Last tango in Gansevoort as studio is priced out


By Janet Kwon

A rousing melody of piano and strings blasted from a small stereo and filled the studio as Carina Moeller patiently went through a series of dance steps with her student. The two made their way around the dance floor, their movements in sync with the stirring beat of the tango music.

It was Richard Schirripa’s first private lesson after taking several group lessons at Moeller’s Argentine tango studio, Triangulo, aptly named after the triangle-shaped building in which it resides at 675 Hudson St.

A longtime student, Schirripa’s interaction with Moeller was more like friends than student and teacher, exchanging jokes and laughter. With an inviting and warm personality on top of an impressive dance repertoire, Moeller has garnered a loyal following at Triangulo. Her advanced students, who have been with her for several years, assist her with instruction, help her with bookkeeping and, more recently, have been an integral part in moving the studio to a new location.

After eight years at the “Triangle Building,” Triangulo will be relocating next month to 135 W. 20th St. due to the continually rising rent, which Moeller can no longer afford. Rent on the triangular studio has about tripled since 1998.

“I’m one of the only ones left in this area now, sort of the little corner store, because all the ‘cool’ people moved in. All the little businesses like me have been forced out, and it’s just so sad,” Moeller said. She commented on how the streets, once lined with meat trucks, were now lined with limousines.

Tall, trim and toned, Moeller looks the part of a dancer. Though dressed in a simple black tank top and faded jeans, Moeller’s every move on the dance floor exuded elegant grace, achieved by a lifetime of studying dance.

Born in Hamburg, raised in Berlin, Germany, Moeller’s first stab at dance was through ballet, gradually expanding to other genres. She credits Fred Astaire movies for her love of tap and jazz.

“As a kid, I would stand in the kitchen between the counter and the chair and lift myself up and do tap in the air. I was really into it,” she reminisced fondly.

Moeller’s love of dance led her to study tap and jazz, along with modern dance and ballet in Germany. In 1995, she moved to New York after securing a job with the Doris Humphrey Repertory Dance Company, where she focused primarily on modern dance.

She wasn’t looking to become a dance instructor, but through a friend’s urgings, began instructing tango on the side. She also said she found the triangle space by chance, when she was in the building looking at another possible space.

Although finding her niche as a tango instructor as well as the triangle space may have been serendipitous, making the triangle room into a dance studio required painstaking planning, not to mention some major muscle power, since the space was bare before Triangulo moved in. Moeller cringed at the thought of doing it all over again.

“It’s completely raw space,” she said of the new space. However, many of her students have stepped up in helping her renovate it.

“We demolished a wall, and we started putting up a new wall, and we started painting. We did all that by ourselves. Every day, a couple of people would come over, and we would have a painting party,” she said with a laugh.

Her volunteers are working in exchange for free dance lessons. Yet, she’ll have to hire professionals to install the floor, plumbing and electricity, which will add up to an already mounting start-up cost.

The silver lining? The rent for the current triangle space is about $7,000 per month, while the rent for the new space is nearly half of that. Moeller mentioned that the floor space would be slightly smaller in the new location, but it would be more usable since it will not be triangular.

On the first day of July classes, the beginner’s group met in the spacious triangle room, as Moeller took them through the basics of tango technique. As the group of 14 students learned their baby steps, Moeller and an advanced student assisting the class, Keysi Montas, glided around the room showing more complex routines.

Students who have taken a few classes in the past, say they’re smitten with Triangulo’s casual yet vibrant atmosphere.

“I immediately felt comfortable when I entered the studio at my first class. Everyone seemed relaxed,” Claire Noelle Frost, who makes the trek from Sunnyside, Queens, at least twice a week to Triangulo, and plans to continue at the new space.

Newcomer Francys Cocco also said that she would stick with Triangulo through its relocation and that she and her boyfriend “left the studio motivated to become world-class tango dancers” after their first lesson.

Although many couples sign up for lessons together, there are also those who come stag.

“I wanted to pick up a real hobby; dancing is a real hobby — drinking is not,” joked Meinan Liu, who came by himself to the lesson.

At the class’s end, Moeller announced the relocation and spoke about Triangulo’s last event before leaving the building: an all-night milonga, or dance festival, on July 29 from 9 p.m. to sunrise. The event will feature music, performances, raffles and prizes with funds going toward the new Triangulo space. There will be no break in classes during the move.

Now that the studio will no longer be triangular, many have been inquiring Moeller if she will take on a new name.

“I picked the name because of the building in the beginning, but everything in tango is about triangles,” she said, mentioning different angles and positions involved in the dance.

“It has so much to do with tango, that it still perfectly fits.”