I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be brave.
People who follow their passion are brave, as it takes bravery to leave your comfort zone. Bravery is persevering even through set backs and challenges and in some cases, out right aggression. The Water Guardians of Standing Rock were incredibly brave. I believe that through these big displays of courage, each of us can be inspired to be brave in our own way. For me, I felt brave to begin this website, not knowing how it would be perceived in the Tango community.
In regard to Tango, bravery can be attending your first Tango class, going to your first milonga or even inviting someone new to dance. No matter what act of bravery you accomplish, you will be changed from the experience, most often for the better. It takes courage to act from the heart, to do something you are passionate about, and to persevere even though you do not know the outcome.
Here in San Francisco, it’s the women of Tango Con*Fusión that I consider brave. By taking a chance on an all-women’s tango company, almost unheard of at the time, they have gone against traditional thinking about what is Argentine Tango and how it is meant to be danced. It should be clarified that these women are not trying to dance as men, but merely as women who lead. In their words: “As women trained and versed in traditional Argentine Tango, they deeply respect traditional tango, cherish the experience of dancing with men, and love to lead. ”
Who is Tango Con*Fusión?
Tango Con*Fusión (TCF) is a group of nine women exploring the idiom of Argentine Tango beyond its traditional boundaries. As professional performers and teachers of Argentine Tango, with varied backgrounds in contemporary and classical dance, they create a fusion of genres within their choreography.
For this story I spoke with co-Directors and main choreographers, Debbie Goodwin and Christy Cote. Each have devoted themselves to growing the tango and dance community in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond for over 20 years.
The artists of Tango Con*Fusión include Carolina Rozensztroch, Pier Voulkos, Debbie Goodwin, Christy Coté,and Rose Vierling. The newest members, joining TCF this year are dancers: Mira Barakat, Michele Richards, Mila Salazar and Jasmine Worrell.
Past group members who have helped to make TCF what it is today include Mariana Ancarola, Chelsea Eng, Michelle Gorre, Charity Lebron and Erin Malley
The story of Tango Con*Fusión begins in 2004, after they had taken a private workshop with famed German dancer/instructor Brigitta Winkler. Brigitta is a Tango legend, famous for being among the first to integrate training of body awareness and body work in her teaching.
As told in The Queer Tango Book:
“On what would become a life-changing afternoon, Debbie, Christy, Pier, Michelle and I joined Brigitta for three hours of divine play and nuts-and-bolts practicality. She got us moving in lead-follow games as pairs and as a pack, traversing a small studio in an amorphous blob of ochos and amagues. Then she mentored us on how to start a dance company. ” – Excerpt From: The Queer Tango Project. “The Queer Tango Book – Ideas, Images and Inspiration in the 21st Century.” ( A wonderful book you can download for free.)
Their first performance as a dance company was for the ODC Theater production, “24 Views: A Snapshot of Bay Area Dance.” ODC was requesting two-minute pieces from San Francisco choreographers. “Two minutes,” they collectively thought. “We should be able to do that!” And they did! Since then they have not looked back. Over the past 12 years they have accumulated an incredible repertory of performances, as can be seen on their website: www.tangoconfusion.com/repertory/.
A small sampling of some of their highlights/milestones include:
December 2006: Leading Ladies of Tango at the Herbst Theater/ SAN FRANCISCO – As part of an international cast of 22 female tango artists (dancers, musicians and singer Silvana Deluigi) they shared the stage with Tango Mujer in this groundbreaking show celebrating women in tango.
December 2008: International Queer Tango Festival/ BUENOS AIRES –
In 2007 and 2008 Mariana Docampo, Augusto Balizano and Roxana Gargano, the directors of the International Queer Tango Festival of Buenos Aires, specifically invited Tango Con*Fusión to serve as role models to aspiring female leaders in Argentina. Mariana Docampo explained that the event had two sides. On the one hand, it addressed tango within the LGBT community; on the other, it addressed the still controversial idea of women partnering women in tango. Virtually non-existent in the mainstream tango scene in Buenos Aires, such partnering was, to a palpable degree, even taboo in the eyes of many gay porteños!
Summer 2009, 2010, 2011: International Queer Tango Festivals/ SAN FRANCISCO – Drawing together tangueros from Argentina, Europe and the US, Debbie directed a sold-out show for IQTF/SF at San Francisco’s counterculture hot spot, Cellspace.
