Archive for the ‘ESSAYS’ Category

The night Pugliese died   Leave a comment

The night Pugliese died

By Alberto Paz
July 25, 1995
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Like the guy at the street corner or the next door neighbor, that’s how PUGLIESE was. But deep inside that slender figure, beyond the thickness of his myopic glasses, there was a volcano that erupted with his tangos.

OSVALDO PUGLIESE was a figure that showed the way to the modernism of tango without leaving the essential roots. In 1924 he created RECUERDO, a composition far advanced for his time. The dialogue of the bandoneons still today represents the pinnacle of tango interpretation. Then, NEGRACHA, MALANDRACA and LA YUMBA became a trilogy that opened the way for the vanguard tango.

The orchestra of the MAESTRO grew up in the sprawling neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Leaving behind the mud and pathways described by BARDI, COBIAN and AROLAS, PUGLIESE absorbed the pulse of the new city and began to foresee its future. In those new places, he discovered a new Argentina, with a violent rhythm, powerful like gun powder, with all the strength of an industrial revolution, OSVALDO PUGLIESE captured the mystery of the city into music and named it La Yumba.

La Yumba was a lyric poem that made people tremble with emotion as they saw themselves interpreted by the captivating melody. There was Yumba in the ecstasy of the public at every venue where the orchestra performed. Yumba was floating in the air when a labor dispute tore apart the city and PUGLIESE entered the Ford Motor Co. factory that had been taken by the workers, and embraced each one of them as a gesture of solidarity with his people.

PUGLIESE died tonight and there is Yumba in my heart and it pounds so hard that I can’t hold on to my tears and I can’t tell if the music is coming from the speakers or from my soul.

Suddenly, is LA BIANDUNGA, then EL PENSAMIENTO and now LA MARIPOSA. Was it just yesterday that very dearly I held against my heart a beautiful woman and with my eyes closed I went around the dance floor falling in love with every beat of a PUGLIESE tango?

Tonight she is far away, PUGLIESE is dead, I’m alone, unable to stop the wrinkled box lodged in the middle of my chest from sobbing and the sound of his music is tearing me apart.
Tango, your music hurts like a dagger in my chest, and yet, I love you!

The night we danced La Mariposa

July 28, 2013
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Posted July 30, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS

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Tangoman and the dancing butterfly   1 comment

Tangoman and the dancing butterfly
By Alberto Paz
August 1995
Revised July 2013
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The Fifth edition of the legendary Stanford Tango Week in 1995 marked the beginning of the journey for many of us. We were treated to twin sets of tango weeks because of overwhelming registration. It was billed as the year of the milongueros, and American dancers were introduced to real life milongueros from the halls of Buenos Aires milongas. Our souls changed forever as we went our ways back across the United States.

Two weeks after it ended, I went back to walk through the empty halls , the cavernous rooms, the cozy studios, the quiet courtyards. As I entered Roble Studio I could hear the ghostly sound of tango past reviewing one more step. The choking voice of a teacher thanking us for the love and respect we have shown for our tango and its masters. It had only been just a dozen moons and countless tangos ago that we had anointed Veronica as the angel who came down from tango heaven to paint a smile on Eduardo’s face.

Remembrance. Reminiscence of sore feet soaking on ice cold water. A gentle and soothing foot massage. The cold sweetness of a milkshake in the early hours of the morning. Syncopation, music appreciation, infatuation, perspiration, revelation. New York, California. A connection. Conversation.

Danel and Maria, Michael and Luren, Daniel and Rebecca, Nora, Lampazo, Juan Bruno, Eduardo and Veronica, Graciela. Dispensers of tango. Messengers and message. Tango is about feeling. Tango is about life. Close your eyes, feel the passion. Hold her close. Who’s the girl with the red shoes?

The heart of Tangoman is a wrinkled bandoneon that moans and whines. What’s Canaro doing in Paris? Help me find the Caminito. Who left the room A media luz? Stop that piano that is pounding in my heart. Lazy bass, don’t hurry up. Sing a song with your voice full of smoke and alcohol. A mordida, a boleo, heavy breathing, gancho frenzy. Who’s the girl with teary eyes?

