If you’ve strolled down Lincoln Road on a Thursday evening lately, you may have come across couples dancing tango under the palms, swiveling in the sea breeze.
That’s thanks to tango instructor Ney Melo, and his partner and girlfriend Jennifer Bratt. As New York natives, they were familiar with outdoor milongas in Central Park. When they moved to South Beach just a few months ago, Lincoln Road seemed like a no-brainer.
“You’re dancing under the stars, and especially with the palm trees around here. This is an amazing, amazing venue,” said Melo, as passers-by watched a dozen couples dance. “I wanted people to see tango, and to advertise tango.”
Melo and Bratt teach beginner tango classes starting at 7 p.m. on Thursdays at the Brownes & Co. Apothecary. Classes are $15 an hour, or $25 for two hours. The dancing moves outdoors, to the corner of Lincoln and Jefferson, at about 9:15 pm.
Melo says he still enjoys dancing in the dark backrooms of tango lore. And a few dancers complained the cement pathway was hard to glide across. But the weekly outdoor milongas already attract up to 40 dancers, and many are in their 20s and 30s.
Melo is particularly happy to see young students show up, because in Argentina – where tango originated – people tend to think of tango as their grandparents’ dance.
“When I’m not dancing, I’m trying to reconnect with my old life,” said Edgar Vilchez, one of Melo’s young students. Vilchez says he’s obsessed with tango, dancing three or four nights a week. Lincoln Road is his Thursday night staple.
At first the dance seemed codified and complicated. Now, when it flows, he says, “It’s just really nice to get on the dance floor and hug someone for 20 minutes. You forget the technical part.”
“It’s so romantic,” said Jasmin Majlessi, who stopped by to watch with her two young children. “I would love to expose my children to all the best in the world and I think this is beautiful.”
Melo took up tango himself after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He was working as an investment-banking analyst at the World Financial Center and his job was a casualty of the attacks.
He took a few weeks to travel to Buenos Aires for tango classes and he didn’t come back for about a year. He and Bratt now teach and perform across the globe.
Eduardo Graterol, a Venezuelan, said he stops by the South Beach outdoor milonga when he’s in town on business. He says he became fascinated by Al Pacino’s tango dancing in the movie “Scent of a Woman.”
But now that he’s learned the steps, “I realized he is not a very good dancer,” he said.
Graterol also says milongas are a last refuge – one of the few places on earth where a woman has to follow a man’s lead.
Melo insists women actually have a lot of power in tango. A man can’t even approach a woman to dance unless she’s given him a complicit nod ahead of time. And his classes put equal emphasis on the male and female role.
Another dancer, Elizabeth Alonso, described the woman’s role as “adorning” the structure of the dance. “It’s probably the only area of life where you ask no questions,” she said. “You place compete trust in your partner and you just say: ‘Lead me.’”