Embrace. Legs slightly bent. Lead and follow. Front steps, back steps, then to the side. Pivot.
The dance called the Argentine tango is basically synchronized walking. Yet few could confuse these sensuous motions with a brisk stroll. It takes years to master, but is instantly beautiful to watch.
If that sounds interesting, then get ready: Louisville will soon be visited by international tango dancers and musicians for the inaugural Louisville Tango Festival.
“Louisville is a vibrant melting pot of people who are excited and enthusiastic about tango,” Christy Byers, festival president, said.
Byers, a tango instructor and co-founder with Andy Blair of the Louisville Argentine Tango Society, said the Louisville tango community has been growing and is ready to host its own celebration of the dance.
“The reason for a festival is: I have been to several all over the [United States] and other countries, and I think Louisville is a perfect place to have a festival,” she said, adding that the festival will share proceeds with a charity. “This festival will grow and bring many people to our lovely city, and, in turn, our goal will be to make this cultural event into an event that will give back to the Hispanic and the Latin American community by giving educational scholarships.”
Note the mention of the country of Argentina.
As there are different types of tango, it’s important to understand this festival is featuring only the traditional or Argentine version. The dance originated in Argentina and Uruguay in the late 19th century. Over the following decades, it spread around the world, especially through Europe and America, altering itself to fit the location. There’s even a Finnish version!
“[Another] tango is ballroom,” said Byers. “It is very codified. It has been called the angry dance, in ballroom. But not so in Argentine tango dancing; it is the dance of love and connection. The embrace and connection is totally different than ballroom tango. Ballroom dancing is like going to the zoo, and all the animals are GMO [genetically modified organisms].”
Since 2009, the tango has been included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists and is part of the national heritage of Argentina and Uruguay.
The three days of the Louisville Tango Festival includes workshops, private lessons, five milongas (tango social dances), a Great Gatsby Party and a “Jack & Jill” contest where dancers are paired with unknown partners.
International festival performers and instructors are Junior Cervila and Guadalupe Garcia from Buenos Aires, Alicia Pons and Luis Rojas, also from Buenos Aires, Argentinians Daniela Roig and Hernan Prieto, who now live in Chicago, and Juliana Grossi, an Argentinian living in Louisville. Byers and her dance partner, Andy Blair, will also be giving lessons. Musicians are the quartet Cuarteto Tanguero, Rodrigo “DJ Charrua Tango” Saraibe, DJ Hernan Prieto and DJ Felicia Cole.
The highlight is the Saturday Showcase, an event on May 28 that’s open to the general public. Beginning at 8 p.m., there will be performances by Cuarteto Tanguero as well as the festival’s international roster of dancers. A milonga will be hosted by Saraibe. General admission tickets are $25.
Come for the dancing — stay for the food. As part of the ticket price, Showcase attendees will receive soda and empanadas. Or as Byers explained, “This is a meat pie, Argentine style.”