Empty halls, silent walls, water falling. Hear the tapping right next door. Tango club, salon style, orillero, milonguero. It’s so hard to say good bye!

One more glance, one last sigh. Old acquaintances here we come. Turn around one more time. Oh my God, over here, they are dancing in the park! Barefoot, she is dressed in white, he is all in black. The music is playing from their hearts. Pugliese is becoming immortal. Fragile like a pretty butterfly she has landed in his heart.

Please get real!. How corny can you get! I don’t know… how much longer can you stay? They’re not leaving. They refuse to let it go. Are they nuts, people say. Of course they are. Crazy for each other and for that tango with no end. And the night begins to smile. A three-minute love affair. All the intensity and passion of a lifelong relationship exploding in a turn. It begins. Then it ends, and then begins again. Close your eyes, feel the beat that’s coming from your heart, hold on tight. You’re going to be dancing quite a lot.


The night we danced La Mariposa

July 28, 2013
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Posted July 29, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS

A void impossible to fill   Leave a comment

A void impossible to fill

This article is based on a taped conversation with Rodolfo and Maria Cieri after lunch at our former home in Sunnyvale, CA on June 21, 1996. It was first published on the Dec 2000 issue of El Firulete. Copyright (c) Planet Tango 2000-2012, All rights Reserved

For those who knew Rodolfo Cieri, his passing earlier this year meant sorrow, sadness and grief. It also rekindled the sweet memories of his presence on the dance floor. It has taken many months and countless dry attempts, to sit down and listen to three hours of a taped conversation we had with Rodolfo and Maria on June 21, 1996 at our former home in Sunnyvale, California.

We first saw Rodolfo and Maria early on June 1996 at a milonga in Berkeley, California. The introduction by the host barely cut across the indifference of a vocal crowd who seemed to have gotten used to the necessary evil of interrupting the milongas with “announcements.” All we could see was an elderly couple tastefully dancing to the Pugliese‘s rendition of Emancipacion.

Nineteen-ninety-six was a transition year for our tango dancing formation, so even when the couple on the dance floor was not “hot dogging,” flying or otherwise trying to impress the crowd, we were left in a daze by the craftsmanship and seductive allure of their ever precise and calculated moves. But what really touched me the most, was Rodolfo‘s cherub-like smile as he played with the creative genius of Pugliese coming from the speakers subtly marking the movements of Maria. A few days later, a common friend brought them to our house, where they lived for the remaining weeks of their sole stay in the United States.

A Club named Suerte Loca

Rodolfo danced the same way all his life never considering the possibility that something special would ever happen to change the course of his life.

In 1954 the orchestra of Anibal Troilo headed the cast of El Patio de la Morocha at a theater on Avenida Corrientes. They needed dancing couples Maria recalls, “This was before we got married, they came to talk to us but Rodolfo didn’t want to do it.

It’s not that he didn’t have the opportunity, but he never wanted to dance professionally. That’s just fine with Maria, because If he had started doing it then, we wouldn’t be here together today.

More than twenty years went by without dancing and being married with children. When the daughter finally got married herself, Rodolfo was working out of a Ford pick up truck doing what the UPS men and women do today, pick up and delivery of packages. Faced with an empty nest, he didn’t want to consider getting older quicker by coming home to watch television. He had heard about a popular tangueria that was in vogue, Volver, on Corrientes and Suipacha. One Friday, celebrating a windfall of money that had come his way at work, he invited Maria to go dancing at Volver. Arriving early, they told the maitre d’ that they were new to the scene, and asked for a good spot on the dance floor from where he proceeded to watch the caliber of the dancers as they kept arriving.

