The Philadelphia Tango Festival Adapts with Online Celebration

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The Virtual Tango Festival (VTF) was the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School’s response to the postponing of their 10th Anniversary Philly Tango Festival. The event, organized by Meredith Klein, the school’s director, has been held every Memorial Day Weekend, and this year’s virtual program was no different. A multitude of online events ran for four days on May 22-25, 2020. Activities included concerts, lectures, and classes ranging from meditation to different aspects of Tango technique. Fifty instructors from around the world broadcast via ZOOM from either their homes or local studios. It was an ambitious undertaking during the pandemic when dance studios are doing whatever they can to keep their dance communities connected while trying to bring in much-needed revenue.

The first lesson I attended was held on Friday. Octavio Fernandez and Carla Marano taught a tutorial on “Individual Technique for Followers and Leaders.” This was one of those times when ZOOM is not your friend. The hour-long class started 10 minutes late due to technical difficulties for Fernandez (he and Marano were teaching from different locations.) As he continued to work on resolving his audio/video problems, Marano jumped in and began working on walks that focused on the transfer of weight. We repeated the same pattern for the next 20 minutes while waiting for Fernandez. He eventually joined in and offered verbal directions while Marano continued with the demonstration. The class addressed musical and physical accents with changes in dynamics. Participants were to work on doing this on different counts of music, however, there was often no music provided to dance to. Between the technical delays, numerous stops and starts, and repetition of material with little development, the class never quite came together for me.

Saturday, I joined Monica Moya’s “Yoga for Tango Dancers.” The class included a nice variety of stretching exercises. All of the movements were done with a chair and focused on spinal rotations and hip openers. Moya demonstrated each position and gave clear modifications. Afterward, she watched the participants and gave specific corrections on alignment and posture. It would have reduced some confusion if she asked us to either mirror her or was clearer as to which side (right or left) to use but, otherwise, I enjoyed the practice. I found her approach to be supportive and encouraging.

I also signed on to a lecture by Andrei Andreev and Mitra Martin on “Nonviolent Communication Methods (NVC) as Applied to Tango.” NVC is designed to help individuals communicate more compassionately with themselves and others. The instructors seemed well-prepared and versed in NVC. Andreev provided situational prompts and attendees were asked to write down their responses and use the chatbox to share their thoughts. Martin requested that experiences shared during the practice remain confidential in order to create a “safe space.” The lecture had a natural flow to it and Andreev and Martin alternated back and forth smoothly. They asked for examples from personal situations involving Tango but the practice could be applied to any life experience.

The events I participated in had a good turnout and offered a positive alternative to the live festival. Kudos to festival organizer, Meredith Klein, for taking on such a massive virtual event in unchartered waters with great success.

About Debra Danese

Debra graduated with a degree in dance from the University of the Arts and also holds a B.A. in Arts Administration. She is accredited at the Master Level with the National Registry of Dance Educators. Debra has performed in Europe, Tokyo, Canada, and the Caribbean. She teaches and choreographs world-wide and has been an international guest artist in Switzerland, England, and Slovakia. Debra has been an Artist in Residence on five occasions in Norway where she showcased full length dance productions at the acclaimed Nordland Theatre. She has also presented an original dance production at the Elspe Festival in Germany. Debra has been featured in Dance, Dancer and Dance Teacher Magazines for her work in dance education. Additionally, she has been a contributing writer for Dance Studio Life Magazine since 2010.

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1 Comment

  1. I also participated in the Festival. My choice of events to attend was quite different, I concentrated on lectures about tango-related issues and on concerts. In particular, I attended a lecture by Leandro Ragusa (How Was Tango Born) on the beginnings of tango at the end of the 19th century andits connection with other cultures; a lecture by Leandro Benmerguí (Society and Culture in the Buenos Aires of Tango, 1920s-1940s) which covered a huge amount of ground concerning the social environment in which tango developed; a second lecture by Leandro Ragusa (History of the Bandoneón) in which he introduced world-wide instruments, predecessors of the bandoneón, as well as the seminal performers of the instrument in Buenos Aires; a lecture by Flor Argento (The Tension between the Individual and the Collective) in which she discussed the dynamics on the dance floor as dancers interact with other dancers and with their dance partners, and presented some very interesting video clips of interviews with traditional old-time dancers (milongueros); a lecture by Emiliano Messiez (What Makes Tango Tango?) in which he presented a very detailed discussion of the technical aspects of the musical structure of the tango and what it differentiates it from other musical genres; a lecture by Korey Ireland (All Tango Orchestras are not Created Equal) in which he discussed in detail the various elements of musical interpretation that contribute to create a very unique sound for each orchestra. All the lectures were of a very high level, and they required the full attention of the participants; it was a very satisfying experience, and the only problem was that the sessions were over too soon! I also attended a concert by pianist Pablo Estigarribia, which had a superb musical quality, and which was surprisingly good as to the quality of the connection (something I didn’t expect); another concert in which a series of musicians presented short sections (some technical difficulties interfered to some extent with the enjoyment of this concert, but that is to be expected); a concert by the duo Leandro Ragusa – Nili Grieco (bandoneón and flute, a rather unusual combination), which had the highest level of musicianship you could encounter anywhere — they presented a combination of traditional tangos, original compositions and contemporary works by Astor Piazzolla, all of them excellent; and a concert by La Juan D’Arienzo, a traditional style ensemble of nine musicians and a singer, playing the standard repertoire, and which had everyone dancing on whatever space they had in their reduced environment — the energy of the performance was outstanding, and it was really unbelievable that such a large group would be able to record such tight performances with each musician playing in his own home! All the concerts were very enjoyable, and they included excellent performances by professional dancers. In summary, a real high quality festival on your screen.

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