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Guest Article: Have More Bike (Tango) Fun!

Posted by on February 11th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Jim Labbe

[Editor's note: This article was written by guest contributor Jim Labbe, bike tango enthusiast and an urban conservationist with the Audobon Society of Portland. The Valentango festival begins today and runs through February 16th.]


Portland’s international reputation for bicycling is no news. Bikes, like beer, volunteerism, and strip-clubs, are part of the local culture. That (and a lot of hard work) has helped make Portland a fabulous city for bicycling.

Overflowing bike staple outside bike-tango
hotspot Viscount Studios on E Burnside.
(Photo: Bill Alsup)

But BikePortland readers might not know that Portland is also internationally recognized as one of the best North American cities to dance Argentine tango. And like other Portland proclivities that have spawned everything from bike-friendly brew pubs to bike porn, Portland’s large and vibrant tango community is increasingly permeated with tango cyclists.

Enough so that local cobbler and leather bike-saddle designer Jeff Mandel fired up a Tango by Bike web page last year to organize rides with other pedal-prone dancers to the city’s many classes, praticas, and milongas.

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Jeff Mandel and partner (on
and off the dance floor) Yifang Qian.
(Photo: Bill Alsup)

And many there are. In Portland you can dance Argentine tango every night of the week, take classes from dozens of instructors (some of them known world-wide), and attend two of the largest Argentine tango festivals in North America: Tangofest in October, and Valentango this week (Feb 11-16).

Mandel is car-free and lives inner Southeast Portland, so recruiting fellow dancers to bike with him adds safety and fun to his primary means of transportation.

Biking, like tango, like Portland, is better together. Bike tangueras Jessica Roberts and Michelle Poyourow both used to frequent local swing and blues dances and noticed a distinct increase in the number of bikes at events when they started dancing tango.

Really, Portland’s bike – tango connection is probably just a happy accident.

I asked Roberts why, and she speculated that Portland’s smaller city blocks and flat terrain enhance bicycling and walking. She observed that “a smattering of historic dance halls in the inner east-side provide a cluster of venues within the city’s best-developed network of bike routes.” These dance halls provide proximal dance venues for the multiple tango events during Tangofest and Valentango.

Michelle Poyourow, smooth on
her bike and on the dance floor.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Roberts coordinates bike home stays for festival participants visiting from afar who are teamed up with local bike tangueros who share housing, bikes, directions, and rides to events.

Really, Portland’s bike – tango connection is probably just a happy accident. Mandel is incurious about any special link between his interests in both. He was personally drawn to cycling as a kid but was pulled to tango by his partner Yifang (okay, she bikes too). “I can say that dancing helps clear my mind in a similar way to riding my bike.”

So perhaps no explanation is needed, just an invitation. Portland cyclists interested in checking out Portland’s tango scene have lots of bike-friendly opportunities.

You can check out the Portland Area Argentine Tango web site for a calendar of classes and events or come on out a beginner class at Valentango this week.

Velo-friendly beginners would be particularly welcome at the Viscount Studios (East Burnside and 7th) that offers an introductory class every Sunday at 1pm taught by Tango-Biker Bill Alsup. Bill is known to ride a century or more before heading out for an evening of teaching or dancing tango.

That’s some serious bike-tango passion, Portland-style.

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