Arts, Culture & Media

Global hit - Tango

Another South American country provides the inspiration for our Global Hit. Argentina is synonymous with tango. Yet, when he was growing up in Argentina, reporter Diego Graglia never danced tango. Years later, he found himself in New York, and discovered the city's huge tango scene. Every night of the week, New York hosts up to five tango parties, or milongas. Today, Diego Graglia takes us for a spin around the milongas in New York.

It's a Monday night at Dance Manhattan on 19th Street. About 150 people have come out to dance tango. On the dance floor, dozens of couples rotate, each at their own pace. They follow the distinctive beat kept by the piano, the bass, and tango's signature instrument, the bandone�n, a cousin of the accordion. This being New York, the crowd is very diverse. You see young and old people; those who dress up and others in jeans and t-shirts.

Tango in NYC: http://flickr.com/photos/zachkleinTango in NYC: http://flickr.com/photos/zachklein

By day, Natalia Wilson works as a paralegal. Tonight, she is sitting by the dance floor with a friend, waiting to be asked to dance. I ask her what attracted her to tango.

WILSON: Ahmmm� Mostly the sensuality and how people look when they dance, they kind of zone out to this other world and that's what I wanted to feel like.

GRAGLIA: Have you felt it?

WILSON: Yes, and no� (laughs)

Tango creates instant intimacy between perfect strangers. At the same time, the milongas can be an anonymous world where it doesn't matter who you are during the day. Milonga organizer Gayatri Martin.

MARTIN: You could be anybody, you could be a multimillionaire, you could be almost homeless. You could be illiterate. Nobody knows and they don't really care. They might say hello to you for three years and never know your first name and dance five times a night with you.

So what do they care about?

MARTIN: Dancing!

But dancing here is not the same as in Buenos Aires.

KOLKER: You go to the milongas here and it's like a big prom or la big bar mitzvah. Everything is cool, you have the cheese, you have the dips. Everything is organized.

Tango instructor Oliver Kolker was born in New York, but raised in Buenos Aires. He says here many people just learn the mechanics of tango.

KOLKER: Like other people do yoga or tai chi or painting or chess, these people, they study dance.

But there are those who find a deeper experience in tango. They are the ones who become addicted.

So, how did this all start? In 1985 the show Tango Argentino came to town for what was supposed to be one week. The show turned out to be what the New York Times called The Season's Improbable Hit. During its run on Broadway, it was seen by Madonna, Sinatra, Kissinger and Baryshnikov.

Alexander Turney was there too.

Alex was 67 at the time. Today he is 88 and still dancing. He and his late wife Jean were among the many New Yorkers who were inspired to learn tango after seeing Tango Argentino.

TURNEY: The last 19 years of our life, dancing together, it just transformed our life, it changed our growing old.

There's a saying in Argentina, El tango es un sentimiento triste que se baila. Tango is a sad feeling that you dance. Here, tango is an escape, and milongas are an opportunity to embrace a stranger and sway to the sounds of elegant, sensual music.