On May 3, tucked away in the Ochos building near the Flying M on Idaho Street, people danced the night away at a "milonga"—a tango dance social, one of many monthly gatherings hosted by Tango Boise.
"Milongas are more of a formal tango dance party," said Tango Boise President Tommy Smith. "There's usually food and wine, and there are more formal codes. You're not supposed to teach or ask questions. You dance what you know. It's for enjoying and not for learning."
- Brian Millar
Tango Boise is currently gearing up for a big event this summer: the Tree City Tango dance festival, which the group will host Friday-Sunday, June 8-10. There will be two venues, Ochos on Idaho Street and Trailhead on Eighth Street, and the three-day event will include six milongas, six different DJs and workshops with three pairs of tango instructors who will make the trip to Boise for the festival.
Before attending a milonga, it's tango protocol to attend lessons and "practicas," informal tango dances. At practicas, dancers can socialize, talk about what they're learning and practice their steps before venturing into a formal setting.
The structure of a milonga can be somewhat loose, depending on the DJ, but it typically starts with a couple of tangos to get dancers warmed up, followed by a "vals," or tango danced to waltz music. After the vals, there are usually a couple more tangos, and then the milonga officially begins. Once the party starts, it features sets of songs grouped in threes or fours, called "tandas." Couples are expected to stick together for a complete tanda before moving on.
"Something that's really unique to tango is that we dance three or four songs together, versus one and then alternating partners," said Smith."You use the first song to feel each other out, get connected with each other, and then ramp up the tempo as you go along."
- Brian Millar
Tandas usually have a theme. Often each of the three songs will be from a similar genre, with a similar tempo and beat. Between each tanda is a "cortina," a short piece of music that lasts about a minute to let dancers know that the tanda has ended. The cortina is a signal to the dancers to choose new partners before another tanda
"We don't really dance in set figures," said Smith. "In tango, you're dancing moment to moment, and improvising in those moments."
Smith fell in love with the dance in 2012 after graduating from Boise State University. For the next two years, he poured all of his energy into tango. When he became an adjunct faculty member teaching mechanical engineering at Boise State, he started a tango club on campus to get students involved.
"Something that's impressive about tango in Boise is the fact that the group is from all different ages," said David Hertel, a Tango Boise board member and local architect. "Traditionally, tango brings in a little bit of an older crowd ... but we have a really vibrant and younger crowd here."
- Brian Millar
Hertel has been dancing tango in Boise for about 12 years; for the first six, he commuted in from Ketchum to dance. He describes the local tango scene as a very friendly, nurturing environment.
"In Boise, people go out of their way to make others feel welcome and to help people improve their dance," Hertel said.
One couple that will get to experience that vibe during the Tree City Tango festival is Maja Petrovic and Marko Miljevic, who will make their way to Boise from Germany. The pair started dancing together in Croatia, and five years later began teaching lessons. The other featured couples are Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt, and John Miller and Jesica Cutler. Melo is from Argentina and is known for his relaxed classes focused on technique and the energy of tango, while Bratt strengthened her tango skills through frequent trips to Buenos Aires. Miller and Cutler have been dancing together for five years and focus their efforts on teaching college students, aiming to bring the dance to a younger demographic.
"I really wanted to sell not just the festival, but also Boise," said Smith. "I wanted to showcase Boise as a reason to come and visit."
The Ochos building where Tango Boise currently resides is being renovated, and will soon include a wine bar on the ground floor. Smith said the owner of Ochos hopes to have the bar and a new back patio are open by the time of the festival.
In the meantime, dancers looking beyond Ochos can find Wednesday lessons at Fort Boise, and Sunday classes at the YMCA and Solid.