There are a handful of adjectives reliably attached to every mention of an Argentine Tango performance, workshop or dancer: seductive, passionate, sultry, smoldering, fiery, sizzling or, quite simply, hot. As a (unfortunately lapsed) tanguera, I can attest that, yes, the spicy descriptions do apply—most of the time—but, in my opinion, the universally fevered characterizations do a versatile form a gross disservice. Tango is an almost entirely free-form partner dance without any basic footwork pattern; an intricate flurry of feet is generated spontaneously (at least in social contexts where the dance truly comes to life) by communication between partners—a partnership that is entirely unique from couple to couple and capable of expressing, at its best, the infinitely varied complexity of human relationships. However, this exchange between partners takes place in a rather limited physical area—from one torso directly to another—so projecting the emotional subtlety of tango beyond the confines of the embrace, much less to a 1500-seat theater, can be a difficult task. This is probably why promoters of tango tend to fall back on sexual buzzwords to stir up interest—the side effect being that the public is given one reductive story: the virile, hyper-masculine Latino and his seductive, leggy partner, the infidelity of both and the hyperbolized heartache that ensues. After all, it’s easier to titillate with descriptions of flirtatious kicks, flicks and lunges than the fluid quality of connection between seasoned dancers.
This weekend is an opportunity to see Argentine Tango—and please do see Argentine Tango—through a wider lens. The releases from the American Tango Institute, the Chicago-based tango club and studio sponsoring the event, about “Argentina Tango on Stage” holds to the archetype, but the program, featuring six couples and seven musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, is also an introduction to one of the most expressive and challenging vernacular dances widely practiced today. Sure, there will be plenty of sultry gazes and mile-long gams, but don’t forget to notice the understated, elegant craft of Eduardo and Gloria Arquimbau, who have been dancing together for fifty years, or the shifts in mood from the light, bouncy milonga to the athletic, flashier nuevo favored by a younger generation of tangueros. Odds are, the performance will have you itching to learn one style or another, which is most certainly by design. Next weekend, ATI hosts their annual festival of workshops and intimate performances at the Palmer House, an event well worth checking out. Ultimately, the best way to appreciate the richness of tango is to try it yourself. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph (312)334-7777. Saturday, August 22, 4 and 8pm. $30-60.