UNABASHED TANGO TALK   Leave a comment

Unabashed Tango talk
by Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 1998-2011, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 10, 1998, 4:30 PM, the Tango Week classes have ended but many tired feet lead to the conference room where in a few minutes, Nito Garcia, Pupi Castello and Roberto Reis will hold the last afternoon Tango talk with the public. Sleek, beautiful and gifted translator Debra Marchesvki is about to embark in an experience that’ll bring a smile to her face every time she remembers this day. At ring side, Elba Garcia, Cathy Richardson (who assisted Pupi in his classes) and Nora Dinzelbacher, between mate and mate, caught every wit, pun, put down and raw candor of the three masters.


NORA
Welcome everybody. First, our guests will introduce themselves and then you may ask questions.

ROBERTO
My artistic name is Roberto Reis. I’m an Argentine Tango professional dancer. I try to be a teacher. I took several lessons with several teachers… like them (he points to Nito Garcia and Pupi Castello, laughs) and others.

PUPI
I’m Ernesto Norberto Castello, better known as Pupi. I thank Nora for bringing me for the first time to this country. I’m very happy to have students so intelligent like yourselves (he says it with tongue in cheek, laughs). That’s a little white lie (more laughs). I began dancing at 15 and I’m still dancing.

NITO

My name is Juan Aurelio Garcia, also known as Juan Mondiola…

PUPI

Do they call you Juan Mondiola because of your apparatus?

NITO

No, no! There was a cartoon character that appeared in the Rico Tipo (a popular comic magazine). He wore a white scarf and when I was young I, too wore a white scarf and a hat…

PUPI

Isn’t it true that Juan Mondiola fancied other men? (big laughter)

NORA

Let him talk, please!

ELBA

Better known as Nito…

NITO

Better known as Nito, especially in all the police stations in Mar del Plata. (tongue in cheek)

Seriously, starting with the visit of all of you and people from Europe to Argentina, many of us who had stopped teaching, if we had ever done it; later we resumed or began to teach. That was because of the large number of students that came to Argentina. At least, this is my case and that of many others. So, I thank your intentions, the intention to learn, the will, a thing that I don’t see in Mar del Plata with the people there. Nor the sacrifice that you’re making to learn. That’s why I thank all of you for that devotion you feel toward the Tango.

Among other things, a first cousin of my grandfather, Francisco P. Maroni has his name recorded as the co-author of La Cumparsita.

I don’t know whether it was that, since I was a kid, but the influence of my uncles (who did not live in the city, but in the farmland) that I liked the Tango.

PUPI

Go ahead, ask questions from any of us but I prefer that you, who are young in the Tango, direct your questions to El Cachorro, (he points to Roberto who’s nickname means puppy in Spanish) because he is relatively new, but he is one the principal figures that are dancing in Argentina. Because we can talk about our memories and we are going to lie to you (burst of laughter). Old people like us live on lies (more laughter). I have friends who taught El Cachafaz how to dance but El Cachafaz died in 1942 so imagine… (laughter)

Yesterday Nito told me that he was Pedro Infante. You lied, you lied from the beginning. (more laughter)

Question for Roberto:

When you are in Buenos Aires what do you like to dance?

ROBERTO

I started to dance many years ago, Argentine Folklore music. Then when I was 18 years old I tried to dance jazz, I did it for a while. Then you know, when the show Tango Argentino became a success, there were no professional dancers in Argentina, they were all on Broadway. So, when people came to my country to see Argentine Tango professional dancers we got “invented”. They told us “go to the stage and dance Tango.” I said, “What!? I don’t know how to dance Tango.” “You just try it, man!” (big laughter) I began looking for a teacher because at that moment I did not like Tango, I hated Tango! Yes, for me it was like for many young people in my country, “Tango is for old people,” that was my perception.

Then my father said “Are you dancing Tango?” Well, I had to try it because you know I have to work. And he said, “your life is going to change. You will not be able to stop dancing Tango because the Tango will capture you.” So, I said, “yeah, yeah, yeah!” (big laughter) But it was true, my life changed.

I told you that at that moment I was looking for a teacher. I don’t know why, but people did not want to teach and the dancers did not want to tell me where I could find a teacher. I went to the milongas looking for a teacher and the old people seeing how young I was, kicked my ass (sic) (big laughter). They said, “Get away from here!” I said to myself, “ah, ah, I want to learn, I will be here.”
Some of them told me, “you can’t dance Tango, you’re a horrible dancer” and I said, “OK, we will see in the future.” So, I found a teacher and I started to learn. I changed partners several times until I met Guillermina. I thought, OK, she can dance. That’s the story. Today I only dance Tango because I love Tango. I need to dance Tango.

