The Spin Crowd

Is that a rose between your teeth, amigo? Not if you're a true tanguero.

Local enthusiasts talk of the tango trance and of the dynamics of a man and woman joined in an embrace. They talk of tango shoes--you can't really get them in America--and of the sublime power of fingers touching. They are bugged by popular misconceptions about tango. They cringe at the stereotype of tango as an overtly sexual, even campy dance.

There are no mushy moments during which a couple gaze deeply into each other's eyes, they'll tell you. Women generally gaze off to the side and down or close their eyes; men's eyes wander to make sure they don't hit anyone and to ward off potential suitors.

And to many dancers, the most venerable symbol of tango--the rose held between clenched teeth--borders on an insult. "The Hollywood vision of tango is overdramatized," says Tom Stermitz, a member of the nonprofit organization Tango Colorado and Pesochinsky's usual dance partner.

"Tango is a technology of seduction," the wiry 42-year-old continues. "It's not an adrenaline rush. But it is a rush, more meditative. There's no state where you are that way with another person."

Its proponents call tango the most difficult of partner dances. It requires dancers to learn a whole vocabulary of movement and then create the dance spontaneously.

Many of Denver's tangueros and tangueras are amateur or professional dancers who grew up on other forms but gravitated to the challenge of tango. "On stage you can do anything," says Stermitz, a computer programmer who came to tango after years of dancing ballroom and swing. "You're trying to capture communication." Others are new students drawn to tango by everything from a love of motion to a desire to inhabit more traditional gender roles.

All of them seem enjoyably obsessed. Gabriela Carone's class at Kakes Studio in Boulder actually ends with tango therapy--a sort of pop-psych gabfest in which class members talk about the dance and the sometimes too-strong emotions it can stir. Spouses and significant others get jealous, after all, and newcomers often do look intently into each other's eyes.

Carone, a CU philosophy professor, learned her first steps from her father, who grew up in Buenos Aires during tango's golden age of the 1940s and 1950s. Years later she danced the tango for twelve hours straight in the dance's second home--Paris. She arrived in Colorado in 1996 and less than a week later was asked to teach a tango class.

"You can love it or hate it," she says. "A few years ago the young generation was divided. It meant [doing] what your elders did, so you rebelled against it."

Pesochinsky, a public-relations consultant, came to Denver from Russia in 1978, in hopes that the dry climate would improve her asthma. She began dancing to correct what she says was one of two oversights in her education. (The other was not having studied Latin.) She's been dancing the tango for two and a half years. Now it's the only dance she does.

"We talk about it all day long," she says. "We can't eat heavily before we dance. We eat late at night. We're non-drinkers--it affects your balance. When we walk into a mall and hear tango, we kind of drop everything and just listen."

But of all the locals, none seems more crazed than Farley, a 36-year-old who has huge ambitions of fame as a tanguera. "It's like when you get bit by a vampire, if you believe that," Farley says. "When his cloak comes up and he takes the woman into his arms, that's the last thing she sees. She goes into a state of ecstasy. The only thing she can hear is the pounding of her heart.

"I don't think that ever happens for girls who don't surrender," Farley adds. "American women are afraid of surrendering."

Now a windshield repairer for a local contractor, Farley started to tango three years ago. Last fall she joined Trenner's pilgrimage to Buenos Aires, even though she says she was still depressed over the breakup of her marriage a few years earlier.

"My heart was encased in cement," Farley recalls. "I didn't allow myself to be close to people. To touch me here," she says, pointing to her heart, "was so intimate. I was stiff as a board. I was terrified."

She danced with fifteen-year-old Pablo Pugliese, one of Argentina's best young tangueros, in a Buenos Aires milonga. His gentleness started to break "the casing around my heart."

Later, Farley danced with another woman who was an instructor. "She took me to the funkiest studio I'd ever seen," she says. "This one looked like it had been bombed out in World War II, and that was one of the nicer ones." They worked on technique for an hour, then she was told to forget everything and dance.

"She took me in her arms, and as I began to dance, tears began to fall," Farley continues. "I cried through the whole dance, but I didn't stop." She didn't know why she was crying, but her instructor told her not to sweat it--Farley was just having a tango moment.

"We were all possessed after the trip," Farley remembers. "We left our hearts and minds in Argentina. When we came back, we were so sad."

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