CITY GUIDE >Culture and Events
Small steps towards tango
By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-30 11:06

Small steps towards tango

Laura Chazarreta (left) teaches a Chinese learner a few tango steps.

In a spacious room in the Embassy of Argentina near Sanlitun, 38-year-old Laura Chazarreta introduces the tango steps to a group of Chinese and foreign learners.

"Uno, dos, tres", they move steps followed by clapping.

Then couples dance their way across the floor as music blares from loudspeakers. While Chazarreta glides as if on ice, the students are a noticeably less graceful, tripping over the obligatory left foot.

Having lived in Beijing for almost seven years, Chazarreta is currently the only Argentine in the city teaching tango and managing a Milongas - a place where tango is danced.

Besides teaching in the embassy class once a week, Chazarreta has her own dance school, which was opened four years ago in Dongcheng district. It costs 80 yuan for a class which lasts one and a half hours.

"I've been dancing tango for 15 years," said Chazarreta, who had worked as a tango teacher for two years in Turkey before moving to China.

"I want to show the Chinese people my culture and what tango is about. Unfortunately it has not quite evolved as I anticipated."

Chazarreta said the Chinese don't have much patience and expect to become semi-professional at tango within weeks.

As tango requires dedication and passion, it can take many years before aficionados have the ability to combine correct body posture, elegance and feeling with an emotional understanding of the Latin rhythm and music, she said.

"Chinese people also struggle with tango's intimacy," she said. "Tango is about hugging the other person, feeling him or her close. Chinese people are very shy in that matter."

And it certainly takes two to tango - while the man leads the woman must follow. The woman has to trust the man. Without trust there is no tango.

Chazarreta said her German and Japanese students are the most passionate about tango. But she said she still hoped more and more Chinese people would become interested in the Latin dance.

"Tango is not just a dance but a cultural way of life," she said.

Small steps towards tango

One of her students is Tim Gao, who has taken just a couple of lessons. For him, tango is a spiritual dance that resembles the passion and skill of martial arts like taijiquan.

"It's an internal feeling," Gao said before whisking his partner onto the dance floor. "You learn the way of leading and coordinating. It's much harder than it looks. And it's beautiful."

Tango evolved among lonely immigrants who first sailed to Argentina in the 1880s. The dance soon traveled across the Atlantic and swept Europe. As the music became more subdued, tango was considered respectable in Argentina.

This year the United Nations has added the tango of Argentina and Uruguay to UNESCO's list of artworks that should be safeguarded as part of "humanity's intangible cultural heritage".