First Tango in Moscow

By Fulda, Michael | The World and I, June 2007 | Go to article overview

First Tango in Moscow


Fulda, Michael, The World and I


While attending ballroom dancing lessons at Bauman I asked students where they went to dance for fun or, as they put it, for the soul. Nowhere! As far as they were concerned, dance sport was only a university class. Further inquiries to neighbors and colleagues drew a blank. Apparently I was asking the wrong people. On April 30, 2002 the Moscow Times published an article with the byline of Avery Johnson, entitled "Even Two Left Feet Can Try to Catch Latin Beat." Here are a few highlights.

The whole world has recently developed an insatiable appetite for everything Latin, but in Russia, its new importance seems particularly apparent because of the country's recent swift exposure to global pop culture.

Under communism, dance lessons were confined to professional groups. When amateur lessons did exist, they operated through housing units and factories, and, needless to say, salsa and merengue were rarely on the schedule.

Since the year 2000, as the income of average Muscovites has grown, so too has the interest in things international, including Latin American music and dance. Riding social and economic trends, a Latin invasion is sweeping the city's nightclubs and flooding formal dance lessons.

Participating in Moscow's Latin dance scene is easy and cheap. At dance schools around town, instruction is available in mambo and Argentine tango, to name just a couple.

As a former resident of Argentina, there was little doubt as to my choice of Latin dance. Until recent years I have been ambivalent about the tango. During the 1950s, tango was in disfavor in Argentina. The polite Russian and European communities of Buenos Aires ignored it. The maudlin tango, it was held, should best be left to natives and Italians. Tango was therefore not part of my dancing or social experience.

It was only in recent years that I came to appreciate tango as an art, a cultural form, and a unique sensual experience. Tango and jazz share many traits. Developed in bordellos of port cities, a blend of nationalities and continents, cultures, traditions, and social classes, they are a lasting legacy of the twentieth century. The Argentine tango became my new passion, which proved contagious to the very culturally diverse FSC dancing team.

Finding no local Moscow listing for tango classes, I found one group in the directory of the London publication Tango Review that, incidentally, had reprinted my short story first published in the FSC Columns entitled "My Tango Tutorial at the Last Stop Cafe." I felt confident I could profit from such classes. A few weeks before leaving for Moscow, I had attended a weeklong international student ballroom dancing festival in Daytona Beach with members of the Dancing Falcons. Not only had I managed to follow workshop instructions on a variety of dances but Akiko Nobe and I had placed third in the open-to-all Argentine tango event. Following an e-mail and a phone call I was welcomed to the studio.

The owners of the studio are Alexander Vistgof and Irina Petrichenko. Sasha, a foreign language graduate, is a buyer for a cash and carry warehouse. Dr. Ira, a cardiologist, works in a research hospital. Sasha is married but Ira is not. Their dancing history is a fascinating example of modern cultural diffusion. A few years ago they were smitten by the tango but could not find decent instructors. Their first chance was provided by Svetlana Batalova, a Russian emigre to America, a structural engineer turned tango dancer; a New Yorker who during her short stay in Moscow worked them to exhaustion.

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