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From Argentina to TC

Gallery expands with dance gatherings

Andrea Monti, right, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, instructs a participant in a recent tango class at Gallerie Medici in Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY — In Buenos Aires, people dance the tango every night, all night, at social gatherings called milongas.

It's a trend Cindy Carleton is hoping to cultivate in Traverse City at her art gallery and dance studio, Gallerie Medici.

Reopened in October after the bottom fell out of the art market six years ago, the Front Street gallery has undergone a complete transformation. While it still features original art by day, by night it showcases the traditional salon style of Argentine tango, a slow and sensual dance that emphasizes intricate steps and a close embrace between partners.

Carleton, who has danced on and off for most of her life, became a convert to the tango after she moved to Wisconsin to help care for her ailing son. She joined a ballroom studio.

"The music is what I fell in love with," she recalled. "I'm of Italian heritage and when I first heard it I thought it sounded like the music of my neighborhood. It's like somebody's pouring warm butterscotch in your ear."

Carleton said she was being groomed to compete in the American tango, a simplified five-step version of the dance, when she decided to switch to the eight-step Argentine original. But it took a new teacher and an extreme technique — being blindfolded to break her will — for her to perfect the dance.

"It's a totally, totally submissive dance, which a lot of Western women have a problem with," she said.

Now she travels all over the world for a chance to tango and brings back dancers she meets to give workshops at her gallery. She teaches beginning and intermediate classes every Monday night for whoever drops in and opens the space for practice on Thursday nights. On Tuesdays, she travels to Cadillac, where she instructs a group of doctors and nurses at Mercy Hospital.

Dennis and Barbara Piskor took two lessons from Carleton in preparation for the Women's Resource Center winter ball.

"We figured we'd better at least have the fundamentals down," said Dennis Piskor, chief investment officer at Fifth Third Bank.

Although it turned out there was little tango at the ball, the couple are hooked. They've even taken a workshop with visiting Argentine dancers Andrea Monti and Gato Valdéz.

"I think it's a real sensual dance," Piskor said. "It's fun to do. It gives Barbara and I a chance to get out together and do something other than sit and have a glass of wine."

Those who come expecting the kind of flamboyant tango often performed on stage are in for a disappointment, Carleton said.

"You can teach step after step after step and all the flashy moves, but that's not the dance. The salon tango is the essence of the tango, which is the connection between partners," she said.

Twice a month Carleton hosts milongas, when the gallery's deep red walls accented by white pillars are lined with cloth-draped cafe tables and lit by glass chandeliers and sconces. It's a far cry from a few years ago, when she decided to purchase, gut and remodel the 2,200-square-foot space. Back then, the building was leaking and falling apart, causing it to be shut down by the fire marshal.

"It was a huge investment, but art is my passion," said Carleton, who has a degree in art education and metalsmithing. "I absolutely enjoy showing other people's work and bringing international art here."

While she represents a few local and Wisconsin artists, Carleton also imports art from Italy and Argentina. She'll travel three times this year to Buenos Aires, where she expects to dance until 4 a.m. each day then catch a few hours of sleep before hitting the streets to seek undiscovered artists.

Christine Sleeman watched the gallery renovations with interest from her office across the street then attended the grand opening. Now she's one of about 20 locals who drop in regularly for tango lessons or practice.

"I really like the atmosphere, the chandeliers and art on the walls. It's very elegant," said Sleeman, a designer and former ballet dancer.

Jeanette Sedgewick attended a recent milonga for the first time with her husband and a friend, where they watched from the sidelines.

"I'm a born non-dancing person," said Sedgewick, whose dance experience has been limited to step aerobics and the occasional wedding dance. "That's another good reason to be here — motivation for our 25th wedding anniversary. We're hoping to have a large party and we'll be in the spotlight."

Carleton, a widow, said singles are welcome, too. Dancers are free to switch partners so everyone has a chance to feel the tango's warm embrace.

"They can go home at night, even though they go home alone, and feel loved," she said. "And that's what it should feel like."

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