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Tango lovers meet in Nelson for weekend marathon

‘It becomes a passion. It almost takes over your life’
Debora Iten of Zurich, Switerland, and Patrick Marsolek from Missoula, Montana, joined 65 other dancers in a tango marathon in Nelson this past weekend. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Sanna Pellatt is hooked on tango dancing.

The Victoria resident says tango dancers are a close international family. Pellatt says she recently visited Seville, Spain, contacted a tango group there, and was welcomed warmly and asked to dance.

“The music is fascinating, it’s wonderful, it tugs at your heartstrings. And the whole concept behind tango, the history, the culture of it.”

About 65 members of that family met this past weekend at the Heritage City Tango Marathon at the North Shore Hall.

The participants — Nelson-area residents as well as others from around the province and outside of it — all appeared to be longtime friends, interacting with genuine warmth, familiarity and humour, when in fact many had never met before.

“We’ve been dancing now for 20 years,” said John Fowler of Victoria, who attended the marathon with his wife Linda. “We’ve been to Buenos Aires four times. When we travel to places like Shanghai we find the local tango people and we go to a dance. It becomes a passion. It almost takes over your life.”

“It’s a lifetime of learning,” said Linda. “You want to keep learning, and you can travel all over the world to do it.”

Tango dancing is a lifetime of learning. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Danny Rondeau of Nelson, the organizer of the event, likens tango dancing to a two-person meditation.

“It’s about an inner stillness, or a sense of non-attachment, but with the extreme presence that goes along with a meditative state.”

He also likens it to an experience reported by some athletes and artists, “people who generate within themselves a flow state, a timeless sense of just going without thinking, and the sort of active euphoria that those people talk about when they’re doing that.”

People dancing tango often appear to an outsider to be dancing in a loving way with an intimate partner. But in fact they might be complete strangers.

Rondeau calls this love “gently platonic” but then adds, “I won’t say platonic, because it’s more lively and more electric than platonic love.”

Maria Schuh of Nelson, pictured here, says tango is an opportunity to disconnect from devices and connect with each other. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

“There is a short-term, genuine, deep care and love and appreciation that goes with a really high quality tango dance,” he said, “because it requires so much of us, and deep internalized listening, that we can’t do it properly without accessing that space with each other.”

Nora Lilligren said dancers are always learning new ways of expressing themselves musically, and that dancing tango is a mix of learned skills and improvisation.

“When you relax, you can get playful and creative with it, and can goof off and just have a lot of fun, and it’s a sense of being transported into a different creative realm between people.”

Maria Schuh said tango is more than a passion for her. It’s a calling.

“I want to have people connect physically and feel that community, creating something beautiful.”

Schuh wants to give people an opportunity to disconnect from devices and connect with each other “and physically touch each other, hug each other. That’s what people miss nowadays.”

A tango marathon is a series of milongas, or dance parties. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

A tango marathon is not a competition and it is not about endurance. It’s a several-day series of dance parties, known in Spanish as milongas, with music curated by experienced tango DJs like Steve Morgan from Denman Island.

“Being a tango DJ involves essentially curation, from a set of recordings, and tango covers a very broad spectrum,” he said.

Morgan works with recordings from tango’s golden age, between about 1935 and 1955.

“As a DJ I curate from about 1,500 recordings, and I create a flow for the evening, an emotional arc that runs all the way from happy and light and frosting on the cake, all the way to deep despair, and all the way back again.”

Tango dancers say they are always learning new ways of expressing themselves musically. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

The weekend — Friday evening though Sunday evening — consisted of five milongas, each several hours long.

The Nelson tango group has about 30 members, a mix of experienced dancers and neophytes. Rondeau said that is a large group for a town of Nelson’s size.

This was the Nelson area’s first tango marathon and when Rondeau announced to the gathering that it could be the first annual, they gave him a round of enthusiastic applause.

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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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