The Urban Tango Phenomenon Explained

headshot_MakelaAn interview with Makela Brizuela, by Jeffrey the Barak.

In 2006, a very different dance performance was first presented in Venice California. Entitled “URBAN TANGO, The Agony and Ecstasy of Amateur Tango – In Search of the Elusive Embrace”, it was different in many ways and attracted the attention of many in the dance community.

Directed and choreographed by Makela Brizuela, the cast consisted of amateur Tango dancers, not professional dancers, and most of the cast were students of Makela. But even more unusual was the theme.

In a dance performance without spoken word, whether ballet or in this case, Argentine Tango, it takes a little more than the performance itself to explain what exactly is being conveyed by the dance. In 2006, the amateur performers seemed inspired by the passion of this event, and were heard enthusiastically explaining the concept and theme of the show to anyone who would listen.

The concept was repeated and passed along, and in some cases the theme may have been, shall we say incorrectly described as third and fourth hand versions made it down the line of communication. But one thing was clear, something about this event really got everyone stirred up.

With the reappearance of the show in February 2007, it is appropriate that the creator get a word in and talk a little about herself as well as Urban Tango…

It is unusual to find a Tango instructor with a B.A., an M.A., or a PHD, but despite her chosen profession, Makela has one of each.

J the B: How does someone with your academic qualifications choose the life of a Tango instructor?

MB: I studied ballet since an early age, and danced my entire life. When I was 10-12 years old, I used to direct my little sister (she was 6 years younger than me), to create little plays for our family. Even though dance was a major part of my life, my parents thought that I also needed to stimulate my brain, and that is why I chose a career that was as close as art as possible: Literature. I went to the University of Buenos Aires where I finished my BA

When I started to study Linguistics as a requirement, I got fascinated by the power of language in communication. At that time I realized, that I am the most passionate when I can make a difference in peoples lives by helping them out to communicate between each other. I finished my MA and PHD in General Linguistics at USC in 1999.

J the B: How did you get local Tango dancers, and students of dance to cross the line into public performance?

MB: When I started dancing tango in 1995, the power of language in communication made even more sense. I was for the first time able to connect to another human being at a total different level, feeling ecstasy without using words.

Being an Academic and a Professor would not have given me the opportunity of touching the lives of people in the same way. When I teach Tango, I can see how human beings are transformed to the best that they can be. Tango takes them to a journey of interpretations of rejection, inadequacy, isolation; all these feelings are rooted in each individual’s past. Dancing Tango is so rewarding, that most of the people are willing to face those fears, and overcome them to enjoy the dance.

J the B: In many of the descriptions of the theme of this performance, people are talking about the typical situation at a Milonga (Tango Dance) where the women have to wait for the man to ask them to dance, and of course it’s quite the same in the Ballroom community. How does Urban Tango address this?

MB: Being a woman without a steady partner in this Tango Community had taught me lots of things. There were periods where I was thinking that there were ‘scarcity of men’, other periods where I thought that ‘men are all losers’, other periods where I thought that ‘the women are the problem’, and it was a very long journey, until I realized that the power of enjoying tango is within myself. When I go to a MILONGA (social event) it is up to me to enjoy it or to be miserable in it. So, in order to have a good time, I consciously either try to meet friends there, or I will try to have a goal (for instance learning by observing dancing), or I would go just to see people. Suddenly everything started to open up.

When I started teaching I got lots of complaints from women that men are this or that, that they sit and wait forever at the Milonga, and that they do not enjoy tango, and I wanted to do something about it. That is how URBAN TANGO was born. I saw that I have a responsibility as a woman on my own, to allow other women to see that the experience of tango is totally up to them. It doesn’t matter if there are not enough men, or if some women are not nice to each other. It is up to us what we create in our community.

As a result, we started to see great changes. The men in our show, are very supportive of us, and they understand that they are helping us to express a female point of view. We are very grateful to them, and they are the proof that there are AMAZING men in the tango community, we just need to let them show up like that. We also started creating strong bonds between women, that went through difficult process of healing, but that resulted in a safe community where dancing is enjoyed.

Urban Tango shows the process that woman goes through when they chose Tango as their way of self-expression. First she goes to a Tango Class and feels the joy of it, she starts practice and to have fun with it, until she goes to a milonga and have a bad experience. That bad experience (for instance, sitting and waiting all night, or being hurt by a man, or falling in love with the wrong man, etc. etc.), does not allow her to enjoy the dance, so her first reaction is to be angry at women. That competition does not go anywhere, and then she starts to feel really sad. By supporting each other, and by allowing herself to experience that pain, very slowly she realizes that the power is in herself. From there on, she starts enjoying tango fully.

J the B: How did you approach the students and local Tango dancers with the opportunity to perform publicly?

MB: When I called my students with this opportunity I was surprised, because most of them told me that they would do the project just to work with me. I was blown away. They saw, even more clearly than me that I was aiming for a transformation of an entire community. I made sure that they understood that this project would allow them to see their dream come true, not only to enjoy the ecstasy of tango, but also to be able to share this with the women and men in the audience.

URBAN TANGO, The Agony and Ecstasy of Amateur Tango – In Search of the Elusive Embrace will again be performed in Venice, California, at the Electric Lodge, in February 2006.

Makela’s website is:

Tickets for the show can be purchased here:

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