By VALORIE HART
Copyright (c) 1995-2011, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved
The first time I saw El Firulete was mid week at the 1995 Stanford Tango Week. It appeared on a table in a messy pile of local fliers. It stood out and caught my eye. It’s black and white design with this astonishing drawing on it’s cover, looked different. I wanted to see what it was. At first I didn’t concentrate on it. I casually flipped through the pages and threw it in my tote bag.
I was new to the world of Argentine tango, new in fact to the social dance world in general. I didn’t get a lot of things I saw that week. Like writing your name on a cheap plastic cup at a dance, so that you had to use the same glass all night. I thought this a rather quaint and typical California political statement on recycling. I came from the world of event design where my clients went through five Crystal glasses per person during the usual three hour cocktail party. Plastic tablecloths, cheap fliers, bad lighting, minimal decor – well it was all so unexpected for the fancy lady from New York City. At that time I was still wearing my designer clothes to dance in, making a fashion statement (since at this time I couldn’t express myself through the dance).
Later on, in my little dorm room on the Stanford campus, I took a closer look at the little black and white publication. After reading for a few seconds, I realized a new found friend had produced it, and that he had written a few articles. I knew he was a native of Argentina, so I was very impressed by his writing in general, and in particular, his writing in English. I discovered a lot of good information and pictures. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was too short. So I re-read it again and again.
Later on I complimented my friend and asked him who helped him with getting this monthly publication out. Who financed it? Who distributed it? Who did the graphic design? Who got the advertising? He said that it was his one man baby, something that he had started a year before. His reason? The Argentine tango community had given him so much, and he wanted to give something back. He got himself a publishing program for his computer. Armed with a good Spanish/English dictionary, a book on black and white graphic design and a natural ability to write in two languages, he produced El Firulete. I promised to subscribe.
As many of you know, the man is Alberto Paz, and that trip to the 1995 Stanford Tango Week changed both our lives, to the extent that we became partners in life. Shortly after moving to California to be with Alberto, we embarked on a life, keeping a mutual promise to do things that mattered to us. We reckoned at our age that we had twenty (or so) more years of healthy productive life on this earth, and we owed it to ourselves to live accordingly. Argentine tango became the centerpiece of this life together.
Both of us had extensive life experience, including lives as business people. He an electronics engineer and inventor, and me an artist turned event planner.
We abandoned our businesses, as they had become empty exercises creating little if any joy. As once successful entrepreneurs we knew the formula for success is based on doing something you like as your “job.” It was necessary for us to still make a living, so we joined forces, and our company Planet Tango, was realized. I was to handle bringing the world of Argentine Tango into the event design mainstream and vice versa. Another opportunity came our way by two Argentine teachers asking us to help organize their classes and workshops when they visited our area. Logically, we thought we could became agents for teachers, dancers, shows and musicians, while we developed our own teaching career.
And then there was El Firulete, which I considered Alberto’s baby and territory. A few subscriptions barely paid for the paper, ink and postage, but then El Firulete was a love child. I never thought to encroach on Alberto’s expertise and turf. All couples know that each individual needs their own space.
After months of adjusting to our income from Planet Tango being far from the reality of the usual business world we were both accustomed to (I once remarked that the money we worked so hard for in a month’s time would barely cover my old taxi fares around New York City in a week!), we settled into a much simpler life. We were in the dance business, and not even the lucrative ballroom dance business, but the quirky poor step child known as Argentine tango. Strangely though, we were happy. We were free, getting healthy, dancing, teaching, learning, traveling and entertaining folks from Argentina in our home. Alberto was writing up a storm. Little by little I started to help with El Firulete. First collating, assembling, folding, stapling and stamping them for the mail.
Everything was done at home on our computers (and at Kinko’s) and on our dining room table. Everything was done by us.
Alberto would ask my opinion on this and that, especially regarding the graphics since I am art school trained. He has excellent instincts, so instead of trying to do a make-over, I would simply bring him other magazines whose layouts I liked. I thought we might have a great cover every month, maybe put a picture of a good looking Tango personality on it. There was very little material available then, so we improvised. I started to do photo collages of the local scene and write a gossipy column. Copy editing chores also became my domain (a craft I admire and still continue to train for on the job).
A few months after I moved to California we took our first trip back to New York City together. A reunion with my tango friends there alerted me to another viewpoint. I proudly handed out our current issue, and the response was polite. I asked, what’s missing? The answer was that El Firulete was too local. So Alberto and I talked it over, and decided to try to make El Firulete more national, more international in scope. We wanted to take it from a local newsletter to an international magazine; to be informative and interesting for many. Of course, some home town people let us know that they missed seeing a photo of themselves in every issue, but we were certain that we were on the right track.
Our trips to Buenos Aires, meeting people from all over the world both here at home and on the road, our increased study and knowledge, all culminated in what our readers saw five years later. We also kept growing as writers, publishers and editors.
After five years El Firulete was still self produced, although there had been conversations about selling it to a publishing conglomerate. We were always looking for writers, artists and photographers to contribute. We had thought about going to color, even if it was just the cover. We had thought about more glossy mainstream paper. We had thought about changing the size. In the end, and for time being, we kept the black and white (and gray) format as a classic expression. The size and format had become recognizable and hence classic.
We have had good and bad imitators. Twelve issues with up to twenty four pages doesn’t seem like a such a big deal to generate material for. It seems easy, until one attempts to do it. Our traveling teaching schedule complicated this, in a way someone with a full time job, besides the full time job of producing a publication, encounters. By full time, I mean that for Alberto, twelve to fourteen hours a day spent at the computer keyboard. Not to mention reading and re-reading for editing purposes. Not to mention the clerical work of dealing with mail and subscriptions and the aforementioned assembling and mailing of the magazine.
Our subscribers were loyal and helped finance ink and paper and postage. It is still Alberto’s love child, and it is now my love child too. It is still our way to give back, because we continue to get so much from all of you: our readers; our friends; our students; our families; our teachers. Argentine tango has been very good to us, and we hope to continue to be very good for Argentine tango.