At 2 AM they played La cumparsita and ten to fifteen couples took to the floor. “The music of Troilo from the Forties gives you room to do a lot of things,” Rodolfo said, “so when they began playing it I told Maria, let’s lead the way and I went “pin, pan, pow.” Half an hour later a young couple approached our table. She was an Argentine woman living in France. He was her French partner.”

They had seen them dance and asked if they were teachers. No, they were told. They were just milongueros from Buenos Aires and that’s all. Rodolfo said that he always danced because he felt the tango deep inside. Later Rodolfo and Maria joined the young couple at their table and found out that they were staying at a hotel. They invited them to move to their home were they developed a good friendship while teaching them to dance tango the way they knew.

When the couple finally left for Europe they asked Rodolfo if they would consider traveling to France. Of course answered Rodolfo, but as the plane took off he turned to Maria and said, “I doubt that these people would want to pay me to go to Europe after they’ve seen over a hundred couples dancing at Volver.

Six months later they received a letter and two plane tickets. The trip to France was happening. As they pondered the reality of crossing the ocean on a puny airplane, Rodolfo and Maria couldn’t believe their insane luck on that fateful day of 1988.

The woman in question had a dance academy in Marseilles, and she had put together a major production based on the History of Tango. The expensive project played once at Teatro del Molino, and it included a full comparsa of black people entering the stage from behind the public to perform a candombe number that left Maria gasping.

Maria: “It was a wonderful experience and we’re forever grateful to that woman for giving us that first opportunity. Sadly, within twenty days things turned sour as misunderstandings turned into problems. The hostess, who later gave up tango dancing, erred badly with us. Gradually she began demanding to be Rodolfo’s partner. She wanted him to dye his hair and to get rid of his glasses.”

Rodolfo: I said to her: you saw me dancing in Buenos Aires; you saw me dancing with my wife. That’s how you agreed to bring us here, as a couple. Now, you can’t ask us to do something different. No way.”

Thirty days to the date they arrived in France, Rodolfo and Maria left the woman’s house and moved in with Elena, who with partner Alfredo tried very hard to help them survive for the remaining six months of their stay. Singing, dancing Tango and folklore, Rodolfo and Maria managed to make ends meet stranded in a foreign land, handicapped by the language barrier, with plenty of tools of their own and help from generous compatriots.
Rene Fabianelli was one of them. In the years that followed, Rene became the “guardian angel” who organized their successful tours around France and the rest of Europe. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires Rodolfo kept telling friends about their crazy luck, and that one day he’ll open his own Tango Club, appropriately named, Suerte Loca.

A Milonguero of good stock

Rodolfo learned to dance Tango from his father as a kid. His mother objected because she wanted him to go to school and be somebody.
Rodolfo did both. He pleased his proud father at the old man’s milongas in La Paternal dancing with sisters and cousins at the tender age of ten. Time came for Rodolfo to go to school. Dad insisted that he devote time to study rather than dancing. The night life could be dangerous and lead to no good.

Rodolfo: “After the first year of high school I quit. I told ‘mi viejo,’ I want to be a dancer. He didn’t insist a lot. That’s something I regret today, that he didn’t try harder to keep me in school.”

He developed a style and spent years as a night creature of the milongas. When he met Maria, she was barely fourteen. Dating in those days meant meeting her at the street corner by her house while the sun was up. A vampire would have fared better, but he kept his courtship up for almost three years.

Maria: “I was seventeen years old when I married the first and only man I had known. I wanted to sing, to play the guitar. Suddenly, the ‘no’ of my father had been replaced by the ‘no’ of my husband. Meanwhile, he kept going out addicted to the life of the milonga and the allure of other women. It’s a long story, but I wasn’t prepared for that. His parents played an important role making me come back every time I had decided to leave.”

Rodolfo: “We were separated three times until my Dad kicked me out of the house and told me I was worse than garbage for playing with the life of a decent and loving woman. He told me in no uncertain terms that I had to choose between the milonga and my family. Well, thanks to all that we are together today, enjoying something that I never expected: dancing and making friends.”

