Tango dancers dance heart to heart.
Unlike ballroom or other styles of dance, tango offers duos a chance to connect in ways they might not otherwise in their day-to-day lives. Which may be why membership in the Madison Tango Society has nearly doubled in the last five years.
“There is something very wonderful and very fundamental in our nature that makes a hug feel good,” said Jennifer Sutherland, the society’s secretary. “A lot of people are drawn to tango because it feels good.”
Because of all the electronic communication in the world now, there is something refreshing and necessary about connecting in a physical way, Sutherland said.
Being in such close proximity can be hard for tango newbies, but they get used to it quickly.
MTS president and treasurer Tony DeGregoria said there is definitely hesitation for beginners, though they need to remember that it’s like a hug but one of your arms is free.
So every Tuesday, MTS members get together in the studio on the third floor of 122 State St. for 90 minutes of tango.
While all 120 members aren’t in attendance, there are a number of dancers who attend Tuesday night “practicas.”
MTS vice president Doug Reuhl said practica attendance is dictated by the time of year. Summer is the quietest season with usually a dozen or so people showing up for the weekly sessions.
The monthly “milongas” or social dances, however, can attract from 50 to 80 people, he added.
Since 2005. MTS has been gathering tango aficionados and novices alike. The organization began as a student-run group at UW-Madison, but after the founding members graduated it became a separate organization.
UW-Madison does currently have its own tango organization called Tango Club UW.
There are many other opportunities for people to learn tango around Madison, and MTS considers itself an “umbrella” organization since it lets everyone know about everything going on around the city, Sutherland said.
DeGregoria said international students or students who have studied abroad sometimes come out to dance because tango is something they’ve learned during their travels.
One of the things that brings all kinds of folks to tango, internationally and otherwise, is that the dance circumvents language.
“The Argentine tango community around the world is relatively small, but you can connect with people in this language of dancing,” Sutherland said. “There are dialectal differences, but it’s still the same language. Even if your skills in speaking aren’t strong you can dance in a language that you know.”
That language is as subtle as locking eyes from across the room and nodding — the gesture of a man to request a dance with a lady.
Connection to the dance is so strong for some, like Vicki Warthen, that they’re willing to drive an hour or more just to attend a practica or milonga.
Warthen, who lives in Rockford, Illinois, said there isn’t another tango organization closer to her home. And although the drive is tedious, it’s well worth it.
Since tango is a largely improvisational dance form, there is always something new to learn.
There are patterns in the dance, but the patterns get broken up step by step and are improvised upon by the dancers, DeGregoria said.
Because of that, “the connection between dancers has to be very, very tight,” he added. “It’s basically, as some have said, one body with four legs.”
People new to the art of tango might hesitate to attend a milonga without any experience; Sutherland describes a milonga as an opportunity “to bring out your more polished self.”
While it might be more of a challenge, it is possible to still have fun at a milonga even as a newbie.
“I went to my first milonga after just one class and had a great time,” Sutherland said.
MTS hosts, on average, a new single dancer or couple at practica at least every other week by Sutherland’s estimation.
Between them, Reuhl, Sutherland and Wharton have about nine years of tango experience while DeGregoria has 12.
Despite that, the allure of tango has not ceased to draw them into its rhythms on a regular basis.
It always feels like there is so much more to learn, even after 12 years, DeGregoria said.
Warthen agreed and added that she has no intention of stopping her relationship with tango anytime soon.
“In Argentina they say the best tangeros are the old tangeros,” she said. “So I have a whole lifetime to get better at this.”