Polly's Tango Talk

A Brief History of Portland Tango

A Brief History of Portland Tango

 Tango and Portland were destined to meet and this is how it came about.

1991 my (then) folkdance partner and I attended a workshop in something we’d never heard of called “Argentine Tango.” Before class, Seattle instructors Sonny Newman and Patty Leverett performed a dazzling demonstration that included leg wraps,  whirling turns and lightning-fast footwork. We were instantly smitten and promptly committed ourselves to learning whatever it was we had just seen. For the following year we practiced furtively in the corners at folk and social dances, ignoring inquisitive glances.

In 1992 we met Clay Nelson and his (then) partner at workshops in Corvallis taught by Michael Walker and Luren Belucci. They convinced the four of us to attend Stanford Tango Week, which we did in ‘93 and 94. We were thrilled, enthralled and deeply challenged by the steepest learning curve any of us had ever experienced.

During the following two years we attended workshops in Seattle featuring guest Masters, Maestras, and iconic stars of Forever Tango. (Seattle’s community had been in existence for five years.) We dutifully practiced the “eight count basic,” wild boleos, ganchos, molinetes and long combinations of figures while making every mistake known to man. The four of us practiced diligently and were eager to share our new-found treasure with fellow dancers.

In 1994 Clay and his partner began teaching beginning classes to their  ballroom students, and my partner and I hosted a Sunday Tango Tea at The Chalet of Dance at 7045 SW Taylors Ferry Rd.  In November 1994 Clay hosted our first Argentine Maestra, Nora Dinzelbacher, at his studio on Garden Home Road. Soon after he began inviting teachers from Seattle and the Bay Area once a month. Attendance flourished and it was a Red Letter day when two couples from Seattle attended our workshops and milonga.

In 1996 Clay created ValenTango and TangoFest, currently the two largest festivals in the country, with an average attendance of 500-600 participants each. Most activities for both festivals have been held in Norse Hall with some milongas held in Tiffany Center, Scottish Rite Temple, Temple Ballroom (now an office building!) Oaks Park Pavilion, Berretin Studio, Imago Theater, Bossa Nova and some of Portland’s other vintage ballrooms.  Classes have been held at Paradise Studio and Ankeny Studio.  In 2012 ValenTango was moved to  DoubleTree by Hilton near the Lloyd Center.

A few people who have made outstanding contributions towards creating, developing and maintaining Portland’s tango scene are acknowledged below, with a very abbreviated listing of their activities.  (Many others have also made great contributions, and if there were time and/or space, they would all be mentioned. See note at the end of the article about how to add someone.)

Dan Timmins and his wife Dolores (deceased) were perpetual promoters and hosted the first weekly milonga in Vancouver. Gillian Leichting was our first lady milonga host and established Friday Night Milonga at the former Temple Ballroom. She was one of the first women in Portland to learn how to lead and the first DJ to play music in tandas and cortinas.

Megan Pingree has hosted literally dozens of our visiting instructors in her beautiful home and has been selected by several guest teachers to partner them for workshops and demos.  She served on the TangoFest and ValenTango Executive Teams till her retirement from festival planning in 2012. Megan hosted her milonga on second and fourth Fridays for nearly twelve years and has DJed at milongas across the country. She partners Alex for many of his classes, and is Bill Alsup’s teaching partner, stand-in instructor and alternate host for the Sunday Practica.  One of Portland’s best known and highly respected instructors, Megan taught group and private lessons for nearly fifteen years. Since 2008 she has been semi-retired and teaches only private lessons.

Robert Hauk contributed greatly to our understanding of tango when he introduced Milonguero Style/close embrace to Portland after having spent several  months in the Bay Area. He brought in guests who taught us about axis, connection and musicality and helped create and the original Sunday Practica with Bill Alsup. Robert established Monday Night Milonga at the former Viscount Ballroom, (now Bossa Nova), hosted Mondays at PPAA for a number of years and his La Noche de Buenos Aires is currently at Treasury Ballroom. He specializes in DJing music of the Golden Age of Tango.

Bill Alsup hosted one of our early milongas on Tuesday evenings downtown at Sege’s Cafe. He created and then hosted Portland’s website for several years. Bill and Robert created the Sunday Practica which started at Clay’s Dance Studio and has become one of PDX’s longest running and most popular weekly events. After Clay sold his studio, Sunday Practica was relocated to Viscount Studios on East Burnside. Bill has hosted that event for several years which is now located in the new Viscount studio on SE 7th near Sandy Blvd.

Alex Krebs hosted a weekly practica/milonga while attending Reed College and after graduation, he studied Spanish and tango intensively in Buenos Aires. Alex created and owns Tango Berretin studio, has hosted 1st and 3rd Sat milongas for several years, sponsors special performances, events and intensive workshops, teaches locally and has taught in various countries. He is an accomplished bandoneonist,  composes, arranges and directs for multiple tango orchestras and ensembles.

