Tango Schools and Dances are Doing Their Rounds in Bucharest

by Savitha C Muppala on Jul 1 2010 10:26 PM

Young couples spin softly round to the retro rhythms of the tango in a 19th-century tea room in downtown Bucharest.

Tango schools and dances have blossomed in the eastern European capital in the past few years, recalling the heady interwar years when Bucharest was known as "the little Paris of the Balkans" and Romanian tango singers were stars.

To catch a glimpse of the rekindled passion, head to Casa Capsa, a restaurant and tea room opened in 1852, where "milonga" tango dances are often held on Sundays, in a sensual setting to rival the nights of Buenos Aires.

When the women arrive, they slip quickly from trousers and casual shoes into black sheath dresses, elegant red or purple skirts -- and the essential high-heeled tango shoes.

Under crystal chandeliers and the gaze of red-uniformed waiters, couples in close embrace step in time to Argentinian tango classics such as "Milonga del Corazon" (Milonga of the heart).

"Holding a milonga here was symbolic because tango had not been danced at Capsa's in the past 60 years," said Teodora Chiliment, a member of Bucharest's close-knit tango community and one of the organisers of the Capsa dances.

"In the 1920s and 1930s tango was popular among artists and intellectuals who came regularly to Capsa," she said.

Romania is part of the Balkans but its language derives from Latin, unlike the former Yugoslavia or Bulgaria whose roots are Slavic.

Many of its artists felt a natural connection to the soulful passion of Argentinian tango, and famous Romanian singers like Jean Moscopol or Cristian Vasile put their own lyrics to the music.

After World War II, under communist rule, some of the tango singers fled and others ceased to sing publicly -- until a few years ago.

The revival owes a debt to young artists like Oana Catalina Chitu, who learned tango listening to her parents sing.

"It was never broadcast on the radio," she recalled. "Tango had been forgotten. It was like a dethroned king, lonely and abandoned."

In 2008, Chitu brought tango back to the stage and her album, "Bucharest Tango" has been praised by critics across Europe. It features renditions of Romanian classics like "Da-mi gurita s-o sarut" (Give me your lips so I can kiss them)

"I wanted to bring these amazing songs back to life," said the singer who now lives in Berlin.

"They might be a bit kitsch but ... these songs combine the passion of Argentinian tango with the Romanian spirit. Maybe Romanians and Argentinians share a taste for passion and melancholy," she said.

Monica Surubariu, another driver in reviving Romanian tango who travels to Argentina once a year, teaches the dance and has seen the number of devotees soar.

"We may not be as many as in Argentina or in France but what is unique is the fast boom of recent years," she said.

"Five years ago there were maybe 15 regular dancers. We would dance in the apartment of one or the other," said Daniel Mandita, who helped create one of Bucharest's first tango schools and dances every day.

"Today, we are about 500 regular dancers.

"I think people here like tango because it's creative ...You have to improvise and Romanians usually like to improvise", he added.

Most weeknights, devotees can head to "milongas" in restaurants or clubs across Bucharest or "practicas," informal rehearsal sessions.

The dancers come from all social backgrounds.

Garage worker Nelu Aldea tried out several dance styles "but none was as elegant as tango." He now takes three hours of classes a week and dreams of travelling to Argentina.

Bucharest is also brimming with tango concerts and special training sessions with musicians and dancers from Argentina.

Dedicated websites have sprung up (, ), as well as Facebook pages and blogs ( Cobblers in the capital are starting to offer made-to-measure tango shoes.

Teodora Chiliment was seduced by the dance just over a year ago.

"I was in a rut and I wanted to do something creative. Today, I dance every evening. I sleep a lot less at night but it gives me tremendous energy and joy.

"When I dance, I feel a euphoria I only experienced when I was a kid," she said.