Hana and Thomas are, respectively, the Founder and Executive Director, and the Director of Programs and Chief Instructor at Tango Forever. They both have a strong background in dance and an equally strong desire to bring the beauty and benefits of Argentine Tango to others.
Hana has organized and hosted Argentine tango events across Manhattan on a weekly and monthly basis with the mission of raising awareness of this art form and reaching a wide range of ages and ethnic groups. She’s also been a design professional for over 20 years. Thomas Reale has been a professional tango dancer and teacher since 1997. He is known for making Tango accessible to his students and has taught at the well-respected Sandra Cameron dance school and performed and given workshops at Carnegie Hall, Essex House, Four Seasons Hotel, and The Palace Hotel.
We interviewed them about the 5-week class they’ll be offering at Waterside, for the next 5 Saturdays, April 29th – May 27th (6pm-7pm), which is open to both Health Club members and non-members.
You had your first class, an introductory class, at Waterside in February – tell me about it.
Hana: As it was a first class, most didn’t know what to expect and some were maybe a little bit intimidated by the whole thing. But everybody walked out with a smile. And that says it all. People who have never taken a dance class before walked out hand-in-hand, very happy.
Dancing can be really intimidating. People who don’t know how to can feel that it’s a huge barrier.
So it’s a real endorsement that they left so enthusiastic.
Hana: It really was.
When does your class begin?
Hana: Saturday, April 29th at 6PM.
How would you describe what they’ll learn?
Thomas: People come into Tango with various ideas – that can be wrong. Some people have seen a Broadway show and others have ideas about Tango based on what they’ve been exposed to.
There are different types: One is ballroom tango and another is Argentine tango. And so the first thing we do is explain the difference.
I didn’t realize that there was a difference between Argentine Tango and Ballroom Dancing.
Thomas: Many people don’t. If you grew up in America, you usually are exposed to Ballroom Tango, which is completely, completely different: That Valentino idea – and the rose in the mouth.
Whereas Argentine Tango is an over 150-year-old tradition, which came to be through immigrants coming into Argentina, many from Italy. They just started dancing in the streets, and the music and the dance came together interestingly with this instrument called a Bandoneón.
Hana: Also one is developed in the studios and under the spotlights, and the other one is in the streets and much more organically developed.
So they are very distinct.
Yes, and in ballroom tango they use what they call the frame, which is the way that the couple dances, and it’s much more stiff. And, generally speaking, the heads are turned away from each other. Whereas in Argentine tango, it’s not called a frame, it’s called an embrace.
And that tells you everything. It’s a much softer, very active way of relating between two people.
Waterside has residents from all over the world so we are happy to be offering something with an international flavor at the Club.
Hana: Yes. And not only Argentine people can dance Argentine Tango.
If you have a heart, you can dance it.
You see in the tango community in New York that there are people from everywhere. It’s very eclectic. And not only from different ethnic backgrounds – but different age groups. It’s very inclusive of all age groups. Which is rare.
That is rare – very rare.
Is the class for beginners?
Thomas: Well, since most of the people will be beginners, it will probably briefly start that way and then develop through intermediate – which is where most people are even when they’re dancing for years.
We start every class with the basics. The basics are the essence of the whole dance. So you always start with the same exercises and move up from there.
Even when you master this dance, you learn the secret was always in the basics. Even the masters come back to the basics.
That makes sense: If you have a really solid base then you can expand upon the dance.
Hana: Exactly. Because it then becomes your own. Rather than teaching people pre-made steps, you teach them the basics and then it becomes their own vocabulary that they can develop and use to express themselves. So that’s our philosophy.
It sounds like an actor learning their lines. Once they learn them, they can speak through them. It gives them a structure that allows them to provide an interpretation.
I am impressed that this dance is accessible to people of all ages.
It’s dance that you can dance as a young person, sure, but you can really continue dancing well into your eighties and even nineties.
We have somebody who is 98 years old that still goes out at least once a week, dresses up and goes to a social tango. And that keeps him going. And it’s amazing.
And it’s a form of staying in shape that’s gentle enough and you can take it to any level that you are comfortable with. And it actually improves with age. As opposed to say ballet after a certain age you kind of retire from it or other forms of dance, perhaps like salsa, that can be more strenuous. This, you can just keep doing.
Part of your mission with Tango Forever is to improve aging peoples’ health and well-being through the dance of Argentine tango. Why is that important to you?
Hana: Yes, this is our organization where we go to senior centers in the various boroughs of the city and we teach them classes at no cost to them.
When I started in Tango, I just started noticing around me that there were so many people well into their eighties that were in such great shape and in good spirits. And I always compare it to people who I know in my own family of that age who were not doing as well.
There is a lot of research – that correlate this form of movement to health and well-being because it is improv and you’re always in the moment. So this mind-body connection is always cemented and refreshed and it keeps all the nerves and the connections to the brain aligned as opposed to slow degeneration
Also with this dance you are in close contact with others, you feel good – and you are moving.
And so it’s no wonder people keep coming back to it and keep doing it. As opposed to going to the gym, sometimes you have to force yourself to do that.
Here, there is a social connection, there’s a bond, there’s an emotional connection.
You don’t often find all those components in an exercise class: Keep in shape –and have social connections.
Hana: Yes. And the music takes you on an incredible journey. The music alone is fantastic.
You mentioned it was like improv, that you have to be in the moment. Why is that essential?
Hana: The pace of our lives, especially in New York City, we’re on our phones or on the computer. When you go to Tango, no one is on their phone. It’s a phone-free, unplugged zone. And that is incredibly rare.
Now, you’re in the moment. You’re in the middle of a dance. You’re with somebody. And you change partners all the time, so each time you have to re-calibrate what the lead is asking for, how to follow it, how to respond to this.
It’s a back-and-forth: So you have to present. It’s like a game of chess that’s happening on the spot. You can’t be on the phone.
Is this class offered as a drop in class?
Hana: Yes – but we do suggest people come for at least an entire month so you can see a full session of 4 weeks and evaluate. Most people want to continue.
Do they need to wear anything specific?
Hana: We ask that women wear leather soled-shoes – doesn’t have to be heels – and men wear leather-soled shoes as well.
What would you say to people who feel trepidation about taking the case because they feel uncoordinated?
Thomas: I think when you feel uncoordinated, that feeling may be based on certain experiences you’ve have had.
But it doesn’t apply to everything. And it depends how you learn a thing. We can teach you how to coordinate – that’s what the whole dance is about; it’s about learning to coordinate. My whole philosophy has to do with taking the complex and making it simple.
So it’s not the end of the road if you feel that way. This dance is based on very simple ideas – like walking. It’s an attitude, it’s an embrace. And it has a very simple base. So everybody can learn.