Laurie Ann Greenburg was one of the first women who studied, practiced, and became skilled at leading. She expanded the spectrum of PDX tango when she initiated “Ladies Who Like to Lead” classes and practicas. She brings in well-known teachers and helps women feel comfortable on the opposite side of the frame.

Carlene St. Thomas has assisted during many years of festivals. She hosted La Milonga Euphoria on the first and third Fridays at Euphoria studio for four years which Peter Esser and Ingeborg Mussche co-hosted till they moved to BsAs. Then Ellen Saunders and her husband David Whitman hosted Milonga Firulete on second Saturdays at the same location. David was one of the original Taxi Dancers and Ellen chaired Festival Registration for several years.

Conrad Mandt, one of our earliest and long-time tango enthusiasts, built a lovely outdoor, covered dance floor on his farm in Ridgefield, WA. He created and hosted Moonlight Milonga one Sunday a month which is now hosted by his grandson, Dirk Mandt.

Amy PK added a new dimension to our tango scene when she and  Andrew Burt created Alternative Tango at Nocturnal Studio. The event was very popular with college students and many who went on to study tango seriously began their journey there. The milonga/practica (as it was known at that time) has since relocated to Norse Hall. Wednesday Night Tangi is a unique milonga that offers a mix of traditional and alternative music. For the past couple of years, Amy has worked diligently with Portland Parks and Recreation to organize a major annual public tango event at Director’s Park. It has been extremely successful and draws several hundred participants and viewers. She has studied in Buenos Aires, taught group and private lessons, hosted the Wednesday night Opening Milonga for TangoFest and ValenTango for the past ten years and is on the 2013 TangoFest Board of Directors.

Rachel Lidskog has introduced college students to tango through her teaching at Portland State University, Portland Community College, Ankeny Studio, Portland Public Schools and  several other local venues. She has also taught at festivals around the country. Rachel  helped form the very active PSU Tango Club which will host one of our TangoFest all night milongas. She created and operates Dance With Joy Studio and has sponsored, taught and performed with several visiting teachers. Rachel has assisted with our festivals for over ten years and will host the Guided Practicas at TangoFest.

Steven and Jayne Payne are among our well-known, long-term instructors and  have assisted with many of our festivals. Steven is a popular guest DJ for various milongas and will host the 2013 Thursday TangoFest Beginners Milonga. Matthew Schwartzberg organized the Taxi Dancers for all the years they were included in our festivals. He now specializes in repairing and building intricate, complex parts for bandoneons and is relied upon by local and out of area bandoneonists for his expertise. He assisted with the Friday Practica for its first four years. Jerry Wallach hosted Thursday milonga at North Star Ballroom before relocating to Norse Hall. He and his wife Lilah host occasional Buenos Aires nights and the very popular annual New Year’s Party. Scott Forbes, volunteer treasurer, established and manages our non-profit Portland Community Tango Fund that assists students with financing for classes and workshops.

Jay Rabe is the current host of Portland’s web site at http://www.portlandtango.com and Portango-a, our Yahoo groups announcement list.  His Tango House was a popular venue for visiting tangueros, festival attendees, classes, and TangoFest 2013 meetings.  Jay coordinated the vendors for our festivals for many years and was on the Board of  Directors of TF 2013.

From the beginning, Clay Nelson supported, encouraged, and offered his studio to anyone who wanted to teach or bring in guest instructors. His policy of cooperation and collaboration has had a significant, positive, long-term influence on the development of the community. Clay’s continued efforts to bring us high quality teachers and provide opportunities to dance and socialize with fellow enthusiasts from across town, across the country and  across the pond, have put Portland on the tango map. (Rumor has it that Polly has been seen impersonating someone who’s been involved a little.)

Our 2013 community has approximately 250 members who attend classes, milongas and practicas frequently, and many more who attend occasionally. There are countless others whose support, participation and contributions have been, and continue to be, extremely valuable to the continued growth, quality and spirit of Portland Tango. You are welcome to submit the name/s of someone you feel should be listed, including yourself. Criteria includes long term membership (10 years or more) and/or outstanding or unique contributions to the community.

This year (2013) Clay turned the organization of TangoFest over to a few members of the community including Lu (Marge) Dobie, and Directors Jay Rabe, Amy PK, Adam Cornett, Emily Medley, Momo Smitt and What’s-Her-Name. Our primary goal is to maintain and enhance the quality and success of the festival.

So there you have it, well, a tiny portion of it. We’ve been a Community for almost twenty years and each moment, experience and participant has helped bring us to where we are today: thriving, versatile, imperfect, innovative, and strongly committed to discover, learn, enjoy, promote, and honor the treasures of Argentine Tango, including the dance, its music, history, and cultural and social traditions.

Every community has its Founders and I am privileged to have been one of ours.

For further information: tangopolly@gmail.com.

1 Comment »

  1. My former partner and I hosted that 1992 workshop in Corvallis with Michael Walker and Luren Belucci. It was a lot of fun and also, as I am sure you know, a lot of work.

    Peter Gysegem

    Comment by Peter Gysegem — November 18, 2013 @ 3:34 am | Reply

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