Dancing Tango in a Wheelchair
Tango is the traditional Argentine dance, a synonym of sensuality. A dance characterized by fast feet movements, while upright couples embrace and look at each other.
That’s why, when Gabriela Torres took the stage of the World Championship of Tango with her wheelchair, she challenged the idea of how to dance tango.
When she was only two years old, she had a car accident that left her paraplegic. A bone marrow injury forced her to use a wheelchair forever and left her family destroyed. But it did not stop her in becoming a dancer.
“Since I was a little girl, I learned to make a wheelchair part of my body. Thanks to the decision of my family that helped me to be independent, I was able to insert myself into society,” says Gabriela.
Nowadays , she is 37 years old, drives her car, studies Costume Design and is part of the Dance Company “Without Borders” in which she began to dance integrated contemporary dance, where dancers in wheelchairs dance with those who can walk.
However, it had not crossed her mind that she would dance tango. Pablo Pereyra, her dance partner, was the one who proposed it 3 years ago. Is this a good idea? She wondered. She was worried about the Tango critics.
“Tango is a very structured dance, with a closed, exquisite, and elitist audience, that’s why we feared the reaction, but we think it’s in our roots and there was no reason not to try it,” says Gabriela.
They began to adapt the 8 basic steps of the tango so that she could move with the wheelchair. They tried the embrace movement, but because of the height of the chair, which had to be tilted and lifted up, Pablo invented new movements.
But it was not easy. “Once we went to a milonga (a place or an event where tango is danced) to practice and people moved away. But that did not discourage us, on the contrary, it was a challenge. We wanted to make noise, break the prejudice that people with disabilities can’t dance,” says Pablo.
Thus, in 2015, against all odds, they performed at the World Tango Championship in the city. “It was breaking against all the structures. We had good and bad reviews, but we did it,” recalls Gabriela.
They repeated again in 2016. At that time they danced to the melancholic tangos of Astor Piazzola, but in 2017 they bet on a more tangled tango and they reached the semifinal. They were ranked 13th out of 120 couples in a fierce competition that brings together dancers from around the world.
“Our idea is not to compete. What we are looking for is to demonstrate that no matter the physical condition, tango feels,” adds the dancer, who is also a professor of physical education in schools.
So when they go on stage they are concentrated, sometimes with their eyes closed, enjoying the music.
Gabriela moves with her arms and raises her neck like a sensual game that is very typical of tango. Pablo dances to her, surrounds her, and they embrace. They make turns and he tilts the wheelchair while he holds it.
But perhaps the most exciting moment is when Gabriela leaves the wheelchair and both dance on the floor, hugging. Or when she literally flies in his arms.
“Tango is the embrace, not the steps. The important thing is to feel the other in those three minutes that the song lasts,” says the young woman.
Pablo complements: “In the tango, the beautiful thing is the connection between the dancers who develop a story. The hug is the interlocutor, if nothing happens between them, the embrace is cold.”
Although in Argentina there are more companies of integrated dance and even other groups integrated by people with Down syndrome or Parkinson’s disease that dance different rhythms; Gabriela is the first to reach a world competition.
“We seek to awaken society. Far from wanting to show pity on the stage, we are interested in demonstrating what we are capable and how we enjoy music,” she adds.
That is why they dream of appearing in different countries and inspiring other people to dance.
“No one has a roof in this life, it should not be limited. Of course, life gives you good and bad moments. The good ones have to be used to raise the spirit; the bad guys, to help us keep going. No battle is lost,” Gabriela, who since the age of two has had the same attitude, concludes.