NIAGARA FALLS – Before he decided to make his living teaching the tango, Travis Widrick grew up on a dairy farm near the Adirondacks and earned an undergraduate degree in English.
He figures it was his school career as an athlete and college running back that helped turn the Argentinean dance into a passion after an old girlfriend invited him to check it out.
“You don’t really choose tango. Tango kind of chooses you,” said Widrick, 34. “One of the biggest things that’s really unique to Argentine tango: You have to improv. It’s very much the way you’d learn a language. It’s very much a dance. It’s also a form of communication with another person.”
On Saturday, Nov. 17, an evening tango class for couples will be followed by an open practice at the Giacomo, 222 First St. A time has not yet been set.
“I’ll do a little talk about what tango is and where it’s from, and we’ll do a little performance,” Widrick said.
This, he hopes, will be the beginning of regular tango gatherings in Niagara Falls, for single or couple dancers, called milangas.
A tango community has been growing in Buffalo in the last eight years, and Widrick has encouraged that community with his TW Tango business.
About 30 to 40 regulars, ranging from students to women in their 80s, come to lessons and dances he leads Mondays from 7 to 10 p.m. at Harriman Hall at the University at Buffalo’s Main Street campus.
He teaches elsewhere and travels to work as a deejay for tango events, such as a tango festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last week.
“Tango is everywhere right now,” he said. “Little towns. Big cities. Around the world. It’s really growing a lot. I’m not sure what it is that’s drawing the people, whether it’s the music or the dancing. It’s not just about dancing. It’s really about the people and coming together.”
Have you been to Argentina?
I was there last year for three months. It was an amazing experience. So, basically, I went to kind of experience the culture and meet people. And also to dance and to eat really good steak and drink wine, if you want the truth.
I danced every day, pretty much. Buenos Aires, that’s the city where, kind of, tango is from. In Buenos Aires, tango right now is a huge income for them. So many people are coming to learn how to dance; it’s everywhere. I went to get a pizza one day, and there’s tango music playing at a pizzeria. It’s part of their lives. It really is everywhere.
What does it take to be good at tango?
Two people moving together with music. That’s ultimately what dancing is. There are no steps. You have to find a way to really listen to each other. That can be a really unique experience. To be able to communicate those movements without knowing ahead of time what they’re going to be takes a really sensitive person. It’s just a matter of being in tune and listening to your partner and being sensitive to, not only your own response, but to the response of your partner.
How did you learn?
The very first teacher I had was Joaquin Canay; he’s from Argentina. I was living in Geneva, N.Y., sometime after I graduated. After that I moved to Buffalo. There really wasn’t any teachers here. There was a small community of people that were doing the tango. None of them were teaching. Eventually, I started to travel to Toronto, Rochester, Ithaca. There’s some tango going on in those cities.
What did your family think?
At first, of course, they were very intrigued, I guess, that I was dancing at all. It was certainly nothing that I was brought up with. My hobbies were sports. Hockey, baseball, football.
For me, there’s a strong connection for sure. A lot of the movements I use in dancing are the movements that I used. … A lot of my ability to dance comes from my ability to move because I was an athlete.
My mom, brother, sister, they all know about my dancing. All of them have been to one of my classes.
Can you tell me a story about someone whose life changed because of tango?
This is about the woman that I teach with: Katya. I describe her as a tango butterfly. The reason that I do that is that she started tango as a result of bad posture and her doctor told her she needed to do something about it.
She was a little nervous about it. She had this amazing transformation. She loves dancing now. Getting dressed up in tango clothes and tango shoes. Before she was a little bit reserved and nervous about it. She has great posture now; she’s an amazing dancer. All tango dances are called mi- langas. So she currently hosts a monthly Milanga Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish, at the VFW Post on Spring Street in Williamsville.
What has tango taught you about life?
It’s interesting, because tango is a really wonderful way of bringing out the best of us, if we let it. You do have to connect at such a level with another person. You express yourself. The more you express yourself, the more you reveal yourself. It also kind of reveals what we have going on. A lot of times people come into tango, and they have, maybe, some insecurities about being in contact with other people and are hesitant about intimate space. They realize they can do it and can grow from it.
It makes me happy, and it’s something I look forward to every day. It’s my life, literally, every day. Every day I’m listening to music or dancing. Everybody that dances tango, they often have the question, “What did I do before tango?” You can’t remember. It’s true I really don’t remember what I used to do before tango. Now it’s such a part of my life.
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