In 1991 my (then) folkdance partner and I attended a workshop in something we’d never heard of called “Argentine Tango.” Before class, Seattle instructors Sonny Newman and Patty Leverett performed a dazzling demonstration that included leg wraps, whirling turns and lightning-fast footwork. We were instantly smitten and promptly committed ourselves to learning whatever it was we had just seen. For the following year we practiced furtively in the corners at folk and social dances, ignoring inquisitive glances.
In 1992 we met Clay Nelson and his (then) partner at workshops in Corvallis taught by Michael Walker and Luren Belucci. They convinced the four of us to attend Stanford Tango Week, which we did in ‘93 and 94. We were thrilled, enthralled and deeply challenged by the steepest learning curve any of us had ever experienced.
During the following two years we attended workshops in Seattle featuring guest Masters, Maestras, and iconic stars of Forever Tango. (Seattle’s community had been in existence for five years.) We dutifully practiced the “eight count basic,” wild boleos, ganchos, molinetes and long combinations of figures while making every mistake known to man. The four of us practiced diligently and were eager to share our new-found treasure with fellow dancers.
In 1994 Clay and his partner began teaching beginning classes. My partner and I hosted a Sunday Tango Tea. In November 1994 Clay hosted our first Argentine Maestra, Nora Dinzelbacher; then once a month he hosted instructors from Seattle or the Bay Area.
1996 Clay created ValenTango and TangoFest, currently the two largest festivals in the country, with an average attendance of 500-600 participants each. Clay released his interest in TangoFest in 2013, and still directs ValenTango.
A few people who have made outstanding contributions towards creating, developing and maintaining Portland’s tango scene are acknowledged below, with a very abbreviated listing of their activities.
Dan Timmins and Dolores (deceased): perpetual promoters; hosted the first weekly milonga in Vancouver.
Gillian Leichting: first lady milonga host; established Friday Night Milonga; one of first women to lead; first DJ to play music in tandas and cortinas.
Megan Pingree: hosted visiting instructors; partnered majority of guest teachers; TangoFest and ValenTango Executive Teams; hosted 2nd and 4th Friday milongas;
Bill Alsup: created Portland Tango caledar; hosts Sunday Practica 14 years.
Robert Hauk introduced close embrace to Portland; hosted guest instructors; hosts Monday Night Milonga.
Alex Krebs hosted a weekly practica/milonga at Reed college; created and owns Tango Berretin studio; has hosted 1st and 3rd Sat milongas for several year; directs various tango ensembles and plays for events.
Laurie Ann Greenburg: one of the first women who became skilled at leading; initiated “Ladies Who Like to Lead” classes and practicas.; hosts women teachers who teach woemen how to lead.
Carlene St. Thomas hosted La Milonga Euphoria; followed by Ellen Saunders and David Whitman hosting d Milonga Firulete.
Conrad Mandt: built an outdoor, covered dance floor on his farm; hosted monthly Moonlight Milonga.
Amy PK and Andrew Burt created Alternative Tango at Nocturnal Studio. Now located at Norse Hall. Amy works with Portland Parks and Recreation and hosts amajor annual public tango event at Director’s Park.
Rachel Lidskog: teaches at Portland State University, Portland Community College, Ankeny Studio, Portland Public Schools and other venues. She has also taught at festivals around the country. helped form the PSU Tango Club.
Steven and Jayne Payne: assisted with many festivals.
Matthew Schwartzberg organized the Taxi Dancers for the years they were included in our festivals.
Jay Rabe: current host of Portland’s web site; His Tango House was popular with fesitval guests and venue for my Friday Practica after Paradise Studio closed.
From the beginning, Clay Nelson supported, encouraged, and offered his studio to anyone who wanted to teach or bring in guest instructors. His policy of cooperation and collaboration has had a significant, positive, long-term influence on the development of the community. Clay’s continued efforts to bring us high quality teachers and provide opportunities to dance and socialize with fellow enthusiasts from across town, across the country and across the pond, have put Portland on the tango map. (Rumor has it that Polly has been seen on the scene also.)