Dancing emissaries from Buenos Aries

Claudio Strang doesn't look like he's leading. Nor does it look like he's pushing very hard with his right hand against his students' shoulder. She steps intuitively out of the way as his legs moves toward her, and there's no force there either.

Claudio Strang doesn’t look like he’s leading.

Nor does it look like he’s pushing very hard with his right hand against his students’ shoulder.

She steps intuitively out of the way as his legs moves toward her, and there’s no force there either.

Their ease is so sleek it’s mesmerizing. It’s hard to pay attention or memorize steps.

But somewhere in the movements, he’s leading and she’s following, though you can barely tell because it’s done with such grace.

Strang, 49, and his student seem to be floating with each other on the wooden floor inside Wood Street Annex. He does it with every woman, young and old, who came to take lessons from him and Trinidad Solar, his fellow dance instructor.

You can’t learn the art of tango by watching them, only by doing it. To tango, a man must guide his partner to the music, and a woman must listen for his next move.

Around two dozen women and a dozen men have come to learn what Solar and Strang do without even trying.

“It’s always two people dancing together, and we must listen to the other one,” said Solar, 28. “There is a leader and there is a follower.”

“The leader is the man the woman is the follower.”

There are some basic steps to begin with.

“We start the tango (like it’s) just walking,” said Solar. “It’s really simple and basic.”

Strang shows the men how to “walk;” their chests forward at all times, steps timed to the accordion. Walking backwards is only done with the legs, the torso has to remain upright.

But there is no pattern or schedule once the steps are learned.

“The idea is creation all the time—improvisation all the time,” said Solar.

“You don’t need to be young, you don’t need to be old, you don’t need to be fat or thin. But everyone must listen (to their partner).”

To the clumsy footed, it’s not easy to understanding this listening concept.

“I just embrace my partner like a friend,” said Solar, who speaks English and translates for Strang. “I don’t need to look at him impatient or nothing.”

“Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to the music to follow,” said Solar.

A man, simply, has to be a man. He must take her where he wants to go.

The tango is passionate role play before anything else. Only the clear and confident direction of the man and the carefree intuition of the woman make this thing work.

The result of this dance-floor patriarchy is a movement that is more than the sum of its parts. More than man and woman—it’s the tango.

The dance has its origins in the intermingling of African and European culture in Argentina during the late 19th century.

Strang and Solar are uncomfortable being called cultural ambassadors for Argentina.

“We never think about that—we’re from Buenos Aires,” said Solar.

“But it’s important (to keep it alive,)” she said. “Because it’s the first contact that people have with Argentina.”

The tango spread throughout the world in many phases over the years, but it remains a crowning symbol of Argentinian culture.

“I started when I was really young in school,” said Solar. In the past, couples would gather in parks or gymnasiums to tango on Sundays.

Strang wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the tango.

“His father met his mother while dancing tango,” said Solar. “It’s like love.”

The tango is undergoing a resurgence in popularity, she said.

“People who are like our grandfathers, they danced tango,” said Solar. “But the people from 50 or 40 (years old) they don’t dance tango.”

A sense of national pride and an unrelenting attraction to its movements has invigorated youngsters to learn the mating ritual of their forefathers.

“Now is a new generation who continues and keep this culture alive,” said Solar. “Us, we dance tango. We chose it.”

The tango has evolved into many new forms in other countries.

“We dance the Argentine tango, the really traditional tango,” said Solar. “This tango is inspired a lot of people who danced it outside (of Argentina), and they changed it.”

The American version, inspired by singers who brought it there in the 1920s, slowly evolved into ballroom tango.

“This is the tango that you see at the competition,” said Solar. “And it is beautiful too.”

Despite being traditionalists, Strang and Solar hold no grudge against the Argentine tango’s offspring.

“There is a difference, but we believe that wherever they tango, it keeps our culture,” said Solar.

“Everyone can touch the music and feel it a different way—we appreciate that. We are not angry about ballroom tango, we see that and say it’s unbelievable because they are such great dancers.”

“But, we choose a traditional tango because we like that.”

Strang and Solar have taught lessons in Quebec and Montreal on this trip to Canada.

It was Mary Sloan, who teaches in the Music, Arts and Drama program in Yukon high schools, who brought them to Whitehorse.

“Mary came to Buenos Aires and she said to me, really secure, ‘You’re going to come to my Whitehorse,’” said Solar. “She organized everything and we just came.”

Sloan first visited Argentina three years ago

“Our son was on a rotary exchange in Argentina,” said Sloan. “He was in a small town just outside of Buenos Aires and when he was finished with the exchange, we went down to pick him up.

“Our last night in Buenos Aires, we went to a tango show at a place called Cafe de Los Angelitos.”

It’s was like Frantic Follies, but with tango, she said.

“I’ve seen tons of dance shows in my life, and I’ve never seen anything that just grabbed me and pulled me.

“There’s something about the music that vibrates inside you.”

Sloan returned last year and took lessons with Solar in Buenos Aires.

Her trouble was learning to be the woman.

“It’s hard for me to follow because I dance by myself because I do jazz or modern,” said Sloan. “It took me 10 classes to learn how to follow.”

Solar was patient with her in explaining the moves, but Strang had a few helpful words of his own.

“And then Claudio, he said ‘The women doesn’t think. Don’t think,’” said Sloan.

“I’m in charge all day,” she said. “It’s so nice to come here and let somebody else tell me what to do.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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