They have danced together and they have witnessed a time when there were real dancers at every club. Dancers who competed to be the best. Dancers who would never consider imitating anybody else. Dancers who dressed to kill to impress the ladies before dazzling them with their brilliance on the dance floor. They both admire Juan Bruno, the Juan Bruno from the time when he used to dance Tango Salon.

Maria: “Very few could dance Tango Salon. It is very difficult for the couple to walk with the feet on the floor. To execute paradas and turns with a smooth rhythm and with the feet on the floor. Juan seemed to walk like no one I’ve ever seen. Rodolfo doesn’t have the profile to dance Salon. It doesn’t look good on him.”

Rodolfo: “Before he quit Juan was a bailarin de tranco largo, a bird with long legs gliding over the surface of a lake. His moves were deliberately slow. What I showed you today in the canyengue, how to break your waist for example, in Tango Salon you have to do it very subtly, like a filigrana, like a watermark on paper, a delicate move which is both elegant and fancy. You have to stand up firmly and well grounded, and you need a partner who does not hang on you to drop you off your balance. When Juan stepped on the floor for a Di Sarli piece, chills ran down my spine before he even began to move. I have never seen any of today’s teachers attempting to dance that way. It’s very hard. Even Juan, when he came out of retirement a couple of years ago, was doing something totally different.”

Life is but a dream

Our table talk lingered past dessert time. As a matter of fact time seemed to hold still. Rodolfo seemed disturbed by the memory of his
father. The elder Cieri had died in 1966 but his presence still weighs strongly on this fragile man with the glassy eyes, leaning against the chair, holding a glass of wine.
It seems that his father kept appearing in his dreams. The recurring themes were answers to whatever was troubling Rodolfo at the time. Like a way to finish the barbecue pit he had built on the roof of the house he had constructed by hand, one brick at a time. Or the advice on where and how to install a bathroom on the upper floor. When Rodolfo talks about his father, the tone of his voice lowers, as if he is still aware of his presence.

He had repeated time after time stories about the early days of his childhood when the old man taught him to dance the tango in a way he had forgotten. How he began to hate as a child, having to show off in front of Dad’s friends at the neighborhood clubs. Later, when a young Rodolfo lived from garufa to garufa, a dapper ladies’ man at the milongas, he avoided facing a disappointed father with a pointing finger. For years after the passing of the elder Cieri, Rodolfo visited the mausoleum at the Chacarita cemetery. He tried many times to see his father with an inexplicable obsession until the time came for moving the casket from the mausoleum. The family had to decide between ground burial or cremation. Rodolfo convinced the family to have the body cremated and the ashes placed next to the graves of his grandparents. As a truck loaded with caskets arrived, Rodolfo demanded to identify the body. He was going to see his Dad one last time.

Rodolfo: “They had to use an axe to break the locks and when they finally opened the casket I yelled at the top of my lungs! My Dad’s body was intact like the day they put him in the casket. His face, his hands crossed over his chest still holding a fresh orchid… My sister hugged me…” (his voice breaks and the steady sob of a child fills the room as the tape recorder runs for a couple of minutes). He never went to visit the ashes at his Dad’s final resting place. Yet, the old man kept visiting him in his dreams. That’s life, he appeared to say.”

The tango my Dad once taught me

One day Rodolfo woke up and said to Maria, “I had a dream with my Dad. It was such a beautiful dream. He came to see me and he congratulated me because I had built my own house. I told him, you see viejo? I finally succeeded with the Tango. I have danced in Europe and here in Buenos Aires on the stage of Teatro San Martin. I told him all about my friendship with Carlos Garcia, ex-pianist of Roberto Firpo who was now the director of the Orquesta del Tango de Buenos Aires. He listened attentively and suddenly said, yes, but you never danced the Tango I once taught you.”

