Philadelphia’s Tango Festival Goes On Virtually, May 22-25

Philadelphia's Tango Festival

by Meredith Klein for The Dance Journal

For Argentine tango dancers, it’s completely normal to gather with hundreds of people, packed together in a small space, to dance serially with different partners for a night, a weekend or a whole week.  Our faces touch; we clasp each other’s hands; share food and drink over communal tables; and talk loudly up close to hear each other over the music.  We crave new experiences.  Many of us travel constantly, both regionally and worldwide, to dance with new partners, in new spaces, in a fascinating new city, or country or continent.  Our ethos is about dancing with everyone, whether or not we are fortunate enough to have a “dance partner.”  For us, it does not “take two to tango.”  It takes at least a roomful of people.  We are acutely conscious of the worldwide tango community – hundreds of thousands of people out there dancing nightly in milongas and practicas.  Which one of them will provide us with the next singular experience of greatest connection, musicality and attunement?

But now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the unimaginable: no one is out there dancing. The entire worldwide tango community has ground to a halt.

Indeed, as the Covid-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, organizers of tango events were among the first to sound the alarm.  It was immediately clear that what we do is more dangerous than most activities in a time of pathogen and pandemic.  Before we were ordered to do so by city, state or federal governments, tango professionals closed their studios, and cancelled their events, with no real hope of recouping money already outlaid for upcoming big events, and no way of replacing lost income from regular activities like group and private classes.

The Philadelphia Argentine Tango School closed for in-person activities on Saturday, March 14.  After an initial period of shock, we hesitantly started to explore what tango might look like online.  We found that, even though it in no way replaces what we have lost, tango online does have a role in keeping the community together, and deepening aspects of our tango understanding that we often overlook in the whirlwind of our regular tango lives.  Argentine tango is equally poetry, music and dance, but we dancers are so entranced with the last category, that we often overlook the first two.

Enter the Tango Lecture Series, which we launched on March 25, and which has already presented nine lectures on topics such as: “Tango Music: Why Do We Love It?,” (Composer/Pianist Emiliano Messiez), and “Historical transformations in Buenos Aires Society, Culture and Dance as seen through Tango Lyrics” (Historian Prof. Leandro Benmergui and Dancer/Teacher Flor Argento).  Our next lecture, on Wednesday, May 13, features Bassem Youssef, named “one of the 100 most influential people in the world” by Time Magazine, in 2013.  (Bassem dances tango!).  The Philadelphia Argentine Tango School also offers four online movement classes per week (two for individuals, and two for couples lucky enough to be sheltered-in-place together).

We have used this early online tango success as a basis for creating what we believe is the largest online tango event in history: a four-day festival over Memorial Day Weekend, with all activities offered online.  The Virtual Tango Festival (VTF) includes:

·         9 tango classes for individuals, focusing on the “tango walk,” balance, pivots, adornments, and individual musicality (appropriate for all levels, even beginners)

·         6 tango classes for couples sheltered-in-place together

·         9 lectures on topics of interest to tango dancers

·         4 concerts, featuring some of the most sought-after tango musicians in the world

·         4 yoga classes

·         Additional activities like a Lovingkindness Meditation and virtual happy hour.

A remarkable 49 presenters, including tango dancers, musicians, and experts in other fields, will take part in the VTF, joining us from North & South America, and Europe.  The festival starts at 2 pm on Friday, May 22, and concludes at 9 pm on Monday, May 25.  Pricing is reasonable with the highest single-event ticket being $12.  If you purchase a full pass of 22 activities, the cost is just $7 per activity.  Virtual volunteer opportunities are also available.  Details & registration: https://www.philadelphiatangoschool.com/virtual-tango-festival

For the past ten years, the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School has offered one of the largest tango festivals in the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend.  The 10th Anniversary Philly Tango Festival, which should have convened more than 600 dancers for a four-day celebration of a decade of festivals, has been postponed until May 28-31, 2021.  The Virtual Tango Festival, while not replacing our in-person festival, serves as a placeholder until we can walk around hugging each other again.  At that point, we will dismantle our online offerings, and gratefully revert to touching faces and clasping hands.