STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
It takes two to tango, but many more are welcome at the fifth annual Philadelphia International Tango Festival.
Meredith Klein, creator of the festival and founder of the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School, loves everything about tango. She has been dancing tango for more than 15 years and teaching full-time since 2006. Klein, who lived in Buenos Aires for several years, said the festival brings that city to Philadelphia and allows people to be totally immersed in the dance.
The festival includes three full days of classes, workshops for beginners and advanced dancers, and performances by professionals in tango and even ballet (Philadelphia’s BalletX will perform). There also will be 27 hours of social dancing.
This is the festival’s fifth year and Klein wants to celebrate its anniversary and growth. One of the most influential couples in tango — Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne — will help to do so, along with other well-known dancers in the tango community.
Stephen Macbeth, of Glenside, a student of tango, will also be participating. He has been taking lessons and participating in social dances since 2009. He had no experience when he started.
“I always wanted to dance. I was too self-conscious and felt too awkward,” he said. But the Argentine tango “spoke to me. There was something about it — I was in there somewhere.”
He had no idea how difficult it would be when he started. He thought he could take a month or six weeks of lessons and “I’d be acing it,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that.”
Learning to tango is a never-ending process.
“You get to a certain level of proficiency and that can be fine,” he said. “You learn finer points and ways to interpret the music and communicate with your partner.”
Communication is key. One of the fun things about tango is if you can communicate well and you know the basics, you can dance anywhere, with anyone.
“If I go to other cities, if there’s a tango community, I can go and dance with people I haven’t met before,” he said. “Sometimes it’s wonderful and it clicks.”
And he loves the music.
“It just goes right to my heart,” he said. “There are so many layers, so many things happening. You can dance to the same song over and over again. It’s different every time.”
Klein is extremely passionate about tango.
“I always loved to dance, but didn’t have the chance to focus on it,” she said, so she studied music theory in college. Once she started taking lessons in 1997, she was hooked. She moved to Buenos Aires to be able to learn “everything I possibly could and to be able to experience a level and amount that isn’t available in the U.S.,” she said.
And while she teaches others to dance, she, too, is always learning.
“You can always learn more. It’s an improvised dance. Nothing is set,” she said. “Every time you walk into the embrace and you initiate a dance with somebody, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s something new every moment, every time.”
One of the hardest things to learn is patience.
“I have to listen and wait and not make assumptions. Literally, in every fraction of a second, the dance is being created,” she said. “The only way to succeed is to come completely and utterly into the moment.”
That keeps it exciting and adds intrigue, too.
“That’s what creates the addicting feeling of tango,” she said.
She hopes that people who’ve never tried it before will give the festival’s Beginner Pass a go. Macbeth thinks people should try it and don’t judge it by what you may have seen on television.
“If people’s exposure is what they’ve seen on TV, it’s much more,” he said. While the dancers do perform, “it’s really about interacting with other people and communicating with other people. People should come check it out. It’s not going to be what they think it is.”
And as it is with any tango community anywhere in the world, “You’ll be welcomed,” Klein said. “And you’ll have a good time.”
IF YOU GO
What: Philadelphia International Tango Festival
When: May 28-31
Where: Most events held at Christ Church Neighborhood House,
20 N. American St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: Packages vary. Visit http://philadelphiatangofestival.com/registration.html
For the Beginner Pass, visit http://philadelphiatangofestival.com/beginner.html
Info.: Call (617) 291-3798 or visit http://philadelphiatangofestival.com/