In its eighth year, the Philly Tango Fest has grown into one of the biggest tango events in the United States, convening over 600 dancers from throughout the country, as well as overseas. This year’s lineup of 13 celebrated maestros (Argentine tango teachers & performers) in particular has proven to be a huge draw. With an all-time record pre-registration, many of the 27 workshops for beginners through advanced dancers are already close to selling out. This year’s new venue is the 5,500 square foot ballroom at the Lithuanian Music Hall Association in Port Richmond. The festival will take place throughout Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, with activities starting at 6 pm Friday night, and continuing past midnight on the evening of Monday, May 28.
Major headliners include Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne, the most celebrated tango performers and teachers of our time. Gustavo & Giselle have traveled the world for well over 20 years to inspire and educate generations of tango dancers. They are recognized for their unmatched performances, featuring brilliant musicality, gorgeous lines, and a relentless search for perfection, and for creating a tango pedagogy that has become the basis for much tango teaching worldwide. As early as 1999, the main Argentine newspaper, Clarín, stated, “you could say that three stylistic tendencies contend for supremacy [in tango]: Urquiza’s style, Almagro’s style, and Naveira’s style.” The first two styles mentioned are neighborhoods of Buenos Aires; only the last style is the name of a person, Gustavo Naveira.
Equally exciting for many attendees is the chance to see and study with Fabian Salas & Lola Diaz in the same festival as Gustavo & Giselle. In the 1990s when interest in Argentine tango had waned to the point where the dance had nearly ceased to exist, even in its city of origin, Buenos Aires, Gustavo and Fabian collaborated to launch a práctica, an informal tango event for exploration and experimentation. Most modern histories of tango concur that the seeds of tango’s rebirth, and the eventual renewal of interest in tango worldwide, were sewn in these prácticas. We will hear more about this during a “Lecture on Tango History,” which Fabian and his partner Lola will offer on the last afternoon of the festival.
In all, 13 instructors will share responsibility for teaching the 27 festival workshops. The festival lineup is rounded out by Ciko Tanik & Adam Hoopengardner, popular teachers from New York City; Ramu Pyreddy, and Jake Spatz & Dasha Khripkova, wonderful teachers living in Washington, DC; and Meredith Klein & Andres Amarilla, founders of the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School, the sponsor and organizer of the festival. Teaching a four-workshop Absolute Beginner Track are Philadelphia-based instructors, Kristin Balmer and Barbara Kountouzi. Adam, Ciko, Ramu, Jake, and Dasha will perform double-duty, serving as the festival DJs as well.
Another big draw for this festival is the incorporation of live music for the first time since their inaugural festival in 2010. The Pedro Giraudo Septet will play live for dancing on the first night, Friday, May 25. The palpable energy and excitement of live music brings a new dimension to everyone’s dancing. Jaw-dropping tango performances by festival maestros and special guests take place nightly during the milongas (social dances) and promise to propel the onda (vibe) to new heights.
An improvised social dance, Argentine tango essentially consists of walking while hugging. Despite what you might think from watching some popular TV programs, tango is not about what you can see from the outside (like passionate expressions, high kicks, or dips). Rather, it’s about the communication between two dancers in the moment and with the music, and further, how this communication makes it possible to move seamlessly around a dance floor occupied by 100 other couples. Because the heart of tango is walking, it is accessible to dancers of all ages and abilities. Indeed, students range in age from 15 to 84. Learning the tango does not require any prior experience with dance; most members of the community started their dance journey as adults, with Argentine tango. Tango-curious folks should consider buying the Beginner Pass, which includes four absolute- beginner workshops, a lecture on the history of tango, and entrance to all of the milongas. The live music and performances take place during the milongas each night, so new dancers will get a big dose of inspiration, along with excellent instruction.
The entire festival will take place at the Lithuanian Music Hall Association, 2715 E. Allegheny Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19134 in Port Richmond, conveniently located one block from the Allegheny Ave exit off I-95. The Lithuanian Music Hall was built in 1907 and is still maintained by the local Lithuanian-American community. It features 10,000 square feet of program spaces in total, including a 5,500 square foot ballroom, where workshops and nightly milongas will be held, and a banquet hall for concurrent workshops. An additional space, the Club Room, will house a café, with catering by Lino’s Lithuanian Foods, on all four festival days. A variety of free program activities will also take place in the café. Author Batt Johnson (Tango Intoxication) will give a book talk and signing on Saturday and Sunday nights; fun ice-breaker activities will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights to help out-of-town or newer dancers meet other dancers, and other free activities are still being added to the schedule. The lobby of the LMHA will be transformed into a pop-up boutique, offering a variety of exquisite tango shoes and clothes for men and women. Vendors will include La Mina Tango Boutique (NYC) and Atelier Vertex (San Francisco).
The Philadelphia Argentine Tango School (PATS), which sponsors and organizes the Philly Tango Fest, recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. In addition to offering group and private lessons, PATS offers weekly milongas in our own studio in Fishtown, twice monthly milongas at beautiful off-site locations, performances, talks on tango history, and other special events. We have organized or participated in events at almost every major landmark in Philadelphia: the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, LOVE Park, the Union League, the Swann Memorial Fountain, City Hall, and the Kimmel Center, among many others. A standout highlight was performing (along with 26 of our students) at Independence Hall during the World Meeting of Families (2015), shortly before Pope Francis took the stage to give his speech on immigration and multiculturalism. This is the eighth festival organized by PATS.
Complete information and registration can be found on the festival website. Online registration is open through May 20 at midnight. After that, payment for individual events will be available at the door only. Attendees should check the website to see which events have sold out if they plan to pay at the door.
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