Lunchtime at the Tango Room: "We Dance First, Eat Second"
Annette Corsino and Bruce Blair
Looking to spice up your lunch break? Then consider shaking more than just salt at lunchtime. The Tango Room Dance Center in Sherman Oaks opens its doors (for $5) weekdays from noon to 2 p.m., giving tango devotees a chance to work on their steps.
The dancers don't go hungry. They can brown-bag it or bring in takeout from a cluster of nearby restaurants, including Carnival, Big Fish Japanese Cuisine, Vitello's Express and Il Tiramisu. And, if your heart gets stomped on the dance floor, you can drown your sorrows at the nearby bar Chimneysweep.
"Sometimes people will bring a sandwich from home and come and practice. What's nice is, there's always music. When you walk in, it's like you leave the world outside," says Julie Friedgen, who owns the studio with her husband, Angel Echeverria.
The day we stopped by, several couples and solo dancers were gliding around the room. "We just started attending the lunchtime practica and are delighted to be able to dance during the day," said Annette Corsino, an artist who owns the shop Hecho en Echo. She was practicing with friend Bruce Blair, who works in the wine and spirits industry.
"We dance first, eat second," Blair said.
The Tango Room is well known in Southern California for hosting a Saturday night milonga, or traditional Argentine social dance, when the studio is transformed into a Buenos Aires-style tango club. More than 100 people typically attend. While all skill levels are welcome, it's pretty clear that you shouldn't just get out there and freestyle.
"You can't fake tango, you have to know what you're doing," pointed out Friedgen, who teaches with her husband. "Tango is two people occupying the space normally occupied by one person. It's a conversation, a dialogue between two bodies."
To get your feet pointed in the right direction, the Saturday event begins with an 8:30 p.m. class, followed by social dancing and a buffet. The entry price varies from $12 to $18 depending on what time you arrive.
Friedgen prepares the spread, which includes a variety of dips, fruit and snacks. "We have a guy who drives down from Santa Barbara every Saturday and he makes the best flan in the world," she added.
The food is intended to keep dancers fueled for a long night -- the music plays until 3 or 4 a.m. (Maybe after that, take a nap in the car, then head out to one of our West San Fernando Valley breakfast picks.)
And while it may take two to tango, singles are welcome at all Tango Room events. "Everybody dances with everybody," Friedgen said.
Instructor Jerry Perez and Yvonne Caan
On the day we visited, dancing student Yvonne Caan was in the arms of instructor Jerry Perez. Caan said she has attended the milongas for more than a decade. "There's a friendship with all the people," she said. "It's a very nice thing to do on Saturday nights."
For the afternoon sessions, casual attire is fine. But when the sun sets, it's another story. "When you come here on a Saturday night, it is like stepping back into another era, when people dressed nicely and danced close," Friedgen said.
High heels, of course, are mandatory for the ladies, and not just because they look so sexy. Friedgen said the shoes actually help position you in the right posture, because they force you to dance on the balls of your feet.
If, like us, you can't even walk in high heels, don't despair. The Tango Room offers classes and workshops during the week, to help you get started in the basics of Argentine tango, which is not to be confused with what you've seen on TV. Explained Friedgen: "What you see on Dancing With the Stars is choreographed, staged tango. What we do here is social tango, the tango that they dance in Buenos Aires."
Blair has studied at the Tango Room for nearly two years, to "finally fulfill a personal promise to learn how to dance." He said he likes how tango pushes him out of his comfort zone. Corsino observed, "Argentine tango is all improvised, so you have to be present and aware enough to read the physical cues of your dance partner. The dance has a life of its own, and when it works, it is sublime."
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