For San Pedro Tango Instructor Silvia Askenazi, Connection Is Healing

Heart to heart.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Gail Phinney
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

Silvia Askenazi has a passion for tango. The founder of Tango San Pedro, Silvia works in a spacious dance studio where she devotes herself to instructing, organizing and building community around her love for Argentine tango. It is a lifestyle for Silvia and the participants in her weekly milonga porteña.

“Tango is not only a dance,” she explains, “it is social. So when you come here to dance tango every Saturday night, you meet your friends.”

A native of Buenos Aires, Silvia comes by her love of the arts naturally. Her grandmother was an accomplished poet and pianist who played tango music in her home, but the dance form was not a part of her childhood experience. In fact, when she was young, tango was banned.

She recalls, “I was 10 years old in 1976 when the military took power in Argentina. Social gatherings were not allowed. I grew up with no tango in the society. I started to dance other dances when I was 18, but I always had a curiosity about tango.”

Argentine tango, specific to Buenos Aires, dates back to the late 1800s. It began with immigrants and European instruments like the bandoneon, an adaptation of the German concertina. The golden age of tango reached its height in the 1940s when orchestras developed the traditional tango sound we know today. But the popularity of tango waned in the 1950s with the unlikely convergence of the rise of rock ‘n’ roll and a series of military dictatorships.

It made its comeback after a group of professional dancers toured in the 1985 Broadway show Tango Argentino. The unexpected hit sparked a tango renaissance that was promoted by Hollywood elite and continues to fascinate.

“Tango is not only a dance, it is social. So when you come here to dance tango every Saturday night, you meet your friends.”

Silvia didn’t begin her tango journey until moving to Los Angeles in 2001. Like so many others, she came for a visit and found her home. Then, as she puts it, “Tango found me.”

Embraced by the tango community, she started social dancing and quickly began teaching friends for fun. In 2009 she realized her dream of opening a dance studio in San Pedro. Group classes followed, along with trips to Buenos Aires. Her weekly milongas (tango dance parties that often include instruction from visiting artists) enable participants to socialize in a manner outside their everyday experience.

Silvia’s desire to facilitate a unique experience for her students is her guiding principle. She asserts, “The idea in social tango is to be able to dance with different people, so in my classes we switch partners all the time. It is a language you want to communicate, and if you only dance with one partner you are only responding to the same conversation. Argentine tango, the social tango, is about improvising. You learn a series of elements. How you put the elements together for every song, every time, is different.”

Committed to building community through Tango San Pedro, Silvia acknowledges there is much rebuilding to be done after the long pandemic. But she believes there is something profoundly healing in the way our basic human desire to connect plays out in the dance.

“Tango is a heart-to-heart dance; the connection is here,” she says, gesturing toward her chest. “During any given milonga, you might dance with 10 or 20 partners a night, hugging a person for 10 minutes at a time. That’s a lot of connecting! And it’s so basic. The movement is like a permanent rock step that takes you back to when your mother would put you to sleep, and that is irreplaceable.”

Given what we’ve collectively been through, we could all use some tango in our lives.