Intimate, sultry and passionate, tango was born just outside of Buenos Aires in the barrio of La Boca, Argentina. It’s a dance of desire and improvisation, conjuring images of steamy nights in small cafés, high heels beneath sequined gowns, and dapper men with impeccable posture.
The tango doesn’t exactly scream Portland in February — but if you throw a down jacket over your best dress and brave the drizzle, that’s exactly what you’ll find. According to long-time tango instructor Yelizaveta Nersesova, Portland has one of the best tango communities outside of Buenos Aires. “Portland, in my opinion, is the best place to get introduced to tango,” she says. “The community is friendly and supportive [and] the level of dancers and the quality of teachers is extremely high.”
Valen Tango Festival
Tango in Portland draws some of the world’s best instructors and performers for events like February’s Valen Tango. Founded in 1997, Valen Tango is North America’s largest and longest-running tango festival.
Every February, dancers from around the globe participate in more than 50 classes (with levels ranging from beginner to advanced). The fest’s nearly 20 milongas feature music from top tango DJs and live bands. Taking place at the DoubleTree Hilton in Northeast Portland, the festival’s dozens of classes and dance parties are led by renowned instructors. (Check their website to learn more about what to expect in 2021.)
The whole weekend will set you back roughly $350, or you can purchase classes and milongas separately (around $25 per individual session) to fit your schedule. That’s a bargain, considering that some of the award-winning instructors come from as far away as Chile, Argentina and Belgium.
For true beginners looking to take their first lesson among Portland’s finest, Nersesova says there’s no reason to be intimidated. “Ultimately it’s all about having fun and enjoying yourself, no matter what,” she advises. “If you remember that, nothing will intimidate you and everyone will want to dance with you.”
Dance and Learn the Tango in Portland
Nersesova runs one of the oldest weekly social tango dances (called milongas) in the city. The milonga is held Wednesday nights at Norse Hall, and includes a lesson that allows dancers to brush up or learn new moves, participate in the ever-growing community of Pacific Northwest tango enthusiasts and experience the teaching styles of different instructors.
If mid-week tango doesn’t fit your schedule, you’re in luck; Portland offers tango dancing seven nights a week. “We are blessed with some of the best venues,” she says. “The top places are Norse Hall on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Viscount Studio on Sundays and Polish Hall on Mondays.” The Saturday milonga at the Tango Berretin in Southeast Portland is another longtime favorite. The venue is owned and operated by Alex Krebs, an international tango instructor and musician who Nersesova calls “a cornerstone of the community.”
If you don’t have time for a milonga, but your skills exceed the beginner lesson basics, you can still take advantage of Portland’s tango talent pool by dropping into one of the area’s many practicas. Unlike a milonga (where the dance is done on a strictly social basis), practicas allow dancers to get constructive feedback on their dancing from a supervising teacher — sort of like a private lesson without the exorbitant fees.
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