Longform

Dirty Dancing

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So in July 2004, Tango Colorado came up with ten rules for teachers. Some involved simple courtesy, but others were more graphic. Number 6, for example: "Do not force people into close embrace. Let them choose the distance with which they are comfortable. We have lost many new people over this one issue." And Number 7: "This is a sensuous and passionate dance. It is NOT a sexual ritual. Be very, very careful in your use of language and sexual innuendos. As an example, use the word 'chest,' not 'breast.' Avoid overtly sexual moves. As a TC teacher, you represent us more than any other influence on students. Please respect the trust students give you." And Number 8: "Avoid dating your students or 'coming on' to them. Sure, you might be attracted, but wait for a few months until you know that an attraction is mutual and that the person is single if you date."

Angela states the rules more bluntly. "Rule number one: Thou shall not fuck the student, or solicit your student for sex, or blackmail your student for sex," she says. "At the time, Chas was one of the better male leaders in Denver. And since there were very few, this gave him a lot of power, because women wanted to dance so bad that even if he was ugly and dressed weird and creepy, women still danced with him."

And if they wanted to keep dancing with Gale, they could forget the Tango Colorado code of conduct.

"It affected our community," Angela says, "because there was this revolving door of women who danced with Chas and never came back."

Still, there were always more women, and Gale was the envy of many of the men in the tango community. By 2003, he was dating and dancing with a petite woman who wore her hair in a single braid down her back all the way to her knees, a former student who was young at heart even if she was about the same age as fifty-year-old Gale. He was duplicating CDs for a living, no longer hosted the jazz show and had plenty of time to teach; he just needed a suitable place to do it. About six months into their relationship, Gale and his girlfriend purchased a circa 1890 building that had been Cerrone's Italian Market for more than eighty years, and most recently an artist's study. Together they turned it into the Tango House, a place where they could both live and work. They incorporated the business with the Colorado Secretary of State in December 2003.

The following spring, tango school was in session.


By the time she retired in 2004, "Martha" had been dancing ballroom for seven years, and also was familiar with salsa and country dancing. She thought she was up to the challenge of learning the tango. After meeting Chas Gale at the Denver Turnverein, she signed up for a twenty-lesson package at the Tango House, at a cost of $700 or $800.

At the first lesson, Gale was wearing thin shorts and a tank top. Martha remembers thinking the outfit was a little weird, but since the Tango House was also his home, she assumed he just liked to keep things casual.

She soon had more serious concerns. "As we danced, he'd like to rearrange my body," she says. "It mostly has to do with the pelvis area and the tailbone because of the body alignment. It's a fine line of where you can really be instructing and pushing it too far. And in a way, verbally, it's very humiliating; he really wanted to see my behavior when he made suggestions. It's a kind of power trip just to see if he can actually find you in a situation where you feel pushed into a corner or humiliated."

By the third or fourth lesson, Martha says, she decided to spell things out for Gale, and told him that she was seeing someone. Gale acted like he didn't know what she was talking about, and told her that since the tango was a very sexual dance, she must be confused about his intentions. But Martha had danced with enough men to know the difference. "When you bring your tailbone down, try to think of the opening between your legs being very open," she remembers Gale repeatedly telling her.

"It was very suggestive in that way," she says. "He wanted to evoke some sexual response from me, that I'll get ready for him or whatever, but that doesn't work with me. I could see what he was trying to do by the way he was dressed, by the way he talked, by the way he handled himself. It was always suggestive that there could be something else after the class.

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Luke Turf