Last tango in Pawtucket

By PHILIP EIL  |  January 7, 2013

"A lot of men who see it on the surface think that this is very sexual," she says. But for women, it's about the music and the technique.

The man in charge of that music, Robin Thomas, sits at the DJ table across the room. A self-described "tango entrepreneur" who teaches tango and organizes events like this frequently, he verifies the marquee status of the Providence Tango New Year's bash.

"There are people here from all over the country," he says. He points to dancers one by one and says, "Baltimore . . . New York . . . Maine . . . Philadelphia . . . Worcester . . . Berlin, Germany . . . San Francisco . . . ."

As the New Year nears, it is Thomas — the first of the event's five scheduled DJs — who grabs the mic for a countdown. Bundles of red balloons fly and the room erupts with brief cheers at midnight. But mostly, people simply keep dancing: spinning and sliding languidly around the room.

The scene is nearly identical the following evening, although the cosmopolitan glow of New Year's Eve has given way to a slight middle-school-lock-in vibe. A pizza box sits on top of the piano. A tall, male tango dancer naps on one of the lounge chairs. A sweat-dampened "Providence Tango" shirt hangs on the back of a couch.

Steven Spura is buoyant, however. "At first . . . you're thinking about all your dancing and stuff," he says, explaining the allure of tango marathons like this. "But after a while you can relax and you get into being able to just move to the music."

Spura, a software engineer in the Boston area, will be taking over the Providence Tango business this year. And though some uncertainty about the organization's home remains — he urges people to check for updates — he vows to keep the New Year's party going. "It's an annual event," he says.

But many feel that it won't be the same. Wolfson, the New York scientist, says, "frankly, it's a little weird . . . [a] whole bunch of people leaving New York on New Year's to go to Providence, Rhode Island." To inspire that kind of a reverse commute, she says, the event has to be spectacular. "I don't know that anyone except Ellen could do it so well."

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