Neighborhood Joint | Chelsea: At Triangulo Tango Studio, Buenos Aires Meets Berlin

December 2nd, 2012

Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

THEY say it takes two to tango, but first you need to know the steps. For that, some New Yorkers turn to Triangulo, a dance studio in Chelsea dedicated exclusively to the form.

Stepping across the threshold from a nondescript, fluorescent-lighted corridor, visitors are welcomed by an Oriental carpet, a sofa and an old poster of a couple in a classic tango pose. The nostalgic melodies of 1940s orchestras float in the air, and chandeliers hang from the stamped tin ceiling, softly illuminating burgundy walls, faux marble pillars and pale wooden floors.

The far end of the room extends into a mural of a lavish ballroom full of elegant dancing couples, modeled after Triangulo’s real-life patrons and teachers, with Carina Moeller, the proprietor, at the center.

“I wanted to bring Buenos Aires and Berlin into this space,” Ms. Moeller, 45, said.

A former professional dancer from Germany, she took up tango after the wall came down, often dancing in rundown East Berlin theaters that still seemed haunted with prewar glamour. She came to New York in 1995 to study with Martha Graham and dance with the Doris Humphrey Repertory Dance Company, and soon started thinking about creating a tango studio here that could evoke that moody atmosphere. Triangulo opened in 1998 in the meatpacking district’s Triangle Building, and moved to its current location on West 20th Street in 2006.

On a recent Tuesday evening, during a beginners’ class, Ms. Moeller was circulating among eight pairs of students, helping them develop trust and get in sync with their partners.

“If you get lost, feel where she is and then start over,” she told one man who was struggling to lead his partner though a basic step.

“This is where I learned everything I know,” said Justin Baker, 29, an equity research analyst who works in the city and lives in Westchester County. It’s also where he met his girlfriend, Mariam Elrazaz, 30, shortly after they took up tango a year and a half ago.

Ms. Elrazaz, a social worker who lives in Queens, added, “Your first tango steps — you have to take them somewhere, and this is the perfect place.”

Ms. Moeller said she aimed to create an easygoing, nurturing environment. “It’s like a little corner bookstore — but for tango,” she said of her studio. And the dancers have a stake in the place themselves: they pitched in to renovate the space, tearing down walls, painting and donating funds.

On another evening, at a milonga — a recurring dance party for tango aficionados — more than 20 couples stepped in varying degrees of embrace to the melancholy strains of the bandoneón, a kind of concertina, on the stereo. Under dimmed lights, the dancers moved around the room as one, counterclockwise — the universal tango direction, indicated by a one-way traffic sign hanging by a window.

For all the form’s association with romance, and though relationships formed at the studio have resulted in marriage and children over the years, Triangulo is not what you’d call a singles scene.

“Pretty much everybody comes here for the dance,” said Elif Katik, 38, a fashion designer from Sunnyside, Queens, who had just donned her green high-heel tango shoes. “The passion for the dance — that’s the common bond factor.”

Hours later, as the party was starting to wind down around midnight, Mitch Weiner, 43, an information technology manager who works nearby and goes to the studio four times a week, was easing back into his street shoes, getting ready to head out.

“When you hit the sidewalk, if the windows are open, you hear the music,” he said, watching the carousel of dancers revolve from the sidelines. “On the one hand, it’s very nice. But it’s also sad — because the night’s over.”

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