Tango Seduces New York

Text by Karen Zraick, NYC24

Argentine tango is more than a dance for the couples that glide along the dance floor on Saturday nights at the 92nd Street Y. It’s a love affair, a meditation, a life lesson —at its best, a communion between two bodies.

“I never had a passion as strong, as vivid as tango in my life,” said Patrizia Chen, a Manhattan author and chef. “It’s orgasmic.”

That physical vulnerability, that willingness to allow someone to grip you and pull you close, creates an intense intimacy between partners, while the melancholy lyrics give the dance an air of wistful romance.

“No other dance has such a close embrace,” Chen said. “You have to give yourself to the other person.”

The tango, which originated as a dance between men in the streets of working-class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century, can be found nowadays at two or three New York City clubs on any night of the week. Tango DJ and webmaster Richard Lipkin said the New York tango scene has been growing steadily since the mid-80s. He runs www.newyorktango.com, a comprehensive calendar of tango dances, called milongas.

Chen has spent countless hours in dance classes over the last four years, dabbling in salsa and merengue as well as tango. But the tango grabbed her heart, striking her as deeper and more psychological than other dances.

“The man is woman just closes her eyes and lets herself go. She follows this other body that is going to tell her what to do. You are going to receive those inputs that his hand, his body, his torso are giving you, and you’re just answering. That communion of movements is extraordinary.”

Argentine tango differs from the ballroom variety, Lipkin said. Partners grip each other in a tighter embrace, their chests close. Forget the rose in Rudolph Valentin’s teeth, or the dramatized head snaps and high kicks. Argentine tango is made up of small steps, meant for dance floors crowded with ordinary people.

In a tango, the man normally leads the woman through a dynamic, spontaneous set of steps. But a woman can also lead a man.

“In tango, one must know how to lead and follow,” said Dardo Galletto, Chen’s dance instructor. “And so it is in life.”

Chen’s latest novel follows an American woman who travels to Buenos Aires after a divorce and rediscovers her passion through tango. It’s loosely based on Chen’s own experiences, though she is still happily married. She travels regularly to Buenos Aires and plans to open a boutique hotel there, complete with a dance salon, part of a tourist-fueled tango renaissance in the Argentine capital.

A good tango, “is when you have a communion of body, soul, music, notes,” Chen said. “Your feet move in the same way. You’re four legs and one soul. It’s the moment you’re reaching that symbiosis, It’s something that you cannot pay to get. It’s something incredible.”