Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tango in Central Park

Tango in Central Park
For more than a decade, tango in Central Park has been the emblem of one of the city's most obsessed subcultures.
Cheek to Cheek

Summer Rituals It Takes Two

Tangoing Cheek to Cheek for 3 Minutes in the Park

Published: August 25, 2007

It was a sultry 6 p.m. in Central Park, and over by the 1872 Shakespeare statue at Literary Walk, melancholy rhythms spilled from two speakers propped up on park benches.

Christian Hansen for the New York Times
Dancing the tango by the Shakespeare
statue at Literary Walk in Central Park.
Summer Rituals

This is one in a weekly series, running through Labor Day weekend, on what makes summer, summer, for people in and around New York.


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Christian Hansen for The New York Times
Couples continued to tango as night fell.

Courtenay Nugent rose. He asked Fran Beaumont to dance. There they were: the two it took to tango.

They moved sensually across the asphalt pavers, counterclockwise around the monument, under a coquettish breeze and what was to become a limitless starry sky and an oblong moon. As dozens of onlookers watched over the next three hours, about 50 couples swayed to the steps of the dance that has been called a three-minute love affair.

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“I’m first to get up because I’m not shy,” said Mr. Nugent, 59, a translator and teacher who lives in St. Albans, Queens.

For more than a decade, free tango in Central Park, Saturdays from June through September, has been the emblem of one of the city’s most fermenting — make that obsessed — subcultures. Acolytes ritually gather in a wholly accessible yet somehow intimate domain surrounding the Bard, who, at that hour, was still dappled in sunlight, and seemingly amused.

As she danced, Ms. Beaumont flourished lipstick and nail polish of Tango Red. Her black lace gloves matched her tight black chemise with its see-through sleeves, and her floral red and black skirt was slit high to accommodate the most vertiginous dips, spins, kicks and drops. Her feet, of course, were wrapped in strappy black tango shoes.

By 6:15, two other couples had joined in. The disc jockey, Hernan Brizuela, 33, was playing sets, or tandas, of Argentine tangos: fast, medium, then slow.

“What happens on the tango floor stays on the tango floor,” said William Lawrence Parker III, 50, who is known as Trey and has been one of two organizers of the Central Park dance practically since it began.

Rick Castro, 48, the other longtime organizer, explained that it takes one tango “to meet your partner, the second to get used to your partner, and the third to just enjoy.”

Mr. Castro estimated that 75 percent of the dancers — young or old, skilled or neophyte — “are non-couples.” Even the regulars “don’t normally see each other during the week,” he added, “but I guess you could call them a family, scattered though it is.”

The makeshift dance floor in the park is one facet of a teeming city sub-universe: There are dozens of Argentine tango milongas, or gatherings, in New York, most of them charging a modest fee, and many of them listed on a Web site,

“I go every night,” said Natalie Rogers, a psychotherapist in Manhattan who said she prescribes tango to some of her patients struggling with performance anxiety. “I tell women that it’s a great way to meet men.”

Mr. Castro said the Central Park tango has produced many relationships and occasionally the syncopation of wedding bells, though most people just dance with tango friends or even strangers.

Lucille Krasne, a Manhattan artist recognized by everyone as the founding mother of Central Park tango, said it all began in the summer of 1995, when she and a handful of dancers took a boom box into Central Park at the Bethesda Fountain. “I called it Hit and Run Tango, because we had no permit and if the police came we’d run,” she recalled.

The next summer, the dance became more regularized. “The tourists loved us, the strollers loved us and the dogs loved us,” Ms. Krasne said.

Mr. Parker chimed in, “It became Hit and Stay Tango.”

Mr. Castro said the group was driven from the fountain by a Saturday night drumming ensemble that drowned out the tango vibe, so the dancers segued south to Shakespeare about seven years ago. Payment for the speakers, D.J. and park permits is fronted by Mr. Parker and Mr. Castro, who pass the hat to defer expenses.

Thanks to word of mouth and the site online, the weekly event has prospered, and even spread, to the South Street Seaport, where a free Sunday milonga has been flourishing since 1999, Mr. Castro said.

Through the years, joggers, cyclists and carriage passengers have been

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