Longform

Dirty Dancing

Page 4 of 7

"As we danced together, at one point I said, 'I don't want you talking to me or stopping and changing me physically. I just want you to dance.' I thought I wasn't getting my money's worth. I want to dance — I don't want him to give me his spiel about how my body should be."

Still, Martha made it through all twenty lessons. One reason was Gale's girlfriend, who occasionally joined the class and seemed very pleasant. But she wasn't around for long.

In tango, people who aren't interested in doing more than dancing together traditionally dance just one tanda at a time. But Gale took a liking to a married student, Gaia Banovich, and would dance multiple tandas with her — a slap in the face to both his girlfriend and Gaia's husband of twenty years. Gaia wound up leaving her husband and joining Gale at the Tango House; he bought out his former girlfriend's share of the venture and kept on teaching.

After taking a group class at the Tango House with several other couples, last year "Lucy" signed up for four private lessons with Gale, at a total of $200. Martha knows Lucy, but admits that she didn't warn her about Gale's behavior. She says she didn't want to be unfair; she remembers thinking that maybe Gale wouldn't hit on other students.

"My first lesson was a pretty good lesson, mainly because he just complimented me for every step I took and he was just so delighted with my progress that he was kissing me every time," Lucy remembers. "And after a while, I told him, 'Quit kissing me or I'll start charging for it.' I was joking. My confidence level got really high; he was telling me what a great natural dancer I was. But also on the second lesson, I remember very vividly that the door opened, and his girlfriend came in and he was very nervous about it." But Lucy didn't mind Gaia being there, because she gave some valuable pointers.

Gaia wasn't around when Lucy arrived at the Tango House for her third lesson. And as she walked in, she saw a naked Gale dash across the hall from his living quarters. "If he had underwear, they must've been extremely small, because I don't remember seeing anything," she says.

She thought maybe Gale had just overslept — but she also thought it odd that he showed up for the lesson in pajama pants. And not only did he keep urging her to relax her private parts, but he seemed to be touching his own private parts too much, "like Michael Jackson."

"It got so uncomfortable that I just left," Lucy says. "I didn't tell him why. I told him I wasn't feeling right, that I had a headache, and I left. I was very disappointed. I thought, if this is what the tango teacher is going to talk about, I wasn't going to take the class."

Lucy had paid for four lessons, but she never went back after the third.

This wasn't Lucy's first unpleasant sexual experience. When she was a girl, a custodian at her elementary school put his hand up her skirt. She told her mother, who told school administrators. It turned out there were many other victims, but Lucy was one of the few willing to testify. The perpetrator was sentenced to seven years in prison. But his family was popular in her home town, and Lucy felt the heat.

"From that moment," she remembers, "I was victimized. A lot of people pointed fingers at me and called me troublemaker. Probably because of that, I wasn't going to speak up this time." So she, like Martha and Angela, stayed quiet.

But last year, word of Gale's unusual tango-instruction techniques started leaking out of the community — and into the files of the Denver Police Department and the Denver District Attorney's Office. Those files started with an incident in June 2006, when a woman went to the Tango House for a lesson and found Gale in a weird outfit that allowed his genitals to be outlined. As the two twirled around the dance floor, Gale encouraged the woman to "free herself" from any self-conscious feelings. She glanced over at Gale, and saw that he had exposed his buttocks, testicles and erect penis, the woman told police. She was so uncomfortable that she fled the dance floor for the kitchen, where she got a glass of water. Gale followed her, and told her that other women with low self-esteem issues got over them quickly when they freed themselves as he had. After Gale pleaded with her not to talk about what he had done, she agreed to one more dance.

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Luke Turf