March 2010: Congreso Internacional De Tango Argentino (CITA)/ BUENOS AIRES. Tango Con*Fusión was the first all-female tango company to perform at CITA.
“March 2011: TANGHETTO/ Sala Zitarrosa MONTEVIDEO & Salón Canning BUENOS AIRES. Invited to choreograph three songs from their CD Más allá del sur and join them in performance on their tour to Montevideo and at the iconic Buenos Aires milonga Salón Canning.
Let’s commence with the interview:
SF Loves Tango: I am very impressed with all that the company has done over the years. What is on the horizon for Tango Con*Fusión?
Debbie: We are really excited about adding new dancers and energy to our company. We now have a group of dancers who are excited to become more active in our local SF tango scene as well as the larger community of the US and abroad. We range from ages 30-64. The group is enjoying a nice chemistry together and good working relationship.
What we need now is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse — but never have as much time and money to do so. The problem is most of us earn our living teaching dance so any time we take away from our work for rehearsals, each of us gives up income. My dream would be to have a fully funded company that would enable us to train, rehearse and perform. We will be taking baby steps to get there.
Currently we need an additional $7500 to give us the rest of the money needed to take our company to Buenos Aires where we have been invited to teach and perform at Johana Copes Lady’s Tango Festival March 4-11, 2017. We will also be performing at Canning, La Marshall as well as other Milongas. We have raised $8000 ourselves through our festival, performances, teaching and our tango boutique. While we are in Buenos Aires we will also be getting additional training by studying at CITA which we are very excited about as improvisational lead and follow is the backbone of our work.
One thing I am very excited about is delving deeper in our choreographic work to explore women’s issues. After the holidays we will be turning our focus to working on our evening length show “Tango Ladies” (tongue and cheek working title). It will be performed at the SF International Arts Festival at Fort Mason in the Southside Theater for three nights.
Here is the working description for “Tango Ladies”: When someone mentions Argentine Tango, immediately it conjures up the pervasive iconic image of the macho-male and hyper-feminine woman of Argentine Tango. Yet many feminists dance Tango socially and professionally. How can this be reconciled? Tango Ladies challenges this outdated image. This production explores gender issues such as body image, street harassment, same-sex couples and social and economic equality. Contrasting with yesterdays imagery, Tango Ladies conjures up today’s deep and broad expression of gender roles in Argentine Tango.
Want to support Tango Con*Fusión ? Here are the many ways: www.tangoconfusion.com/giving/
SF Loves Tango: Did you think you were brave to start all women Argentine Tango performance company?
Debbie: When we first started Tango Con*Fusión I didn’t feel I was being brave — I was just super excited to begin and dance and create. I didn’t start feeling the need to be brave until we started seeing people’s adverse reactions (mainly in Buenos Aires: Ex 1) in 2008. At a performance at Confeteria Ideal a group of Milongueros made rude comments and walked out on our performance as they didn’t want women dancing with women. EX 2) In 2010 Fabian Salas invited us to perform on stage at the CITA theater show then had to uninvited us once we arrived when two of the top Argentine men in the show refused to perform if we also performed.
Now however with our new focus delving deeper into women’s issues for our choreography for our May show, not just dancing tango as women, but trying to say something more – YES! I feel a need to be brave. I am definitely stepping out of my comfort zone but after our country just elected Donald Trump with his patronizing and objectifying attitude toward women, I feel it is a way to make our voices heard, to create something in the art where we can bring these issues up. Especially using tango as a backbone as tango and the woman’s role is often misunderstood by the uninitiated.
For example the seemingly harmless “piropo” or cat call…..this is street harassment that can make women feel unsafe and can lead to even more serious issues — it is not ok. This is only one of the issues we will be taking on. I’m excited but also nervous and I feel the need to be brave!”
Thank you Debbie and the fabulous ladies of Tango Con*Fusión for inspiring me and many others.
Next month is an opportunity to learn lead/follow exchanges by Tango Con*Fusión at the Trading Places Boot Camp:
The boot camp is six and a half hours of kick butt Argentine Tango instruction with the women of Tango Con*Fusión. It’s a comfortable environment for those wanting to learn the opposite role than their primary role in the dance. The material will cover a wide range of elements of Argentine Tango which will then be used for the lead/follow exchanges.
When: Sunday, January 15th 2017, 10:30am to 6pm
What: “Trading Places” Bootcamp: Lead/Follow Exchange
Location: Trilliant Studios – Oakland, CA
Register here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2698335