We’re mourning the untimely passing of a man whose calling card was the joy of rhythm. The news of the sudden death of Omar Vega had the effect of a sucker punch in the stomach. It came as a one liner posted on the ATOF under the subject of Omar Vega, Is it true that he is no longer with us? How sad.
Within minutes various regional groups confirmed that Omar Vega had passed away Friday, September 19. He had been admitted to a hospital Tuesday, September 16 with a severe asthma attack.
At 49, he had managed to make a name for himself in the finicky world of itinerant tango teachers. Some considered him an amazing dancer who helped a lot of people understand dancing better, however because of his well known personal lifestyle, everyone who has met or known him, had stories to tell. So far we heard only the ones about, “Me, me, myself and me.”
He first appeared on the radar screen of Americans in 1994 when he was discovered during a tour by the Bridge to the Tango group. His particular style of dancing incorporated elements of the cumbia and other tropical rhythms he was fond of dancing on Sunday evenings at Salon La Argentina. He captured the imagination of many tango tourists on a holiday from the prejudices at home. Way ahead of the curve, he was already a rising star at the legendary Tuesday night milonga Almagro.
Omar Vega and Dolores del Amo in 1994 at Almagro
In 1997, the underworld of the tango still operated under a pecking order structure, and Omar was lower down the ranks.
Because we came to Buenos Aires preceded by the reputation of our magazine El Firulete, and three years reputation for managing the social and professional activities of many Forever Tango seasoned and rising stars, we received a red carpet treatment everywhere we went.
Alberto’s birthday party at La Galeria del tango in Buenos Aires, April 16, 1997
Never before and never again will these tango masters be dancing together honoring a friend like they did at my birthday party on 4/16/97. Those were different times, very special times.
The point of this slight detour into self indulgence is that we were coming from a different world, one that was already looking at a new dawning for the evolution of the tango at a global level.
We wanted to see a live performance of a mythical orchestra. The Juan D’Arienzo orchestra. The problem was that they were playing at a place considered “de cuarta,” a low class dive notorious for the blue collar clientèle of domestic help and suitors in search of a roll in the hay. No self respecting tanguero would be seen at Salon La Argentina, we were admonished, warned, and lectured.
But we made our way there anyway, the lure of live music played by Los Solistas de D’Arienzo was too strong not to, and that’s were we found Omar.
Omar Vega at Salon La Argentina in 1997
The orchestra had also lured this man of rhythm, and he danced up a storm to tango and cumbias that night.
He seemed to know us because he came over to greet us. He was cordial and we talked. He mentioned that he was going to the USA and asked us not to be harsh with his performance. The request struck us as being odd because we didn’t know him, and didn’t think that we were important enough for him to be worry about our opinions. Months later, when we found out who his sponsors were, the obvious prejudice and unjustified bias became clear.
Omar continued that conversation for years to come whenever our paths crossed on the global tango touring circuit. The last time we saw him was in NYC in 2007. He was fully aware of the tragedy brought upon New Orleans by Katrina and he volunteered to come and help with the recovery efforts.
We pray for the eternal rest of his soul and offer our condolences to his family, which include a wife and a couple of children.
In memory of Omar Vega