Maria had always been curious and excited about the canyengue, so she asked Rodolfo why he didn’t dance it. Rodolfo said no. He considered it too difficult, besides he had completely forgotten what it was that his Dad had taught him. Then, they got a letter from London inviting them to participate in a show. Excited by the opportunity he tried to remember the barrage of canyengue steps his Dad used to dance, but he could barely remember but a few. Once again Dad visited him in a dream and helped him remember many of the moments they had spent together. Rodolfo remembers telling his father, “Your son is going to dance the canyengue Dad.”

Rodolfo: “That year in London we presented the canyengue for the first time at Paul and Michiko’s Cafetin Porteño. People went crazy. This Saturday night we are going to dance it for you and Valorie at your milonga. Maria is going to wear the same vintage dress she wore in London. Pity that I did not bring my vest and my lengue.”

Alberto: You can use mine.”

Rodolfo: “Great! We’re going to do the canyengue. We’re going to do it.

He was now the only one left in his family and he seemed to wait for his time with resignation, whenever it would arrive. Did he know already about the illness that would take him away four years later? I’ll never know.Like the passing of my parents, Rodolfo’s departure feels like he just moved farther away. We’re reliving the fond memories now as we have finally sat down to watch the videotapes of those great classes in our living room, along with their compelling performances at the Dance Spectrum in Campbell.

The two of them dancing canyengue to El chamuyo.

Posted November 29, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS

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What is tango nuevo?   1 comment

What is tango nuevo?

Written by Manuel Gonzalez,
November 2009
Translated and reproduced by Alberto Paz in July 2012
Courtesy of the journal Punto Tango

I have noticed that when most people talk about the nuevo tango, they’re actually referring to electronic tango. Even when people talk about “dancing” tango nuevo, they mean dancing a very open style wearing baggy pants, designer clothing. A style that is more rhythmic than melodic, more attractive than sensible,  using electronic music or other rhythms that hardly qualified as tango .

I base these views, looking particularly at different practicas, and some milongas, where they teach new dance styles that have been flourishing in recent years.

Although I confess that I like and I dance several song by Gotan Project, and some of Narcotango, I must admit that for most people, electronic tango, is quite non-danceable.

On the other hand it is curious how the people who dance the invented  “new tango” style can not blend in other styles of the tango dance, while the other styles though reluctant, mix, live and grow daily in the milongas.

I have already spoken in another note about styles, and I remarked that it is always good to be flexible when you dance with someone who doesn’t dance your same style. But I notice that there is no style more complicated, disconnected and individualistic both physically and musically, than the so called “new tango”. Perhaps this emergence of a new dance is based much more on being seen as cutting-edge, alternative and fashionable than being sensitive or musical. I’m sure that when these boys and girls who dance the nuevo tango get to be in their fifties, they will embrace the more traditional and communicative dance.

But back to the music … what is the Tango Nuevo? In my opinion it does exist, it is growing and it is being created by musicians who compose their own tangos, by others who invent their own style, or put in a distinctive feel to their sound and to classic tangos, without falling for synthesizers, beats , samplers and machines that play recorded sounds.

By contrast, the electronic tango has been around for several years since its inception, and is something that does not evolve, nor does it bring anything new within its style, and everything seems to show a behavior that is more commercial than artistic.

My criticism is not based on whether the electronic music must qualify or not as tango, but in that it is used as a banner to claim “this” is the new tango, when the new tango is much, much more wider, and thankfully, much, much richer than the electronic version.

I would like to start hearing about a “tango nuevo” concept as something that grows and evolves from the traditional tango,  and not like other styles that take advantage of the sound of the bandoneon to continue selling something that already exists.

Perhaps many musicians who already were making electronic music, today choose the tango as a basis for experimentation so they can make free and rare versions to sell a semi-new product.

The tango has always been and will be a bit painful, rough, sensitive and passionate, because that is its essence. The purpose of this note is not to criticize or say that something is or is not.

