It’s not every day that a pair gets to tango down the aisle of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. Visiting Schlesinger Writer-in-Residence Mong-Lan and a local dance partner may have been the first ever to do so during a January 23-27 residency in Concord.
An expert and educator in all things Argentine tango, Mong-Lan is a Vietnamese-American poet, writer, painter, photographer, and dancer. Her first book of poems, Song of the Cicadas, won the 2000 Juniper Prize, the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award. Among her other books of poetry is Tango, Tangoing: Poems and Art. Her paintings and photographs have been exhibited all over the world.
Mong-Lan’s expertise across artistic disciplines was on display in her week at St. Paul’s, where she taught tango to dance students, worked with members of the SPS Ballet Company at the dance studio, taught drawing in Hargate, creative writing in the Freeman Center, poetry in Memorial Hall, and gave a writing workshop to adults in the community. On one afternoon, she taught an intermediate ballet class to tango while also teaching a painting class to draw the dancers in a Japanese brush-painting style.
“The most interesting thing about her is how she crosses over into different arts – it’s a great model,” said Arts Division Head Ian Torney. “It’s very contemporary and good for our students to see.”
“Lately I have been trying to unify everything I’m doing,” added Mong-Lan. “I first started with the visual arts. I was a professional visual artist, showed my artwork and photographs in galleries, and then I became enamored with dance – flamenco, ballroom dancing, ballet, jazz, and – specifically – the tango.
A ballet dancer in her childhood, Mong-Lan was introduced to the tango in 1995 while studying flamenco dancing. “I love these hot, passionate Latino dances,” she said, “I saw the tango on the stage in 1995 in San Francisco and fell in love with it immediately.”
In 2001, she began making regular trips to Buenos Aires, home of the tango, to perfect her technique. She now lives in the Argentine capital because the tango “gives me inspiration.”
Her recent work has allowed her to blend her passions, including poetry inspired by the tango and tango-based drawings. She is a frequent performer in Buenos Aires.
“One form feeds another and I try to do everything I love and try to unify all my loves together,” she said. “If you are a visual artist and love to move, why not explore that? Open your vision, open your heart and your body and your mind. It will develop your mind, body, spirit, and soul and help you become a better human being.”