The Spin Crowd

The tango fanatics are easy to spot on a recent weekday night at the Washington Park Grill; they're the ones crowding around a makeshift dance floor they've created by shoving a few tables out of the way. Already the room is buzzing, and the women, many of them older and exuding Neiman Marcus glamour, are particularly revved up.

"I wouldn't be here if I couldn't dance," says a beaming Kathyrn Lindahl, wearing a form-fitting white dress. "Tango's a beautiful, sensual dance."

"If men could dance it, they could get any date," adds Michele Massee, deeply tanned and wearing a black dress with white ruffles at the bottom. "Wallflowers can become men of the world."

The men present at this gathering of Denver's growing tango community surely don't see themselves as wallflowers, but they might as well be when Argentine tanguero Armando Orzuza, a real man of the world, all dark sensuality, emerges from the front of the restaurant in a sharp pinstriped suit. From the other end of the restaurant, he is joined by the striking Daniela Arcuri, who wears a velvet dress, fishnet stockings, red heels and a black veil and gloves. Her blond hair is tightly bound. The pair look like Moderns from 1920s Paris.

Above Orzuza and Arcuri, tungsten light the color of French vanilla creates a soothing, dreamy mood. The dancers, in town as part of an American tour, are husband and wife, and the electricity between them as they size each other up for a moment and begin to move toward each other appears genuine. But this is still an act for the audience, a tour de force of the technical wizardry and zenlike connection that defines the tango. The dance is equal parts passion and intellect--and courtship, too.

"Argentine men are very clever," says Gabriela Carone, the only Argentine tango instructor in Colorado. "They are never totally spontaneous. When they approach a woman, they know what will work and what won't."

It's been almost seven years to the day that Daniela and Armando first embraced at a tango class in Buenos Aires, and the two clearly know what works. They weave effortlessly about the room--most of their performance tonight is choreographed--and make a radiant pair. But they smile so much that their first few dances seem to be a warmup, lacking in drama. They're one-note paeans to pleasure.

After two short songs, the couple disappears upstairs. The crowd loves them anyway, and many are moved to tears.

Later that night, the locals take the floor. Some are skilled, others clumsily bump into one another. Then there are Nina Pesochinsky and Roberta Farley, two of the mainstays of Denver's burgeoning tango scene. The two women are dancing together because Nina's usual male partner is out of town, and Roberta simply doesn't feel any man in town is her equal.

Pesochinsky, the larger woman, leads with a driving edge, and Farley executes move after move with precise snaps and turns of her leg that look deadly enough to break men's hearts--or other parts of the anatomy. Here is not the harmony of the Argentines. Here is an almost aggressive conversation, a competition between skilled rivals. The women's embrace is a crucible.

At first blush, the tango is a little corny. With its playful, goofy melodies and pronounced musical accents, the dance is melodrama par excellence.

But there's listening to tango and then there's dancing to it. Beneath the dance's larger-than-life sensibility is a complex subtlety that often frustrates those who attempt to master it. Unlike other partner dances re-emerging in America, the tango isn't about individual accomplishment, or about endlessly rehashing the same steps. It is, ultimately, improvisation, an act of creative communication.

Tango made its way from the bordellos of Argentina in the early years of the century to the drawing rooms of Paris, and eventually to the United States and Hollywood, where it has been danced by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Rudolph Valentino and, more recently, a tuxedo-clad Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie True Lies. Actor Robert Duvall--who has invited Arcuri and Orzuza to his large home in Virginia to tango--has gained more attention for leaving his wife to dance the tango than for any of his recent screen roles.

"He's an incredible man," says Arcuri of Duvall. "He remodeled his farm in Virginia and put in a milonga [a tango dance hall or party]. He loves the tango. He talks all the time about Argentina. He's very good and very enthusiastic."

No one on Denver's tango scene can match Duvall's bank account, but they share his hunger. Sparked by a revival of interest in Argentina's greatest cultural export engendered by several touring stage shows that hit America in the 1980s, tango is dancing its way back into the spotlight. Denver's group, like most of the others springing up in North America, had its roots in a workshop given by American tango instructor Daniel Trenner, a pied piper of tango who has gone from city to city preaching the dance's faith. Last fall he took more than a dozen Coloradans to Buenos Aires to study with the masters. Today the Front Range tango community is several hundred persons strong.

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T.R. Witcher