Students of Argentine tango take to the floor
Tango instructor Meghan Tighe of Squirrel Hill dances with Peter Suchy of Brentwood on Jan. 13 during Tango 101 at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square.
Janine Hauck of Mt. Lebanon, at left, waits for instruction while Bea Herdon of the Hill District and Michael Young of Oakland dance together Jan. 13 during Tango 101 at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square.
Instructor Jerry Minshall demonstrates dance moves to Holly Forsberg and Conor Shaffer, both of Squirrel Hill.
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For Buenos Aires native Adriana Larregina, the biggest misconception about the Argentine tango is that it is "sexual" in nature.
True practitioners, she said, understand that it is "sensual."
"It is really about body language and connection and nurturing," the Greenfield woman said of the dance that has become popular since it began being featured on the "Dancing with the Stars" television series.
Holly Forsberg, 26, said she was struck by the passion and elegance of the dance, which she saw numerous times while visiting Argentina in November as part of a study abroad program.
When she told Conor Shaffer, 25, about it, he researched it on the Internet and decided that it looked interesting enough to pursue lessons.
The couple from Squirrel Hill -- both lawyers -- were among the students in an Argentine tango class for beginners on Jan. 13, a five-week class at the Wilkins School Community Center in Swissvale.
The Sunday night classes are presented by the Pittsburgh Tangueros, a nonprofit dedicated to the Argentine tango. New sessions of classes start every other month and are offered for different levels of ability.
Ms. Larregina is in the advanced class.
"I get homesick and it takes me home," she said, adding that she also was curious to see how Pittsburghers like the dance.
"They take it very seriously," said Ms. Larregina, a scientist who works at the University of Pittsburgh.
Serene Mendicino, an intermediate level student, said the dance form's most challenging aspect is also what she likes best about it.
"Instead of relaxing into it, you are always anticipating what your partner wants you to do next," said Ms. Mendicino, 61, who lives Downtown and works as an insurance disability claims investigator.
Sarah Cornelius, president of the Tangueros, said that unlike the regular tango, which consists of established sets of movements, the Argentine tango is improvised.
"You learn your fundamental technique, and it becomes a lead-and-follow dance in response to the music," said Ms. Cornelius, 52, of Forest Hills.
"The two have an unspoken dialogue between them -- he invites and she fulfills. As long as you stay on the floor in a certain lane, you can do whatever you want as long as you keep within the tango technique."
Her favorite aspect of the dance is its textured composition.
"I like its way of connecting deeply with another person without being intimate," she said. "It does not matter how good my partner is, I can deepen the subtlety of my own dance," she said.
Mary Anne Alvin, of Shaler, an intermediate student, likes the dance's classic grace of movement.
"If you are really in tune, you become one," she said of partners.
For beginner Michael Young, 59, a University of Pittsburgh statistician who is a regular swing dancer, the toughest part of the Argentine tango is "maintaining a steady walk with very good posture."
"It's also a little hard to move the way they want us to move, which is very close to our partner," the Oakland man said.
Ms. Forsberg noted that the dance requires moves that go against a person's basic instincts.
"It is against nature to lean forward as someone is coming toward you," she explained. "My natural reaction is to back away."
"My natural reaction is to avoid stepping on her feet," Mr. Shaffer added. "But they tell you to step straight ahead, so if I step on her foot, that is OK."
The cost of the five-week classes at the community center at 7604 Charleston Ave. is $70, which can be paid at the door. Details: www.pittsburghtangueros.org.
First Published January 24, 2013 5:40 am