When the opening bars to Recuerdo fill the ballroom at Generations Hall on Saturday at Rockin’ With The NOLA Stars, keep your eyes on center stage for a one-of-a-kind performance.
Embrace Tango’s Y.B. Kim and Times-Picayune social columnist Nell Nolan will be doing the evening’s only Argentine tango.
It’s a far different dance than its ballroom cousins, the American and International tangos.
“The embrace is key,” explains Missy McCroskey, who runs Embrace Tango at Tango Ensueno in the lower Garden District. “It’s not an open embrace, but very close. It’s a feeling dance. Other ballroom dances are very formulaic – one, two three, four, then repeat. But Argentine tango is not about steps. It’s not choreographed, but improvisational. The man listens to the music and interprets it and leads.”
Navigation for the dance is in a line that moves counterclockwise around the dance floor. When multiple couples are on the floor, that movement can start and stop, with steps performed in place if the couple in front of you pauses.
Meanwhile, the man looks ahead, while his partner dances with her back to the couples in front of them.
“The lead performs steps that go from his brain to his torso, then to your torso and then the feet follow,” McCroskey says. “That’s why they say that the Argentine tango is one body with four feet.”
The dance consists of the walk (caminata) performed with basic steps such as ochos or molinetes. Once you learn them, says McCroskey, “you can follow anything your partner improvises.”
Tango dance events are called milongas.
Argentine tango has been taught in New Orleans for a decade or so, but New Orleans has not embraced the dance as enthusiastically as other communities, says McCroskey. In San Francisco, where she lived for many years, “you can go to seven places a night to tango.”
“There’s too much else going on in New Orleans, and it’s not an easy dance to learn. I always say that real men don’t quit Argentine tango. If you want to do it well, you can’t do other dances, because they’re so different.”
It can take years to get the right muscle memory to perfect the Argentine tango.
It’s demanding, too: Argentine tangos are performed to a string of three songs, linked together, keeping partners on the floor for nine or more minutes.
The music tends to be mournful and haunting. And, like the dance itself, often mesmerizing.
“I remember a Chinese lady who befriended me in San Francisco,” McCroskey says. “One day she poked me in the shoulder with her little bony finger and said, ‘Missy, Argentine tango is like key to life.’
“It’s a dance of the spirit. If you get hooked on Argentine tango, you’re an addict.”
Rockin’ With the NOLA Stars
What: A benefit for Bridge House modeled after Dancing With the Stars features local public figures paired with professional dancers.
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Generations Hall, 310 Andrew Higgins Drive
Tickets: $30 in advance; $35 at the door; click here for details