A Turk teaches Argentines how to Tango, one step at a time

A Turk teaches Argentines how to Tango, one step at a time
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Fecha de publicación: 
17 May 2024
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As the light from an grand chandelier illuminates the concrete dance floor below, Deniz Öztin begins instructing the initial class of over a dozen Argentinian men and women in perfect Spanish, coupled with a few light-hearted jokes about avoiding crashing into those nearby, as the eager dancers-in-training glide across the floor.

Öztin, a Turkish native, helped set up 'La Chiflada' tango community space, in Buenos Aires’s Palermo neighbourhood, alongside local dance instructors Fernando Barrios and Leo Agüeroon, where she is known as ‘the Turk’, she shares with pride. Five-years later, Sunday evenings are still filled with like-minded dance aficionados who meet and move to a dance tradition known for its power and passion.

With spectacles, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, a black dress and heels, 42-year-old Öztin, first discovered Tango in Istanbul in 2004. At the time she was also a student of Communication and Journalism at the University of Ankara, telling TRT World the dance gatherings have played a vital role uniting people.

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Teacher Deniz Öztin observes students dancing. Photo:Bala Chambers

After arriving in Argentina over a decade ago to work as a marketing professional, Deniz says, "I started to go out to dance almost every night at the milongas (Tango dance halls). The milongas are social gatherings where people - the milongueros- dance Tango, meet up, and dance all night, and after, they carry on their professional lives elsewhere. It's a social gathering."

Despite the economic downturn in Buenos Aires, the mood is upbeat at La Chiflada, as droves of well-dressed locals or 'porteños' flock to the Tango hall.

Some quickly grab a coffee from the bar just outside before entering, while others greet one another, exchanging a few words. Inside the hall, the milongueros sit by the walls as they bend down to slip on their dancing shoes, preparing for a long evening ahead of Tango among friends.

Argentina's Tango culture emerged in the 19th century in the working-class neighbourhoods of Uruguay and Argentina, while today, bedecking the walls in this tango hall are harkbacks to what many consider to be from Argentina's Golden era of Tango.

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Memories of Argentina's golden age of Tango Photo:Bala Chambers

From the 1930s until the mid-1950s, figures like singer Carlos Gardel revolutionised the Tango genre, becoming a symbol of the era. Adorning this tango hall in the Palermo district are some of the faces of Argentina's favourite sons, including prominent tango singer and actor Alberto Castillo, who is of Italian ancestry.

Tango to connect

Deniz describes Argentine Tango as her "passion," touching upon the virtues that have drawn many to the dance that emerged in the Southern Cone of Latin America.

"Many people start with Tango when they separate, when they go through a divorce, or when they're coming out of depression. Tango is very important for people to find and connect with themselves, and it is an important pathway both artistically and psychologically," Deniz tells TRT World.

The Tango teacher says the dance has helped people to communicate, insisting that "in all the aspects of art, we utilise art as a tool to express ourselves. Tango is also a tool."

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Öztin dancing alongside fellow teacher Agüero Photo:Bala Chambers

She says that by sharing an embrace and movement together, the dancers overcome solitude, calling it a "dialogue without words." At the same time, she says the music adds weight to the shared experience, as the dancers' character is partly revealed by how they dance.

And although communicating through dance transcends language, when Öztin arrived 12 years ago, she faced cultural and linguistic challenges, relying heavily on her small notes of phrases and vocabulary.

The lack of English spoken in Argentina pushed her to immerse herself in the Spanish-speaking environment, partly involving studying Tango at the National Conservatory of Arts in Buenos Aires to a university degree level.

Trilingual dance classes

Initially, Deniz was not "enthusiastic" about the opportunity to teach the dance, but that changed over time.

"I began to learn how to teach Tango, and from there, I put together my concept, which is not only the technical aspect but something more visible too, involving a mix of different teaching techniques," she says.

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Öztin demostrates a dance move to a student Photo:Bala Chambers

As she grew into the role, Deniz, a self-described "communicator," says she developed different techniques to convey her instructions to all people with a range of dancing abilities. These techniques include instructing how to alter their posture or perform a different stride.

Deniz has also harnessed her trilingual language abilities teaching in English, Spanish and Turkish to individuals and groups of people eager to learn about Tango in Latin America, in Türkiye and elsewhere.

"Since 2018, I've been teaching private and group classes in different parts of the world and here every Sunday, and other private classes, and when I travel to Türkiye," she says

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Tango dancers fill the milonga in Buenos Aires Photo:Bala Chambers

In her home country, over the last two decades, she says Tango culture has also blossomed. Across Türkiye's prominent cities, she says it is now home to well-organised milongas, classes, and knowledgeable teachers. She says it has helped to forge a "cultural closeness" between Türkiye and Argentina.

Deniz's experiences in Argentina have also brought her closer to the country's traditions and folklore, as she changed her mindset while adapting to the Spanish language and Latin culture.

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Dancers dancing in the heart of Buenos Aires Photo:Bala Chambers

Back on the dance floor, Deniz begins guiding the class through the various dance movements, including the range of circular movements in which the leader of the dance pair pivots the follower around.

As the evening progresses, Deniz intervenes, leading students aside and demonstrating the moves to them, showing them how to improve their techniques.

Locals also perform a range of dances in pairs in one large group, while individual couples also take to the floor.

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Dancers flock to the centre of the tango hall Photo:Bala Chambers

Every so often, Deniz takes the microphone to make an announcement or call different dancers to the stage as the music continues to play.

Away from the milonga, Deniz says she also had a musical career in Argentina, forming a group with a few local musicians interested in Turkish music who used traditional instruments like the Qanun. The group performed several times around various spots in Buenos Aires.

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Öztin pictured alongside fellow Tango enthusiasts Photo:Bala Chambers

Keeping Türkiye alive

Öztin is also a mother to her 7-year-old daughter Luna, whom she insists has kept in touch with her "strong ties with Türkiye", despite the vast distance of more than 12,000 miles between Istanbul and Buenos Aires.

"I believe we have travelled six times to Türkiye. And we spend months and months over there," she says.

Despite the limited options to study, Luna also speaks Turkish, which Deniz says she insisted upon, underscoring the importance of imparting her "language and culture."

"Now she speaks with a very fun accent, but she speaks very well. She understands everything. We watch everything in Turkish. We sing and dance Türküs (Turkish songs) on the streets," she says.

Deniz describes Latin Americans as learning more about Turkish culture after the emergence of Turkish TV series or dizi Binbir Gece (One Thousand and One Nights) released in 2006. Today, she and her daughter often watch the latest Turkish offerings streamed on Netflix.

As the event continues long into the night, as customary, a few late arrivals join in, choosing their dance partners while others look on.

Despite a growing community of Turks in Buenos Aires and building bridges among the community, including at the Turkish embassy, where she has performed, Deniz insists there is nothing quite like home.

"I come from a very united family with a lot of love. So we speak every day. They've travelled here many times and stayed many months with us, but it is not the same. I miss our home a lot in Bodrum," she says.

In her youth Deniz spent long, hot summer months on the beach in the southern part of Türkiye, which is something she misses. She says Argentina's beaches do not compare while she still cherishes her fond memories in Istanbul, especially in Kuzguncuk in the municipality of Üsküdar.

"I don't know where life will take us. We're going to continue enjoying and experiencing it. But my roots and all of my heart are always going to be in Türkiye."

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