Heeding tango’s siren call

During the week, Elizabeth Gire is a post-doctoral physics education researcher at Oregon State University. But come the weekend, Gire can be found on the dance floor, perfecting one of the world’s most sensuous and elegant dances.
The Argentine tango seems far removed from the classroom, but Gire argues otherwise. Not only does she think physics and tango have some fundamental things in common, but an unusually high number of physics researchers are drawn to the dance.

Elizabeth Gire dances with Greg Bryant, director of the Tango Center in Eugene. Gire has been dancing tango, and loving it, for several years. (photo: Ari Denison)

Elizabeth Gire dances with Greg Bryant, director of the Tango Center in Eugene. Gire has been dancing tango, and loving it, for several years. (photo: Ari Denison)

“I see Argentine tango as the jazz of ballroom dancing,” she said. “It’s very improvisational…there’s a parallel with physics. You’re not memorizing facts or patterns, it’s about understanding relationships between things. Plus, thinking about center of gravity and moments of inertia is very helpful to me in dancing.”
Gire grew up in Marin County, Calif., and did her undergraduate work in astrophysics at UCLA. She moved a bit further south for her graduate work, studying physics education at UC San Diego.
As a young woman, she considered two career paths – physics and journalism. Her parents are both in scientific fields, her father is a computer scientist and her mother is an x-ray technician who taught some physics in x-ray school.
But it was a series of amazing science teachers in high school that convinced Gire to pursue science.
“I took an intro to astronomy class and thought ‘Okay, this is what I want to do,’” she said.
Dance came later. She took some ballroom dancing during her undergraduate years, but it wasn’t until graduate school that she discovered tango. A friend wanted to take a tango class, and asked her to go as his partner.
He dropped the class after three weeks.
“I stuck with it,” she said.
It has been five years, and Gire continues working hard on her tango skills, and is now teaching tango lessons at OSU and sometimes participates in performances. She dreams of traveling to Argentina, but has discovered that Oregon has a rich tango community.
“Oregon is the tango Mecca of North America,” she said. “Portland has two big tango festivals every year.”
When she arrived in Corvallis in September 2007, she was disappointed that the tango community was rather small, but she soon discovered larger groups in Portland and Eugene, and often commutes to participate in events in those cities. She has also helped start a tango club on campus that typically meets once a week during the school year. And she’s always working hard to reach the next level with her dancing.
As a woman used to leading in the classroom, Gire said she’s found it surprisingly easy to give up the lead to her dance partners.
“It’s really refreshing. When I follow, I get into a meditative state, and I’m just reacting to what’s happening,” she said. But that doesn’t mean she’s simply being pulled around the dance floor.
“The more advanced I get and the more sophisticated my dancing becomes, the more I’m able to suggest a direction to my partner,” she said. “It’s a subtle way to play with the technique.”
To find out more about the OSU tango club, e-mail her at giree@physics.oregonstate.edu. To learn about the upcoming event Valentango, see http://www.claysdancestudio.com/valentango/index.shtml
~by Theresa Hogue

Here are some examples of local tango performances:

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