Cheerful, Mixed Gender Tango? Check Out Ray Sullivan’s ‘Tango Out’
Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene — a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling people warmly greeted with a big hug by the evening’s host and organizer of Tango Out, Ray Sullivan.
Sullivan makes sure his intrigued guests find a seat then adds, “You just missed the class tonight, but we conducted the lesson with all the followers blindfolded – so that the people who were doing the leading in the dance had to really focus on what they were doing. The lights just went out but most of us have been in the dark all night.”
Those accustomed to tango salons in most North American cities know that generally men do the leading and women follow, so another feature of the room also stands out – among the eight couples on the dance floor there is every gender mix imaginable: men leading women, women leading men, men leading men, women leading women. There is even one laughing trio where a man takes a crack at leading both a man and woman at the same time.
Sullivan has been part of Miami’s dance scene for decades, as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. Asked about the motivation behind this new project, he responds: “Our tagline is, ‘Tango Out – Embrace Whoever You Want.’ That’s the point. If you want to dance with them, ask them, and if they agree then go to it. It’s hard to be in conflict with someone you’ve embraced. They become part of your clan – dance allows us to experience each other without words.”
The inspiration for Tango Out grew from an experience of discrimination. “Luis [Vivas] and I have been dancing together for 12 years. We would just go into the tango salons and dance. Then two years ago I saw an ad on a website about a tango event. The ad said tango can only be danced between a man and a woman.” At that moment, Sullivan and Vivas realized Miami needed a welcoming tango space for the LGBTQ community, and they were perfectly situated to make that happen.
But Sullivan saw LGBTQ as already an all-encompassing umbrella and wanted to go further. “We wanted to create a space where even traditional dancers who were heterosexual knew that they were also welcome. Our aim is to include and not exclude people.”
It’s working. Twenty people were there that summer Thursday evening, during off season.
Seated at the end of a row of young men dressed in what appears to be the evening’s regulation black t-shirt and black slacks, Felipe, a physician, explains the low pressure and congenial space keeps attracting him back since he started coming in March. “Everyone is really friendly and says hi. I’ve lived in Miami for 12 years and Tango Out has quickly become one of my favorite things to do in the city. I love that everyone dances with everyone.”
Thierry, an industrial designer with a Guy Fawkes beard and Harry Potter glasses, has attended Tango Out regularly for a year, and he often shows up to the Tango Out night Sullivan also holds at the restaurant, Panizza, on alternate Tuesdays.
“The crowd is so friendly and relaxed,” affirms Thierry, then adds: “It is wonderful to become more confident with your body and with the bodies of others – it is kind of like yoga in that you forget everything when you dance and you follow your inspiration and listen to your body and break the routine.”
The Tango Out project continues to expand. Sullivan and Vivas recently completed a workshop at Miami’s Pridelines and have taught at the Gaythering and the Astor Hotel on Miami Beach. They contributed a tango performance to the New World Symphony’s Pulse Points, where 200 artists honored the 49 people killed at the Pulse Orlando night club in 2016.
For Sullivan the synergies of the Tango Out project have even morphed into a potential book on how tango and social dance can heal communities. “Tango Out continues to open up this amazing space where I feel I can add to what is there. By 2018 we’d like to contribute to the Tango Queer tango circuit and host an international event. How could Miami not already have this? I ask myself this all the time.”
For classes: Alternate Tuesdays at Panizza Bistro, 1229 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; and every Thursday at The Hub at the LGBT Visitor Center on Miami Beach, 1130 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach. For more information call 786-530-7876 or check out the Tango Out page on Facebook.