It takes more than two to tango at VIM
May 13, 2016
When people think of a tango, many conjure images of stoic steps, snapping heads and roses clenched firmly in teeth.
Others think of Rudolph Valentino’s flashy moves with Beatrice Dominguez in the 1920’s silent film "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
These are all elements of the European tango, according to tango teachers Emily Pettey and Nicholas Walker.
"I think there is what is called ‘tango for export,’ which is what we think of as big, flashy moves and erotic dancing," Walker said during a joint Park Record interview with Pettey. "That’s what happened when the tango went to Europe, and that’s where the stereotype developed around it."
These are misconceptions that Walker and Pettey dispel when they teach original Argentine tango classes, and Park City gets its own class every Tuesday at VIM, a boutique located at 1351 Kearns Blvd., at 7:30 p.m.
Walker and Pettey belong to Wasatch Tango, a nonprofit that promotes the Argentine tango in the Salt Lake Valley. They teach a class every Thursday in Sugarhouse. One day, they were approached by one of their friends and students, Rebecca Bowen, to hold classes in Park City.
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"Rebecca knows one of the VIM co owners, Julie Doerr-Arenson, and got us in touch with each other," said Pettey, who also writes a blog called Salt Lake City Tango. "We were offered this space up here and we’re excited to bring regular Argentine tango classes to Park City."
Doerr-Arenson’s business partner Bonnie Brown said the VIM, which has a total of 5,500 square feet in two stories, is the perfect place for a tango class.
"We host a lot of classes here," Brown said. "I do a morning core fusion class Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and people come in and work with Pilates instructors. And we do a guided meditation course on Mondays and Wednesdays, which is really cool, and this tango course has taken off."
Walker, who also teaches under the moniker Tango Gringo, said the Park City classes run an hour.
"After that we hang around for anyone who wants to practice a little bit and socialize," he said. "We’re longtime lovers of Argentine tango and have a tremendous amount of respect for the dance and the culture that bred that dance."
The class, which accepts couples and single dancers, isn’t a ballroom class where people learn how to compete, according to Pettey.
"This is about a class where people can socialize, because the Argentine tango is a social dance," she explained. "People can come to class and learn how to be proficient and we run practices afterwards that are socially focused. This is all about building relationships and community."
Tango history and pop culture references
The Argentine tango came out of immigrant communities in Buenos Aires during the mid-1800s, Walker said.
"These people were all strangers to a new land and this dance developed out of the connections they formed with each other," he said. "For us, that is what tango is about. It’s about connections and social opportunities that it provides.
"I think if we’re going to mention movies, the movie that captures the essence of the Argentine tango is ‘Scent of a Woman’ where Al Pacino does a wonderful Argentine tango," Walker said. "What we try to do is capture the moment of two people moving together on the dance floor."
Even TV shows like "Dancing With the Stars" have certainly helped draw attention to dances such as the Argentine tango, for better or worse, according to the teachers.
"In a lot of ways, it’s cool because when people watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’ they see people who supposedly don’t have dance training do all of these amazing things and want to do it because it looks fun," Pettey said. "There are a lot of people who come through our classes because of that. So, in that way it’s been a positive influence."
"On the other hand, I sometimes worry that [‘Dancing with the Stars’] scares people away from it," Walker said. "They see this very exotic dance with big and complicated moves done by more or less professional dancers."
The goal for Tango at the VIM is to teach dance that is accessible for everyone so they can go out and socialize.
Classes are $15 per person per night.
"We start with the fundamentals, which is how does a couple move around the dance floor together," Walker said. "That can be challenging. How can you lead someone and connect with them, with the music, while doing a couple of simple [movements]."
Once people get comfortable, Walker and Pettey introduce more elements — the eight-count basic, forward and backward ochos and grapevine turns.
"From there we find a whole universe of elements — ganchos, which are hooklike steps between your partner’s legs, boleos, which are flicklike steps," Walker said.
Pettey discovers the tango
Pettey’s introduction to the Argentine tango was relatively recent and "accidental."
"I loved dance and was always the girl out there who danced alone," Pettey said.
Pettey’s sister, who was a friend of Walker’s previous dance partner, took Pettey to her first dance class in 2009.
"My sister didn’t really want to go, but she knew that I, being that girl who was always dancing alone, would go," Pettey said, laughing. "We went for about a month and half and my sister said, ‘That was fun, but I’m done.’ But I, on the other hand, wanted to keep doing this."
So, Pettey gradually got into it and she and Walker started dancing together a year later.
"What I like about the Argentine tango is that it’s an intimate dance and you do all of these things in close proximity to your partner," she said. "It’s definitely a relationship when you dance and you are honing your communication skills."
Walker enjoys the improvisation
Walker’s path to the Argentine tango led through ballroom dancing. but not being interested in the strict choreography.
"Someone introduced me to the Argentine tango and I fell in love with it," he said. "That may have something to do with having grown up in Argentina as a kid and bringing back the memories of the music and the culture."
Walker also enjoyed that the dance relied on improvisation and creativity.
"I find the music for Argentine tango so fascinating, because there are so many rhythmic elements that occur in any given piece," he said. "That allows for a tremendous amount of creativity and storytelling through the dance."
When Walker moved to Utah from New York, where he took classes in Manhattan, he didn’t want to stop dancing.
"I wanted to continue to dance and develop the community and became part of Wasatch Tango," he said. " This is a dance that is happening in all of the major cities across the whole country.
"It’s a wonderful way for me to know that I can go anywhere and join a party of like minded people who are interested in this fascinating and social dance," he said. "There is something for me about being on the dance floor with beautiful music and moving in the flow of music."
Wasatch Tango teachers Emily Pettey and Nicholas Walker host Tango at VIM, 1351 Kearns Blvd., every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $15 per person. For more information, visit http://www.wasatchtango.org.
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