An American Tango: The Story of Veloz and Yolanda

By Natasha Lewin

From l, Cecily Stewart (Jean Veloz) and Jack Stewart (Frank Veloz) in State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara’s Los Angeles Premiere of “An American Tango – The Story of Veloz and Yolanda.”

From l, Cecily Stewart (Jean Veloz) and Jack Stewart (Frank Veloz) in State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara’s Los Angeles Premiere of “An American Tango – The Story of Veloz and Yolanda.”

When Frank Veloz first caught a glimpse of Yolanda, it was love at first sight. Together, the two would tango their way into ballroom history, but not without their fair share of battle wounds. Through a history lesson of American music, dance crazes, and the roller coaster of love, An American Tango: The Story of Veloz and Yolanda follows the rise and fall of the most famed duo in ballroom dance.

The State Street Ballet — under Founder and Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson — swap out their toe shoes to perform social dances like the Cakewalk and Jitterbug instead. Choreographer William Soleau says 99% of the dance troupe had no prior experience with ballroom dance, having to retrain their movements from ballet to modern. Especially notable in the show is dancer Jack Stewart, who plays Frank Veloz. Stewart, trained under tutelage from his mother, broods with intensity and energy — a delight to watch.

While the mixed media of an ever-changing background was distracting, the narration was unnecessary, and there was little dance to speak of during Act II, Veloz and Yolanda is still a memorable love story — onstage and off. Kathryn Altman — widow of esteemed writer and director Robert Altman — recounted seeing Veloz and Yolanda dance at the infamous Coconut Grove. Treasured M.A.S.H. actress Sally Kellerman reminisced about the years where she referred to her and her best friend as Veloz and Yolanda — without even knowing who they were at the time.

For more information on American Tango, go to anamericantango.com or statestreetballet.com.