It Takes Two to Tango
The dancers take catlike steps, moving forward and backward, side-to-side, legs intertwining. The leader and responder hold each other in a close embrace, and although there is no tension in their framing, the dance is one of passion and intensity. While there are trapezes hanging from the roof of the Load of Fun
studio, it is the tango students that hold this writer's attention.
Christina Simpson and Mark Longerbeam have been teaching these tango classes as a part of Baltimore Tango
for almost five years. They were both entranced when they first witnessed the tango. Longerbeam had his first encounter with the tango at a demonstration at the Creative Alliance
“It was a one-time thing, and they did a demonstration of close embrace tango, and that was it,” Longerbeam says. “I had to have it. I had to do it.” After that, he drove to Washington, D.C., every Wednesday night for two years to take classes because there was no tango in Baltimore at the time.
Eventually, Longerbeam found tango classes in Baltimore and invited Simpson, his social dancing partner, to go with him. Apart from dances, Baltimore Tango has unintentionally created an ad hoc community of tango lovers in Baltimore. Along with beginner and advanced classes, Baltimore Tango also holds practicas
, lessons and time to practice what they’ve learned from class, and milongas
, dances with music and no instruction. From May to October, they hold first Friday milonga dances on the pier at the end of Broadway in Fells Point
. The next one is Sept. 7.
“We don’t strive to create community in tango,” Longerbeam says. “Tango is a very individual sport. You develop it on your own. You refine it as you would refine any talent, and then you can do it anywhere.”
After classes at Load of Fun every Wednesday, there is generally a table of around 20 people across the street at Joe Squared for two hours according to Longerbeam.
"There's a community that didn't exist before," says Baltimore commercial photographer and tango enthusiast Marty Katz.
“The community has come along with it, and I’m happy for that, but we never really started it out that way,” Longerbeam says. “We were just kind of hanging out. Just let people who were interested do it, and it turns out that, wow, people make friends, community happens.”
It is not necessary to be gifted in movement to start learning to dance the tango, says Simpson. She has a day job as a school counselor and thought she was a klutz during her first lesson. Longerbeam, a biomedical engineer by day, has found that the tango lessons attract quite a few engineers because learning its steps are like a puzzle that needs to be solved.
Students in the beginner class spend much of their first class practicing walking, which is a big part of tango. Simpson describes the walk as “a cat stalking its prey.” When they pair up as leader and responder, they move jerkily, responder unsure of where she is supposed to go and leader not knowing to where he should lead.
The progression one can make as a tango dancer is clear once the advanced class arrives. They are enthusiastic, taking to the floor before the last of the beginner students have cleared out. The pairs move together in harmony, performing more complex moves with names like parada
, back ocho
. With the advanced students, the responder seems to know where the leader wants her to go just by looking into his eyes.
It is the detailed instruction that makes Baltimore Tango unique, Katz says. After eight weeks with Simpson and Longerbeam, a tango student can take her skills to a function at the Argentine embassy.
Though he has tried swing and zydeco, they didn't take hold of him like the tango -- a dance in which there's an infinite number of moves.
"Tango tends to seek out refugees of other dances who are not satisfied," Katz says. "There's an emotional and physical connection that is more sophisticated in tango. And it makes other types of dance seem shallow."
Abby Sussman is an incoming junior at Johns Hopkins University and one of BmoreMedia's summer interns. The Lutherville native attended the Park School of Baltimore and is currently spending a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.
All photographs by MARTY KATZ.