by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
BANGOR — What do Shiwa Noh, a dance teacher; Avi Rude, an international student from India at the University of Maine; Geoffrey Gordon of the Orono Town Council; his wife Suzanne Gordon, director of physical therapy at Husson University; Daniel Sullivan, former UMaine hockey goal keeper; and Deb Rollins, who works at UMaine, have in common?
The slow gliding steps, the tip of the toes sweeping the floor, the momentary pauses anticipating the next step, ankle brushing ankle, the slide of a foot along a partner’s lower leg, a sudden backward kick beneath the partner’s knee, the effortless grace of a 180-degree turn. The man leading the woman, the woman taking moments of leading.
The dancers are part of a new incarnation of tango community in Bangor. They dance and learn at Noh Way School, owned and operated by tango dance teacher Shiwa Noh, who holds a degree in modern dance from the Claire Trevor School of Arts at the University of California, Irvine.
Those who dance at Noh Way School are social tango dancers and do not dance competitively.
Noh said she came to Bangor in 2011 by way of New York City and South Dakota with her husband, Tim Shay, of Old Town.
“I am a dancer, I have to dance,” she said. The move to Old Town allows her to connect with tango dancers in the Bangor area, some of whom have been gliding, turning and moving in and out of the intricacies of the tango for more than 10 years.
Tango, said Avi Rude, tango dancer and assistant teacher at Noh Way School, is an improvised dance, created in the moment, the partners fully present to one another. Rude tried other forms of social dancing, but when he tried the tango two years ago, he knew “that’s the dance for me,” he said. “It’s like walking in a hug. The feet do most of the work.”
“It has been fun making friends through dance and tai chi [which Noh also teaches at the school],” Noh said.
“Tango and tai chi have similarities,” Noh said. “Tai chi emphasizes being a sphere within the self — it requires [correct] alignment. Tango does the same thing — the circle of the embrace and moving in a circle around the dance floor. Tai chi uses the waist to make the body turn [just as] tango does. And tai chi [often] puts weight on one leg, in a pause that requires balance, the same as tango. There are lots of pauses in tango where dancers can interpret the music to take short or long steps.”
Noh said she fell in love with tango in New York City 15 years ago, but it wasn’t entirely love at first sight — it seemed too complicated to her, she didn’t think she could do it. But a friend taught her a step, which led to learning more steps until, eventually, she made three trips to Argentina to study with master tango dancers to hone her skill.
Tango, she said, is a spiritual dance that requires the dance partners to be in balance with one another within the circle of the dance embrace — the man leading the woman through the steps and around the dance floor, each sensing and responding to the other’s moves through human body language and touch.
“The best moments are when the ladies close their eyes and begin to trust,” Noh said. “It’s a beautiful dance — when the partners are in the dance embrace, they are in it without a break. Because of that embrace, dancers sense how they are improving in terms of the steps, the leading and following.”
“I love the music,” said Deb Rollins, who began lessons at Noh Way School last fall. “I love being able to move to that music.”
Daniel Sullivan, a former UMaine hockey goalie, began learning the tango two months ago, drawn to it by the music, the dynamics between the dance partners, the intimacy of the dance. “I love to learn,” he said. “It’s challenging and it’s an awesome experience, but it takes time to develop [the skill].”
Shoes, Noh said, are important to tango dancing. A woman wears high heels which help her retain her balance when she leans into her partner. A man wears shoes with a 1-inch heel which promotes stability as he and his partner move through the steps, turns and glides of the dance.
Noh said she would like to see interest in tango grow in the Bangor area, to have her school become a nonprofit organization so she can reach out to more people to draw them into the embrace of Argentine tango.
Noh Way School’s summer program of classes, taught by teachers other than Noh, are line dancing 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturdays; and waltz, cha cha and Lindy Hop at 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. Noh teaches tango dancing 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30-9 p.m. Fridays.
In the fall, Irish dancing, West Coast swing and salsa dancing nights will be added to the roster.
For information, class schedules and cost, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit nohwayschool.com.