Colorado’s tango community calls Uptown home

‘A beautiful game of balance and connection’

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As a dancer stands on the floor at the Denver Turnverein, a look and a small nod is all it takes to find a partner for the milonga —an open floor for Argentine tango dancers. At Tango Colorado, dancers take to the floor on Tuesday nights, looping in pairs across the dance floor.

The milonga, dancer Rose Vehill Dale noted, is as much an opportunity to dance as it is to observe other people on the floor.

“If you don’t feel like dancing a lot,” she said, “it’s so great to just watch.”

Vehill Dale is one of the many dancers who take advantage of the Tuesday-night tango lessons at the Turnverein, a historic building in Uptown that has transformed into a dancing mecca, welcoming dancers of all styles — swing, ballroom, Zumba, the Argentine tango and more — every night of the week.

Jose Carranza has spent 56 years in Denver. He began teaching tango in 2003, but first started listening to tango music in the ‘50s. He learned to dance the tango the way the music made him feel. Although he enjoyed many dance styles, he decided to focus on tango.

“I used to dance everything, and I dance everything still,” Carranza said. But “I decided I wanted to be good at one thing instead of mediocre at everything.”

For Carranza, a place like the Turnverein helps him to spread his passion for tango through teaching.

On Tuesday nights, the tango brings about 120 dancers to glide across the Turnverein’s wooden floor and lose themselves in the smooth rhythym of the music.

“Tango,” longtime dancer John Gardner said, “is a beautiful game of balance and connection between two people.”

Gardner is president of Tango Colorado, a nonprofit dedicated to the Argentinian style of the dance form, which has called the Turnverein at 1570 Clarkson St. home since it was founded in 1996. The original small community of 30 Argentine-style dancers has since grown to more than 500 active dancers from around the state. Besides the Tuesday milonga nights at the Turnverein, the organization also offers lessons at the Mercury Café in Five Points and other locations throughout Colorado.

Gardner describes learning to tango as similar to walking. Leaders direct followers where to go and both shift their balance from leg-to-leg through the steps. Partners need to trust each other to keep that balance. Argentine tango also has several different styles, including open and close embrace. Close-embrace dancers stand tightly together while dancing, leaning in their heads.

Husband and wife Jorge and Xiaoli Quispe can often be found on the floor Tuesday nights dancing the close embrace style of tango. As Xiaoli leans her head against Jorge’s, she closes her eyes, sure in her trust that Jorge will lead her across the floor.

“It’s trust and sharing a comon love for the music,” Jorge said.

Xiaoli first came to Colorado from Dallas in 2011 to participate in one of Tango Colorado’s bi-annual tango events at the Pavilion in Cheesman Park. She is now treasurer of Tango Colorado, and owns her own CPA firm. Jorge works as a software developer.

The pair met in Dallas when Jorge was in town on a business trip and he decided to visit the local tango venue there. Xiaoli and Jorge have traveled the world performing tango, but said the community here is more diverse and tight-knit than in other places.

Jorge grew up dancing tango in his native Peru, but has been dancing in Colorado for 10 years. At Tango Colorado, he said the community is small, but it makes sure that everyone is welcome.

“As soon as a new person comes we get to know each other,” he said. “Tango is just a tool for the social aspect.”

Vehill Dale didn’t expect to become entrenched in tango when she joined a class at Tango Colorado five years ago. Her goal then was to learn more about partner dancing for her ballroom classes. But all it took was one class, she said, and she was hooked.

“You go and the music takes you to a different place,” she said. “You blend into it, you melt into it and you’re just in a different place.”

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