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Tango “Godmother” Susana Miller Visits Emory Tangueros

By Umika Pidaparthy Posted: 11/05/2007
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He pushes forward and she moves back. He grabs her waist and leads her to the center of the room. She closes her eyes. They hold their breath. He lifts her hand and they begin to dance. Then they twirl and move closer into each other’s arms.

Saturday was a night of such magic. Around 70 Tango enthusiasts from all over the country gathered at an event hosted by Tangueros Emory at the Glenn Fellowship Hall of the Church School Building featuring an appearance by famed tango instructor Susana Miller. Miller is known for a style that emphasizes close embrace, which sets a very romantic mood for the evening.

The milonga on Nov. 3 began at 8 p.m. with a beginner’s lesson conducted by Horacio Arcidiacono, Tangueros Emory’s instructor. At 9 p.m., towards the end of the lesson, the lights were dimmed to a romantic yellow glow to signal the start of the party.

Slowly and surely, couples trickled in and began dancing. Dancers would send an invitation across the floor with a meeting of the eyes and a nod.

For Kristin Wendland, a senior lecturer in the music department and the faculty advisor for Tangueros Emory since 2001, tango is all about communication.

“Because I am a musician, tango for me is about a union between the body, the movement and the music,” she said. “Many dancers have a poetic way of describing tango as a conversation without words.”

Soon, shuffling feet packed the dance floor, women’s heels clicking in time with the slow rhythm of the songs. Except for the occasional giggle, no one spoke while they danced. Only a few whispered and mingled during the cortina, when non-tango music is played as an intermission, making it a very quiet evening. Those who were new kept looking down at their feet, only to be eased into the dance by their partner. If someone apologized for their mistake, they were simply asked to tango on.

What guests were looking forward to the most was the appearance of the “godmother of the tango,” Miller herself.

When the renowned teacher arrived, the whole floor became silent. Led by Montero, she danced as if she was on air.

Miller is credited with developing a particular style of tango, the Tango Milonguero, which focuses on a musical connection and is characterized by close chest contact and reduced leg movement. The simple and intimate dance moves work well in crowded clubs.

“Susana basically decoded what the people in Buenos Aires were dancing and made it available for teaching,” says Angel Montero, a tango instructor at Atlanta Tango, who has taken lessons from Miller.

Every year Miller conducts workshops in major cities in the United States. This year she will be visiting seven cities. Her workshops in Atlanta have so far been sold-out successes, pulling in tango aficionados like Olivier Poudou from out of state to attend the event.

Poudou, who hails from France, moved to South Carolina for a job as an engineer at General Electric after graduating from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

“Greenville has not much of a tango community. I drove for two hours to attend this milonga because this is my only option,” he said.

Founded by staff and students in 2001, Tangueros Emory hopes to generate interest in Argentinian culture through the tango. It schedules a milonga on the first Saturday of every month.

Valerie Longo, a senior in the Goizueta Business School, said she has made friends through Tangueros in a different way than in everyday life.

“It’s hard to dance well and have a conversation,” she said. “But you still feel like you know these people, because you are with them so much.”

Her dance partner was Sam Bradford, a College senior.

“We’ve been friends, from Oxford, for four years,” Bradford said. “When we are on that stage, we are lovers and when we are off the stage, we are friends again.”

In spite of the long distances some had traveled, many guests lingered at the dance, staying on through several versions of a song known as the cumparasita. By custom, the cumparasita is the signal for the end of the evening and is played at least five times because people don’t really want to leave and go home. Even as the lights were turned on and the place cleared up, couples continued to dance to the music, to savor every moment.

— Contact Umika Pardipathy at upidapa@emory.edu

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