Tango’s once-warm embrace has grown cool under Argentina’s strict COVID-19 quarantine, though aficionados are finding a way to circumvent social isolation with virtual classes while they wait for dance venues to reopen.
The lockdown means that milongas — traditional dance clubs that dot the Buenos Aires cityscape — are closed indefinitely.
Teachers are maintaining a minimum income from online classes, but they cannot replace the connection that makes the dance so powerful for many.
“The embrace represents 100 percent of tango,” said Jonathan Villanueva, a teacher at Style and Elegance, a tango academy which is now offering its classes on Facebook. “The essential thing is contact with the other.”
It leaves practitioners of the dance experiencing a unique artistic anguish — tango was never meant to be danced alone.
With two decades of dancing behind him, Villanueva, 35, is giving online classes for the first time.
“What we are doing with our classes is alleviating the need of people who want to learn,” he said.
From the covered patio of his house in Buenos Aires, he demonstrates the steps and gives directions to students that he cannot see.
Chairs are suggested as an imaginary dance partner, and he uses a broomstick to help with posture.
“Without the embrace, there would be no tango, but since we cannot hold each other, we go to the next step, which is technique,” said his 27-year-old dance partner Jorge Vargas, who films the classes.
“When we will meet again, we will just hold each other and dance,” he said.
Karo Pizzo, author of Tango Techniques for Women, also teaches online from her home in Benito Juarez, 400km southwest of Buenos Aires.
She has students from around the world who are interested in perfecting different technical aspects of the dance.
“At the end of the class, I feel a kind of anguish, I miss dancing,” Pizzo, 43, said.
Like everyone else in Argentina, Carolina Andohanin has been in compulsory isolation since March 20.
Before then, she took classes at the Tango Milonguero Academy in the center of Buenos Aires.
Andohanin said that she is lucky because she lives with a milonguero — another frequenter of the city’s milongas — which allows her to dance despite the quarantine, but it does not compare with going to an actual milonga venue.
“The magic of arriving, meeting your milonguero friends, stepping onto the dance floor, the expectation of ‘who I will dance with?’ With each milonguero, the embrace is different. All that is lost dancing at home,” she said.
For many, the milonga is their only social activity.
In these clubs, there is little of the acrobatic hip swiveling and leg flicking that pepper professional tango shows.
“He who dances well, no matter what age or appearance, is like Brad Pitt,” said Nora Roncal, a once-regular milonga-goer who laments that the quarantine interrupted her recent return to the dance floor after a two-year lapse.
“The only hope is that the coronavirus vaccine will appear. Without that there is no room for tango, because tango is the embrace. It is being body-to-body and face-to-face with a stranger,” she said.
Roncal is not much taken by the idea of online classes, but home alone one night, she put on her high-heels and dressed up as if to go out. She put on some tango music and, like so many, danced alone.
“Tango is taking a break now during the quarantine. We have to see when and how we are going to resume,” Villanueva said.
Jorge Doallo has been dancing regularly for nearly 25 years. He shares the quarantine days in his apartment in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Belgrano with his partner, Perla.
“After the pandemic, there are going to be certain resentments felt in the milongas,” Doallo, 63, said. “I suppose people are going to have to adopt an open embrace and not a closed one as most like it.”
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