Gringo Tango 

UTango showcases a dance form in need of American devotees.

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The time to take up Argentine tango, said Wasatch Tango Club former president Mark Christensen, is when “your daughters are married off, and you’re sitting alone with your wife in the house.nn

That perspective, argues local tango teacher Italian Marco Bagnasacco, is why the young blood needed to help tango grow in Salt Lake City is not forthcoming. Perhaps UTango'a festival 34-year-old Bagnasacco has organized with Christensen and eight other Utah tango fanatics'might help bring in some much-needed youth to learn what has been famously called, by Enrique Santos Discepolo, “a sad feeling that can be danced.”


This month, Bagnasacco is leaving Utah to return to Europe. Originally he’d planned a farewell get-together with teachers and dancers he’d met during his eight years’ stateside, but his going-away party mushroomed into a departing present for Salt Lake City tango dancers. The four-day festival includes outdoor milongas (tango dance parties), classes from teachers including San Francisco-based Argentine Roberto Riobo and Bagnasacco, and 40 hours of dancing and classes, along with a picnic and an Argentine barbecue.


UTango’s organizers hope this event will become an annual one but, for that to happen, a foundation of young dancers needs to be in place. Christensen, a fervent promoter of the dance, accepts that the community faces growth issues. “People stay for a while, then leave,” he says.


Partly, Christensen says, the problem is the dance’s “steep learning curve.” But intimacy is also an issue. “There’s a big personal-space issue in our culture,” Christensen says, “and embracing another person makes most people a little bit uncomfortable. … Most never embrace anyone for three seconds. In tango, it’s three minutes.”


Bagnasacco says the local tango community “has had difficulties finding replacements of both teachers and students.” For him, age'rather than the dance’s demanding nature'is the key variable. Whenever he took 19- or 20-year-old students to local milongas, they left frustrated with the mostly 50-year-olds on the floor. “A 20-year-old wants to dance continuously for three hours; a 50-year-old takes breaks,” he says.


But for Bagnasacco, the problem runs deeper than the stately maturity of those dominating the dance floor. If American culture is about satisfying immediate needs, tango, he says, requires an investment of both time and patience. “In Argentina, you spend two years walking with the teacher,” he says, before you can even hope of embracing a partner. Americans just want to enjoy themselves, he says, but “you can’t express sensuality if you want to have fun.nn

Some gringos, though, do get it. “I know a lot of American dancers that went deep in this dance and now, after an initial probable struggle, understand [its] meaning and enjoy [its] benefits of … a healthy touch of the soul,” he says.


Along with the opportunity to dance, the festival also provides the chance to tango on June 9 from midnight to 4 a.m. Bagnasacco says tango was born in the Buenos Aires’ brothels, when pimps and customers danced together while waiting for prostitutes. The dance is about “feelings of the heart, a sadness, a lover that’s left you, two guys fighting for the same girl.” That’s why dancing the tango at midnight'rather than, say, in the evening when the local monthly milonga takes place'helps to “get deep into the feeling” of the tango.


For the gringo who has always wondered about learning the tango, concerns about getting deep into the dance are probably irrelevant. The beauty of UTango is that it provides a tango-wannabe with a great place to start. The festival offers absolute beginner classes on June 7 and 8. For those who can’t make the festival, tango classes are available in Salt Lake City Monday through Friday nights.


“If you really want to learn tango, there’s no excuse not to,” Christensen says. That said, Bagnasacco will soon be vacating his traditional Tuesday night slot. Christensen says he will be missed, adding wistfully, “He’s more youthful than some of us.nn

nJune 7-June 10
nVarious locations

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