Question for Roberto:

Who were your teachers?

ROBERTO

My first teacher was, I’m sorry (he looks at Nito and Pupi) at least for me, the number one Tango dancer, Juan Carlos Copes. He was my first teacher. (applause)

Question for Roberto:

Who has had a major influence on your artistic career?

ROBERTO

You know? I had very good teachers. Very good teachers. For example, Todaro was my teacher. He taught me over 300 steps. Then they (points to Nito and Pupi) taught me the technique. But the feeling of the Tango is just coming from me. They gave me the technique, steps, but the flavor is mine. That is my experience. When I started to dance Tango I said to myself, I want to be perfect. That’s why I learned a lot of technique and a lot of steps. Then I saw myself on videos and I said about myself, “this guy can dance steps and has good techniques, so now I can feel like an adult, mature dancer.” Now, I just try to be just myself. I try to feel the music and that’s it.

Question for Roberto:

Is there a difference dancing on the stage and on the floor?

ROBERTO

Oh yes, yes of course! I mean, I need the stage because I’m a professional dancer. It’s not only for ego. It’s just because I feel that I belong being on the stage. But on the stage you have a lot of responsibilities. Sometimes you just don’t want to dance, but you have to. Socially, it’s different, you can have fun or just sit and watch. It’s really different. Also on the stage normally we work with choreography.

Question for Roberto:

Do you see new things happening with Tango?

ROBERTO

Well, you know what? Yes, it’s very clear to me. When I came the first time to the USA to teach, it was three years ago; people just wanted to learn steps and stationary steps, jumps, big boleos, the kind of steps that people can see on the stage.

But now people are trying to learn the feeling, to dance socially and are interested about technique. Now people seem to want to dance well. Three years ago, those people just tried to dance like Valentino.

Question for Roberto:

I saw a National Geographic documentary where somebody was saying that the young people were just trying to learn the steps from the older generation instead of trying something new. How do you feel about that?

ROBERTO

OK, that video is six or seven years old. That was true back then but not now. Young people are trying to do different things. In my case, after studying with different teachers I just try to be myself. I can find different things, different steps, different styles just for me. And I can see that in other dancers in Argentina. Maybe not many professionals, but normal dancers try to do different things, different styles. And you know, what? This is very interesting. Guillermina told me that she met Petroleo. I saw him just once and that’s it. That guy created a lot of steps more than 30 years ago and he said to Guillermina, “the steps you are doing right now are very old, we created them 30 years ago, so try to do something new because the Tango needs news things, new steps, new faces, new style.”

That’s the reason why I defend Piazzolla for example. I love Piazzolla and I think and I feel that Piazzolla is Tango because when I hear Piazzolla I feel he’s Buenos Aires, his music is from Buenos Aires. So, for me, that is Tango.

Question for Roberto:

Do you have the same feeling when you are doing a choreography than when you are dancing freely at a social level?

ROBERTO

I try, I try, but I have to think about what people like. Not to think about myself, or what I like to do. So I try to find a balance. I know some people who are on the stage just for the people and you can see sometimes they do very crazy things. I’m interested in introducing the people to my dance. So, it’s very different.

PUPII want to clarify something because Roberto named Petroleo and maybe
you have no idea who he’s talking about. Petroleo was the father of all dancers. He’s the inventor of the “giros” and related figures.

Question for Pupi:

Many people have asked where does your nickname come from?

PUPI

When I was born, an Englishwoman friend of my mother came to visit and she called me “puppy”. My mother understood “pupi” and that’s how I acquired my nickname “cachorro, pupi”. Cachorro in English (points to himself) and cachorro in castellano (he points at Roberto).
Then at that time nobody understood English so instead of puppy they nicknamed me Pupi. I only found out what it meant when I was older.

Question for Nito:

There are mentions about a time when you were dancing with the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese. Did you realize at that moment what it really meant?

NITO

No, no! Generally in that epoch I danced in Tango contests.
There was a TV competition called Bailando Tango and they selected two winners without completing the contest so they could attend a Tango Festival in La Falda (in the province of Cordoba). It was a festival as big as the Cosquin Festival (a major week-long outdoor series of concerts and performances by major Argentine folk artists also in the province of Cordoba). I think it was 1962 or maybe 1965, I can’t remember well. The orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese was one of the main attractions. He saw me dance and he liked it. And from then on I started to dance with his orchestra for about two years. To find a partner in those days was very difficult. We were working at El Dado Rojo, which was a milonga in Constitution (a working class barrio south of downtown). It also had another name. (Pupi and Debra both laugh at the implied dubious reputation of this place)

PUPI

In 1962 I wasn’t born yet, so I don’t know. (tongue in cheek, laughs)

NITO

So my partner, between our performances decided to pass around the business cards of another dancing place. When the owners noticed that, they fired her and I lost my job. And it wasn’t easy to find another partner in those days. Nobody from classical, ballet, contemporary or folklore background considered Tango worth their efforts so I had to look for somebody at the milonga.

