Newbold: A Love For Argentine Tango Dancing

Newbold: A Love For Argentine Tango Dancing
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Sarah Chung and Damian Lobato are professional Argentine Tango dancers. The two teach their own private and group dance lessons at their home on South 19th Street and at a studio in Center City.

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Chung was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington but moved to Philadelphia in 2002 to attend the University of Pennsylvania. She started dancing in 2009 while she was in grad school, quickly developing a love for it.

“I was living with my sister and one day she said, ‘Hey, there’s a tango class. Let’s go take it,'” she recalled. “So, she and I and a friend of ours went to take these Argentine tango classes together.”

That is where her love for tango began.

Now she is a teacher and performer. She believes a strong connection with your partner is important because all of Argentine tango dancing is improvised.

Lobato was born and raised in Argentina and started dancing in 1991. He originally lived in Chicago but moved to Philadelphia to teach tango lessons and dance professionally in 2000. Lobato performs in Argentina, Central America, Europe and around the United States.

Chung and Lobato met when Lobato was teaching classes and Chung was still a student at Philadelphia Argentine Tango School. Together, the two teach beginner and advanced tango lessons and show a true love for the sport. They also perform monthly at different restaurants during dinner hours for an hour and half. Their latest performance was at Malbec Argentine Steakhouse. Chung and Lobato’s chemistry on the dance floor is apparent, as they glide throughout the floor so smoothly and fluently.

Tango dancing has no steps and no memorization, is it mostly all improvised and created as dancers go through the music. It takes great skill, practice, and coordination.

“A lot of tango dancing is a mental thing,” Chung said. “It reflects your moods and helps you deal with your moods.”

Argentine tango originates in Argentina and Uruguay and is a social dance, relying heavily on improvisation. Some dances are choreographed, but most are not, as there is no basic step or count in Argentine tango dancing.

“It’s an improvised, social dance,” said Lobato.

Argentine tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions. Although it originated in Argentina and Uruguay, it was also performed in Cuba and Spain as well. The dance can be done with partners connected at arms length, or very closed, in which they connect chest to chest. Essentially, the dance is done through the music, and the dancers generally keep their feet close to the floor as they walk, the ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other.

“The most rewarding part of Argentine tango dancing is it’s fun,” said Chung. “It’s just really fun. It’s unusually intricate dance. It’s technical but social, and that combination is attractive to people.”

Argentine tango is one of the most popular dances in the world, celebrated for its fire and passion. There are also several health benefits associated with dancing, including improved heart and lungs conditions, increased muscular strength and aerobic fitness, weight loss and many more.

Chung has been teaching tango for six years. Lobato has been teaching for 16. Among other classes, they teach a stretch and strengthen class, in which Chung includes a combination of strengthening exercises and targets stretching that is designed for the tango dancer. The main purpose of the class is to strengthen and elongate muscles and to release tension in order to improve balance and coordination.

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They also teach a beginner tango class, which includes general techniques of Argentine tango. Chung and Lobato emphasize two important skills of partner dancing – establishing a connection with the partner and hearing the beat of the tango music.

“The excitement of bringing this new dance to people who have no idea what it is, it’s really great,” said Chung. “It’s great to see how people change from the beginning.”

Intermediate classes are given to students who have a basic understanding of how walking and turns work and focuses on establishing a deeper connection with their partner.

Their highest level is advanced, and it is geared toward people who have been dancing for at least two years and have a basic idea of the technique.

Chung and Lobato provide private lessons as well.

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They also host a weekly practica, which is an informal event where people can practice how to dance at a milonga. A milonga, which is hosted monthly, is an Argentine tango social dance, where people can dance as individuals or together. The dance music consists of tango, vals and milonga.

“Argentine tango dancing is like learning a common language,” explained Chung. “Once you know the language, then you can put words together and you can speak to people using this language. It’s great because you can travel anywhere in the world and go to tango events and you can dance with anybody, because everyone speaks this common language.”

The professional dancers devote their time to what they love, and that is  Argentine Tango dancing.

-Text, video and images by Catherine Campana.

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