JP Bulletin

February 12, 2004

Tova and Carlos Moreno, JP residents, tangueros

Chanc VanWinkle, Bulletin Staff

For the next five years, Tova and Carlos Moreno will thrill Jamaica Plain with the urgency, heat and beauty of tango dancing. The pair, who moved to Jamaica Plain in November, will teach a series of beginner-level Argentine tango classes at the Jamaica Plain Community Center every Thursday through the end of February.

Nineteen people met for the first class of the four-week series last Thursday. The tango requires two dancers: the leader and the follower. Each set of partners was encouraged to cultivate a connection between themselves that would allow them to spontaneously move together. Though most new students sign up in pairs, there were singles also. Tova and Carlos ask students to change partners for each exercise, so everyone dances.

"Changing partners helped me to see both my strengths and weaknesses, since different problems or good steps would come from dancing with different people," said Gus Berger, who came with his friend Amika Ernst.

"Partnering creates an energy that you can't see and is mysterious...every step you don't know what's happening next," said Tova. "Even in the first lesson, people felt it...we were ecstatic, it was great!"

Joanna Epstein went to Thursday's class by herself. "It was a great time. They [Carlos and Tova] were very warm and welcoming and had a good sense of humor. They focused on developing the connection between the leader and the follower, which is very important."

Argentine tango is a style that emphasizes improvisation using a vocabulary of learned positions and steps, as opposed to performing a rote combination of steps. For Argentine-style tango, classes emphasize elements of dance such as weight changes and musicality, not just step memorization.

On Thursday's class, students danced with subtle weight changes.

Tova and Carlos Moreno

Care to tango?
For the next five years, Tova and Carlos Moreno will thrill Jamaica Plain with the urgency, heat and beauty of tango dancing and teach classes at the Community Center. (photo by Marty Katz)

"All the followers had beautiful smiles on their faces; they were actually dancing, not just plodding around trying to remember steps," Tova said.

How it started

The Morenos met at the University of Washington and started dating after beginning tango lessons together. They have danced together for six years, beginning in Seattle with mentor Michelle Badion.

After graduation, Carlos came to the East Coast, moving to Baltimore to teach biology to inner-city students though the Teach for America program. His time in Baltimore would prepare him to pursue his graduate degree and eventually a college professorship and research projects.

While Carlos was in Baltimore, Tova spent two-to-three months in Santa Fe, New Mexico making costumes for the Santa Fe Opera. She was always interested in fashion and wanted to be a designer.

"Art and making costumes are both process oriented, and you get to use your hands," she said. Tova has worked with costumes, and more recently corset designs, for five years.

After a year of distance, Tova moved to Baltimore and married Carlos. The two established a tango community in the city that continues to thrive.

Meanwhile, Carlos was planning his next career move. "I knew I wanted to come to Harvard since my undergraduate studies," he said. In February 2003, after two years in Baltimore, he was accepted into a five-year program in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department at Harvard, where he'll study vertebrate locomotion.

When it was time to move to Boston after Carlos was accepted into graduate school, Tova's creations for the Santa Fe Opera landed her a post with the Boston Ballet's costume department. There, she created the Marzipan costumes for this year's Nutcracker as well as pieces for the upcoming Lady of the Camellias. Her creations also appeared in the American Repertory Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The move to JP

Since Carlos's program was guaranteed to last at least five years, the Morenos decided to invest in a home and a community. One of their students in Baltimore had a daughter who lived in Jamaica Plain and suggested that the Morenos check it out. On their first visit, they approached total strangers on the street to ask about the neighborhood. Every person they spoke to gave Jamaica Plain an excellent review.

"JP has a cool mixture of hip people and a lot of diversity," said Carlos.

"Our class at the Community Center is only two blocks away, and we pass the whole-foods store on the way home!", said Tova, who also welcomed Jamaica Plain's affordability and convenience.

JP - where two can tango

In contrast with Baltimore, the greater Boston area already has a big tango scene, though it is located mainly in Cambridge. Carlos and Tova saw that Jamaica Plain needed a tango connection, and also had plenty of "fresh", or beginning, students.

"We don't want to steal other people's students," said Tova. So the couple focuses on beginner classes and on introducing tango to those who've never tried it.

Now they are taking time to get used to other tango instructors' lesson schedules and functions so that they can plan their lessons for times when they won't conflict.

If dances are scheduled in conflict with classes, then the overall community suffers, since it is more fun to have a crowd at events, they said.

As a partner dance, Tango is by nature a social dance. Dancers from miles around will convene on all-night dance parties, called milongas, coordinated by hosts or 'organizers'.

Their consideration is typical of the atmosphere and sense of community that tango inspires. While Carlos and Tova were making arrangements for their new home, they stayed with a friend they met at a tango practica, or practice dance, for two entire months, even though they had only met for a short time.

"Tango provides a network of friends throughout the world. People love to meet new tango dancers!" said Tova.

Carlos and Tova's tango community appears to be welcome in Jamaica Plain.

"It was nice to see other members of the JP community come to the class," said tango student Joanna Epstein.

Asked if they will be hosting any milongas soon, Tova responded, "If we get too busy with classes as well as organizing, we won't have time to dance!"

For information about classes and schedules, visit or call Carlos and Tova at (617) 983-4064.