Argentine Tango Club dances away the summer

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BY EMMA JESZKE
Managing Arts Editor
Published May 16, 2010

For many, summertime in Ann Arbor means front porch-frequenting with cold beverages, little-to-no class and trying not to suffocate under the humid blanket that is Michigan summer. But amidst the chilled-out leftover students and re-emerging townies is a group of people who, twice a week, flock to the basement of Angell Hall to turn up the heat even further.

Jake Fromm/Daily

The Michigan Argentine Tango Club (MATC) is a sexy slice of nationally recognized talent that is open to all, regardless of ‘U’ affiliation. Through the combination of chemistry between group members and pheromones zipping through the air, MATC creates a magnetic energy that pulsates through the hallway where its shockingly affordable dance lessons take place.

As the women glide in strappy high-heeled shoes, hand-in-hand with wide-smiling male partners, stopping to exchange affections with nearly every couple they pass, it’s pretty clear that these people are here together to share in their passion: They all absolutely love to tango.

“What’s cool about (MATC) is, because it’s an all-volunteer club and there’s no competition, we all help each other — it’s a very friendly environment,” said Patrick Lademan, an MATC member since 2002 and current beginner series instructor.

None of the instructors working with the group are in it for a paycheck. Instead, after working their way up, they feel it is enough of a reward to pass on their tango skills to newbies. Because literally everything in the club is done on a volunteer basis, MATC is successful in its aim to provide low-cost tango lessons to students and townies (it's $20 for an 8-week pass for students, $30 for non-students). Drop-ins can pay a special rate for just one class.

“Because we are volunteer-run, all we are trying to do is pay our expenses, which are just the room costs, things like equipment and bringing well-known instructors to big festivals,” said Elizabeth Garcia, a 2004 LSA graduate and former MATC vice president.

Solveig Heinz, a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in LSA who has been involved with MATC in various capacities for four years, feels that keeping the club in the hands of those willing to work and teach for free creates a sense of community that would not exist otherwise.

“We learn it together and we give to each other and we teach each other,” Heinz said.

“(The club is) a socialist model at the collective level, but at the individual level you are free to practice free-market, capitalist economy,” added Dinesh Pal, a post-doctorate scholar in the medical school and instructor for an advanced beginner class. “You are free to reach for whatever height you want.”

Along with keeping the tango environment friendly and affordable, MATC strives to make the dance accessible, to make even the most clumsy-footed klutzes feel capable.

“Our club in particular really tries to stay true to the roots of Argentinean tango, just keeping it as this street dance that’s for anybody,” Garcia said. “There are other forms of tango that are more polished, that are more flashy, which are fine and totally valid — but our club generally sticks to how it originated.”

“ ‘Dancing with the Stars’ makes all of us nauseous, actually,” Pal added.

Tango-ers get an intimate twist on experiencing cultural diversity here at the University.

“The club is, I would guess, about 70 percent international,” Heinz said. “If you look at the board, you have everything from Lebanon to Germany … I just taught with someone who is Chinese. And it’s the idea that you are so close — literally, physically so close — to a complete stranger, and that’s often not part of our cultures at all. And you have this moment you share, with the music, ten minutes, and then: ‘Thank you.’ ”

“When you say ‘thank you’ in tango, it means ‘I’m done,’ ” she added. “You say it, and then you smile and walk off — oh, it’s divine.”

Lademan emphasized MATC’s focus on a “homogeneous community of people who all dance together,” whether dating, single or married.

“Dinesh is married and has a child and I’m engaged and pregnant, but when we dance tango, we’re like this,” Heinz said — before grabbing Pal to strike a fabricated pose of passion-ridden tango.

“And that’s the beauty of it,” she added.

MATC keeps busy with much more than the bi-weekly dance lessons. Each year, the group organizes three national (and sometimes international) festivals that are basically a 72-hour “tango bubble,” according to Heinz, as well as three smaller-scale workshops with guest instructors.

Earlier this month, a festival entitled "May Madness" brought Buenos Aires tango professional couple Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez and fellow professional Eriqueta Kleinman to campus. MATC’s festivals attract tango-ers from all over the country — and sometimes even attract dancers from abroad.

“It sounds really snobby, but I would say Ann Arbor is very well known (in the larger tango world),” Heinz said. “Which is why it’s so cool to organize a festival. People are just drawn to us, because they know the quality of dance is really high, but our tickets for these festivals are literally a sixth sometimes of what tickets are elsewhere.”

“We advertise (for our festivals) all over, and we have dancers from all over the country, outside of the country, come and dance with us,” Garcia said. “It’s a total mixing pot of all these different, amazing people. And we try to host as many of the out-of-towners as possible in our own homes, to try and reduce their costs.”

Aside from the larger festivals and workshops, the group also organizes milongas — or dance parties — every other Saturday. Sometimes the milongas have special themes for outreach efforts — last summer, the group partnered with the LGBT community and held a “Rainbow Tango.” It has also been raising money for earthquake relief in Haiti since Valentine’s Day, when it threw a milonga with proceeds all allotted to Haiti.

The group is still accepting donations for Haiti. Proceeds from prospective events will continually be sent to Haiti medical support group “Partners in Health.” Their goal is to raise at least $2,010 throughout the course of the year.

Garcia commented that even though the act of tango doesn’t directly relate to MATC’s philanthropic efforts, group members enjoy using their time spent together to benefit a larger cause.

“Often I feel like (tango) is the central answer to a very rational life that we lead, you know, with Ph.D. and master’s and bachelor’s degrees,” Heinz added.

“And the only way that this is possible is that everybody does everything for free.”