Temple Tango brings Argentina flair to Philly

The group collaborated with Dance Philadelphia to bring a Milonga Tango party to Main Campus.

The group collaborated with Dance Philadelphia to bring a Milonga Tango party to Main Campus.

PAUL KLEIN TTN Dance Philadelphia founders Kelly Ray and Lesley Mitchell lead the crowd by example.

Sometimes, collaborations between multiple parties can yield results that aren’t worth bragging about. But when Conwell Hall was transformed into a Milonga Friday night, the event couldn’t have gone better if it was hosted in its country of origin, Argentina.

Recently formed student organization Temple Tango welcomed Dance Philadelphia, comprised of dance instructor couple Lesley Mitchell and Kelly Ray, to bring a taste of the tango to Main Campus. The tango is a sensual dance which originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s complemented by intimate settings and live music, as was present at Friday night’s Milonga, a traditional Argentinean tango party.

Following a practice session led by Mitchell and Ray, guests were lulled by live performances from Minneapolis tango orchestra Mandrágora as they showed off their tango abilities.

With dim lights and black fabric cloaking the walls, the Conwell Hall Theater could have taken on a gloomy feeling. But with an overhead spotlight illuminating the dance floor and ornamental lights in shades of purple and white that blanketed the walls like stars in an expansive sky, the space had more of a romantic appeal.

Older couples arrived, the ladies in their flashiest dresses and sexiest heels, and their male companions in their sharpest suits. Young people were present as well, in backward baseball caps and sneakers. The crowd spanned several generations, ethnic backgrounds and levels of interest in the tango.

Although these people arrived as strangers, they quickly became acquaintances as they embraced one another for the dance. By the end of the night, even Paley Library employee Rainey Spillman, who pledged to strictly watch, had the tango fever.

“Everyone looked like they were having so much fun, and my dance partner made me feel so comfortable,” Spillman said. Instances like these, when people can feel comfortable expressing themselves and having fun, fulfill the mission of Temple Tango, members said.

Senior architecture major and Temple Tango member Ebun Alugbin said the purpose of the group “is to try to unite people from all backgrounds and experiences for the love and dance and fun.”

Temple Tango meets Wednesdays and Fridays in Presser Hall and can be reached on the group’s Facebook and Google Groups page.

For Temple Tango, the event provided an opportunity to share the love of the dance with students and faculty. But for Ray and Mitchell, it was simply another Friday night.

The couple has been teaching tango and cultivating interest in Philly for 15 years, but Mitchell said the demand for the seductive dance hasn’t always been there.

“We essentially started the tango community in Philadelphia,” Mitchell said. “And let me tell you, it was a very slow process.”

Mitchell and Ray host weekly “prácticas,” or tango clinics, and Friday night Milongas at their Buttonwood Street dance studio, but they enjoy the opportunity to branch out and display their love of the tango in different venues.

Many students and faculty within Temple’s Dance program have been instructed by the Dance Philadelphia duo, so the company’s link to the university is solid and only getting stronger.

“We’ve worked with Temple for various programs, including benefit events that bring dance to schools, and the connection continues to build,” Mitchell said. The fruits of that connection were on full display Friday.

The event attracted a variety of people with ranging dance skill levels. Many, such as University of Pennsylvania grad student Barbara Kountouzi, were familiar with the dance.

“I started dancing the tango in 2000, and I fell in love with the intimacy of the dance and the melancholy of the music,” Kountouzi said.

Senior Spanish major Patrick Sampson discovered his love of tango during a 2007 trip to Argentina.
“I got to hear tango music in the little Bohemian neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. It was like a mixture of folk and classical music, which I really appreciated because I play violin and classical guitar,” Sampson said.

Still, others like Spillman encountered their first experiences with the dance.

“I’m just going to watch tonight because I don’t know what I’m doing,” Spillman said with a laugh at the start of the evening.

But regardless of the skill or interest level of the attendees, the atmosphere seemed to have a transformative effect.

Rob Connaire, a senior music education and singing major, wanted to create the organization because he noticed he was dancing less frequently.

“My friends and I realized we wouldn’t have any other time to dance if we didn’t create the club. So we had to take the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak,” Connaire said.

When he speaks about the tango, his passion and love for the dance is evident, and it’s a passion he believes everyone is susceptible to.

“Tango has completely taken over my life,” he said. “It’s all about communicating exclusively with our bodies, and having a connection between yourself and your partner, and yourself and the music.”

Angelo Williams can be reached at angelo.williams@temple.edu.

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