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In your own backyard: An Argentinean art

Free tango workshops teach technical dance to novice students

 by Tara Brite  published on Thursday, April 21, 2005

Freshmen Cameron Kenny and Carolyn Orosco dance together at a tango workshop.  The couple says they took the class because they have been dating for a year and have never danced together.  /issues/arts/693009
Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Freshmen Cameron Kenny and Carolyn Orosco dance together at a tango workshop. The couple says they took the class because they have been dating for a year and have never danced together.
 

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The basement of the Nelson Fine Arts Center at ASU looks like anything but a dance hall. On a Friday night, the cold, gray concrete floors and the surrounding stark white walls give these seemingly empty corridors the feeling of an insane asylum, which is only emphasized by the voices and the laughter echoing through the air.

But tonight, a quick turn around the corner reveals 16 couples, arm in arm, awkwardly staring over at the feet of their neighbors in an attempt to figure out how their own are supposed to be moving.

And in the midst of them all stands David Lui, his hands clapping to an imaginary beat, and his voice repeating dance steps that some of the couples attempt to follow.

Tonight, the Argentine Tango Club has taken over the basement of the Fine Arts Center with a free tango workshop. Lui, an Arizona State University graduate who both learns and teaches the conversational dance with tango master Michael Walker, explains to each arriving dancer how they are currently locked out of the practice room where the workshop was scheduled, but to feel free to take up a partner and designate some hallway space.

Once the door finally opens up to the scuffed dance floor, the bright overhead lighting and the floor-to-ceiling mirror that spans the entire wall, the tango dancing feels a bit more natural and many of the couples break out of their shells to learn the art form.

Lui, his black jazz shoes moving gracefully around the dance floor, says he has been practicing tango for about four years, and has been working with Walker for more than two of them, though he maintains that tango is just a hobby.

He currently takes many classes from Walker, while working as his business manager along with his mother, Nancy Solano, who is with him at tonight's workshop.

"He is a world-acclaimed tango teacher," Solano says. "It's really important to keep [Walker] here and to keep him happy."

Lui says he first became involved with ASU's Argentine Tango Club during his undergraduate studies.

When he got the chance to work Walker, he couldn't wait to bring his skills back to the club.

Anthropology junior Caitlin Wichlacz says she attended a tango workshop that the club put on last year and was immediately impressed by Walker's skill as an instructor.

"Michael is a great teacher," says Wichlacz, who is in black heels tonight. "He's a teacher's teacher."

Though she says she has had 18 years of dance experience in ballet, she still finds tango difficult.

"The steps aren't difficult, but you can make it your life's work to perfect it," she says. "It's very rich."

Though the occasional couple breaks his concentration to ask a question about a specific difficult maneuver, Lui's passion is more than obvious; it seems to emanate from his every step, movement and word.

It takes him nearly 20 minutes to fully articulate what it is he loves about tango, as he breaks it down into four sections.

"The first thing is the music. There's a melody, but then there's a rhythm, also," he says. "The music allows for a lot of depth."

The second thing, Lui says, is a sense of essence, which he describes as the dance's feeling.

"There's no other word for it. Some dances just have a certain essence," he says. "There's a feeling of essence to tango."

Lui begins to describe the third aspect of tango, explaining that it can be combined with many other types of dances, when his mother interrupts him.

"Anything you can bring to it can make it better," she says, a hint of her faded New York accent creeping into her voice.

Lui chimes in, saying, "There are many right ways to do it."

He demonstrates an example as he pulls his mother onto the dance floor.

"You can get your posture from classical dance, a leg extension from ballet, and you can draw from other communicative dances, as well," he says, referring to partner dances such as swing, ballroom and salsa.

The fourth reason Lui loves tango is the connection.

"When you can really connect with your partner, its great," he says, once again grabbing Solano for a spin around the floor. "There's something personal about not touching, but being so close, face to face and hip to hip."

This goes hand in hand, Lui says, with a sense of body integrity.

He says when one can relate to his own body in such a personal sense, it's easy to develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for it.

"There's a certain logic in it, in the movement and in the form. It's very passionate and exciting," he says.

At the tango club's workshop, this passion and excitement seems to spread like wildfire. Even couples with no previous experience in tango are having a great time.

English linguistics senior and tango beginner Alexandra Leung is dancing with Ajinkya Tulpule, who has taken a salsa class, but has no prior tango experience.

The two look like they are experienced, as Leung's glittered pink high heels weave back and forth between Tulpule's legs.

"He's been really patient, even though I keep making the same mistake over and over and over again," she says.

Each free workshop includes a two-hour lesson and a two-hour practice session. All students and faculty are welcome and encouraged to register with a partner. There are only two workshops left (Friday and April 29), so register today by calling (480) 227-0428.

Reach the reporter at tara.brite@asu.edu.



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