But what’s it really like? That’s a normal response when reading a notice for one of the weekly dance sessions in the region. So let’s put on our proverbial dancing shoes and take a look.
The yearning music pouring from the Patterson Center and the black letters on the mustard yellow sign says it loud and clear: Tango Thursday.
Staring at 8 p.m., attendees pay $15 at the door, receive a lesson, share some snacks, and get the opportunity to practice their footwork or improve their flow with the milonga — a tango dancing event — that continues until midnight.
The session is run by Viva Tango, a Princeton nonprofit dedicated to “of furthering public education, interest, and awareness of Argentine Tango, Argentine Music, and Argentine Culture.”
Designed mainly for dancers who know the basics, the monthly sessions mainly include a class or workshop and then an open dance to recorded music. But once a month the dancing is supported by the presence of a live tango-performing group or artist.
I stop in to find a workshop in process. The leaders are Jacklyn Shapiro and Roberto Peno — aka Jacklyn and Roberto — four time U.S. Tango Championships Finalists. Press materials say the couple has recently returned from Buenos Aires with fresh lesson material.
When I arrive, Shapiro is busy demonstrating a series of traveling-forward steps to 40-some adults, most seemingly over the age of 40, with an approximate balance between women — many of whom are wearing dresses and high heels — and men, some in ties and stylish shirts.
I take a place in the rear of the group and try to follow. And as I struggle as to recall movements learned in the tango lessons I had taken several years ago, suddenly Shapiro changes focus and announces people should form a circle and find a partner, putting the “no partner needed” statement found on the group’s website to the test.
Like the odd kid at the prom, I observe regular attendees, friends, and couples gathering together. A partner-less woman gestures for me to join her, and I take her left hand in mine and put my right hand on the small of her back. Meanwhile, Peno starts demonstrating a series of steps that require a rebound (or bounce). He and a woman selected from the group do it a few times before he says “Okay” — as in “Let’s do it!”
Shapiro switches on the music, the group starts moving, and I follow with awkward steps, awkward actions, apologies, and earnest attempts to get it right. I haven’t felt like this since I was in junior high school.
As I start deluding myself that I may actually know the step, the music suddenly stops and Shapiro announces “Women rotate.”
And while the women move counter-clockwise from one guy to another for the next several minutes, this dancer’s clumsy footsteps remain the same again and again. Then Peno announces a change of direction, selects another partner, and demonstrates another move.
Retreating to the safety of one of the seats set up along the walls, I watch the proceedings until the class session is over and the two finalists chat about other events and opportunities coming up, including a tango cruise to Cuba.
When they finish the bright overhead lights go down, mood lighting goes up, tango music plays, and the real dancing begins — with some couples moving awkwardly or mechanically. But others are more expert, close their eyes as if enchanted, and glide across the floor.
I have a quick chat with group volunteer president David Kalmus and door manager Jonathan Pollock; both have had professional experience and have advanced college degrees. They remind me that they partner with the Princeton University Tango Club and its beginner session (see U.S. 1, March 29, 2017). Yet they won’t turn beginners or anyone away, especially during the special events featuring live musicians or nights where tango fashions are featured.
It’s been pleasant, but with my tango skills rusty I decide to see if there is another type of dance session that may be a little easier on the feet.
Viva Tango, Suzanne Patterson Center, 45 Stockton Street, Princeton. Thursdays, 8 p.m., $15. 609-948-4448 or www.vivatango.org
Now sure enough, same time, 8 p.m., and same place, Patterson Center, and just 24 hours later, the Friday Night Folk Dance session starts.
It’s one of the two weekly sessions run by the Princeton International Folk Dancing, a nonprofit that organizes sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays and uses the tagline “Beginners are welcome! Old pros are venerated!”
The mood is noticeably looser. Walk in and drop $5 in the donation jar on the table by the entrance where there are cookies and soft beverages. Then take a look at the group of a dozen women and men working on a type of dance easily summed up as Greek Line dance. The dancers are dressed more casually — with women wearing soft or sensible shoes. Blue jeans are the norm, and only one woman wears a skirt.
Group president and coordinator Boel Denne-Hinnov is stationed to one side of the room. She picks up her microphone and announces a dance from Bulgaria and then pushes a console button.
The music is slow and stately, the dancers solemn and thoughtful as they execute the steps.
As Denne-Hinnov rushes over to join the dancers, a steady stream of participants arrive, greeting one another like old friends.
Some rush to join the line, but others head to the far wall where poster-sized sheets of paper serve for a dance request list that Denne-Hinnov will constantly check over the next few hours and announce either the place of origin — Romania! She shouts — or style “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Since the website mentioned a class, I am waiting for a way to get involved and notice dancers watching from behind and imitate the dancers forming the line and later a large circle. I join them and try to figure out the patterns and steps and just abandon myself to making mistakes.
When I stop and watch a few regulars say hello and offer some advice or info. During the give and take I learn that tonight is “dance night,” the weekly session where regulars get to apply the steps learned over the past several weeks.
A visual estimate indicates again that most are over 40 and that about two-thirds are women.
One regular, Maxine, and I start chatting, and she tells me many of the people who have been coming for years are professionals. There are teachers, professors, scientists, artists, and museum curators, like Maxine.
More chit-chat reveals she and I worked together decades ago at the New Jersey State Museum. She was an assistant curator in the history division and I was director of communications. Now she works at Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island but lives in the region because of her social networks and activities she enjoys, such as participating in various dance activities in the region.
Denne-Hinnov has a similar story and tells me she started with the group more than 20 years ago and is still at it. She also told her story in U.S. 1 (February 10, 2016).
The group has now swelled to around 50 dancers, and most are participating in the first moving Greek dance circle. That includes Denne-Hinnov and my former co-worker.
I shrug, start following, and am moving something like this: step, step, step, stomp! I don’t get really get it, but I decide it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a nice night out and a truly moving experience.
Princeton International Folk Dancing, Suzanne Patterson Center, Princeton. Fridays, 8 to 11 p.m. $5, free for newcomers. firstname.lastname@example.org.