Since taking her first tango class in 1988, Guillermina Quiroga has dedicated most of her waking hours to mastering the intricate and elegant South American dance form so often associated with slinky dresses, come-hither glances and dark alleys where men and women succumb to their inner demons. Her career has included performing onstage in commercial hits such as the long-running "Forever Tango," appearing in several films and choreographing for the 1998 Olympic ice dancing gold medalists, Evgeny Platov and Oksana Grishuk.

Luis Bravo, the creator of "Forever Tango," says, "She is the best dancer around. I've worked with so many talented dancers over the years, but Guillermina is the one I most admire. She has everything... honesty, technique and sensitivity, and she will never go onstage unless she's 100%."

Yet although she is famous in tango circles for fusing traditional steps with hyper-flexible leg extensions and athletic lifts, this onetime ballerina maintains that her style is ultimately not about her ability to execute high kicks and fancy variations of the gancho (leg hook) and barrida (foot sweep).

"I may dance with my body, but what I give to people is my soul," she says. "When I dance, my spirit goes outside, and that's what people see."

Raised in La Plata, Argentina, Quiroga grew up dancing in front of the TV from the time she could walk. Her mother eventually sent her to ballet classes, and from the age of 16 to 21 she pursued a professional career and performed with the Teatro Argentino de la Plata. But after suffering from a chronic Achilles' tendon injury, she was forced to take a break from ballet. She remembers vividly the day during that hiatus when she finally signed up for a tango class.

"I was terrible, the worst one in the class. I couldn't even do the basic steps," she says. All the same, she decided to try one more class, and "that's when something opened up inside of me. I was still terrible, but I knew this was my life."

Years of attending milongas (dance parties) and untold hours of classes and practice followed. "I learned everything from the milongueros. They were not professional teachers but very old men who knew authentic tango," Quiroga says. "They never really spoke to me. They just gave me from the body the essence of the dance."

As she immersed herself in the study of tango, Quiroga "erased" ballet from her life for several years. Over time, though, she began incorporating her classical training into the numbers she performed for the stage. "Tango is really the opposite of ballet in technique, discipline and philosophy," she says. "But if you really know tango, then you can add ballet to it."

"Not every dancer can span the spectrum like she can," says Bravo. "It's what puts her on a completely different level."

Excerpt from “Guillermina Quiroga's tango of body and soul”

by Susan Josephs (LA Times, February 1, 2009)