In 1996, Jeff Musgrove saw a video of people dancing the Argentine tango, a social dance that originated in Buenos Aires in the 1880s.
"It’s a very intimate dance. You are in a close embrace, and you’re holding your partner very close," said the Scottsdale resident. "It just took over me."
There are other forms of tango, such as American and International tango — versions of the original that people often associate with, as
Musgrove described, "heads thrown back, looking like chickens running across the floor."
But it is the more reserved Argentine tango, and its intricate footwork, that has captured an underground community of about 80 dancers in the Valley. In February 2002, the group launched a Web site under the name Tango Arizona and has since added information for dancers in Sedona, Tucson and Flagstaff.
"You can go any place in the world and find a tango community. It’s amazing," said Musgrove, who teaches a class every Thursday at Centre Stage Dance Studio in Scottsdale.
He said the majority of the Valley’s Argentine tango instructors and dancers live in the East Valley and Scottsdale. In addition to regular classes, they often get together for what is called a Milonga and dance the evening hours away in a dance hall.
It is not unusual to see the same people over and over again at the Milongas, which are scheduled at least once a month. Because the Argentine tango is considered one of the most difficult dances to learn, many are intimidated by it; of those who do try it, some just don’t have the patience to master it. Simply put: Those who dance together, stay together.
"In tango, so much of the dance relies on the man knowing his steps, his moves. So if the man doesn’t know what he’s doing, then there is no tango," said 50-year-old Linda Deir of Scottsdale. "You need a strong group of men who know how to tango."
Deir began learning how to dance the Argentine tango in 2000. It was a natural progression, she said, from her experience in ice skating and salsa dancing. Along with many other dancers, Deir was, and still is, attracted to Argentine tango for its intensity.
"It lets you release all that primal energy building up in you," Deir said.
The social opportunities afforded by Argentine tango classes and the Milongas are also a big draw. Couples, singles, young and old — everyone is welcomed with open arms, and then thrust into the arms of a stranger.
"It’s really good for you to dance with as many people as possible, because you learn with each person you dance with," said Scottsdale resident Jacqueline Avignone, 48.
Avignone, a stylish blonde who doesn’t look a day over 38, talks of the change in her wardrobe since she took up the Argentine tango eight months ago. Her closet used to be full of jeans and polo shirts.
"Now I scan all the time for exotic-looking clothing," Avignone said.
Not that she is out to impress anyone: Though single, Avignone has no fantasies of finding love while floating across the dance floor.
"I like it because it’s a really good way for me to be social with men and women, and yet it’s light and casual for me. I don’t want to date the men there, but I like to dance with them," she said.