A history of tango in Edinburgh

Stories : Story : Chronicle : History

Edinburgh’s first introduction to tango that we are aware of was by Carlos Gavito, a famous milonguero from Buenos Aires, who travelled the world in tango shows and married a Scottish Ballet dancer, Helen Gavito.

However the tango scene did not become established until it was (re)introduced to Edinburgh in 1997 by teachers David Lurie and Biljana Lipic (TangoMania) from London, who became regular teachers for several years. On the back of their workshops, James Stewart along with a core group of early tango enthusiasts formed the Edinburgh Tango Society (ETS) in October 1997 as a voluntary association to promote tango in Edinburgh and Scotland.

The ETS arranged practices, workshops with visiting teachers, salons and other events. Tango in Scotland was then given a boost by Sexteto Canyengue and the Dancers Tango 5 from The Netherlands, while visiting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 3 weeks in 1997 and 1998. In addition, Tango Passion, a tango show touring from Buenos Aires gave many people their first glimpse of tango along with strong media exposure for tango events. With the help of the ETS tango really took off in Scotland and quickly grew the tango community from nothing to over a hundred people dancing tango, at classes, practicas and salons.

In May 1998 with encouragement from the ETS, Dancebase, Scotland’s National Centre for Dance, brought Marcelo Mazia from Buenos Aries to teach tango full time, and Marcelo ran regular weekly classes at Dance for All Studios assisted by Jessie Kennedy a local tango dancer. When Marcelo left, the DfA classes were taken over by Jessie, James, Monica Tamariz and Mayumi Fujio. The ETS also arranged regular workshops with visiting teachers from Europe and Buenos Aires. Our early list of teachers includes:

  • Pedro Andrade – Brussels
  • Birkit Wildenburg & Muzaffer Demiray – Arnhem
  • Eric Jorissen – Nijmegen
  • Patricia and Nestor Ray – Buenos Aires
  • Eduardo Aguirre Yvonne Meissner – BsAs/Amsterdam
  • Zoraida Fontclara – BsAs
  • Claudia Codega and Esteban Moreno – Buenos Aires, Dries
  • Martine and Bennie Bartels – Amsterdam
  • Damian Esell and Nancy Louzan – Bs As
  • Chicho Frumboli and Eugenia Parilla – BsAs
  • Fabian Salas and Carolina – BsAs
  • Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne – BsAs
  • Alex Krebs – Portland
  • Homer and Christina – San Fransisco
  • Julio Mendez and Gisela – BsAs
  • Oliver Koch and Marisa van Andel – Brussels
  • Rodolfo ‘El Chino’ Aguerrodi – BsAs
  • Jean-Sebastien Rampazzi – Paris
  • Gavito and Maria Plazaola – BSAs.

Many of these teachers returned several times to work with our community. In the early years, there was no tango on the internet to watch and learn from and the only way to learn above our local events was to travel to dance and take workshops and our local dancers travelled the world to bring back experiences to Edinburgh.

The ETS also provided a library of books, videos and CDs of Tango that members could borrow. With the growing tango community in Edinburgh, the ETS felt that they needed support to further grow the community and started looking for a teacher from BsAs to come to Edinburgh. Through Biljana, the ETS was introduced to Ricardo Oria, a young dancer from Bs As, who came to Edinburgh in 2001 and started teaching classes at DanceBase along with local dancers Jessie and Monica. Ricardo has since gone on to establish himself as a professional tango dancer and with his wife Jenny have their own studio www.oriatango.com which offers classes, workshops and other events in Edinburgh, the UK and further afield. The ETS continued to provide regular classes at DfA and established regular milongas in a range of venues including the Sports Bar at Balmoral Hotel, Cuba Norte and the Roxburgh Hotel.

However in 2000 we established the Counting House in West Nicolson St as our regular milonga venue with Toby Morris as the regular host and DJ and has been welcoming dancers from Edinburgh, the rest of Scotland and the World ever since and continues to do so today. Every Sunday, Douglas Cutt from the ETS offered free introductory beginner lessons at the Counting House prior to the milonga, which also helped to grow the community.

The ETS hosted both Christmas and Summer Balls with international teachers, live orchestras and salons and in 2007, the Edinburgh International Tango Festival was established by Brian Moretta, Julieta Pineda, Alexia Bamford and Ioanna Tsakiri, supported by the ETS. The festival was a weekend celebration of tango with invited teachers, orchestras and salons. The festival ran for 11 years and was a highlight of the Tango scene in Scotland.

In 2002, with encouragement from Toby, the students at the University of Edinburgh set up an Edinburgh University Tango Society to encourage students to take up dancing tango and this has resulted in many young people dancing tango in Edinburgh. In 2016, Louise Tait, an early tango dancer in Edinburgh set up Queer Tango in Edinburgh.

Including people mentioned above, many others have contributed to the ETS behind the scenes over the years including our treasurers (Brian Windrim, George Urquhart), DJs and organisers, (Antonella Cosi, Paul Edie, Danny Iannarelli, Thomas Meyer, Linda Morris, Sarah Morris) and we’d like to thank everyone and all our dancers for making the Tango scene in Edinburgh such a great place to dance tango.

Subject: Chronicle / History

Published: 10 March 2022 by Jessie Kennedy


Thanks to James Stewart for producing an earlier version of the history of ETS.


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