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The moment Tango couple Lily Tan, 39 and Gennysam Alcantara, 34, won the 35th spot in this year’s World Tango Championship 2012 at Buenos Aires, Argentina, they had created a historical milestone in which was Singapore’s first achievement as the only ASEAN country to be one of the Mundial finalists this year.

Lily and Gen, as they are affectionately known in the Tango community, previously participated in last year’s competition. This year was finally their miraculous breakthrough. The couple candidly admitted: “We hardly had time for practise!” In fact, they only lived on 3 weeks of intensive practice at Argentina prior to the start of the competition, an amazing feat when you consider the 350 couples plus 29 champion couples from all over the world whom they were racing up against. At first, the nerve-wrecking experience seemed too much to handle as the couple recalled: “More than 8000 people were watching us. It was so cold during winter without heater, dancing in cold sweat with cold feet!!” Despite the icy weather biting through their toes, the couple managed to sustain their calm composure and execute their dance steps, thanks to the encouragement and advice of friends and teachers. Lily’s and Gen’s distinct and elegant footworks impressed the judges round after round after round, eventually landing them among the enviable top 40.

The married couple first met at a ballroom dance via a friend in 2005. Lily was then working in the banking industry while it was Gen’s first visit to Singapore from the Philippines as a talent manager and dance choreographer. Partnering each other in Tango dancing while under the tutelage of Gen, love soon sparked and floundered between the two,  sealing their fate as one of Tango’s strongest forces in Asia. Gathering their combined 18-year experiences in Ballroom, Latin and Argentine Tango, the couple founded Tango Eclipse, which offers Tango choreography and coaching to groups and individuals. This common passion led them to the exciting path of touring around the world performing in several Tango festivals in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Malaysia, Philippines, Jakarta and of course, Buenos Aires.

Being in Argentina, the birthplace of Tango, was not all stress for the couple’s visit to the country. The three months there provided an eye-opening experience that differed greatly from their upbringing. There was the carefree lifestyle which served as a breath of fresh air from pressure-cooking Singapore, while the heavy Tango culture that permeated everyday life fascinated the two Tango-nians. “The culture in Buenos Aires seemed to revolve around music and art,” said Lily, ” There were many old European-style buildings, museums, cinemas, art galleries, cafes and bars, and large urban centres.” Her favourite hang-out was the Cafe Tortoni which was founded in the 1850s. Located at Avenida de Mayo in the capital city, Cafe Tortoni was often visited by intellectuals, politicians and artists, and once entertained Tango shows in its premises. The couple even enjoyed a trip to a friend’s huge ranch at Mercedes, a small city located 100 kilometres west of Buenos Aires that offered a great escape from the dense urban capital after the competition, where they relished the fresh clean air and savoured the taste of the traditional Parrilla and Asado, a delicious form of barbecued meat.


Lily and Gen demonstrate their winning steps with Tango chemistry

The most lasting memory for the couple was undeniably the hospitality of the Argentinian people, “People in Argentina were very warm and friendly, especially friends whom we met last year, they all remembered us!” Indeed, the nostalgia was evident as the couple pined for the Argentinian days of meeting so many great teachers and dancers, including endless milonga* -hopping, a luxury not common in Singapore.

Since touching down home from their Latin American trip, the couple has performed at Singapore’s oldest Tango club, the Abrazos Club, and at this year’s 4th Tango Weekend Festival in October, demonstrating those winning steps characterized by their intricate and spellbinding legworks, interwoven with smooth and precise movements on the dance floor.  “We dance Tango from our heart, with soul and connection, a form of communication between the music, our partner and us, and nobody else,” the couple explained as they cleared the common misconception between the original Argentine Tango and American Tango, the latter glamorised by the media for its typical deep gaze, rose held between the teeth and the swift twist of one’s head. No, Tango is not limited to stage shows or movies either. Rather, it is an art that requires skill, precision, timing, calmness and truck loads of patience. Easy to learn, not easy to master.

While popular Latin American dances like Salsa and Bachata are presently dominating the world stage, Tango’s advantage is in its timeless appeal to all age groups. You are never too old to pick it up even if you are in your golden years of retirement. As Lily and Gen happily put it, Tango has tremendously enhanced their marriage life, and will do so for a lifetime.

*Milonga is a social event or location for tango dancing.

This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, Dec 2012.

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