BY GABBY RAYMOND '20
Over Columbus Day weekend, the Argentine Tango Clubs in the Five College community hosted their monthly Milonga – a tango event where people go to socialize and dance. Professor Daniel Trenner, the Argentine Tango teacher at Smith and Mount Holyoke, invited students from both colleges.
In 1987, Trenner, an accomplished jazz and contemporary dancer, traveled to Buenos Aires where he began to learn the Argentine social dance. He shared that the older generation in Buenos Aires feared their style and traditions would be lost in the new wave of dance teachers who used the American dance model to teach the complex dance. After studying with the Milongueros, Trenner came back to the United States to kickstart a tango revival, teaching in the traditional style of the older generation in Argentina.
Trenner is often called the Johnny Appleseed of Tango – for 20 years he traveled around the world, stopping in over 100 cities to teach tango in a variety of settings. In the 1990s, he held tango workshops in South Hadley and Amherst and thus dance began to take root in the community. As a result of his efforts, there are various tango clubs present in the area. Today, there are four tango clubs in South Hadley, and each one has a monthly Milonga that members can attend.
Trenner continues to teach beginner and intermediate classes at both Smith and Mount Holyoke, has formed a Tango Club at Amherst College and a Tango and Salsa Club at Hampshire College. Students who have taken tango can attest that you don’t just learn the art of tango, but the social skills that go with it as well. Farah Rawas ’17 states, “Daniel taught me how to take control even when I’m the follower. When I’m more in control I feel more comfortable with my partner and am able to enjoy the dance more.”
Trenner wants to emphasize the social aspect of the dance in a time he calls “a society of isolationism driven by technology.” In the class, it is important to pay full attention to your partner and learn to listen to their body language to be able to move fluidly together. Trenner also hopes to promote skills in boundary-keeping and mutual respect; followers are not just dominated by leaders, each couple works together to make each other better dancers. Learning to tango is certainly a form of exploring cultural diversity, but Trenner also teaches the complex experience of social customs associated with tango that still can still be applied to dancers’ daily life. One former student of Trenner’s from Smith College, Pheonix Wyatt, was so influenced by her time learning the tango in college that she now apprentices with him to continue to engage with and learn the social dance.
According to Trenner, in Argentina attending a Milonga is the combination of both the social and technical skills that a dancer learns in class. At Smith and Mount Holyoke, students employ these skills as they dance with both members of the local community and their fellow students.