Former investment banker turns to tango after 9/11 survival

Jeff Girion, Yahoo! Staff
Yahoo! 9/11 10th Anniversary

Growing up in the South Bronx, Ney Melo had one dream: Working on Wall Street.

He had watched the popular Michael Douglas film growing up, and had known friends who aspired to  incredible salaries. His Ecuadorian mother and Dominican father encouraged him to reach for the pinnacle of American society, and they enrolled him in private schools.

After choosing a "practical" accounting major in college, Melo soon found his way downtown to a career in New York City's famed financial district.  He embraced his new Wall Street career, and lived the life of a workaholic investment banker.

"It was 12 hour days. . .or more," Melo recalls. For a while, the energy of the lifestyle excited him: "I loved being in the center of everything."

In 2001, Melo was employed at Lehman Brothers, commuting by subway to the World Financial Center. He still remembers the World Trade Center towers soaring overhead,  into the clouds.

"The towers were the icons of New York City," Melo says. "Working there every day was an incredible thrill."

Melo's long days of analysis and number-crunching came to a halt on September 11, 2001. For Melo, it was an almost completely unexpected turning point in the course of his life. "It [started off as] a normal-enough day," Melo says, "and yet everything changed so quickly."

That morning, a co-worker's yells pulled him out of his cubicle, located on the 24th floor of a building directly across from one of the towers. Smoke and a tornado of paper poured from a huge hole in the North tower. Soon, he was fleeing into an elevator, heading to the ground floor, his mind churning.

His days, he soon realized, had become an unending blur of report-writing and analysis. The sudden shock of the tragedy unfurlingthat morning forced him to re-evaluate his priorities.

"I still remember walking up the West Side Highway and looking back and seeing the towers burning," Melo says. "It's just a sight that I'llnever forget."

He found himself laid off months after the tragedy, and Melo looked for something to keep busy. He found that in dance classes. First he enrolled in salsa classes, which he had tried before, and then a poster led him to tango, which quickly became his passion.

Melo started lessons at Dance Manhattan studio, and soon became aself-described tango addict. He  danced by day in classes, and sought out tango dance parties -- called milongas -- at night. His former Wall Street workmates couldn't understand his new passion, and they grew even more skeptical when he flew to Buenos Aires to learn tango in its native culture.

In Buenos Aires, Melo says he approached tango systematically, using the work habits of an  investment banker. He made spreadsheets of the various tango classes and milongas he wanted to attend, and he immersed himself completely in the dance.

Back in the United States, Melo soon found himself a tango partner in Jennifer Bratt. The two began taking master classes together, and began a life of teaching tango -- in New York City and around the world.

Since then, Melo's life of teaching and performing tango has given him a number of rewards, including the ability to share his unusual passion with others.

"Tango is a difficult dance to learn," Melo says, "and I love giving people the chance to have a magical experience on the dance floor."

These days, Jennifer and Ney have a new kind of partnership: They are expecting twins.

But the two of them still find themselves at milongas throughout New York City. One of their favorites is Triangulo, a dance studio solely dedicated to the Argentine tango.

"Tango is actually a community," Melo says. "Anywhere in the world you can find people dancing tango."

Interested in learning tango in New York City?  Melo recommends Dance Manhattan and Triangulo.

Video produced by Jeff Girion. Production by Josh Kesner, Chris Ward, Stephen Napolitano and Anne Lilburn. Post-production Audio by John Adams. Graphics by Howard Kim for Yahoo! Studios.

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