PUPI

That sounds like a cabaret to me… (tongue in cheek)

NITO

No, I never danced in a cabaret… my religion does not allow it (returning the tongue in cheek, big laughter)

PUPI

He was going to the cabaret just to buy girls.

NITO

No, seriously, I swear I did not realize when it happened… I wish I had realized…

PUPI

Realized what…?

NITO

That I was dancing with Pugliese. Anyway the end would have come sooner or later.

PUPI

For what reason?

NITO

When we were in the theatre, the Teatro Marconi, near El Once (another neighborhood with similar dubious reputation for cabarets and night people) Mayoral went to see the show. I think he was there for something else though (a very dense connotation which we prefer not to touch upon).

When the show ended we used to go out with Abel Cordoba (one of Pugliese’s last singers) to have a cup of coffee and Mayoral was there. He called me over and said, “look I want to congratulate you, but also I want to give you a critique. You have what we are lacking, milonga, but I recommend that you go out and study stage techniques and choreography and learn to dance a routine.”

Because what I was dancing with Pugliese in the theater was completely improvised. Improvising, and I don’t know for what reason, because I always maintained that you have to be a professional to get on the stage. To always dance diez puntos (refers to a scoring scale of 0-10).
The one who improvises one day can dance to a perfect ten, but another day he may be just a six.

Well, the thing ended soon and I did not follow Mayoral’s advice.
If I had, maybe I’d have ended up being a show dancer, like for example Eduardo (Arquimbau). He started with us at the Tango contests and later he became a professional. But he went to study like Juan Carlos Copes. That’s the main reason why I’m here with you (smile, delayed laughter, big applause). Wait, wait, the great ones like Copes have also come to Stanford to teach… also Eduardo.

Question for Nito:

I’ve never seen Eduardo dancing except in videos, but you are a lot better…

NITO

No, no, no! (visible uncomfortable by the stupidity of the statement) that’s a problem YOU have. Eduardo is a professional…

PUPI

Every person is entitled to their own taste…

NITO

Here in the Bay Area there is a guy, a very good friend of mine, some of you may know him, Charlie Stewart. He told me once and I always repeat it, “up to a certain level there are good and bad dancers and good and bad teachers, but from that level on up they are all good and different.
There is no one better than the other. For diverse circumstances some like one over another…”

PUPI

If everybody liked just one dancer, there would be only one dancer.

NITO

Of course I’m the most handsome, that’s a fact… (big burst of laughter)

Question for Pupi:

How did you get into Tango?

PUPI

I got into it for a simple reason, like the Coca Cola, they induced it into my brain. You would tune in to any radio station and all day all you listened to was Tango. Everywhere you could listen to Tango, pure and exclusively. You sort of were born with the Tango inside you. That was in my times, after that the Tango was not listened to as much. But in those times you listened to Tango in the morning, afternoon and night. Your mother got up in the morning to do the laundry and she sang Tangos.

NITO

The most serious problem that made our mothers stop singing Tangos, was the washing machine. When the washing machine appeared, our mothers never sang again by the sink. (big laughs and applause)

My mother did the laundry by hand and sang.

PUPI

He’s right, but in Buenos Aires in the year 1962 you couldn’t find a bar of soap. (more laughs at the “poverty” reference)

NITO

I always was a person of fortune. I always had a washing machine.

PUPI

We used to see a sandwich go by and we applauded (continues his take in reference to a period of very bad economic fortunes for Argentines).

Who, in 1950, owned a washing machine or a refrigerator? If you had a refrigerator, it was the kind that a delivery man would fill up with ice every day.

Question for Pupi:

What is the meaning of the word milonga?

PUPI

We call milonga the place where we go dancing. When a guy is a very good dancer, we say that he is a good milonguero. Now they’ve come up with a “milonguero style”, that I don’t know what it is…

Question for Pupi:

Was it your parents and friends who encouraged you to dance Tango?

PUPI

No, no. It was like it happened here. There was a time when all you could hear was rock and roll music so you grew up dancing rock and roll. Same there, we listened to Tango everywhere and when we wanted to meet girls we decided to learn the Tango. It wasn’t like somebody was trying to convert you. I started dancing when I was 15.

NITO

Where, at the milonga or on the street, in your neighborhood?

