By Cynthia Gamez, Photos by Don An
Three couples from the Sunland Dance Studio tangoed their way to the semi-finals at the 2017 Argentine Tango Festival, earning a chance to compete for the USA title.
The couples represented El Paso at the Official 2017 Argentine Tango Festival in San Francisco April 13 through April 17. They competed against 46 other couples competed for the USA title, and the chance to compete at the World Cup Tango Championship in Buenos Aires later this year. While they did not win the final honors, El Paso was the only city in Texas to send competitors to the championship this year.
Leah Brown and Alfonso E. Chavez, both native El Pasoans and dancers at the Sunland Dance Studio moved to semifinals in Tango Salon, and finished top 10 in the Milonga category. Tango aficionados, they trained to perfect their connection, musicality, and elegance. Although Chavez currently lives in L.A., they met at the Sunland Dance Studio, and worked with an amazing community of dancers. Determined to make it to semifinals, the pair met in L.A. and Phoenix to practice and prepare for the event. Brown and her former partner had been semifinalists in 2016 and she was determined to reach this level with Chavez. Their commitment and hard work paid off.
For competitors, the journey is just as important as the competition itself as dance partners learn to work with each other towards a mutual goal, negotiate artistic differences, and enjoy the process.
“Months of preparation, hours of anticipation, and then it all comes down to just a few minutes under the watchful eyes of the judges to show what you can do. Before you know it, it’s over and then you wait for your name to be called for the next round,” Brown said. “I was on cloud nine when our names were announced as semi-finalists!”
Chavez, who loves the Milonga style of Tango, which is like a cumbia said, “Placing in the Milonga top 10 with Leah was amazing to spice-up the dance floor with a little TangoNorteño.”
Armando Saenz who made it to semifinals in 2016, competed this year with Rachel Nathanson, from Las Cruces, N.M. Both study at the Sunland Dance Studio and are regulars at all tango events and workshops. Both feel that dancing at the USA Tango Championship was great experience and an opportunity for growth. “Being in the company of some of the best dancers in the country inspires us to continue to strive for grace, elegance, and artistic expression,” Saenz said. “We intend to continue to grow as tango dancers in the warm and encouraging El Paso community, and we are proud to represent that community that has given us so much.”
Tango instructors, Ubaldo Armenta and Cynthia Gamez, competed in both the Tango Salon and Stage Tango categories. They have both taught Argentine Tango in El Paso for over 10 years guiding countless dancers into tango through their group and private lessons, performances, and their Saturday Night Milonga (tango dance event). They were both tremendously excited that their students have made it to semifinals for the last two years at this prestigious competition. “For me, it is a great source of pride that Leah and Alfonso are successful and also that Rachel and Armando are growing as dancers. We are honored to have played a role in their tango journey,” Gamez said. “It take a lot of courage for our team to compete nationally. Many competitors are from tango centers, such as L.A., San Fransisco, Denver, and the New York City area. So, for us…it takes a lot of ingenuity, commitment and training at the studio, as well as getting coached by recognized tango professionals to achieve our goals.” Ubaldo Armenta smiles widely and affirms this feeling. “I learn a lot and grow as a dancer every year. I think this will help me as an instructor as well. My job is to help my students become dancers in their own right – developing their own sense of style and independence.”