Thursday, October 27, 2011

Alumna Elizabeth Cooke's Narrative Tango Tours in Buenos Aires

In 2010, Emory dance alumna Elizabeth Cooke ('09C) co-founded Narrative Tango Tours in Buenos Aires, Argentina, an organization that allows visitors to explore the world of tango. Tourists can immerse themselves in the tango culture and sub-culture by combining dancing, listening, watching, and learning to personalize their experience. While at Emory, Elizabeth majored in Interdisciplinary Studies in Culture and Society and minored in Dance. She studied abroad in Argentina where she fell in love with the culture and tango. After graduation, her love for tango brought her back to Argentina, where she remains an active participant in the tango lifestyle. For more information about Narrtive Tango Tours, visit its website. For a Q&A with Elizabeth, read on.

How did you first become interested in tango?
I was first introduced to the tango in July of 2007 shortly after I arrived in Buenos Aires. My study abroad program organized an optional outing to a milonga, a traditional Argentine dance hall where people gather to socialize and dance tango. Although I’ve been a dancer all my life it was oddly not the dance itself that first attracted me to the tango. I saw the tango as a whole, with all of its facets, as a community and a sub-culture of its own. I was fascinated not just by the dance but also by the history, the music, the clothes and the shoes, the companies and performances, and the role that each aspect played in the tango industry in its entirety. I came to appreciate tango’s importance not just as something culturally significant for Argentina, but also as an internationally celebrated and practiced dance form, and began to recognize the implications that had on the industry at large.

How did your experience at Emory (in dance or elsewhere) influence your decision to move to Argentina?
During my junior year (between July 2007 and July 2008) I completed a yearlong study abroad program in Buenos Aires through Emory. Often referred to as “the Paris of Latin America.” Buenos Aires possesses a magical gritty charm, and I was totally hooked after the first few weeks. Thanks to my areas of study (Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture with a concentration in Dance in the Media, and Dance and Movement Studies) I was able to complete an independent research project on the national and international tango industry. Running around the city interviewing tango masters – from dancers to musicians to academics – served as the perfect backdrop for me to absolutely fall in love with the city, its art scene and its tango scene. I knew early on that I wanted to move back after graduation, and fortunately I was able to make it happen. It’s hard to say whether or not I would have gotten the same undergrad opportunities at an institution other than Emory.

How did the Emory Dance Program prepare you for this career?
I think the Emory Dance Program provided me with a fairly comprehensive base to dance as art form. "History of Dance" and "Contemporary Issues in Dance," two Dance Department courses, for example, give students an essential understanding of dance’s past, while acknowledging the present and encouraging future innovation. As with any art form, it’s important to educate yourself on where things come from and where they’re heading. If art (and dance being an art form) does not evolve it will die, and the tango is no exception to this. The Dance Program also showed me the importance of pushing your boundaries and being knowledgeable about various dance forms, not just your favorites – they all have a role in the larger scheme of things.

Tell me a little about your company, Narrative Tango Tours (NTT), and how it was formed.

As I mentioned earlier, I had the unique opportunity of completing a comprehensive research project in 2008 on the tango industry here. In early 2010 I was introduced to Cyrena Drusine, a professional tango dancer who is now my business partner. Shortly after we met she came to me with an idea for a historical tango walking tour, which is now the "NTT Historical Tango Tour – Tales of Tango through the Barrios of Buenos Aires." The rest of NTT’s services, as well as our business philosophy, stemmed from that first idea, and we now offer a wide array of tango services in Buenos Aires, all based on the way the client would like to access and experience the tango. Our services are broken up into four categories – dance, watch, listen, and learn – and all focus on getting a unique, insider perspective on the tango and how it has functioned and continues to function in the lives of Argentines and foreigners in Buenos Aires.

You are currently performing in a musical. Can you describe the show and the audition process or how you became a part of it?
After leaving Emory I doubted whether or not I would ever step foot on a stage again. I suppose it was foolish for me to underestimate the power of my relationship with dance and performance, because it didn’t take long before I was diving into the local dance scene here and determined to get up on stage in Argentina. Singing and acting are two art forms within the performance realm that I have long wanted to explore. After a ballet class one day at the Fundacion Julio Bocca (the dance and musical theater school formed by acclaimed Argentine dancer Julio Bocca) I saw a sign up for an open casting call the following week. I was the only North American among the 250 that auditioned. I was pretty nervous. The first day we had to dance a combination and sing a solo, both of which they had taught us that day. For callbacks we had to do a monologue and more singing and dancing. It was all pretty crazy, but it ended up being an amazing experience and I was constantly surrounded by extremely talented people. Those seven months of weekly shows reaffirmed my belief that there’s nothing quite like the rush you get from being on stage.

How has your relationship with dance evolved over the years?
I think within my post-grad years my relationship with dance has become more widespread and more stable. Being in Argentina has allowed me to explore other forms of dance, including tango and other Latin American styles like salsa. But I’ll always go back to the basics - I take jazz classes with a great teacher here from NYC, who used to teach at STEPS and is a fabulous pedagogue. Living in a big city with a thriving arts scene also has its benefits – seeing things often keeps me inspired and motivated. I know that dance is something that has an integral role in my mental and physical health and happiness, and it's clear that relationship isn’t going away.

What inspiration does the Narrative Tango Tour draw from "Tales of Tango Through the Barrios of Buenos Aires," the original historical walking tour?
Dance history, especially when it comes to cultural dance forms, is something that has always has really fascinated me. One of the most interesting things about the tango is its past, and this is a fact that both myself and many other tango lovers agree on. The Argentine tango, much like Argentina as a country, has had a very tumultuous history, and that has been largely reflected in its story. What’s cool is that so much of this history was created in confiterias, milongas and street corners that still exist today in Buenos Aires. During NTT’s Historical Tango Tour we try to relive this experience for our clients, bringing them to specific places in the city (like the “La Boca” neighborhood where tango was born, and the old house of tango music icon Carlos Gardel, which is now a museum in his honor) and telling them stories that correspond to the places they’re seeing.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing post. Tango is such a sensual and beautiful dance.