What I seek is to point out that there are some great musicians playing and creating their own music, composing, arranging and creating variations with much talent, sensitivity and intelligence, keeping the true essence of tango even adding new things, and that’s what we should highlight and proudly name as “Tango Nuevo”

The electronic tango may be liked by many people, but if we must talk about quality and great changes, please let’s go back to Piazzolla and from there to the new fine musicians who are composing, growing and those who are being born today. That’s why in this note I dare to recommend some albums of “Tango Nuevo”, which are well above the electronics, which are played without the need to connect synthesizers, computers or gizmos:

The names of the albums I recommend are between brackets :

Julio Pane Trio: (A las orchestras) In this outstanding album, the trio plays and sounds like an orchestra. Pane has influences from the greats, but with his own texture and style. A luxury.Richard Galliano (French touch) Great French Accordionist plays tango with Piazzollean influences  bringing a new style with French airs of his instrument.

Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro: (Envasado en Origen y Destrucción Masiva) Original and classic Tangos by a traditional orchestra with that has its own sound, strong, violent, passionate and very current. Really excellent.

Walter Hidalgo: (Tanguetnia) A genial kid … He plays the bandoneon, composes and sings!.

Angel Pulice and Ruth Divicenci:  (La Carnada y Tangos nuevos y usados) A beautiful combo. Guitars, Vocals and accordion. Great lyrics, great sensitivity and good taste.

La Chicana: (Ayer Hoy Era Mañana y Tango agazapado) band that has a fresh spirit between rocker, folk and tango.

Astillero: (Tango de Astillero) A rough Tango Orchestra, with lots of force, cruelty and violence in their sound.

El Afronte: (Tango al palo) Orchestra with traditional instruments, but a lot of power.

Buenos Aires Negro: (Turra Vida) A tango band mixed with sounds of Buenos Aires rock and murga. Strange, dark, perhaps far from tango, it has the air of a dirty slum.

El Terceto : (tocatangó) Excellent trio with their own sound, difficult to classify. Mixing jazz, tango and folklore.

Cáceres: (tocatangó) own and others’ compositions, Excellent lyrics, resurrects the black origins of tango and milonga. Sounds like candombe, murga and milonga. Creates a strange phenomenon in the milonga.

Dema y su Orquesta Petitera: (Volumen 1) trio of two guitars and voice. Own compositions, with slang and humor.

And finally, I will not leave out without mentioning one of the greatest exponents of the Tango Nuevo.

Astor Piazzolla” (Suite Troileana, y Mundial 78´)

And I sign off paraphrasing the great Anibal Troilo, “Pichuco” who was asked once if there was a need for new tangos. He replied: There are no old tangos or young tangos… What we have is good tangos or bad tangos.

Note written by Manuel Gonzalez – El Amague Blog
Published in the journal Punto Tango No. 37 – November 2009.

The original women’s technique class   Leave a comment

The original women’s technique class
By Valorie Hart
Copyright (c) 1995-2012, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved
At Stanford Tango Week 1995, Graciela Gonzalez became the stuff of mythic proportions. This diminutive powerhouse of a woman was something the American tango student had not experienced. She was not part of a teaching couple, she taught alone. She was serious and outspoken. She demanded respect not only for herself and the Argentine Tango, but also demanded a self respect for each and everyone of us as dancers of Argentine Tango.

She is known as La Negra, and by calling her by her affectionate nickname, we got another viewpoint of political correctness.  Her Women’s Technique Class held in the huge Robles Gym late in the afternoon of a hot California Summer in 1995 is still talked about. There were about one hundred women all standing at the unusual position for social dancers, at the ballet bar. We were asked to perform the perfect and exquisitely painful technique of the forward ocho as explained by Graciela as something that emanated from the torso and the center axis of the body, down to the big toe and going from there to the rest of the foot, culminating into La Negra’s idea of a properly executed front ocho.

