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Tango ‘goddess’ teaches around the world — and beginner classes in Lexington

Marcela Duran is an international master of the tango, and her husband Luis Bravo loves horses. Their house was once part of Calumet Farm, and this barn is known as the Alydar Barn.
Marcela Duran is an international master of the tango, and her husband Luis Bravo loves horses. Their house was once part of Calumet Farm, and this barn is known as the Alydar Barn. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Marcela Duran is one of the most recognized tango dancers in the world. So what is she doing teaching beginning tango classes in Lexington?

For Duran, 51, how she got from Argentina to Artsplace is quite the story.

In Argentina, Duran’s mother was not keen on her talented daughter dancing the tango: For a long time, the intimate dance had been associated with bordellos.

But her father was a bandoneon player — the instrument is like an accordion and is widely used in Argentinian music — and Duran herself attended Argentina’s National School of Dance.

The tango spoke to her, and she became one of the tango world’s biggest stars. In 2000, she was named the world champion of the Dance Sport Championship in Argentine tango.

“I became like the magic icon” of tango, Duran said.

Duran looks something like the whirl of the tango: Tall, with dark wavy hair and an easy grace, she looks decades younger than her 51 years. The blog “The Accidental Tangoiste” in 2010 said Duran “looks like a goddess. And she dances like one too.”

Tango clubs are now common across the United States, and Duran finds it easy to commute around the country from Lexington to teach. But she also teaches beginning tango at Artsplace in Lexington, and she will offer a Valentine’s tango seminar for couples at Bella Forza Fitness.

“I grew up with the sound of the tango, but my mother didn’t want me to be a tango dancer because it was born in the bordellos,” Duran said. “But socially, it is very much an intimate and quiet dance.”

“Tango is a love story that we can tell in three minutes,” she said.

With her longtime partner, the late Carlos Gavito, Duran created a challenging and dramatic move in which both partners lean in and share an axis.

Duran’s husband, Luis Bravo, created the show Forever Tango, which traces the evolution of tango through dance, music and drama.

The show opened in San Diego in 1990 and was staged in San Francisco and London. It debuted in 1997 on Broadway, where it was most recently staged in 2013.

Writing on Broadway.com in 2013, Bravo described Duran as “my iconic leading dancer and wife, the brilliant Marcela Duran. We now continually refresh ‘Forever Tango’ in our home in Kentucky’s bluegrass country, where we raise our two daughters, Paloma .... and Victoria, and care for our stable of racing horses. A fitting curtain.”

Bravo was attending a horse sale in Lexington in 2004 when he summoned Duran to fly to Kentucky immediately.

“This is the place to grow a family,” Bravo told his wife.

So the couple found a big house off Versailles Road in which to raise their two daughters, now students at Beaumont Middle and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools.

It’s in a corner of what had been Calumet Farm that was cut off by the construction of New Circle Road. Off the back deck, you can see a barn that once housed the great Thoroughbred Alydar (1975-1990).

In 1995, Ron and Judith Gariepy of Lexington attended a performance of “Forever Tango” in San Francisco, and returned to Lexington to spread the word about tango with their dancing friends. They are considered the founders of Lexington’s tango social circle.

Jeweler David Hungerford, who has studied with Duran, said he had never before been a dancer, but he found a “meditative, reflective quality” to tango.

Having Duran in Lexington, Hungerford said, is “like if Mikhail Baryshnikov taught introductory ballet.”

“I love to teach beginners,” Duran said. “For me it is better to have a good first teacher. If not for that they get discouraged and they leave.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

Want to try tango in Lexington? There are lots of avenues:

—Marcela Duran will teach a six-week class in beginning tango beginning Tuesday from 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m. at Artsplace, 161 North Mill Street. Cost is $90, $60 for students. 161 North Mill Street. More information: (859)255-2951 or by contacting Duran at Duranmar@aol.com.

On Wednesday evenings, there are practicas, or practices, at ArtsPlace.

—Duran will also teach at Bella Forza Fitness, 829 National Avenue, on February 17 from 6:30-8 p.m. The $30 fee inclues instruction, select wines and desserts. The class is limisted to couples.

Call (859)309-2361 or go to Bellaforzalexington.com

—For more information on tango events in Lexington, go to LexTango.com

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