Tango No. 9

Tango in San Francisco is alive and kicking
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PREVIEW Entertain whatever stereotypes you will about tango as a relic of an openly macho era: tango in San Francisco is alive. Okay, and kicking.

You might envision a wacky, tacky ballroom competition — but not so rapido says Tango No. 9's founder and violinist Catharine Clune, whose explorations over the last decade have unearthed what she calls "the many faces of tango." With trombonist Greg Stephens, pianist Joshua Raoul Brody, accordionist Isabel Douglass, and newest member Zoltan Lundy singing the Argentine blues, Tango No. 9 revels in tango's many approaches to music, to dancing, and to life. And it's not alone. "There's an underground squadron of tango dancers, ranging from their 20s to their 60s," Clune says. "You can dance tango every night in the Bay Area. It's in these crazy little back rooms you didn't know existed, and that's where we've practiced our chops." As social dancing, which she notes hasn't been a mainstream American cultural movement since the '50s, tango is "something people seem to want."

Professional dancers will be on hand at Noe Valley Ministry to perform the sultry moves, but if you only ogle los bailarines, you'll miss half the fun, or half the pain. "If you can lose anything, from a horse race to a heart, they talk about it," Clune says of the moving and theatrical side of tango's songs — for listening, not just getting down at the local milonga. In a set that traverses the genre, from its roots to the obscure late works of Astor Piazzola, the group performs the first "sentimental" tango, Carlos Gardel's inspirational rendition of Pascual Contursi and Samuel Castriota's "Mi Noche Triste," which set fire to an international phenomenon mourning lost love and tragedy. Like, Lundy says, "being left by a woman who was also your prostitute."

TANGO NO. 9 Sat/2, 8:15 p.m., $16-$18. Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez, SF. (415) 282-2317. www.tangonumber9.com

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