“The amount of tango dancing in a city corresponds to the amount of sushi restaurants in that city,” jokes tango instructor Doruk Golcu.
Then he deadpans: “There are now sushi restaurants in Kalamazoo.”
His wife and partner in instruction, Erin Malley, laughs. “Then Kalamazoo is probably ready for tango,” she agrees.
Malley, who grew up in Kalamazoo and graduated from Western Michigan University’s dance program in 2001, joined Golcu this May in teaching an Argentine tango class for WMU’s Department of Dance. The class began in May and runs until June 28.
Argentine tango is a dance form developed in working-class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay, around the end of the 19th century. Essentially walking with a partner to music, tango is danced at various speeds while dancers keep their feet close to the floor.
The dance relies heavily on improvisation, which Malley and Golcu, who have been dancing together for almost 15 years, have gotten very good at. Sometimes they perform in opposite roles and teach role exchange in their classes.
“She can dance the man’s part in high heels,” says Golcu. “Sadly, I cannot.”
Malley, 37, and Golcu, 36, are back in Kalamazoo after having spent the past 18 months traveling the globe teaching Argentine tango.
Golcu is originally from Istanbul, Turkey. The couple met in 2004 in New York City at tango milongas, or casual social dances, when Golcu was an undergraduate studying biology at The Rockefeller University there.
Malley was in New York doing, as Golcu describes it, “the starving artist thing,” developing choreography and auditioning for dance performances. They danced socially, taught together part time and eventually got married.
In 2007, Malley started her own company, Malleable Dance Theater, in New York City. Golcu earned a Ph.D. in neurobiology in 2009 at The Rockefeller University , and then the couple moved to San Francisco so he could start work as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. (Malley ran her dance company on both coasts and taught Pilates after the move.)
“The ‘responsible’ thing I did in my life,” says Golcu, “was getting a science degree.” But his area of research (on the behavioral effects of T. gondii infection) wasn’t well funded, so Golcu had a choice: pursue other research topics or stop working in his field.
“If I was going to do something that bores me just for the money, I could have just gotten an office job and not gone through all the emotional pain of a Ph.D.,” he says.
He stopped pursuing science seriously and dedicated himself more fully to illustration, one of his side passions. At the same time, after years of dancing and teaching together, tango took off for the couple. They started dedicating themselves to the dance as more than just a beloved hobby.
From vacation to vocation
In the spring of 2015, they were giving a workshop in San Francisco when a visitor from Ireland said, “This is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. I wish you would come to Ireland.” The couple was planning to vacation in the United Kingdom a few months later, so they responded, “Actually, that’s possible.”
Their weekend event in Dublin resulted in a career traveling and teaching across the globe. Malley and Golcu have given performances and conducted workshops for students of tango in such far-flung places as Hawaii and Turkey as well as Ireland and in cities as different as Boulder, Colorado; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle.
“That first workshop worked for us on so many levels,” says Malley. “We enjoyed the pressure behind the dance, and it was fun thinking, ‘We must be something if we’re doing this in Ireland, right?’”
Between tours, the two stay with friends and reconnect with tango mentors in San Francisco and Denver. They also return to Kalamazoo, where Malley has family and where she graduated from Hackett Catholic Central High School (now Hackett Catholic Prep) in 1997. (“It was not my choice” to attend Catholic school, she says, laughing.)
During their off time, the couple work on choreography and practice dancing.
The two also lay the groundwork for future tours, setting schedules, applying for grants and strengthening their artistic networks. Malley has recently started filmmaking and video work, interests she pursues when she has spare time.
As for their tango venture, Malley and Golcu embrace flexibility.
“The cultural scene continues to be strong in Kalamazoo, so why couldn’t it also support a tango scene?” asks Malley. But it takes a while to grow one, she acknowledges.
Of the class they’re now teaching at WMU, Malley says, “We’ll give people a little jump off and see how it sticks.”
For more information, visit the website erinanddoruktango.com.