It’s with great pleasure that I introduce the latest interview for SF Loves Tango’s “Teacher Spotlight”. Although to say “teacher” is a great understatement. These two are more like Tango ambassadors, representing the San Francisco Bay Area as they travel the world sharing their knowledge and joy of tango.
Upon writing this introduction, I realized there are Tango ambassadors in every city and town that has Tango. These Tango ambassadors are instructors, promoters and DJs and even those who sell tango shoes and clothes. These people are what keeps Tango alive and vibrant. Tango may have been born in Buenos Aires but it is grown all over the world. In cities such as Berlin and New York to Auckland and Hilo, Tango ambassadors in each of these communities deserve to be thanked and appreciated.
Two of my personal favorite Tango ambassadors, and probably yours too, are the dynamic tango couple, Felipe and Ayano. Before they became a tango couple, they each made a name for themselves in the Tango world. Felipe, as one of the Bay Area’s favorite instructors, taught workshops, DJ’d and performed around the US and many cities around the world. Ayano, a beautiful dancer and experienced tango traveler, could be found at numerous festivals and marathons in the US, Europe and Asia. And now that they are teaching and traveling together, they are an incredible team. It was together that they founded the much successful, San Francisco Tango Marathon, now in its 7th year. And when they are not traveling, they teach and DJ regularly at the Beat in Berkeley as well as at various milongas and tango events around the Bay Area. They are also co-hosts of the Bay Area’s famous All-Nighter Milonga. Check out their Facebook Group to see where they will be next.
I’ve known both Felipe and Ayano for many years now, and yet through their answers below, I’ve learned so much more about both of them. They are very generous to share their honest and heart-felt answers with us all. And here we go with the interview…
SF Loves Tango: How did you find Tango? (Or how did Tango find you?)
Felipe: I started dancing tango in 1997 in Madrid, where I am from, with Leo Calvelli & Eugenia Usandivaras, one of the Argentine teachers who were based there at the time. I was already dancing some salsa and ballroom (social not competitive) before that but once I started tango my interest quickly shifted and in few months I was totally devoted to it. I started studying seriously since then and traveling to Buenos Aires regularly until today.
Diving in my memories though, my first encounter with tango was through my grandmother. She had two idols: Errol Flynn and Carlos Gardel and I remember listening to his music at her home when I was a kid. Later, when she passed away, I tried to find those records with no success but that is the first memory I have of tango music. Gardel was popular in Spain and it wasn’t uncommon to hear his music on the radio, for instance. I didn’t grow up surrounded by tango but the moment I started dancing it I feel immediately related to it. For some strange reason I felt it was part of me.
Ayano: I found tango in 2005. A friend of mine took me to a Halloween milonga at the Metronome in San Francisco. I immediately fell in love with it and signed up for the beginner series right there. The milonga was the first time I saw any form of tango, and I loved how people were dressed up and dancing in a couple, I thought it looked like a ballroom dancing scene in Cinderella. I just moved to San Francisco from Tokyo a year before for work, and I was having hard time to find friends. Tango quickly filled my free time and soon I made many friends through tango.
SF Loves Tango: What does dancing tango mean to you?
Felipe: Tango is a much bigger picture that just the dancing. As many say: “tango is life” and I truly feel that way. At this point, tango is not part of my life. Tango IS my life. I am very fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I feel passionate about.
Tango has given me multiple opportunities to travel around the world, meet interesting people, learn about history, culture, sociology, anatomy, psychology, human relations and so many more things. Tango even gave me a wife (!!) As you see, tango is not just a part of my life or a form of entertainment.
Ayano: Tango gave me an opportunity to discover about myself and to express myself. Growing up in a society where I was encouraged to be as successful as men, I never got a chance to be a “woman”. Tango gave me permission to be feminine, and explore that side of me. It was the first thing I did without any ambition or calculation but just because I wanted to. It is kind of funny that it ended up my occupation!
When one dances tango, one faces many challenges, ups and downs, and it made me go through all kinds of emotional roller coaster and as a result, I feel that I grew as human being and now I feel I’m in a very good place. I believe there’s no end when it comes to improving one’s dancing and so dancing tango also gives me chance to keep learning, keep growing and that excites me a lot.
SF Loves Tango: The SF Tango Marathon is one of the most popular and special tango festivals in the Bay Area. What inspired you to create a Marathon for San Francisco?
Felipe: My birthday is Nov 6 and at some point I was thinking about how to celebrate it. At the same time, Ayano was thinking of doing a tango event to replace the void left by the end of SFTX in SF and Tango de los Muertos in Boston, which was happening around the same dates. Once at Portland Tango Fest we were having a conversation and things came together pretty easily.
Ayano: In 2009, when we started planning for SFTM, I was traveling every month to different tango festivals. I enjoyed very much meeting and dancing with new people and I wished that other dancers in San Francisco who can’t travel for whatever reason to were able to enjoy the same experience and I also wanted all the friends I made outside to come and visit SF where I grew up as tango dancer and where I love dancing. When I heard that SFTX was ending, and I asked local organizers if they were interested in doing something, everybody said it’s too much work and that they were not interested. (and they were right, it is a lot of work to put out an event!) I didn’t feel comfortable doing it all by myself, and I found a partner (Felipe) while I was talking to Robin Thomas about this event at Portland Tango Festival.
Felipe & Ayano: We felt that festivals in general were missing something and we wanted to create an event that had everything we aspire for. In a way we wanted to “set the standards” for these kind of events and in a way we feel we achieved that. After SFTM the quality of events in general improved all over the country and we are glad to see that because the whole community benefits from that.
SF Loves Tango: Do you have any future plans in regard to Tango that you’d like to share?
Felipe & Ayano: As far as organizing events, we’d like to focus on how we can impact the learning process effectively. Maybe bringing certain teachers, offering retreats… We are still trying to decide what would be the best option. Also, we have the vision and the dream of a “tango center” very much in the way you see it in Europe, Canada or in Portland (Alex’s Berretin, for instance). The problem is that the SF Bay Area is a very challenging environment when it comes to real estate. We need some investment partners (!!)
SF Loves Tango: Where is your favorite place to Tango in the world?
Felipe & Ayano: Buenos Aires, no doubt. The tango experience there is very different from the rest of the world. There are good dancers everywhere, sure, but in BA tango is lived in a unique way. Plus it’s everywhere. I go back to the idea that tango is a wider picture than just the dancing. It’s a whole culture, a way of life.
Having said that, as a result of traveling all over the world and visiting many communities in North America, Europe and Asia, we realize that we enjoy SF tango community a lot. The more we travel, the more we like tango in the bay area. It has a good average on everything: we have live bands, nice venues, good DJs, good dancers, good gender balance, it’s big enough, many teachers, many events, traditional and alternative options… If you cannot enjoy SF tango you may have a hard time anywhere else. I think anyone can find a way to enjoy tango in SF.
SF Loves Tango: Well said! Thank you Ayano & Felipe!
Take a class with them tonight at La Milonga Génesis – Sept 16th!
9-10pm Tango Lesson w/ Felipe Martinez & Ayano Yoneda
Intermediate Level & Above
Milonga 10pm-1:30am w/ DJ Felipe
$20 Class & Milonga