Laure Lion and Rob Steo dance the tango in Central Park.

By Joy Bergmann

Don’t talk to strangers; dance with them. This Argentinean adage finds plenty of adherents at free, outdoor milongas (tango gatherings) happening around the UWS this summer.

Every Saturday evening in Central Park, dozens of tangueros dance around the Shakespeare statue at the south end of The Mall from 6:00 until 9:30 or so. Inspired onlookers can try out a beginner lesson offered nearby at 7:30 pm. But be warned, dancers say: Once you enter this cheerful community built around somber music suffused with tragedy and heartbreak, you may never want to leave.

The appeal is immediate and obvious. Where else do you see 20-somethings and 80-somethings socializing together? How often do you make new friends yet never discuss work? Might a smartphone-free embrace be the perfect antidote to all that ails you?

“Your background, your age, your gender, your height, your bank account, none of that matters here,” says Laure Lion, a local tango instructor. “What matters is how genuine you are in the dance, how genuine you are in your invitation and your response. It can be a lesson in humility. You have to be very clear about what you want from each other.”

The very act of leading or following can be a shock to modern sensibilities. Impatient, hard-charging New Yorkers are not accustomed to waiting for directions or pausing to find the perfect space within a beat before moving.

“The only time I listen to my husband is on the dance floor,” laughs Lion. “Traditionally in tango, there are very strict roles and rules. The man is there to lead, to guide, to propose a direction. The woman has to listen so she can execute. It’s a conversation – not through words, but through the embrace, the energy and their shared interpretation of the music.”

Beginners try tango at a free weekly class in Central Park.

Bob Cuthbert still considers himself a novice having started with a free lesson in Central Park about a year ago. Since then he’s learned through the grapevine about different classes and events at the Argentine Consulate, dance studios, La Nacional and elsewhere. “People just kept telling me and my wife about different spots. Then we realized there was a whole subculture dancing tango in the city. It’s unbelievable.”

Dancers treasure the roaming milongas that pop up during the summer months, often along the Hudson River at Pier 45 (Christopher Street), Pier One (70th Street) and West Harlem Piers Park (125th Street).

At one such gathering last week, Tina Fruhauf told WSR she sought out tango 15 years ago as a respite from desk-bound studies. “I had finished my PhD and it was time to do something for my body,” she said. She soon met her husband, Pryor Dodge, through dancing. The duo now owns an apartment in Buenos Aires. “Tango instigated an amazing change in my life,” says Dodge.

“It’s a way to express yourself musically without playing an instrument,” says Neal Rakesh, who discovered tango as a University of Michigan undergrad and enjoys the never-routine nature of the dance. “It’s all improv.”

A young couple, having stumbled upon the sunset scene, stared at the whirling group for several minutes. She then whispered to him, “It’s mesmerizing.”

All photos and videos by Joy Bergmann.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      Nice looking couples and a pleasure to watch. In Buenos Aires all gather to Tango, including singles in their 80s, 90s…. So beautiful.

      • Rodger Lodger says:

        So you’re against couples who are not nice looking? That’s lookism.

        • dannyboy says:

          They look nice embracing each other. And enjoying each other. And appreciating each other. And seeking each other out. And dancing outside. They are beautiful together!

    2. Christine E says:

      This article was such a pleasure to read. Bravo West Side Rag!

    3. tangodanceruws says:

      Outdoor dancing makes the summer extra special… Although the article quotes from some married couples, most people go to these events as singles, and dance with as many different people as they can. If you ever thought about learning to dance, go for it!

    4. ava Landy says:

      could you tell me where in the park, what street you enter the park from the west side to see the tango dancing, and also the schedule and dates on 70th street and the west side river schedule ,
      Thank you.