As the beat cues up and my partner counts us off, I think: This time. This time I will get it right.
Right, slide-slide. Back, slide-slide. Uh, wait, what do I do now? Darn.
Whoever said it takes two to tango wasn’t painting a complete picture. Yes, technically it takes two, but it also takes grace, rhythm and a lot of practice.
But here’s the good news: You don’t actually have to have any of these things to enjoy tango in
Naples. On Monday, Naples-based professional tango dancer Pablo Repun will showcase the sultry dance as part of the 2013 ArtsNaples World Festival. Repun, who teaches here but is a Buenos Aires native, will be joined by five other professional tango dancers and a live tango orchestra for the event.
“We kept saying, ‘Use him!’ ” said Barbara Burris, one of the board members for ArtsNaples. “It’s a Latin American theme, the budget was small, he’s here and needs the exposure, but he’s internationally known. He was perfect!” she said.
I meet Burris in Repun’s studio as she’s buckling up her strappy nude heels for a lesson. Burris has been taking lessons from Repun for about seven months. She swears she’s a beginner, and begs me to not judge her if she missteps. I reassure her by solemnly swearing I won’t. Little does she know that during my own lesson with Repun I gallivanted around the floor with all the grace of an inebriated giraffe.
I was, of course, totally sober.
If you go
Argentinian tango exhibition
What: ArtsNaples World Festival Tango Exhibition featuring tango dancer Pablo Repun and a live tango orchestra
When: Monday, May 13. Cocktail reception begins at 5:30 p.m. with performance starting at 6 p.m.
Where: Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples
But perhaps this was my problem: the tango really is the thinking man’s dance. Where salsa and swing are basically symmetrical (what you do with your right foot, you then do with your left; repeat as desired) tango is not. Plus, your footwork differs considerably from your partner’s, meaning you can’t just mimic what the other person is doing and hope for the best.
However, when it’s done right, (i.e., not by me) it is stunning.
Once her shoes are on, Burris joins Repun on the floor. Repun hits the play button on his sound system and the mournful sounds of a bandoneón — the soulful and serious cousin of the accordion — fill the room. On the hardwood floor, the two embrace. Repun places his hand steadily on Burris’ back and together, they glide, their feet make subtle woosh-woosh-woosh sounds as they pass. The pair is completely absorbed in what they are doing, oblivious to me or anything else in the room. The dance is all consuming.
To me, Burris looks like a pro. She, however, insists she’s got a lot to learn. Repun explains the discrepancy, saying that even once you get the hang of the steps, there are infinite variations and embellishments you can add. It’s a bit like learning an instrument; as soon as you master one skill, there’s a next harder thing to learn. And, as with an instrument, it’s not just enough to play the notes or dance the steps, one must also consider tone and musicality. Plus, it’s a two-part equation. Tango is one part black-and-white, choreographed steps and one part improvisational art.
“Just when you think you have it down, he’ll surprise you,” saidSelma Nettles, another of Repun’s students. “There’s always more to learn.”
Repun chimed in with, “But that’s the beauty of it. It’s improvisational.”
For next week’s show, Repun said most of the dances will be choreographed, but one or two will be complete improvisations. For him, however, the evening’s highlight will be getting to
dance to live music.
“To dance to live music, choreographed or not, that is one of the most beautiful things,” he said. “We are very lucky, we have six very talented musicians coming. Most of them live in America now but are originally from Argentina or Uruguay.”
Guests can expect to see a variety of tango styles showcased. For generations, porteños — as those that live in Buenos Aires are called — have been dancing the night away in milongas, or tango clubs. Just as fashion has changed over time, so too has the dance.
The moves from one time period to the next are often influenced by what was happening socially in the country at the time. Repun said he and the other dancers will spend some time explaining these changes during the show, so that audience members can have some context to help translate what they’re watching.
But while each dance will be a little different, he promises that they will all have one thing: passion.
Longtime student of Repun, Selma Nettles said: “If you cut through everything else, this dance is about emotions and passion. I think that cuts through many different cultures, I think it’s something everyone can relate to.”
And with enough practice and just a little bit of passion, Repun swears that everyone can dance the tango. Even me.