A new dance pairing: Tango at the Free Library

Peter and Audrey Kress dance at the Free Library as part of a tango-themed afternoon.
Peter and Audrey Kress dance at the Free Library as part of a tango-themed afternoon. (CHRIS PALMER / Staff)
Posted: July 22, 2013

Tango melodies echoed through the typically serene chambers of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Central Branch on Saturday as a dozen dancers slipped and twirled their way around book stacks and staircases, surprising a variety of weekend patrons.

"I was just coming here to use the computers," said Reese Robinson, 26, of North Philadelphia, who admired the dancers beneath the library's rotunda.

A daylong celebration of the tango featured a well-attended demonstration in the lobby, a reading from the book Tango Nuevo by Carolyn Merritt, and tango lessons for those with little to no dancing experience.

The dance itself, according to those performing Saturday, is done in pairs and nearly entirely improvised: Each couple has a leader who implicitly guides the other partner, but the moves are generally spontaneous and meant to reflect the feel of the music.

"For me, the body becomes a musical instrument," said Peter Kress, 53, of Ambler.

Tango is often sensual and passionate, performers say, and that passion is seen in dancers' devotion to the art. There are several tango-related groups in Philadelphia - two involved in Saturday's event were DancePhiladelphia Argentine Tango and Philadelphia Argentine Tango School - and websites such as http://milongas-in.com devoted to listing tango meet-ups across the country.

Kress and his wife, Audrey, 54, who danced Saturday, said tango was addicting. They got hooked about three years ago, she said, after an off-the-cuff decision to give it a try at a friend's house.

The couple, who said they had barely danced before tango, now try to perform regularly. When her husband goes on business trips, Audrey Kress said, he'll search for milongas (tango events) instead of looking for the closest watering hole. (He calls to ask for permission to attend first, she added.)

Because of the dance's improvisational nature, the couple said, they find Argentine tango as much an intellectual exercise as physical.

"Now, it's like, move over, Sudoku; it's tango," she said.

For those watching Saturday, the most mind-stretching part of the spectacle was the dancers performing in front of the books.

"I think it's fun that you can take some time to dance through a library," said Kyle Richardson, 48, of West Philadelphia. "It's something you normally wouldn't see, but it's something everyone probably wants to do."

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217- 8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @cs_palmer

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