"Inlet Tango" A Tango Story by Karen Kucharski
Tango Lessons: Key West on the Inlet; Wednesdays; 7pm. A small classified ad caught my eye and I asked a friend to accompany me. It was 1995. A space science grad student from Cornell University was teaching the class. Turquoise walls and hot red lights cut through the otherwise dark atmosphere. The instructor, Tomas, warm-heartedly introduced the lesson. As I stepped and crossed with growing interest along the patched concrete floor with men in suits, something tugged at my creative spirit. The others in class were also beginners and, together, we improvised paths and avoided each other’s toes to the best of our abilities.
After a year elsewhere, I returned to find the group had grown slightly and instruction had been taken over by another avid Tango lover. Several dances into the night, the music was paused, and we gathered to discuss an upcoming weekend visit by prominent dancers from New York City. It was there, at the inlet bar, that my love of Tango grew to include a community of friends, nuances of red tablecloths and candlelight, and mostly, the music that entered my bones, soothed the cracks, and gave my heart a glimmer. It took hold of my body as I soared to the vals, “El Aeroplano,” spinning and spinning me as if flying in the air. It taught me to stride long with clean steps and to double-time with trust. It excited my thirst for cultural details and demanded my attention. Tango expected refinement, and yet surrounded me with such beauty that my decision to seek a higher level was undeniably affirmed with each experience.
Lessons grew into practicas, practicas into milongas, and more: weekend workshops and roadtrips to catch the fervor in other cities. In 1997, I knew I had awakened to Tango creatively with my art calling for it to be a focus of my work. I approached my beloved instructor, Matej, and asked him to join me in writing a book about Tango, and I would illustrate it. Realizing we had not yet the in-depth perspective for such a project, we were inspired to delve into the subject matter with our individual passions.
Night Tango Scene, charcoal, 24x34" Tango Passion I and II, paint on two canvas panels, 96x48"
His involvement grew to include film nights and historical stories about the music and the dance while mine took the form of charcoal, paint, and an inquiring body of photographic work. Our creative outbursts came together for the first time a year later, onstage at Barnes Hall on the Cornell University campus to debut in “Tango para Todos,” which Matej had organized with guest dancers and Broadway stars, Andrea Misse and Leandro Palou, and a growing local performance troupe. A neon light in red script heralded the dance as it hung centered between my eight-foot high “Tango Passion” diptych paintings, while dancers ocho-ed and embellished moves upstage to an appreciative crowd.
The Ithaca Tango community is now in its eighth generation (or more). It has continued to host top names in Tango and draw intrigued students from both the town and local campuses. I have had the fortune of sharing my art onstage, from makeshift spaces to concert halls, with performers that include, among others, dancers Carol Horowitz and Bobby Thompson of Montreal; the musical group, Quartango; Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco; the New York Buenos Aires Connection; Miguel Angel Zotto; the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; the fun Trio Pantango; and bandoneon player Daniel Binelli. I believe the stage experience becomes enhanced even more richly by including artwork and I thoroughly enjoy participating in this way. These opportunities that integrate the visual arts with the striking sounds and movements of the Tango, create a total environment. Together, musicians, dancers, singers, songwriters, and visual artists offer a ripe feast for Tango enthusiasts, and I am eager for more.