Viva Tango, Inc. is a non-profit organization incorporated under the laws of New Jersey for the purpose of furthering public education, interest, and awareness of Argentine Tango, Argentine Music and Argentine Culture.
What Happens On Thursday Nights At VivaTango In Princeton
There has been Thursday night Tango in Princeton since 1998! Tango dancers now meet every Thursday in the Suzanne Patterson Building at 45 Stockton Street. The door of this building on Thursday nights makes magic happen. Outside the door people pass each other all day, with rarely making eye contact or exchanging smiles. They spend a lot of time in front of screens and even walk around looking at the screen on their smart phones and talking into the air to someone miles away. When you walk through the Suzanne Patterson Building door Thursday night you escape that world and enter a world where making eye contact with a stranger becomes an adventure. This is a world ruled by Argentine Tango traditions and is hosted by VivaTango each Thursday.
The first tradition is the Tango music. This music is moving and passionate. A tango song has been called a 3 minute opera because it condenses the passion of an opera into a song. Traditionally, 3 or 4 Tangos are played with a short pause between them. This group of Tangos is musically related, and is called a tanda. At the end of the this group of 3 or 4 Tangos, a very different type of music is played to announce the end of the tanda and allow the dancers to change partners. This musical break is called a cortina (Spanish for curtain). Each tango has several measures of musical introduction which give the dancers a moment to communicate. A milonga is the name given to a dance where only Tango music and dancing is done. A milonga experience is the sum of Tango’s traditions. Dancers have been returning week after week since 1998 which is a testament to the value of this experience.
Tango is danced in pairs, with a leader and a follower. When the leader enters the doors, he observes the dancers to see who he knows, who are new, and how well they dance. The traditional way a leader invites a follower to dance is by making eye contact with a follower. If the follower returns the eye contact, they give a subtle nod of the head and a social contract to spend the next 10 minutes dancing together is consummated. This process for initiating dancing is called a cabaceo.
After the cabaceo, the leader escorts the follower to the dance floor, and they take a few seconds to introduce themselves and look at each other to appreciate their partner. Then, they engage in the traditional Tango embrace. A few more seconds are spent relaxing into the embrace and tuning in to the feel of the partner and the passion of the music.
The leader’s role is to make the follower look good, and protect her. The leader starts with simple steps and gradually increases the complexity in order to judge what the follower is capable of. Tango is a creative dance. It does not have a fixed step pattern. The leader’s role is to interpret the music and to lead steps that make the dance interesting while keeping the steps within the capability of the follower so that the she is not stressed or embarrassed by not following well. One hundred percent of the leader’s attention is focused on the follower. The follower is the only person in his world for these 10 minuets.
The follower’s role is to follow with graceful movements. The follower embellishes the lead by introducing style into her legwork. This is her creative input to the interpretation of the music and the beauty of the steps. When she is doing this embellishment, the leader needs to pause to give her the time needed. As the follower’s trust in the leader’s abilities grows, she may close her eyes. Closing her eyes is possible because all the input for following comes from the body contact. Closing her eyes allows her to concentrate on the lead better.
At the end of the tanda, the leader escorts the follower back to her seat. He then goes off and looks for a partner for the next tanda. The switching of partners ensures everyone gets to dance. It also helps improving Tango skills, since the dancers always learn something new from dancing with different partners. A leader may dance with 10 or more different partners during a milonga.
Combine the total mental focus on the music and partner with soulful music, moving rhythmically in a darkened friendly atmosphere and magic can happen. Just as these same activities can lead to an altered state of mind in meditation, the same can happen to a tango dancer. In this altered state of mind, the dancer looses the sense of time and self and becomes absorbed into the connections with the music and partner. Once this experience ambushes a dancer, they are changed forever. This does not happen often, but after the first time, the dancer begins each new dance hopeful to be ambushed again by this transformative miraculous experence.
There is one more piece of magic worked by the Argentine Tango traditions. The traditions are international. The dance in non verbal, and the cabaceo makes it possible to navigate the asking non verbal. Princeton dancers have gone around the world dancing in places like Moscow and Tokyo without any local language skills and have had great times. Thanks to the exponential growth of tango popularity, you can find Argentine Tango in almost every major city in the world. The the traditions create a magic carpet on which to make friends around the world. There are no geographical, political, or religious boundaries separating the worldwide community of Tango dancers. Wouldn’t it be nice if this harmony could extend beyond the Tango dance floor?
VivaTango meets every Thursday. On first, second and third Thursday of every month the evening begins with a a short lesson to teach the basic skills of Argentine Tango. After the lesson, the lights are turned down and fabulous food is brought out and the dancing starts. On the 4th Thursday of the month there is no lesson, the whole evening is devoted to dancing with live music and a DJ between sets. VivaTango also features guest instructors, performers and musicians when the opportunities arise. Guest instructors have included the principal dancers of the famous international traveling tango shows, performers from NYC and Buenos Aires clubs, dancers from Tango Movies. One Thursday we had the instructor who taught Al Pacino to dance tango for the movie Scent of a Woman. Guest musicians have included Grammy Award winners and musicians who have played at Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and famous theaters in Buenos Aires. Details of events are available on the web page www.VivaTango.org
Memorial to Lesley Mitchell. The start of Thursday Tango goes back to graduate students in Princeton University. Michael Brown and Wonchul Park were instrumental in creating the Princeton Tango Club and they recruited Lesley Mitchell to be the instructor. Lesley came from Philadelphia to Princeton weekly for may years to establish the initial Tango community in Princeton. At a later date, the Princeton Tango Club switched to Monday evenings, and a group of tango dancers continued to support Lesley on Thursdays. This went on for some years and continues today with VivaTango. Lesley passed away in 2017. He is remembered fondly by the entire Princeton Tango community for the her dedication to establishing this community in the Princeton region.
David Kalmus – President, Treasurer, Chef, Web design
Jonathan Pollack – Greeter and set up
Yelena Cherdak – Social/Media Distribution
Victor Bec – Set up and clean up
Warren Wilson – Set up and clean up
- Cliff – Set up and clean up
Pablo Garcia Gomez and Iwona Ionescu – Resident Instructors
Dennis Matthies – Programing, Secretary
Joanne Barker – Desert Chef
Available – Chef
Avialable– Publicity, Marketing
Available – Facilitator
In addition to the Trustees, there are several special friends on whose shoulders Viva Tango stands and without whom we couldn’t have gotten started – Sheldon Cutler, Fausta Wertz, Jennifer Kozar, Janusz Godyn and Miles Denns and last but not least we thank Central Jersey Dance Society for their continuous help and guidance.