PUPI

I started at a practica then I began to go to the milonga, but the practicas were really like a milonga.

That’s why there is sometimes confusion about the methods in my era. Practically everybody had the ability to teach, but there were no teachers. Somebody would teach you something, you would then teach something to someone who knew less than you and it was like sharing acquired knowledge.

NITO

But all was done among men…

PUPI

Yes, of course, they were all these guys dressed in black.
Now, some ended up being a couple (Nito and Pupi interchange impish looks).

There were some milongueros that had a natural talent for playing the woman’s role (laughs), some got to bite
the pillows many times (laughs, quizzical looks at the reference to homosexual participation in the practicas of Tango in
the early days. Debra is flustered and can’t believe what she is hearing. A men in the audience tries to explain what Pupi meant by “biting the pillow”
).

PUPI

(Addressing that man in the audience)
Don’t repeat it but if you’d have lived in those times they would have blown air on the back of your neck too! (laugh and
applause
)

(The guy answers) How do you know?

PUPI

I can see you are the type… (everybody is laughing now)

Question for Pupi:

We keep hearing about the men practicing with each other to learn to dance so they wouldn’t embarrass themselves when they danced with the ladies.

PUPIIt’s a great advantage when the man learns to dance like the woman, because you always are going to practice with somebody that knows more than you. Then he knows how to mark your steps. You feel la marca, how he marks you, how he whispers sweet things in your ears while he carries you in his arms.(He can’t resist the tongue in cheek).
Then you are feeling the mark and you begin to learn how to mark.

NITO

When we played soccer, the worst player got to be the goalkeeper, and generally he was the owner of the soccer ball…

PUPI

The owner of the ball was a stupid little fat kid! He had to buy a ball so they would let him play.

NITO

In the case of Tango learning, those who were just beginning to dance, logically had to play the woman’s role.

PUPI

That’s why I’m saying that it is a great advantage when you feel how they are carrying you, holding you sweetly in their arms while you surrender yourself gently, mildly, meekly (more laughter).

NITO

Then you learn how to carry a woman around the floor.

PUPI

To know where the woman places her foot, to know everything. It is a tremendous advantage for the man.

Question for Roberto:

Did you also had to learn to dance that way?

ROBERTO

No, no, I was a professional dancer before I tried to learn to dance Tango. At one time I made some choreography, I don’t know how, and then when I started to study with real teachers I already had a partner so I did not need to dance with other men.

However, many times when I had a problem, the male teacher would dance with me so I could learn how to mark certain steps.

Nowadays, young people learn in a very different way. Now, we have teachers. Long time ago, they were no teachers, all they had were friends.

NITO

Also, the women did not go to class. It was not proper for a woman to socialize in public.

PUPI

Some used to go, but accompanied by their mothers…

Now, for the women it is totally self-defeating to learn to dance like the man. (Many “whys” are voiced throughout the audience) Because they get used to using force to carry and then when they try to dance as a woman they backlead and anticipate the man’s mark. And they do carry you around. (Laughs)

Some guys actually need it because they are kind of slow. (More laughs)

NORA

To wrap it up, why don’t each of you give the American men some advice to become better dancers?

NITO

Listen to a lot of Tango. Lots of Tango. I don’t even like to practice without music. These are habits, of course. You have to listen and listen.
Us, we travel a lot; it happens that I arrive at an airport. They come to pick me up. We get in the car and the man who immediately plays Tangos always dances well. The times when somebody picked me up and played salsa or some other kind of music, by coincidence they never danced well. I don’t know why, but in my case I would like them to listen to a lot of Tango.

PUPI

I agree. Listen to the music. Learn how to walk instead of dancing steps, because steps anybody can do. Stand up well, adopt a good posture.
Even we can dance steps, so imagine that it is not difficult to learn steps.
What’s very hard is to walk the Tango. The proof is that every time I go to a milonga I see everybody doing steps and nobody walking. Obviously the steps are easier than walking. (Polite laughs)
After you learn how to walk, the steps come by themselves (spontaneous oh and ah at the revelation).

Finally, I don’t want them to learn a lot because then who is going to take classes with us! (Thunderous applause and
loud cheers
)

ROBERTO

Try to live your experience from inside. Don’t try to copy the other dancers. Try to listen to the real teachers. Tango teaching is a business. That’s OK, but don’t buy second hand Tango. That’s it.

NORA

Thank you very much.

(Long, heartfelt, cheerful applause closes 45 incredible minutes of candid, provocative, at times inspirational, at times down to the nitty gritty, unabashed Tango talk, Buenos Aires style.)

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Posted March 9, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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