DanceUS team attended 9th Philly Tango Fest 2019. It's a grand occasion in all senses: live music orchestra (amazing!), big venue (Lithuanian Music Hall Association) that reminded of Salón Canning in Buenos Aires, great performances and amazing dancers!
We spoke to Meredith Klein (festival organizer and founder of Philadelphia Argentine Tango School):
Meredith, please tell us about yourself?
I began dancing tango in 1999 in Massachusetts and, little by little, it took over my life. In 2005, I left my work as a grant writing consultant to move to Buenos Aires, where I lived for three years. During that time, I began working with Andres Amarilla, a Buenos Aires native who had begun dancing in 1987 as a child (and never stopped). For the past 14 years, Andres & I have taught and performed around the world, including in Australia, Turkey, Lebanon, Poland, Cyprus, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada, as well as in 40 different cities in the United States.
In 2008, Andres & I moved to Philadelphia and established the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School (PATS), which promotes Argentine Tango as a fun and accessible dance form for people of all ages. PATS offers: group classes & special workshops, private lessons, social dances (called practicas and milongas), tango shows, and a concert series, the Fishtown Salon. We also organize one of the largest tango festivals in the U.S., the Philly Tango Fest. Over the past couple of years, the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School has become one of the foremost presenters of live tango music in the U.S., presenting groups such as the Típica Messiez, La Juan D’Arienzo, El Cachivache Quinteto, and Romantica Milonguera (coming up in September 2019).
I also host of the radio show, Tango Stories, on USALA Radio, and organize tours to Buenos Aires for tango dancers.
How did you start the festival / what was the inspiration?
I’ve been thinking about that recently, since next year will be the 10th anniversary of the festival. The truth is that the festival started with a humor theme. I really felt that tango often took itself too seriously, and I wanted to lighten it up. So I created a festival in which half the workshops were serious, and half were humorous, involving, for example, two of the male teachers dressed in drag, giving the ladies useful advice on how to get more dances in the milongas. One of the featured performers was a comedy troupe, The Tango Cheeseballs. The whole thing was light-hearted and crazy and super-fun.
Even though there has not been an explicit humor focus most years of the festival, we still try to create a fun, inclusive environment, where people of all ages and levels can get together and enjoy tango without competition or cliqueishness.
What in your opinion makes Philly Tango Festival so unique?
Two things: the diversity of amazing talent and the focus on live music. This year, we had a total of seven world-renowned couples, teaching and performing: Fabian Salas & Lola Diaz, Adrian Veredice & Alejandra Hobert, Cecilia Gonzalez & Jake Spatz, Agustin Venturino & Natalia Aguero, Adam Hoopengardner & Ciko Tanik, Robin Thomas & Kristin Balmer, and Andres Amarilla & myself. The couples have different styles, backgrounds and approaches, which gives the students a wonderfully diverse vision of what is possible within the Argentine tango genre. It’s important to me that people see that there is not one right way, but many valid ways to achieve excellence in this art form.
The Philadelphia Argentine Tango School has also become known as a presenter of live music, and that reputation culminated this year in the launch of a new tango orchestra, the Típica Messiez, which debuted at the festival. The orchestra, under the direction of brilliant pianist, arranger and composer, Emiliano Messiez, was a huge success.
This year's festival featured an amazing live band "Típica Messiez" - tell us about them.
The Típica Messiez is the only complete tango orchestra, made up of professional tango musicians, in the United States. The orchestra includes:
Raúl Jaurena, bandoneón (Uruguay)
Javier Sánchez, bandoneón (Argentina)
Rodolfo Marcelo Zanetti Vía, bandoneón (Argentina)
Leandro Ragusa, bandoneón (Argentina)
Sami Merdinian, violín (Argentina)
Sumire Hirotsuru, violín (Japan)
Gemma Scalia, violín (Argentina)
Nastasja Vojinović, violín (Montenegro)
Pablo Lanouguere, double bass (Argentina)
Emiliano Messiez, piano & musical direction (Argentina)
The Tipica Messiez truly blew the roof off of our venue, the Lithuanian Music Hall in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia. The sold-out crowd was screaming at the top of its lungs for more. It was very moving.
What can tangueros expect next year?
Next year, for our 10-year anniversary, we will once again present an absolutely top-notch line-up of teachers/performers. We will present live music on each of the festival’s four nights! And in a nod to our beginnings, there will be some comedic elements to the 10th Philly Tango Fest. Please save the dates: May 22-25, 2020. Information will be available at http://philadelphiatangofestival.com.