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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tango fest shows dance enthusiasm undimmed

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tango teachers Maria Olivera and Benzecry Saba posed between dances with some of the luxurious tango shoes available at the Meet in the Middle festival in Mt. Vernon. [Order this photo]
The Meet in the Middle Tango Festival in Mt. Vernon last weekend was one of the biggest in years. A total of 130 people from many states came to dance at Murray's Vintage Venue, run by Karen Whitesell, for the four-day event.

Rainy weather that inhibited much of the Not So Square Arts Festival had little effect on the tango enthusiasts. The dancers took lessons from teachers and each other, broadening their repertory of steps, cues and moves, all enhancing their dancing.

"Generally, we dance more hours than we sleep," said LaDonna Shub, who was back for her second year from Bentonville, Ark.

Dinner for the Meet in tthe Middle tango festival in Mt. Vernon was catered by Estelle's in Mt. Vernon on Friday and held in Karen Whitesell's stained glass studio in Murray's Vintage Venue. [Times Photos by Murray Bishoff] [Order this photo]
Dawn Fisher, attending from Fayetteville, Ark., outlined an overall way to look at tango festivals.

"The men dance to hold the women, and the women dance for the shoes," Fisher said.

Tango dancing can be very glamorous for the evening milongas, or social dances. Everyone dresses up to capture the full spirit of the moment. The ladies can even buy a wide range of strappy, spiked heeled shoes from an array of offerings at the festival. Fisher explained the forward pitch of the high heels makes the dancing easier.

Among the special features at this year's festival was speaker Daniel Trenner, who talked about the history of the tango. Trenner was in Argentina in the mid-1980s after democracy was revived in 1982 and was quickly intrigued with the improvizational nature of tango still danced by the older couples who learned in the 1940s and 1950s.

Trenner showed films of the "Milongueros," the older generation dancers, showing their steps and fluid dancing. He said by 1991 there was only one salon left in Buenos Aires teaching tango before the tango revival, driven by a new generation of enthusiasts, picked up the art. Trenner himself has been one of the driving forces in spreading the tango to new popularity.

The main teachers for the festival were Gustavo Benzecry Saba and Maria Olivera, back for another year. Specialists in close tango dancing as well as flashier techniques such as criss-cross and speed moves, Saba and Olivera provided detailed instruction to polish the dancers' steps. Eli Leserowitz, from New York, and Janey Lynn Smith, from Kansas City, offered a two-day boot camp for novices to spur them fully into the dance form.

Those attending came as much for the instruction and companionship as for the atmosphere.

"This is a world class facility," said Mark Mayer, of Tulsa, referring to Whitesell's studio. "Walking into it is like coming home for someone whose soul has not known what it is like to find home."

Smith, who was making her third appearance at the festival, said the cozy feel of Mt. Vernon and the salon added to the experience. She had first attended with her tango teacher, and now, as an instructor, she brought one of her own students along.

Olga Gamig, from Delray Beach, Fla., originally from Colombia, is a personal friend of Saba and Olivera. She made the trip knowing there would be good dancing and lots to do at any event they lead.

Each evening the dancing lasted well into the early hours of the next day. Recorded tango music drifted out onto the sidewalk below, setting an exotic atmopshere alive in a much different way than daily life in southwest Missouri.

Whitesell was delighted with the turnout and wished she could find a way to bring together such a stellar gathering more than once a year.

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