Transformed by Tango Nights

Isaac Oboka and fellow instructor Daniela Borgialli demonstrate.
Isaac Oboka and fellow instructor Daniela Borgialli demonstrate. (Leah L. Jones - For The Washington Post)
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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008

The most difficult part of tango is not the steps. It's learning to stand thisclose to a total stranger.

Better pop a breath mint, pronto.

"This is tango. This is not the high school prom," Isaac Oboka instructed a roomful of novice dancers recently at the Eighteenth Street Lounge. "This is not how we hold each other."

He stood at arm's length from a brave female volunteer, her hands on his shoulders and his loosely around her waist. "This," he said, suddenly drawing her in so that her body pressed against his, "is how we hold each other."

Most of the professional 30- and 40-something crowd looked like they had come straight from work, perhaps stopping at home only to swap sensible work shoes for something sassier. It was a Tuesday night, after all, not the day normally associated with four-inch stilettos and steamy intimacy. But when it comes to tango in Washington, it's possible to do it every night of the week.

"Even, like, Sunday night when you think we would take a rest, we don't. There's like nine events," says Rudy D'Alessandro, volunteer editor of the online newsletter Capitol Tangueros, which lists tango events in the Washington and Baltimore areas. "There's so much choice." (For other tango events in the area, visit

In fact, tango gatherings, known as milongas, are not typically held on weekends. D'Alessandro says participants are so obsessed with the dance itself that they eschew food and drink to spend the night on the dance floor. That means clubs don't make much money, so they push tango events to weeknights.

About 900 people have signed up for D'Alessandro's newsletter, and he estimates that there are 200 to 300 active tango dancers in the Washington area. Some of the most popular dance spots include the North Hall of Eastern Market on Thursdays, Rendezvous dance studio in Rockville on Saturdays and Cococabana Grill in Hyattsville on Mondays.

Don't go expecting to see "Dancing With the Stars"-style showmanship. These dancers, who call themselves tangueros, make clear that theirs is not a ballroom dance but rather the grittier, sensual Argentine tango, which is based almost entirely on improvisation.

"They call it the walking dance," says Sharna Fabiano, 32, Oboka's dance partner and girlfriend. "If you can walk, you can dance."

The couple is building a growing audience at Eighteenth Street Lounge, where they teach a class and hold a milonga afterward. D'Alessandro, 44, says Fabiano is one of the few tango dancers in the area who has made a career out of tango. She teaches several classes and founded Sharna Fabiano Tango Company, which will perform a tango and modern fusion piece titled "Uno" at Dance Place (3225 Eighth St. NE; 202-269-1600) on Saturday and Sunday.

Laura Garcia, 29, of Washington says learning to tango was one of her New Year's resolutions. She took one of Fabiano's classes in January and decided to return with friends for her birthday celebration. On a recent Tuesday, Garcia and her friends stood in a circle around Oboka, 24, and slowly began walking to the beat with their partners.

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