“My love of social Argentine tango started with a flier for lessons,” says enthusiast Doug Nickel.
“I was hooked after the first class. Tango became a hobby, then an obsession, now it’s a lifestyle.”
Nickel’s adventurous, active early years in Hillsboro didn’t include dancing; it wasn’t a cool thing to do.
“I preferred jumping my bike over ramps like Evel Knievel, ice skating in winter, remodeling my treehouse and playing high school basketball and golf,” recalls Nickel.
His attitude to dancing changed eight years ago while playing guitar at a wedding in North Lawrence. When he saw the good time people had dancing, he decided to learn. He took ballroom classes for several years — until the tango flier appeared.
“Tango’s intimate embrace, strong connection to the music and improvisational qualities were different to other dances I’d tried,” Nickel explained.
“Tango’s a simple dance, but once I got deeper into it I found it deceptively complex. It can also be a very meditative practice, and, like other art forms, has a remarkable way of bringing diverse groups of people together.”
Nickel’s tango activities complement his academic side. He graduated with a B.S. and M.A. in political science from Kansas State University in 1993, served two years with the Peace Corps in Hungary, and taught U.S. politics at Baker University for 10 years. He’s now a coordinator of multimedia advising at Kansas University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“Tango keeps the brain engaged and challenged,” claims Nickel. “It’s also fun, good exercise and helps develop coordination and balance.
“We’re social creatures and often happier doing things with others; social Argentine tango is a worldwide language of communication.”
Tango’s popularity has grown in Lawrence since Nickel began classes in 2007. A group of enthusiasts, the Lawrence Tango Dancers, host Monday night lessons and practices at the Signs of Life, 722 Mass., and the group is now an official KU campus organization.
“On a typical Monday we’ll have 30 to 40 people turn up to dance, practice and socialize. It’s been so successful we’re thinking of having another night, too,” Nickel said.
Many of them gather to dance at South Park’s gazebo on summer Sunday evenings, and they hold dances in local arts venues and members’ homes.
“Some of the newer members have gotten very serious about their tango, and sometimes a group of us will carpool to Kansas City on Thursday nights for a weekly dance,” enthuses Nickel. “Groups of us also travel to tango festivals around the country.”
Nickel is at pains to emphasize that Argentine social tango is not show or performance tango.
“It’s more social and meditative, and about deeper communication, as well as being socially engaging,” he says.
“If you can walk, have a good sense of humor, and want to express yourself through music and movement, you can enjoy Argentine tango. There can be the usual frustrations and plateaus to overcome as you advance, but if you are able to enjoy the journey, it’s a great way to spend your time and communicate with others while having fun.”