Usually, to see two world-class dancers engaged in the sensual and dramatic Argentine tango in Ventura County, you have to have the television on. But thanks to a new tradition beginning at the Orlando Paiva Dance Academy in Thousand Oaks, Southern Californians can now see the art of the tango live — and give it a try themselves.
July 28 marks the beginning of an exciting new after-dark opportunity, whether for serious dance students, couples who need to learn some fancy footwork for the upcoming nuptials or just the tango-curious: the once-monthly milonga, or social dance, accompanied by instruction and demonstration with the internationally known tango dancer Orlando Paiva Jr. An all-ages, all-levels open class begins at 8 p.m., followed at 9 p.m. by the traditional social-style Argentine tango dance gathering.
Tango has long been known around the world as one of the most challenging and sensual dances, and Paiva Jr. is the man to learn from. He grew up surrounded by the music and the magic: His father, Orlando Paiva Sr., was a tango legend. In fact, there is a branch of tango known as the “Paiva” style, characterized by precision footwork and elegant posture. It was Orlando Paiva Sr. who is credited with bringing the Argentine tango movement to the Los Angeles area, when he emigrated from Argentina in the 1970s. When he returned to Argentina later in his life, his youngest son, Orlando Jr. stayed in the area, carrying on his father’s distinctive salon style and continuing to teach the intimate and mysterious dance. It is said Paiva Sr. would spend hours in front of a mirror, perfecting the arch of his neck and the position of his arm, and his son is as highly regarded in the tango world as his heritage suggests.
In 2005, Paiva, Jr. founded the Tango Brujo Congress in Reno, Nev., where the most respected tango dancers and teachers from Argentina converge to demonstrate and coach a new generation of performers. Paiva Jr. has said his goal is to bring the Argentine style to as many artists as possible, and to display the unique style of his homeland.
But the elegance and expertise of the instructor should not concern prospective students, especially those without a dance background. According to past students of Paiva Jr., his proficiency makes him the perfect teacher for those who don’t know the tango from the Texas two-step.
“You don’t have to be a dancer to learn from Paiva,” says Elena Smith, one of Paiva’s recurring students. Others have emphasized that Paiva’s focus is on drilling basic techniques, and encouraging his students to improvise, to interpret the music and to explore their own styles.
Paiva Jr. teaches classes as well as private lessons from his academy in Thousand Oaks, but the milonga nights will offer a unique opportunity to experience the Argentine tango as it was meant to be danced: in a social setting, with refreshments provided, a master couple leading the way and plenty of other people who have no idea what they’re doing, either.
The Paiva Academy wants to keep their new social dance nights casual and comfortable, in order to welcome those who are curious about the dance to come and learn, without being intimidated by the sophistication of the dancers. But for those with a passion or training in ballroom dance, there is no better place to learn the Argentine tango than from a master, and Orlando Paiva Jr. is, indisputably, one.
Whether beginner or expert, casually interested or seriously devoted, the monthly social dance will certainly be an exceptional opportunity to see expert dancers in action, and to learn from them in a relaxed environment. And in terms of ballroom dance styles, the Argentine tango is matchless for its drama, style and haunting mood. The depth of the dance, says Paiva, is its allure.
“I think the elegance of the dance and the embrace is what initially attracts people,” he says.
Watching two experts dance the tango is much like watching two birds in flight: the gentle turns and subtle falls, the soft sound of ankle brushing ankle like the distance beating of swooping wings. They seem to be carried on a cushion of air, floating effortlessly across the floor. Not only do you get to watch, if there is anyone who can make you (and your ESPN-loving husband) look that good, it’s Orlando Paiva, Jr. It’s worth a shot, anyway.