I'm Taking Tango Lessons - A PBS Special
- Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Check out our Sponsors
Written, Directed, Filmed, Edited, and Produced by
Nancy Stevens & Jan Gero
Review by Roberta E. Zlokower
PBS, Channel 13, 28 minutes, September 13, 2002
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
The Producers of I'm Taking Tango Lessons, on hand-held cameras at various Tango Milongas and Dance Studios throughout New York, including Chelsea Market, DanceSport, Sandra Cameron, Dance Manhattan, Lafayette Grill, and other Argentine Tango dance venues, shot this documentary. They interviewed Tango "regulars" and some, not so "regular", about their passion and dedication to a physical and psychological sport, a dance that can become all consuming. Tango has the power to regulate all purchases of shoes, clothing, jewelry, light, before-Tango food, and after-Tango snacks, as well as all scheduling for the week, including practice dance sessions, lessons, both group and private, Workshops by visiting Milongueros, and weekly Tango Milongas.
This short film used clips of students dancing at Milongas and studios, with close-ups of the legs and feet, faces and arms, hands, and backs, to fully express the passion and concentration of the dancers in action and in conversation. Voice-overs were utilized to exaggerate the feeling, as Tangueros spoke, while we observed a clip of their leg or face, at another time, or while one dancer spoke, and we observed another. There were many unusual film techniques utilized, with a perfect balance of audio and visual editing. Jan Gero and Nancy Stevens have created a personal window for the average and more specialized viewers to observe their "Underground" world of Argentine Tango in NYC.
The following is a synopsis of I'm Taking Tango Lessons
By Jan Gero and Nancy Stevens:
JANCY MOVIES "I'M TAKING TANGO LESSONS" A Documentary (28:00)
Written, directed, filmed, edited, produced by Nancy Stevens & Jan Gero.
Fade up on the throb of Argentine tango music. A montage of couples dancing in close embrace, serious, intently attuned to each other. We're close enough to smell the Patchouli on his skin, the Binaca on her breath. They are old and young, all races, shapes and sizes. And so we enter a subculture we never knew existed: The Argentine Tango Scene in New York City.
We follow dozens of ordinary people who work by day and at night become tango vampires. Their stories form the narrative as they pursue their addiction to this sexy, impossible dance. At the schools we eavesdrop on classes, learn about lead and follow, and a new vocabulary in Spanish. We show up when the Argentine stars come out. Watching them, our jaws drop as Nancy laments, "It's very depressing. You just know you're never going to get that good." But we persist. Working through our frustration and embarrassment. Watch, learn, practice. It's an entire technique that's different from any other dance. "A weekend in the Hamptons? Forget it. I've got a six-hour workshop." It takes a lifetime.
We're at the tiny clubs around the city. And at the Milongas (dances) run by the schools in their roomy spaces. On your birthday, the Milonga host calls you out into the middle of the floor. It's a tradition. Everyone watches while a succession of people cut in on each other to dance with you. Nancy admits she didn't tell when it was her birthday. "I'm not ready for that kind of exposure. Not yet!" In tango, clothing is part of the fun and anything goes. Short, long, ankle socks with heels. Sheer tops. The hooker look is in for women. And it helps to have a really good ass.
On Saturdays at Chelsea Market, between the fruit stalls and the Samurai knife sharpener, we dance. In the summertime, tango moves outdoors. At Bethesda Fountain an egret soars; rollerbladers stop to stare. On the dock at South Street Seaport and on the plaza at Lincoln Center, tourists kibbitz while little kids wiggle to the music, out late in their pajamas.
Being married to a man who doesn't dance is rough on Jeni's marriage. "Everything happens so late at night." Armand calls tango "an intimate anonymity," and says that his non-dancing wife understands his need to do it. Men dance with men, women with women. It doesn't matter who the other person is, just so they lead or follow correctly and feel the music. Deirdre says, "I'm doing something that I love even though I'm not with someone that I love." Sometimes she dances seven nights a week. Michael knows all too well, "...because of the closeness and the music, because of any number of things going on in your life, you can mistake it for love." Larry admits to falling in love "every three and a half minutes." The length of a song.
Finally, the music stops. It's two A.M. The dim studio light switches to bright fluorescence. Street shoes are laced on. Hugging, waving goodbye, we file out. Like Nancy, we feel part of this tango community now. "I've danced close enough to taste the sweat of some of my partners. But it's curious, I still don't know much more about anyone than their first name." A coat rack empties. The room is eerily deserted. The doors clang shut. Credits roll.
"I'm Taking Tango Lessons." VHS tapes available.
This successful documentary about the tango subculture in New York City aired recently on channel 13. VHS Tapes of the half-hour show are $20 dollars each. Contact the filmmakers Jan Gero and Nancy Stevens at: Jancymovies@aol.com
or call their studio at 212 663-8294