It was a nice night, warm enough to leave the door open for fresh air.
As couples and singles began to arrive, the irresistible music of the bandoneón (concertina) drifted from the sound system, and Mary K Miles finished transforming the dance studio into a cozy nightspot in Buenos Aires.
But the ambiance, while nice, wasn't really important. The people had come for one thing.
To dance the Argentine tango.
The monthly dance, or milonga, at the Omaha Ballroom in southwest Omaha, drew dancers from the Omaha and Lincoln areas. It was sponsored by TangOmaha, an organization devoted to teaching, learning, dancing and promoting the tango — the Argentine tango, more precisely.
First order of business at the milonga was a lesson on some of the tango steps. Instructor Elizabeth Edwards lined the men on one side of the room and women on the other. Then she led them through several steps.
The steps are important but not the whole story, said instructor and competitor Kristoffer Shaw. He explained that the Argentine tango is an improvisational dance. Dancers learn the steps. Then they can put them in any order they like.
“The men are the leaders,” he said. “They tell their partners what to do with body language.”
The popularity of television programs such as “Dancing With the Stars” has increased interest in ballroom dancing in recent years. The rolls of dance clubs such as TangOmaha have grown.
Miles said there are more than 100 people on TangOmaha's mailing lists, but only 20 to 30 regularly take lessons and attend the milongas.
She started taking lessons five years ago, after seeing professional dancers Murat and Michelle Erdemsel perform.
“I fell in love with the tango,” she said. “It's a love story on the dance floor.”
Miles, one of the founders of TangOmaha, takes lessons from Shaw, who has been dancing for 40 years.
The Argentine tango is an intimate dance, he said. Soft and sharp, smooth and combative. “It's a three-way love affair: the dance, the music and your partner.”
Although clothing doesn't matter that much, there is one thing tango dancers need: proper dancing shoes. Women's shoes have to have a high heels — the higher the better — and soles made of leather or suede, Miles said.
Men's shoes are soft, with a thin sole, so “there's not much between you and the floor,” Shaw said. “So you can use all your senses, starting from the ground up.”
TangOmaha, although not an old club, is widely known in dancing circles. It has attracted top international dancers for its workshops, which draw people from as far away as California, Minnesota and New York. An August workshop taught by professional dancers Rebecca Shulman of Los Angeles and Damian Thompson of Australia filled quickly. “They wanted to come here,” Miles said with pride.
Omaha dancers also travel to other cities — Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, Chicago — for workshops and dances. Some TangOmaha members are planning a trip to Buenos Aires in March for a complete tango experience.
Generally, there is only one problem with the monthly milongas. “There are never enough men,” Miles said, adding with a laugh: “The men who come are chick magnets.”
However, at the September milonga, that was not a problem. Men far outnumbered the women. That was an exception, Miles said, attributing the anomaly to Edwards. “She has quite a following.”
Dancers varied in age from Jacob Dewolfe, 13, a figure skater learning dance moves to incorporate in his skating, to men and women with plenty of silver in their hair.
Ray Kershner, 38, made a dashing figure on the dance floor in his bright red shirt and flowing long brown hair. If one hadn't seen him enter the ballroom with a white cane, it would be difficult to guess he was blind. He said he always liked to dance. He takes lessons from Edwards once a week.
Kershner and Edwards earned applause with their spotlight dance and a dramatic move, the volcada — where the woman leans into the man who leads her in a circle as she pivots on one foot. “It's very Argentino tango,” Miles said.
Another younger dancer was Yalile Perez, 27, a medical student at Creighton University, who came to the United States from Cuba. She tries to attend the monthly milongas because she loves the Argentine tango. “I love the music. In this dance, you listen to the music and you listen to your partner.”
Omaha couple Steve and Iryna Allen, who have been dancing the Argentine tango for almost four years, echoed the words of many of the dancers: The tango is never boring.
“Every time you dance it, it's different,” Iryna Allen said.
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Want to tango?
Check out the October milonga: 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 26, Omaha Ballroom, 5038 S. 153rd St., $10 cover charge
To join TangOmaha, visit www.tangomaha.com. Under the Contacts and Links tab, there is a list of tango instructors if you are looking for lessons.
For information on Elizabeth Edwards' classes, visit omahaballroom.com.