Workshop brings Argentina's social dance to Juneau

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

Last winter's waltz weekend led to this summer's tango tea.

Tango workshop

When: Aug. 23-25, 710 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.noon, 25 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.noon Sunday, with a tango tea and dance at 3 p.m.

Where: Juneau Dance Unlimited Studio in Scottish Rite Temple.

Instructor: Dance master Richard Powers of Stanford University, with Angela Amarillas.

Sponsor: Juneau International Folkdancers.

Cost: $50 per person or $15 for each session.

Registration: Call 3642334.

Upcoming: This will be the first of a three-month series. Dance instructor Purcell St. Thomas of Anchorage will teach two follow-up weekend workshops in September and October.

A tea and dance Sunday afternoon will culminate a three-day tango workshop this weekend, led by Richard Powers and Angela Amarillas, dance instructors from Stanford University. The Juneau International Folkdancers group brought Powers and Amarillas to Juneau in January for a well-attended cross-step waltz workshop.

"During the waltz weekend there was a lot of enthusiasm for a tango workshop," said Bruce Botelho of the folk-dance group. Interest was so strong a series of tango workshops also was planned for the fall.

There are two tangos - the social dance of the barrios of Buenos Aires, and the flashy, competitive style known as international tango. This weekend's tango workshop will focus on the social dance.

A three-hour introductory session Friday evening will launch the five-session weekend dance class. The first night will be an introduction to the dance, the tango embrace and the basics of tango walking.

Karen Lechner took the waltz class from Powers last winter. In addition to the dance steps, she said he also teaches the social aspects and history of the dance.

"He doesn't approach it like a drill instructor," she said. "He breaks it down in such a way that it is understandable by people with little dance experience. He's very knowledgeable and it's obvious he loves dance."

Lechner said Powers paced the waltz class for the mid-level learners, picking what seemed to be a happy medium between the fastest and slowest students.

Botelho met Powers in 1980 at a dance camp in Stockton, Calif., and called him an "apostle of vintage dance." Powers has been researching and reconstructing historic social dances for 25 years. He has choreographed dances for dozens of stage productions and films, and taught dance workshops across the United States and in Europe and Asia.

He joined the dance faculty of Stanford University in 1992 as a full-time instructor and teaches social dances of North America and directs the 70-member Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble. He also directed Stanford Tango Week for many years, a week-long dance workshop and festival.

Powers said he will show how the social tango evolved from the earliest recorded versions, around 1912, through the present. He will draw on contemporary tango music as well as songs dating back to the 1920s and even earlier.

"The early tunes are wonderful to dance to," he said. "Being a historian I'm very keen on keeping the original spirit of the tango."

The competitive style has been standardized, but Powers said the social dance has many styles.

"There's a really rich diversity," he said.

Botelho said tango is the most challenging of all the dances he's been exposed to, but there are basic, accessible tangos anyone can do.

"Tango is clearly a very intimate dance," he said. "It's a very spontaneous dance - particularly the woman following has no idea what the man will do, and that puts a greater burden on leading for the man."

Powers said there is a lot to like about tango - the music, the history and tradition, the connection between the dancers and the differences in styles.

"I like that the many different layers add up, so it has more levels to appreciate than some other dances," he said.

The Juneau International Folkdancers fall schedule includes tango workshops in September and October with Anchorage dance instructor Purcell St. Thomas. The group plans to ballroom dances as well as folkdances this season and monthly dances will be sponsored in addition to the weekly sessions.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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