In 1997, when Karen Jaffe settled in Asheville with her family, the active contra dancer was excited to explore the local scene. Her interests led her to couples dancing and then to the Argentine tango, which became her passion. Jaffe hosted weekly classes and social dances in Asheville, growing a modest collection of tango enthusiasts into a thriving community.
Two decades later, Jaffe is still devoted to the dance of passion. So, she created Sabores del Tango, a first-of-its-kind event for Asheville, with her dance partner, Buenos Aires native and tango virtuoso Tate Di Chiazza. The three-day celebration of tango includes a class, tasting and dance parties. It takes place Friday, Aug. 25, through Sunday, Aug. 27, at West Asheville event space Center for Art & Spirit at St. George’s.
The gathering is intended for a range of skill levels, from experienced beginners to seasoned professionals. “We wanted to offer a unique event that gave the dancers a taste of the many different possibilities that tango offers,” says Jaffe. She notes that, although it’s possible to find tango classes and milongas — social dance parties — in cities around the world, this is the first local event with such a varied lineup. The schedule promises performances, improvisation, variations on the genres of music, and formal and informal social dancing.
During A Taste of Argentina, Jaffe and Di Chiazza will discuss the history and demonstrate the styles of tango, including the older salon style and the modern, or nuevo, style, served with a side of Argentinian wines and traditional empanadas. A Taste of Argentina will be followed by a traditional Encuentro milonga, where dancers are encouraged to dress more formally and adhere to the strict historical codes of etiquette. The dance parties continue on Saturday with afternoon and evening milongas, the latter set to live music by local group De La Noche (formerly Asheville Tango Orchestra) performing classical Argentine tango tunes from the early and mid-20th century. Attendees can also take a lesson in chacarera, a traditional folk dance. The weekend’s finale fiesta, Milonga al Aire Libre, will be held in Pritchard Park on Sunday and, with a donation, is open to the public.
While respecting the traditional roles of leader and follower, Jaffe and Di Chiazza encourage collaboration. “Our teaching philosophy is based on the idea of the dancers being independent, yet connected and co-creative,” Jaffe says. “We support active following, freeing the follower to interpret the music through her body, at times independent from the leader.”
Jaffe and Di Chiazza describe their teaching style as “relaxed and fun, heavy on technique and exploratory based.” Jaffe continues, “We may use a movement or sequence as a framework for the technique or concept we are looking at, but our focus is the natural flow of the energy from lead to follow, relative position and timing for any given movement, all with a healthy dose of playfulness.”
From 2005-15, Jaffe hosted Argentine tango events, classes, milongas and special workshop weekends through her organization. “I supported hundreds of new dancers taking their first steps in tango in my local classes over those years,” she remembers. As more people (including some of her own students) began to host their own classes and milongas, Jaffe stepped back from the Asheville tango scene to concentrate on growing her professional dance career regionally.
Jaffe and other instructors rotate command of Tuesday night classes and prácticas at In His Steps. Blue Spiral Tango also hosts a milonga, on the last Sunday of every month, at The BLOCK off Biltmore.
Jaffe remains an influential member of the local tango community. While Di Chiazza is in the U.S. for the year, the duo will offer several tango workshops, classes and performances in cities across the country. In Asheville, these include an immersion session, Path to Tango, on Thursday, Aug. 31; an intensive seminar for experienced dancers scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2; an Argentine dinner and tango show at Isa’s Bistro on Wednesday, Oct. 18; and a workshop at LEAF on Saturday, Oct. 21. Visit tangogypsies.com for the full lineup.
Sabores del Tango kicks off that roster. It’s a plunge into a dance style that might turn other contra dancers (or swing enthusiasts or Salsa fanatics) into tango gypsies, as Jaffe coined her community. “In the end, tango is an experience,” she says. It’s “very personal, internal, unique to each person, and rooted in a solid base of technique and traditional music.”
WHAT: Sabores del Tango, avl.mx/40h
WHERE: Center for Art & Spirit at St. George’s, 1 School Road; and Pritchard Park
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 25, through Sunday, Aug. 27. See website for full schedule. $100 for full weekend/$190 per couple