October 29, 2010

Emory Profile

Kristin Wendland: Tango sets rhythm for community engagement

Kristin Wendland, a senior lecturer in the music department, studies the interwoven relationship between Argentine tango music and dance.

Kristin Wendland’s tango is not all about sex, rigid backs and women with pouty lips clamping down on red roses.

Wendland, a senior lecturer in the music department, studies the interwoven relationship between Argentine tango music and dance. She observes how the percussive rhythms entrance partners into a sphere of intimacy, without the constraints of a ballroom dance playbook.

“A lot of people associate tango with the more European-exported version, what they see in Hollywood films like ‘Scent of a Woman’ or ‘Shall We Dance’,” explains Wendland. “I want to set the record straight about the difference between these images and the true Argentine tango.”

Performing a milonga Nov. 6

Wendland was recently named a Community Engaged Faculty Fellow by Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships.

As part of the year-long grant, she helped organized a tango dance party, called a milonga, in cooperation with the Latin American Association. The event, on Saturday, Nov. 6 begins at 7 p.m. at the Latin American Association, 2750 Buford Highway in Atlanta. The milonga will feature a dance lesson by Atlanta tango instructors and live performances by the Emory Tango Ensemble and Tango Orchestra Club Atlanta, joined by Pablo Asian, a popular tango bassist from New York.

The second part of the grant will support adding a service-learning component to Wendland’s spring semester freshman seminar, “Tango: Argentina’s Art Form in Body, Mind and Spirit.” Students will teach Latino children from Woodward Elementary School the roots of tango music, with lyrics inspired by immigration, sadness, loss and nostalgia.

The dance of connection

Tango, born in the slums of Buenos Aires, adopted a glossier, more formalized sheen when it became fashionable in the early 20th century in places like Paris, London and Berlin.

An accomplished pianist and composer who grew up in the Midwest and northwest Florida, Wendland discovered authentic Argentine tango at a dance studio in Manhattan’s East Village more than a decade ago.

“I’ll never forget that moment of absolute enchantment,” she remembers. “It was like the dancers were in this little bubble, not part of the outside world. There was something so intimate in their connection.”

Wendland enrolled in tango lessons in Atlanta shortly after joining Emory in 1997, and later studied tango music with pianist and composer Sonia Possetti in Buenos Aires, whom she visited annually. In 2005, she received a Fulbright grant to teach music analysis in Buenos Aires, while working on compiling an anthology of original orchestral arrangements from tango’s Golden Age (1920s-1950s).

Upon her return, Wendland founded the Emory Tango Ensemble, part of the Emory Chamber Music program, which now counts five student musicians. A former faculty adviser for Tangueros Emory, she now directs and plays piano for a professional musicians’ group, the Tango Orchestra Club Atlanta. She also chairs the Professional Development Committee for the College Music Society, a consortium of college, conservatory, university and independent musicians and scholars.

This summer, Wendland has proposed teaching a tango history, culture and performance course in Buenos Aires geared to music and dance students who want to study with established Argentine performing artists. Administered by the Center for International Programs Abroad, the program is awaiting final approval from the College Curriculum Committee.

Yoga and tango

In her “free” time, Wendland leads demonstration workshops on Argentine tango, plays piano (up to two hours a day) and is an eight-year practitioner of Iyengar yoga, a form that focuses on the structural alignment of the body through the use of props.

“I think tango was my very first form of yoga,” she says. “In yoga, you have to be in the moment of that hip bone, those arms. It’s the same in tango. You have to be right there with your partner, enveloped in the music.”  

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