Tango: the spicy dance for all ages

The Iowa City Tango Club, partnered with The IC Senior Center, will host a Tango Night this weekend.


David Harmantas

Participants in a meeting about issues regarding fair housing in Iowa City listen to Kirk Lehman present on the issue at the Iowa City Senior Center on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

What is a milonga?

It’s most commonly referred to as a dance-hall event showcasing the Argentine tango. Milonga is also used to describe a musical genre (lively in tempo) and one of three dances practiced at a milonga. The milonga dance is much like the tango itself, but faster and more playful in movement. In short, a milonga event equals passion.

Since 2003, the Iowa City Tango Club has practiced and interpreted the Argentine tango, pushing for authenticity. On March 2, for $5 admission, dancing, food and drink will be available, as well as a whole lot of passion at 7:30 p.m. Located at 28 S. Linn St., the Senior Center hosts the Iowa City Tango Club each week for lessons and a monthly milonga. The wooden dance floor and ample sound system serves the milonga well, said Tango DJ Greg Kovaciny.

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In 2003 after an Argentine Tango weekend workshop, Kovaciny and his wife emerged exhausted and frustrated. Naturally, they decided to try again. The couple prefers the Tango, because it is a close, embracing style of dance. The retiree quickly fell in love, opting to DJ and direct the Iowa City Tango Club from 2003 to 2010. He remains as the current DJ.

“Tango is as simple and complicated as walking,” Kovaciny said. “It’s walking elegantly to the music.”

DJ Kovaciny began his avocation in 2003, at the start of the club. He started collecting Argentine music when he found that his club members had slim to none. Kovaciny started picking up CDs wherever he could find them, which was difficult in the early 2000s. At practically the end of the Earth or directly from Argentina, he found the start of his collection, Kovaciny said. Today, the internet serves as a great source.

The tango is improvisational. Unlike such dances as ballroom, there are limited learned steps. Instead, what Kovaciny calls “dance vocabulary” is used as a foundation, and the rest is up to interpretation.

The leader hears and interprets the music through the body, following either the beat, singer, an instrument, or space in the music to impart to the partner who follows. Connected at the chest in a close embrace, dancers share deeply creative moments, perhaps with strangers, in a musical connection.

“It can look like choreography to the outside world, but it’s all style and improvisation,” Kovaciny said.

The 68-year-old said the flow of the music is the most important. After traveling with his wife to Buenos Aires, Kovaciny gained a greater sense of musical congruency. He uses tandas, or a formulaic set of musical styles, to create the best flow for dancing.

The perfect music cycle follows: 2 sets of tangos, 1 set of vals, 2 sets of tangos, 1 set of milonga, repeat. In each tanda, the time period and singer should be the same or similar to give the dancers a consistent feel and flow for the 10- to 12-minute cycle, Kovaciny said.

“I keep an energy curve that makes folks want to keep on the dance floor rather than not,” Kovaciny said. “I try to present the music as close to the form and method as you’d hear it in the milonga dance halls in Buenos Aires.”

On Saturdays, all age groups are welcome, while most participants are age 20 and over. Being one with the music is important for Kovaciny and his dancers.

“If all you’re doing is walking elegantly, being part of the music and transmitting it to your partner — then you’re dancing tango,” Kovaciny said. “Tango is very much body poetry.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct inaccuracies. The original article incorrectly quoted Kovaciny as saying, “It can look like pornography to the outside world, but it’s all style and interpretation. It’s a little bit of art, a little bit of skill; all of the above.” Kovaciny is now correctly attributed as saying, “It can look like choreography to the outside world, but it’s all style and improvisation.” The DI apologizes for and regrets the error.

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