Chelsea, an Argentine Tango professional with over 25 years of experience, was in 2004 a co-founding member of Tango Con*Fusión, with which she worked closely until 2014 as a choreographer, performer and writer.
Since the late 1990s, Chelsea has been a pioneer in the portrayal of women in tango performance while evolving the language of tango with “all-genders-welcome” Lead-Follow Exchange. For 20+ years she has sought to open minds around gender equity and LGBTQ rights. She has used the language of tango to tell fresh stories on stage and in short films.
Max Masri, Founder of Tanghetto, has said of her work:
"I think Tango Con*Fusión is a great concept and idea, ahead of its time, and I saw a similitude with Tanghetto’s concept of defying binary traditional visions of the tango world. As one of the originators of the Tango Con*Fusión concept, Chelsea embraced the Tanghetto concept and delivered a great choreography that I remember the audience loved so much. Everyone involved did a great performance. Everything was fresh and new and those concepts were part of the tango queer revolution. The combination of the progressive tango music and the progressive dance both were part of the tango queer revolution."
Based in San Francisco, Chelsea continues to choreograph, perform, teach and write.
"In 2004 the collaborative tango dance company that we needed and wanted to be a part of did not exist on the West Coast, so we created it… we co-founded it. For almost 11 years with TCF I got to live my dream of being a choreographer and performer in an internationally touring dance company that was a fit for my way of moving. I love that our work helped pave new pathways for women and the LGBTQ+ community in tango, and perhaps beyond."
“Pero Yo Se” in Leading Ladies of Tango show at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA (2006)
Pier and I wore vintage dresses and danced this whimsical duet in warm light near an old-fashioned wood cabinet radio. My dress was a pale diaphanous green silk, fragile from age. In my curly bob wig and retro La Ducas, I felt every bit transported to a 1920s living room.
Whenever I hear “Pero Yo Se” I beam instantly to that theatrical space; I am wearing my green dress and dancing with Pier again.
"I loved wearing my red jumpsuit, letting my hair down and dancing these 2 pieces.
On both macro and micro levels, this CITA performance experience brought an inner shift vis-à-vis my need for approval by men.
First – the macro: We had wanted to perform at CITA for some time. But this door had been held closed by a small group of Argentine male tango dancers who pointedly did not want us sharing their stage. We could wager various guesses as to why, but our being American women dancing tango together was likely paramount. For this door to open was no small thing – it was huge. Sociology teaches that institutions are typically slow to change. This door opening represented a Change with a capital “C” in the ‘male tango institution’ at the highest level of the art form of Argentine tango. It also meant that we, Tango Con*Fusión, had persisted through winds of self-doubt and reached our goal.
Now to the micro: I had a running infatuation with a certain young Argentine tanguero who frequented CITA. He was a rising star on the tango scene. I thought he was the cat’s meow and the dog’s bow-wow all rolled into one. I put him on a pedestal and dawdled after him doe-eyed. The night of this performance at Niño Bien, he was sitting cross-legged on the edge of the dance floor; he was at our feet as our audience! I caught a glimpse of him there as we took our places. On reflection, I realized, “Hey… He’s watching us perform at CITA! I have my own strength. Maybe I don’t need to pedestalize this guy anymore…
Both pulsing and lyrical, this abstract piece looks at individual strength relative to the pulls of partnership and community. Flowing violet tunics lend a power color visual. Musically illustrative of a top Tanghetto milonga track. Tanghetto founder Max Masri calls Tango Mistico “a great choreography… the audience loved… fresh and new” and “part of the tango queer revolution”.
"I choreographed, and danced in, this piece for 4 dancers to a song that captivated me on contact. Tango Místico is from Tanghetto’s album “Mas allá del Sur”, which was nominated to the Gardel Awards, and is a fan favorite amongst milonga cuts by the band.
To choreograph and perform work to music by Tanghetto (in this case live onstage at the Sala Zitarrosa theater in Montevideo, Uruguay), was for me a dream come true.
What I did not bank on was my coming down with a dreadful head cold shortly before this performance. I recall feeling a blur of elated and ill! But mostly I felt grateful to the band’s visionary founder Max Masri for supporting what we, as Tango Con*Fusión, were doing.
As for the costumes: My fashion proclivities lean toward those of a 6-year-old girl – I am a persistent fan of purple and sparkle! I also see purple as a high vibration color, both tranquil and strong, holding mystery and magic. For Tango Místico I chose purple flowy costumes that were at once distinct and monotone. Each tunic bore a unique neckline and understated rhinestone details. We wore these atop cropped leggings and Pedinis. I wanted to highlight the movement of our arms and legs, to accentuate each turn with a swish of fabric.
I remember we cobbled together costumes in red and black – pulled from our individual closets. The resultant mish-mash sufficed for our 2-minute debut, but the unintended aesthetic was a bit ‘Charlie’s Angels meets ‘80s pop band’.
From that point forward we invested time and effort towards costuming as integral to our artistic work and related messaging. We became increasingly, keenly intentional around issues of representation, around what our costumes were saying.
The original version of our signature piece, “Embrace”, featured 5 dancers. We once performed it at the NeoTango Festival in Sacramento in a multipurpose room with – per my recollection – non-descript walls. I don’t know if it was those walls, our nerves, or the turns – we were spinning, spinning – but somehow we lost our ‘front’. Pier and I were supposed to ‘pick up’ Christy, who had been flung out and down, but lo and behold there instead was Debbie?! Wh-wh-wh-at happened?? Whoops!!! We rapidly redirected our feet over to Christy… and made it through the rest of the dance.
Afterwards the 5 of us filled the communal Ladies’ Room – our illustrious dressing area – with raucous laughter. Of course we always wanted to be as professional as possible, but that night we relished our camaraderie-in-mishap and chose not to take ourselves too seriously.
Christy’s shoe strap broke minutes before we were to go ‘on’ in our highest pressure opportunity yet for “Embrace”. I had advised her to pack backups and was resisting an “I told you so!”
We have the same size feet, and I had a spare pair. In the tiny rear Ladies’ Room of Confitería Ideal, Christy scrambled to re-shoe.
When we took to the floor moments later, Christy was on fire. Something of the adrenaline rush of the shoe emergency, coupled with the high-stakes context, had her dancing with a verve, an electricity we all felt.
We do not merely imitate men. We dance as women who lead. We explore the creative switching of lead and follow roles. This egalitarian alternative to the traditional model of ‘male leader/female followers’ portends a cultural shift of power within tango and catalyzes the evolution of the art.
Excerpt from Queer Tango Book:
Chelsea Eng in Leading Ladies of Tango 2006