By Carol Chester
Most people in Massachusetts are familiar with the annual Boston Marathon, a long-distance race in which runners from all over the world participate. However, many people in the commonwealth may not know about another marathon—BOSthón, the official name of the Boston Tango Marathon.
Unlike the better-known Boston Marathon, the tango marathon is not a competition. At BOSthón, participants come and go as they please and dance as much or as little as they desire. Although 47 hours of dance time is available during the five-day event, most dancers take time out from dancing to rest and socialize.
Event organizer Alla Lakov weighed in on the purpose of BOSthón.
“The goal is to bring the [tango] community together,” Lakov said. “We want people to be friendly at the marathon.”
Lakov, a Brookline resident, likes the good energy generated by the people who participate in the marathon.
“When they are happy, that brings me happiness,” Lakov said.
Lakov spent twelve months preparing for the 5th Annual BOSthón, which was held Sept. 21-25 at Todos Dance & Fitness Studio in Natick and Stratton Student Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Nearly 400 dancers participated in this year’s marathon, according to Lakov. She said the event attracts dancers from all over the world, including Argentina, Russia, Italy, China, Japan and Canada. In addition, 90 participants volunteered at this year’s event. Volunteer opportunities include crews for the registration desk, food preparation, sound system, decorations and cleanup.
Professional tango instructor Fernanda Cajide of Barcelona, Spain offered private dance lessons at the marathon. Before moving to Spain, Cajide, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, taught tango in Boston from 2001-2011. She also taught at the Sprinkler Factory in Worcester for a short time.
Some people may not know that Worcester has a small tango community. For several years, Argentine tango enthusiasts from the area gathered at the Sprinkler Factory for weekly lessons. Since the Sprinkler Factory tango program ended in 2009, two tango groups have been meeting in Worcester—one at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts at Salem Square in Worcester, and the other at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Worcester State University has a connection to tango in that Communications Professor Carlos Fontes has been dancing tango for more than ten years. Fontes, originally from Portugal, compared Fado, the traditional music of Portugal, to that of tango, which originated in Argentina.
“Growing up in Portugal, I knew the national songs of Fado,” Fontes said. “Fado is just a step away culturally from the feel of tango.”
Fontes explained the progression of his tango experience during the past decade.
“At first, I learned steps, movement, and vocabulary,” Fontes said. “Now I’m practicing the principles of working with energy, receiving energy from the ground and bringing it up into my body and to my partner.”
Fontes said that one of the joys of tango is being able to go anywhere in the world and have a community he can step into. In addition to dancing in the US, he has attended tango events in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Ecuador and Peru.
Although Worcester has a small community of loyal tango dancers, Worcester cannot compete with Boston when it comes to the size and frequency of tango events. Angel Montero of Atlanta, one of the DJs at the tango marathon, commented on the vibrant tango community in Boston.
“In Boston, you can dance tango every day of the week,” Montero said. “Boston is an attractive place for people to dance.”
DJ Max Stasi came all the way from Milan, Italy to play music at the tango marathon. He said Boston has a good atmosphere for tango dancing.
“People are open and nice to each other,” Stasi said.
Unlike many DJs, Stasi does not prepare a playlist before coming to a tango event. Instead, he improvises his choice of music based on the dancers.
“When you are on stage [as a DJ], it is all from the heart,” Stasi said, clasping his hands against his chest. “Every crowd is a new discovery.”
Stasi continually studies the crowd to see how they are reacting to his music. For example, on Saturday night at the tango marathon, when a small group of participants formed a circle, dancing as a team in response to a lively piece of music, Stasi offered two additional pieces that matched the dancers’ movements. At the end of the tanda (a group of three or four pieces of similar music), the entire room came alive with dancers clapping and cheering in support of Stasi’s effort to please the crowd.
When participants were not on the dance floor, they could unwind in another room, where vendors had set up displays of tango shoes, tango clothing, jewelry and skin care products. Pimon Martell, a vendor from Vancouver, Canada who used to sell women’s tango shoes, is currently specializing in men’s shoes.
“When you go to [tango] festivals [and marathons], it’s all about women’s stuff,” Martell said. “There is too much competition.”
Responding to the lack of menswear offered at tango events, Martell recently decided to focus on selling men’s shoes. She said customers can try on various shoes from her collection and order online from the vendor she represents.
“I get my shoes from Istanbul, [Turkey],” Martell said.
Other services offered at the marathon included 15-minute foot massages and sessions in a portable sauna.
For more information about BOSthón or tango in Worcester, visit bosthon.com or worcestertango.org.