays 6:15 to 9:15 pm at the Function Better Studio, 5094 Commercial Drive, Yorkville NY Buffalo: Every Wednesday except the last Wednesday of the month. Movement 716 at 3111 Delaware Ave, Buffalo NY (7:00 pm – 10:00 pm)
About the author – Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.