Elegantly-clad women twirled in dazzling figure-hugging dresses, paired with equally graceful men on the dance floor, spinning to live orchestral music. Those who weren’t dancing were seated at their tables, sipping red wine and chatting animatedly with one another while occasionally cooling themselves with laced fans. As the participants streamed in, some were greeted with exclamations of recognition, a warm hug and bisous on both cheeks.
What unfolded before me was my first encounter with the tango scene at the inaugural Singapore International Tango Festival (SITF) – it seemed to transport me back to the late 19th Century, when the dance first originated in Rio de la Plata, the border between Argentina and Uruguay.
It was a night of romance, passion and glamour that resonated with the classy vibe of an upper-class social gathering from centuries ago. Organized by Los Suenos, a duo more widely known in the tango circle as Lily and Gen, the SITF brought together maestros (a title of respect given to a master dancer) from Argentina, Japan, Korea, China, Russia and all over the world.
Single-handedly put together by Lily, who began dancing back in 2001, this SIFT has multiple significance for both her and her husband Gen (an affectionate form of his full name Gennysam), who is also her dance partner of six years.
“Tango is something that I’m very passionate about, and after travelling to many countries to attend milongas (a term for tango festivals), I felt that we needed to have one in Singapore,” Lily said. “Many people here don’t know much about tango, and I want to create this awareness here.”
With 420 participants signed up and even more who turned up spontaneously at the door, the festival garnered more attention than Lily could have imagined. In fact, she had only expected a sign-up of 250 – if that!
“The response [has been] so good, I’m quite overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m really grateful to all the support I have from my friends (in the tango circle) who flew all the way here and also chipped in to help.”
After unsuccessfully securing funding for the event, the couple forked out $120,000 of their own money, with most of the cost stemming from inviting world-renowned orchestra Sexteto Milonguero to perform as well as international maestros to conduct workshops. Besides the milongas, the SITF, which lasted from October 2nd to 6th, included 30 workshops which participants could sign up for.
Participants were also treated to captivating live performances by the international maestros, most of whom are also music teachers themselves.
Despite having to deal with most of the logistics and research for the festival by herself in only six months, to Lily, her passion made everything worth it. “This is a milestone for us too,” she said.
“I just want to make Singaporean tango dancers proud,” Lily said. “This is one of the biggest international milongas in Asia.”
Judging from the success of the festival and all the support that has poured in from the local and international tango community, she already did.
Report prepared by Candice