The turn of the tango

In Features

Courtesy_stdStage lights illuminate the faces of Alvin Rangel and dance partner Ricardo Garcia on a calm, dimly lit stage. One man’s right hand supports the small of his partner’s back as the other follows, tracing and feeding off each other’s motions. Their stern, intense movements sharply rip them apart, and then just as quickly bind back together to the fiery crashing notes of accordions and violins. It is the tango.

Cal State Fullerton’s Dance and Theatre Professor Alvin Rangel performs his dual-choreographed piece Tango Vesre (Spanish for “inverted tango”)— shining a light on this century-old dance’s hidden queer history.

Rangel’s dance research, coupled with 10 years of dancing professionally in Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, provide him the knowledge and skills necessary to instill his students with high-level technique and professionalism.

“[Rangel] imbues a sense of strength in his students,” said Jonathan Kim, a senior in Rangel’s Fall 2014 Modern 4 class.

Live Afrocentric drums build tempo during the Modern 4 class enlivening the atmosphere. Never ceasing the beat, the drums soften as Rangel demonstrates a thigh-gripping move, floating backwards on the balls of his feet, gently grazing the floor’s surface with his fingertips, barely adding weight before immediately switching hands.

“As a modern dancer [Rangel] uses the floor in an extraordinary way and the students had never had that. But because he’s new, the students started out a little scared, but now they’re just into it,” said Professor of Dance and former Director of Dance at CSUF Galdys Kares.

Kares and Rangel acquired a friendship when he first came to CSUF in fall 2012. She helped him during the transition from professional dancer to professor of dance. She described Rangel as, “A breath of fresh air.”

However, it was not Rangel’s first time in the classroom. Rangel first began teaching in his hometown of Ponce, a coastal town in Puerto Rico. Then again while finishing his undergraduate degree in education at the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico. There he taught dance and began his professional career dancing ballet and jazz.

Rangel spoke about his youth with gratitude. His parents never pressured him but always wanted him to do well. The first in his family to finish college, Rangel acknowledged how surreal it is to be where he is today.

“It wasn’t until I left to the United States that I realized, ‘Oh, wow I was really poor and I didn’t really know,’” Rangel said. “When you’re surrounded by love, you don’t really notice the other things. I saw that my life was full.”

Growing up, getting a job at a university was something Rangel never considered possible.

“I am always very present of what I’ve done and where I’ve been and where I’m going,” Rangel said.

While obtaining his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, Rangel delved into historical research on male-male tango. He visited the General Archive of the Nation and the Library of Congress to investigate the history and documentation of early tango.

“After reviewing a lot of tango literature, it mentions a lot of the male partnering, but there really wasn’t much investigation or questioning of why they were rehearsing, what were the dynamics,” Rangel says.

A large gay population in marginalized areas of Buenos Aires ran parallel to the birth of the tango in the late nineteenth century; undeniably influencing tango’s development, Rangel said in his master thesis.

After his academic research, Rangel choreographed and performed an original piece, Tango Vesre, affirming the continued practice of male-male tango today. The piece has since gained international attention and recognition.

Tango Vesre consists of two separate tango duets. The first is Parallel Tango, choreographed by Alejandro Cervera, who Rangel said was a “godsend.” The second duet was Bound Tango, choreographed by Rangel, which pulled inspiration from current times in Buenos Aires, at milongas, or queer tango spaces.

He set the two duets in different time periods because both 1910 and 2010 brought “profound changes for the tango,” Rangel says.

In 1910, tango was finally accepted in Europe after being condemned by the Catholic Church. Then in 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, creating lawful acceptance for queer tango to emerge from the depths of its history.

Rangel intends to stay with CSUF. Coming to work and seeing his students grow motivates him.

“His artistic statement gives us the ability to find our identity without con- forming to his methods,” Cosmo D’Aquila, a student in Rangel’s Modern 4 class said. “I remember the reason I dance after leaving his class.”

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