Graduate students Miriam Ziven and Kristin Smith clomp up a steep wooden staircase, sipping on juices from Roots Restaurant and Juicebar. When they reach the top, they walk into the main room of The Lodge, located at 101 E. Sixth Street. They transform this room into a dance studio every Monday night.
Smith and Ziven are both members of the new Bloomington Argentine Tango Organization. The organization formed last spring when three IU graduate students met with instructor Amaury de Siqueira in a racquetball court at the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building. De Siqueira is originally from Brazil but studied Argentine tango in Santa Barbara, Calif. There, he founded a tango group and taught for four years at the University of California at Santa Barbara before he left for Bloomington.
One of the group's founders, graduate student Jason Pierce, started dancing Argentine tango in 2004 at his alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology. When he moved to Bloomington, he said he was disappointed that there was no place for him to continue practicing.
In forming the organization, Pierce and other IU students were either looking to improve tango skills or looking for a new dance style. Ziven, who taught social dance for a Chicago nonprofit organization for 10 years, said that she became bored with the rigid structure of ballroom dance. She said she liked that Argentine tango is a more impromptu style of dancing with more freedom in choreography. In classes, beginners are only taught how to do two basic steps: the walk and the turn. The rest is up to the individual dancer.
"Argentine tango is an expression of the self," de Siqueira said. "There isn't a set way to hold yourself."
When de Siqueira arrived for class Monday night, he kissed Ziven and Smith on their cheeks and turned on soft, Latin music. Other dancers began to trickle into the room. Some appeared hesitant with sheepish expressions on their faces, while others strode confidently to the center of the room. De Siqueira started the class by leading them in walks across the wooden floor to teach the dancers how to place their weight to control balance.
De Siqueira then split up the men and women and explained that men often have to dance amongst themselves, as the ratio of men to women was 10 to one in Buenos Aires during the height of Argentine tango's popularity. He performed a swirling dance with Pierce to demonstrate how men can learn from each other. He also taught the men the appropriate protocol of how to "claim" the women that they wanted to dance with by making eye contact and subtly nodding in their directions.
"Avoid an eyebrow raise, because that means 'let's get coffee,' and we don't want to know what you do after that," he warned.
During the course of the two hour session, de Siqueira gave more detailed lessons about the traditions, music and history of the dance.
The first hour was a review of basic steps and more advanced moves, while the second hour was designed for the first-time dancer. All fees go to pay for the rental of the space and sound equipment. They are also planning a milonga, a social tango dance, for December.
This current set of classes is the second round that the Bloomington Argentine Tango Organization has presented. Smith said there are typically around 20 people in each class, ranging from 22 to 60 years old and from several different countries.
"The thing that is so different about Argentine tango is that it pulls people in from all walks of life," de Siqueira said.
For more information about BATO and its upcoming events, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hoosierstangueros.
"Students can be exposed for just a few dollars. We teach cultural traditions and music," de Siqueira said. "You learn to walk and to turn, and everything else just falls together"
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