Several couples pair up for their tango lesson at Step by Step Dance Studio in Palm Springs. A 10-year-old proffers his hand to a grandmother; two Marines from Twentynine Palms stand at attention, ready for maneuvers at the order of instructor Isa Lapaj.
The native Albanian, who has called the Coachella Valley home since 1980, has an abiding grace, a worldly outlook, and a formidable intellect, and he brings it all to the dance lesson. Dressed in a black suit with tuxedo pants and black suede shoes, he looks as elegant as he moves, sailing effortlessly across the floor like a human hydrofoil.
“American tango music is staccato, rapid,” he says. “You can’t be indecisive.” Its Argentine progenitor is slower. Sexier. The woman’s come-hither ocho and gancho steps mimic every cheesy tango movie you’ve ever seen.
Louisa Castrodale, arts coordinator of the Palm Springs Unified School District, where Lapaj is a volunteer dance teacher, calls him “an old-world gentleman, extremely professional and dedicated. For him, it’s not about a paycheck; it’s about making the world better with his gift.”
Isa Lapaj | 66
• Dance Instructor
• 316 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Student Kathleen Morgan gushes, “Isa is my therapist as well as my dance teacher. I’m learning about dancing, but also life. Isa is the master, he’s like the sensei.”
One recent recipient of the master’s teachings was Mayor Rob Moon, who participated in “Dancing with the Desert Stars,” a Desert AIDS Project fundraiser in December that required more rhythm than hizzoner apparently possessed … until he met Lapaj.