Coral Gables

Alma de Tango brings sense of family to Biltmore dance floor

A man and a woman sit across the room from each other with a dance floor in between. The lights are dim, and the strong sound of the bandoneón balances the softness of the violin. The man catches the woman’s attention and holds her gaze, asking to dance. The woman slightly nods her head, giving the man permission to approach. He takes her hand and escorts her to the dance floor.

Here, the tango has begun.

In the milongas of Buenos Aires, the two would dance well into the night in a tight embrace. But in the Danielson ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, dancers learn posture, balance and the basic steps of Argentine tango.

“We learn how to walk together, we learn how to get in the embrace together, and by the end of the class you’ll have mastered the basics in tango,” dance instructor Monica Llobet said.

Llobet, a three-time World Cup Argentine Tango Champion, has hosted Alma de Tango since 2006. Her dance career has spanned almost 20 years, and her love of tango has taken her all over the world, from Toronto to Budapest to Hong Kong.

“My earliest memories of dancing were the Christmases when mom was getting ready for the big Christmas dinner and I was dancing on my dad’s toes around the tree,” Llobet said.

After competing and traveling for about nine years, Llobet decided it was time to do something else.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t I set roots and start developing a community here in South Florida?’ ” she said.

Llobet hosts two group classes starting at 8 p.m. every Tuesday at the Biltmore. She calls her students family, and she welcomes people of all backgrounds, ages and levels to join them.

“We have a fun group of college students, some empty nesters looking for something to do and for a way to reconnect with their partners and some senior citizens who want to stay well,” she said.

This was part of the appeal for Rocío Gonzalez, whose first class was Tuesday night.

“I tried to go to another tango class, but they required dancers to come with a partner,” Gonzalez said. She liked that Llobet’s class allowed her to come by herself and learn at her own pace.

Sandy McNaughton took Llobet’s beginner’s class for nine months because he wanted to perfect the basics. McNaughton has a fused right ankle, both his knees were replaced over the course of a year. His doctors said he couldn’t dance, but he continues to attend Alma de Tango for his own wellness.

Patti O’Rorke injured her ankle a few months ago. Her doctors say she’s crazy to try to dance, but she has participated in Alma de Tango for 3 years and tries to never miss a class. On Tuesday night, she went with her husband, daughter and 12-year-old grandson, Andre. O’Rorke’s daughter, Sharon Richens, lives in St. George, Utah, and Andre lives in Louisville, Colorado, but whenever they visit South Florida, they come to tango.

Andre enjoyed being the youngest dancer in the class and even partnered with Llobet for one of the songs.

“We always tell him the women will flock to you when you can dance,” his grandmother said.

The classes are followed by milonga, a casual dance party, and special appearances or events. On Tuesday, July 29, Tito Rocca, an Argentine tango singer whose career has spanned 45 years, sang a few songs for the 25 dancers.

For Rocca, performing tango requires a great deal of emotion and a deep love of the music and dance.

“Tango is very special,” Rocca said.