Dancing the Tango in Dogpatch

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Christy Coté teaches Argentine Tango in her Minnesota Street home studio. Foreground, from left: Christine Cheng, Mark Christiansen, Tom Chasseur, and Christy. Background: Elena Vega and Douglas Davan. Photo: Suzanne Berger.

Perhaps Dogpatch’s best-kept secret is the Thursday night Argentine Tango class, taught at Christy Coté’s 701 Minnesota Street home studio. For the last four years, Coté has facilitated what some call a three-minute love affair, often in the arms of a stranger.

“People get addicted to tango because it’s a dance that comes from within,” she told the View. “It’s very spiritual in a way, and the music is amazing. You’re in the embrace of another human being, connecting in a different way than usual. At the first lesson I always tell people, ‘Beware: This could be a major addiction.’”

Students Mark Christensen and Elena Vega

Coté should know. She’s been dancing Argentine tango for the past 22 years, teaching it professionally for the last 20. It started when she attended a stage performance of Forever Tango, and thought to herself, “I want to do that.” So, she did, taking a class at the Metronome Ballroom’s satellite location at the Monte Cristo Club at 136 Missouri Street. She was already teaching ballroom dancing in the evenings at the Metronome, which has since closed; it wasn’t a big leap to tango.

“When I fell in love with Tango, it was all I wanted to do, and it was a side thing,” she said.

(from L to R) Students Leah Mendelson, Joy Yee, Bobby Cox, and Catherine Pyne

When she first learned to tango in 1996 she made her living working for the travel industry during the day, teaching dance classes at night. That changed when, at age 42, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She embarked on a leave of absence to seek treatment and take stock of her life.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized life is too short, and what I want to do is teach Argentine tango,” she said. “I quit my day job, the stability, the insurance benefits, all of it. I’ve made a good living teaching Argentine tango for the last 20 years fulltime. I never looked back. I feel pretty good about that.”

The dance video company, Dance Vision, published her teaching method in its Argentine tango manuals. She and her dance partner, George Garcia, have produced 21 instructional videos through Dance Vision.  She coached Cheryl Burke, of Dancing with the Stars fame. In 2012, she became the first-ever American judge for the Official USA Tango Championships, an annual event sanctioned by the Argentine government.  She’s a founding member of the all-female tango dance company, Tango Con*Fusión. She’s performed in the U.S. and abroad, including at San Francisco 49er’s half-time shows and the SF Ethnic Festival.

Students Eli Sakov, Tom Chasseur, Mark Christensen practicing the leader’s part.

Despite the decades of engagement, Coté’s love of tango remains fresh. She adores meeting new students; it brings her joy to watch someone fall in love with the dance, to know she introduced them to it and to see their lives change.  Some students learn Spanish to get closer to tango’s origin; others have moved to Buenos Aires, the Mecca of tango. Coté herself takes students every year to Argentina, where she’s a featured teacher and performer for CITA, the annual International Tango Congress in Buenos Aires. While there, she shows her students the sights and introduces them to other master teachers.

Students Tom Shea and Maria Mann practicing in an authentic Tango embrace.

“I have this passion that I would like to share with people in any form,” she said. “Whether that’s to take a class, or be aware that it’s happening in the neighborhood. I know about other people in the neighborhood who are artists and photographers. I’m doing this wonderful thing, but the people around me don’t know about it.”

Christy instructing the class with one of her teaching assistants, Sal Scaletta. Photo: Suzanne Berger

When she opens her loft at 6 p.m. on Thursdays, if neighbors drop by Coté said they’re surprised. They have no idea that she offers an introductory taste of tango, teaching a few basic steps and serving food and drinks. In part, it’s because she never advertised, spreading the word solely among the tango-loving community.

“I’ve seen how the community is growing,” she said. “I love Dogpatch and the growing local businesses. I want to be a part of that. I like the sense of being part of the community.”