Two To Tango
Fernando Filipelli brings the Argentine tango from his homeland to Carmel.
Thursday, March 23, 2000
Men lead graceful, turning movements. Ladies relax their upper bodies and move in sync with their partners. Friends chat as they turn dizzying circles. Newcomers smile in nervous anticipation. Tango melodies emanate drama and romance. Twenty-five dancers make their way in from the dark and endless rain to Carmel''s American Legion Hall, greeting cohorts and warming hands. This is Fernando Filipelli''s Argentine tango class; put your dance shoes on.
Tango wasn''t born in a dance hall but in the melancholy surroundings of 18th-century brothels, slave quarters and immigrant slums of Argentina. While many people know the tango as a dance of European immigrants struggling to overcome unemployment and isolation, evidence points to African slave origins as well. Argentina''s black population called their percussion groups "tangos," and the early dance bore direct African influences, such as the call and response pattern, and a still upper body.
By the 1940s, Argentina''s national pastime had moved from its marginalized roots into elite circles from Paris to New York, sparking the development of the flamboyant "International" and "American" tango styles often featured in movies and dance halls. Today, with the renewed interest in partner dancing across America, tango is once again a sensation.
The cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires and its sensual tango rhythms shaped Fernando Filipelli''s childhood in Argentina. He remembers his parents and friends dancing on his patio. "I always admired the way my parents danced the tango," Filipelli says dreamily, "and slowly I began taking classes and learning for myself." Tango stayed with Filipelli through the years, following him when he moved to Berkeley, and later to the Peninsula.
After four years in Monterey, the young financial manager tired of having to travel to the Bay Area to quench his tango passion at nightly Milongas, or tango parties, popular with young Argentinians living in northern California. He decided to start a small weekly dance class in Carmel. "Monterey has taken very well to the Argentine tango," Filipelli says, "I''ve had a steady group of at least 15 students for the past two years."
Filipelli teaches a two-hour class every Thursday that moves from beginner to advanced, incorporating new steps and routines from Argentine tango''s three rhythms: the Tango, the Waltz, and the Milonga. It was love at first sight for many of his students. "Tan-go is a subtle, sophisticated language. It takes time, it has a stillness and intensity I don''t find anywhere else," says Bonny McGowen. "I got hooked at the first class and now nothing gets in the way of tango once a week. I''ve been preaching tango to all my friends."
Seventy-year-old Sirrah Harris started dancing only five years ago and moves with the grace of a feather. She attends Filipelli''s class as well as taking private lessons at the Monterey Peninsula Dance Association (see box). "Dancing is my raison d''etre and the tango is my favorite," she says. "I''m in tango time."
Student Lisa Carver says dancing takes investment and patience. "Some days I do really well, and then the next week I degenerate and can''t dance. You have to really listen to the music, your body and your partner. I love tango because every dance, every partner is a whole new experience."
Once a month, Filipelli takes his beloved dance out of the classroom and into real life tango parties--the Milongas. His Milongas fire up the last Saturday of every month at Carmel''s Sunset Center Scout House and draw dancers of all levels from the Peninsula to the Bay Area. "Tango is really catching on now," says Filipelli''s assistant Caroline Trist, "and we have a critical mass of people who can dance socially and enjoy a Milonga."
There''s now a core group of Peninsula tango enthusiasts who travel up to the Bay Area regularly for Milongas. And in December this year, some of Filipelli''s students and fellow dancers will go with him on his annual pilgrimage to Argentina for "Tango Week." Those privileged few will trail the soul of tango through the streets of Buenos Aires and celebrate Milongas with the descendents of tango''s creators.
Filipelli holds an Argentinian tango party Saturday starting at 7pm at Carmel''s Scout House, Mission and 8th. Beginners'' lesson at 7pm, followed by demonstration dancing and party. No partner necessary. $10/door. Call 372-4062 for more information.