Press "Enter" to skip to content

OP-ED: Century Ballroom and learning to dance, one step at a time 

Century Ballroom, founded 1997 in Capitol Hill, is a renowned dance studio and event venue known for its elegant ambiance and diverse range of dance classes and events, including salsa, swing, and tango. It’s a vibrant space, offering beginners and experienced dancers opportunities to learn, socialize, and enjoy the art of dance. 

I remember what it was like growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, seeing public performers dancing Tango in the streets of the San Telmo neighborhood. Tango, a type of dance deeply rooted in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, is scandalous and provocative with its body movements and intricate footwork. It’s fiery sexual, but elegant and consensual. Throughout history, Tango has undergone various transformations, with different styles emerging in different regions, such as Argentine Tango, Ballroom Tango, and Milonguero Tango, each with unique characteristics and musical interpretations. 

It’s so ingrained in Argentine culture that I took mandatory Tango classes in secondary school. We’d be in a hallway with girls on one side by the wall and boys on the other. Generally, the male dancer would be the lead, and the female partner the follow. The boys had to pick their girls to dance. It was awkward for most, but luckily for me, someone who had a crush on me stared from the distance as if I had no other option. I guess she was more like the lead, and I would follow. That was my first and last experience dancing Tango, at the age of 15.

I kept seeing Tango everywhere, though, on TV, in theaters, and at events, but I never returned to it to practice again myself. 

One day in 2021, a friend told me about celebrating their marriage in Century Ballroom. They used to dance there, too. They recommended it to me, mentioning how I could potentially meet a chica (girl in Spanish) to dance with. I looked it up on the internet, and saw that they listed not just “Tango,” but “Argentine Tango.” My memories came back, and as a single man thinking about how I could meet and impress a chica with my sexy Argentine Tango moves, I signed up immediately for a Tango level 1 class to start from 0, as well as a Swing level 1 class. 

On the first day of Tango class, everything seemed easy. I noticed immediately that one of the teachers was Argentinian–typical Italian gestures and a sharp, imperative Spanish. I couldn’t wait until the next class to learn and improve more.

Dance classes at Century Ballroom usually start with a first lesson from the instructors, and then the students practice with random rotating partners. When registering for classes, attendees can choose if they’d like to lead, follow, or “any.”

During a class I saw something I have never seen before. A man was dancing Tango with another man. It was time to rotate and change partners, and on my right, there was another man who was a follow. I chose to be lead. I was hesitant, kind of refusing to dance at first, and felt like skipping. I don’t mind at all seeing another man dancing with another man, but it was my personal feeling, as a straight man knowing how physically close Tango is.

I have to explain what it was like growing up in a traditional Argentina that has been changing very fast as a millennial in my late twenties. Tango, in Argentina, was something my parents and grandparents did on a Friday or Saturday night for fun, and very often flirted with their bodies. They’d have some Malbec red wine, lose themselves to Tango music, and dance to find a partner.

There were codes, like if a woman comes with a companion to a milonga (social dance event to dance Tango), it means that the woman is taken and you shall not dance with her. The girls would put up their nice dresses, dance shoes, and makeup, gather with other girls and go together to milongas. The boys would put on their elegant shoes and suits, and joke about who will get the prettiest girl while trying to show off their lead moves. It is no easy task to be the lead in Tango. You initiate the moves and guide your follow with your body or eyes. The follow stands there for you like, “I’m here for you, take me to dance, what are we doing next?.” If you keep disappointing or confusing her, she will leave to dance with someone else who might dance better than you.
Sometimes, Tango is a tough, unforgiving world.

For this reason, some Argentine men tend to be, well… the way they are – seductive, provocative, direct, and sentimental.

Back to Seattle. I was shocked for a few minutes when I saw two men dancing with each other, but I understood quickly and came back to reality. I proceeded to dance with another man to practice dancing Tango. We are all learning. I thought, “this is academic Tango, not traditional Argentine Tango.”

 In 2021, I took another Tango class, but this time level 2. I danced with a girl who wouldn’t stop correcting me on how to guide her. She wouldn’t stop commenting on my moves, and I kindly accepted her suggestions. Inside, I thought, “I know better. I just like to improvise and mix things a bit.” She reminded me of the first girl I danced Tango with, back in secondary school. She could be the lead and I, the follow. She looked similar, too, blonde, with light eyes, and the same strong character. 

At Century Ballroom, you can find Argentine Tango, Bachata, Balboa, Lindy Hop, Hip Hop, Hustle, Tap, Salsa, Waltz, and West Coast Swing classes. The venue often hosts guest instructors and performers from around the world. There are also free dance classes you can join occasionally, and parties to come if you want to practice your learned moves, plus a famous bar to loosen up a bit. 

Century Ballroom was founded to promote social dancing while encouraging a diverse community that includes gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, age, and religion. Their philosophy is to always be kind. 

If you didn’t register for a class in advance, you can drop in to any class for $25 and immediately join.

Francisco Fonseca | The Seattle Collegian

Two years later, summer of 2023, I met a girl at a bar whom I matched on a dating app. She looked so familiar.

It took me a few minutes while at the Argentine bar, and I recognized she was the one dancing with me at that Tango class two years ago, who wouldn’t stop correcting my moves. 

The date ended, I kissed her a few times at the train station, and I never saw her again.

Sometimes, Tango is a tough, unforgiving world.


Francisco Fonseca Profile Photo

Francisco Fonseca is the Web Manager for The Seattle Collegian.
He is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2018 - 2023 The Seattle Collegian