At 66 years old, Wright considers himself Ashland's tango forefather. As he relaxed into the Saturday night ambience of an impending dance lesson, he said, "I started it down here. I learned up in Portland but I realized that if I was going to dance down here I'd have to start something myself.
In addition to a pair of weekly classes in the Community Works building downtown, Wright has been helping to put on First Friday Tango lessons and dances for several months. A group of people is forging a community in Ashland built around tango. This group of pioneers is eager to join the growing resurgence of tango enthusiasts spreading nationwide. The tools used by these dance pioneers are dedication, discipline and passion.
On the Saturday following this month's First Friday lesson, there was a special tango event at Mojo Rising. The event was organized by John Gaffey and Samara Burnett. Between darting around the venue, finding change and stocking beverages, Gaffey explained a bit of the history of tango, as a setting sun painted Mojo Rising's burgundy drapes a deeper shade of crimson. Gaffey explained that tango began in Argentina during the late s.
It spread to Europe where it found infamy in France in the s. Tango experienced a Golden Age in the s, after which the dance died down. But proponents like Gaffey and Wright aim to see tango resurrected. An elegant middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a disarming charisma, Gaffey doesn't plan to start the Northwest tango explosion with lessons alone.
Gaffey, Burnett and Wright, along with frequent instructor Clay Nelson plan on hosting Southern Oregon's first ever tango festival this Thanksgiving weekend, hoping to draw dance enthusiasts from across the nation and craft a growing annual event. As Saturday evening's event is about to get under way, smartly dressed couples amble in and the DJ checks the sound system.
Peppy venue owner Donella Evoniuk seems to be on the tango band wagon as well. Now I have to run home and change my clothes; I don't want to be a tango-dog! Sandra Burnett recalled her first experiences with the dance: But now I realize it isn't about a battle; it's about connection.
Then the evening's instructor showed up, year-old Savannah Morgan, a Southern Oregon University Business student with a lifetime of dance experience. As she instructed the novices and newcomers that night, feet tripping over one another, Morgan looped in and out of the couples, fixing this and guiding that. After every two-minute practice, Morgan halted the music and applied a new step or technique to be practiced with a new partner, likely a stranger.
Different sizes and talents came together and parted quickly as the tango was learned by all. Burnett echoed, "The conclusions I draw about how tender and sensitive a person is may be very wrong. Tango is a great way to draw inner growth. Silvina Valz, an Argentinean tango expert who has instructed world-wide and currently resides in Paris gave a special demonstration, exuding the grace and fire that Tango can exemplify.
Then the room opened up to Milonga, the free-form dance in which Ashland's best dressed and smoothest flowing couples navigated one another within a sensuous violin current, dancing the night away. The following afternoon, things were far more casual at the Grove as Valz, dressed for exercise, taught a beginners class.
The glowing Ashland socialites from the previous night had pared down to sweats and slacks as Valz and her translator hopped from step to step while imparting insight into the tango mystique. But it is not an excuse," said Valz. You get used to the different ages.
I plan to stick with this! If not, try salsa. Lessons are free, with beginner classes starting at 2: Partners are not required, but welcome. For more information, e-mail Southern Oregon Tango at mrwright39 hotmail.