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It Takes Two

Robert Scheer

Fast Feat: Gary Weinberg and Nirmala Dillmon teach novices and experts alike to dance the tango.

On the flashing heels of the screen debut of 'Evita,' passionate Argentine tango lessons are heating up Palookaville's polished dance floor

By Lauren Walsh

ONE, TWO, THREE, BIG step on four, um ... ocho? Or was it molinete? Or was it forward, back, around or slide? Oops. Did I step on your foot? Sorry. OK, so I wasn't really that pathetic, but let's face it, I'd never tangoed a step before in my life. In fact, I don't consider myself a dancer of any kind. Chalk it up to complete lack of rhythm or merely self-conscious feet--whatever it is, I never dance.

When I showed up for my first steps at Nirmala and Gary's tango class, my thoughts of "What did I get myself into?" were mollified before the lesson even began. Many people arrived in sneakers and jeans and stood around, awkward and apprehensive.

At 1pm on the dot, our teachers--tangoing extraordinaires Gary Weinberg and Nirmala Dillman--appeared and ushered us dancing ignoramuses onto the floor so that we could learn to ... walk. Yes, we had to learn to walk. But it wasn't just your typical strolling-down-the-city-street kind of walk. No, it was tango walk--or, as Nirmala put it, "Walking like a wild cat, a lion or a tiger, slinking through the tall grass."

OK, now we all could walk properly, but we had come to learn Argentine tango. And learn we did. In the first hour, our tango teaching twosome managed to introduce us to the ochos (so named because the feet and body move in the shape of an eight). Within 60 minutes, we all knew what we were doing after practicing those eight little steps.

While it does indeed take two to tango, this isn't exactly potluck dancing either, so you needn't bring your own partner. Some people came with one, some without, though it didn't matter at dances' end because we periodically switched partners in order to learn from someone more experienced or to teach someone who knew less.

I fell under the "learn from others" category, but no matter--it was a comfort to know that others were struggling to remember the steps, too. It was even more of a comfort to know that Gary and Nirmala fully realized this and did their best to make the tango easy to learn, and when things didn't go smoothly for us, they eased our building frustration with humorous comments--"Ladies, you should remember to take a big step on 'four' for one of two reasons--because that is how the dance really should be or because if not, your foot will get stepped on by your partner. Whichever reason you prefer."

So, who do we thank for this dancing bonanza? Well, certainly the instructors, but also the creator and organizer of the lessons, Iris Mayo, who started this activity not only out of her love for Argentine tango, but also to carry on a special family tradition. As organizer, she found mainstay instructors Gary and Nirmala, but she also books special guests, such as Pampa Cortes, star of the musical Forever Tango, to perform after class.

Tango lessons begin Jan. 12 at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., SC, and take place every second and fourth Sunday (instruction 1pm­3pm, dance 3pm­5pm). The cost is $10 per couple or $6 per individual. Call 476-9186 to sign up.

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From the January 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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