Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Hot to Trot

By Maureen Needham

NOVEMBER 17, 1997:  Ginger and Fred were never like this! Long remembered as the epitome of elegant dancers, he was the most androgynous male ever to trod the ballroom boards, while she was cool as a cucumber but a heck of a lot cuter. But even Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire could never compete with the high-energy sizzle of Tango X 2, a troupe of Argentine dancers and musicians that performed at Langford Auditorium last week.

We're not talking about the tango you may have seen the Flintstones satirize on Saturday-morning cartoon reruns, nor is this Valentino's macho gaucho with bullwhip routine. During the entire evening, not a single rose could be found clenched between a dancer's teeth. The performers did not need such melodramatic props. They were smoldering from the inside out.

Dancers just had to catch one another's gaze, and you could see the steam begin to rise. In "Tangata del Alba," the sultry Lorena Ermocida entered and announced her availability with a look that flashed "come and get me." She chose one man and began to tango, when another fellow stepped up and danced in synchrony. Sandwiched between the two men, Ermocida switched around and danced with the second while the first continued the same steps behind her.

She egged the competitors on but eventually made her preference known. Mr. Wrong slinked off, and the dance became even more torrid. With her legs wrapped about her partner's waist, Ermocida slid backward onto the floor. Rapid twirls alternated with abandoned dips to the ground. The male dancer threw her about and caressed her thigh as she lifted it across his body. Right when it appeared the dance would end with a kiss, a third man in raincoat and hat strolled across the stage. Her attention now fixed elsewhere, Ermocida followed the stranger. Poor Mr. Right just got demoted to Mr. Has-Been.

Other segments featured historic tangos from the '20s or flashy tangos performed at exhibition contests today. The tango teams were quite individualistic in their personal choreography, each utilizing idiosyncratic gestures or combinations, yet they shared in common a characteristic movement that resembled a daredevil game of footsie. Remember the childhood game in which you alternately piled hands upon hands as fast as you could, and just as quickly withdrew them from the bottom of the pile so as to slap them atop your competitor's? Well, the Argentine tango is something like this, only it's played at a fast and furious pace with the feet. The stance is wide, so as to give room for a dancer's darting toes to step between the legs of his or her partner. The man thrusts his right foot directly between the woman's legs; quick as a wink, she twists around and picks up one foot to do the same to him. Immediately, he counters with the other foot, and she responds in kind. Zip. Zap. The eye can scarcely follow the rapid duel of his shiny patent dance shoes vs. her bright-red stiletto heels.

Closer than a kiss Tango X 2 dancers Milena Plebs and Miguel Angel Zotto, showing what the tango is all about--passion, eroticism, and a woman's ability to move backward.
Photo by Jack Vartoogian.
The tango dance world reflects a macho society--the man always wins because he has control over the woman. And when he has had enough of the tricky feet game, he can always move on to other challenges. It is his hand that guides his partner's rapid-fire twirls, accomplished at such a pace that she would topple hard on the floor were it not for him. It is his nudge that moves her forward or backward at his discretion. It is his muscle-power that lifts her in the air and tosses her from side to side in the wink of an eye. He sets the pace, from steamy and languid to perilously and impossibly rapidissimo. The female must do whatever the man tells her, and she must do it whenever he tells her--and she has to do it backward.

Sometime during the '60s, dancing as teamwork almost became a lost art form. Many young people became accustomed to dancing as a group activity, in which the individual was lost in a densely packed mob of waving arms and bobbing heads. At the same time, dancing also became a highly narcissistic experience wherein individuals could withdraw entirely into themselves or into their drug-induced fantasy. It became possible to spend an entire evening without making physical or even eye contact with a partner.

Perhaps the present-day popularity of the tango team is telling us something about the changing social climate: less frenetic, more erotic. How else to explain the international appeal of Tango X 2, which sold out its performance on the Vanderbilt campus?

Maybe couple dancing will make a comeback, after all. Waltz, anyone?

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