We stood at that bar for over three hours, long after the appointed hour that the class was supposed to be over. Earlier smiles were wiped off our faces, replaced by sweat and earnest concentration. La Negra walked up and down the rows of women with the demeanor of a queen combined with the attitude of the strictest ballet master, making gentle corrections and never letting on that she was either pleased or displeased with our efforts. Later on in New York, I took a private class with her, where we continued the same drill for two hours. At the end of the class she told me that when I visited Buenos Aires three months later, if I had practiced my front ocho enough to her satisfaction, we would continue the lesson with perhaps, the back ocho.When Nora Dinzelbacher announced that she would bring La Negra to her 1998 version of Tango Week (replacing the now defunct Stanford Tango Week), I was curious about what Graciela would bring to us this time around.
She felt a little disappointed with herself after her first visit to the US at Stanford ‘95, feeling that she didn’t emotionally reach the people, that they didn’t understand her way of teaching or appreciate her seriousness.

She wanted to revamp a bit, without losing her integrity. She presented her first classes using American music, asking the couples assembled to dance the music with the same emotion that they danced as teenagers. She asked that they not dance tango steps, and to rely on a sense memory that she hoped the music would evoke. She wanted them in touch with their own bodies, and the body of their partner. Later in the advanced class, she presented challenging material, not in the form of another quickly forgotten complicated figure, but by showing the partners how to look for angles in body alignment to invent and improvise figures.

Sounds simple? Let’s just say you had to be there, to watch some of the country’s best dancers struggle with the concept and execution. No one left her classes without being enriched and challenged.

By midweek, the legendary Women’s Technique class was offered at the huge Allegro Ballroom, minutes away from the Tango Week site at The Holiday Inn. The large space was needed to accommodate almost every woman in attendance of Tango Week. No one wanted to miss this class. Many of the women had been at Stanford ‘95, and were looking forward to the challenge, wondering if we would get to work on back ochos, three years later. Surprisingly, there were no ballet bars this time. The next surprising thing was that Graciela asked that we remove our shoes and sit down! A kind of peaceful, reverent hush fell over the room. She presented us with some circular breathing exercises, coaxing us to move the air up into our chests and torsos.

She talked at length about the way to stand in order to dance Argentine Tango, with the body weight slightly and naturally forward, with breasts (chests) over the feet. She called this the basic posture.

She talked at length about the porteña attitude assumed in dancing Tango. She demonstrated how a porteña would sit at the milonga in order to invite a dance. The posture was similar to the basic standing posture, torso elevated. She explained that it is almost confrontational, an expressed desire to get what is yours, to be let in from the outside, an expression of that ever present longing of the long ago immigrant culture excluded by the upper class native land owners. Of course she explained the ever elusive (for American dancers)gaze that Argentines use to get each other onto the dance floor. She also spoke about the woman needing to empower herself in the dance, to claim and keep the space she defines with her forward body position. She told us to give ourselves permission to dance, in essence to be the equal partner.

She got us back on our feet, and moving with partners, using our chests aggressively thrust out, to play a cat and mouse kind of game to induce mutual movement. Some of the women got wild with this exercise, running around the room and falling on the floor!

The energy level was tremendous. She revisited the subject of the forward and backward ocho, stressing again the technique of it beginning with the forward basic stance, breasts out over the support leg, leg movement starting with the big toe… oh well you know the rest. We didn’t have ballet bars, so we got into couples and practiced ocho technique for a little while.

Two hours had passed quickly, and it was nearly time for the last exercise of the class. La Negra instructed us to stand and face the mirror.
The proposition was to use the basic Tango posture in movement; to imagine being on the stage in front of 10,000 people, perhaps on Broadway, to dance the performance of our life, and to never lose our own gaze in the mirror, to look ourselves in the eye constantly as we danced. We lined up in several rows at the back of the room facing the mirrors, each woman looking at herself. An expectant hush fell over the group as we readied ourselves for the curtain going up. Then she put on the music: the sound filled the room, Whitney Houston singing Hero.

She must have played the thing three or four times. It’s not a little three minute Tango, and it has compelling words and music, popular enough to be familiar to everybody. An amazing spontaneous “choreography” ensued, with sixty or so women moving as individuals and as a group. It proved to be moving and emotional and it became the defining and pivotal mid Tango Week cathartic experience. It was the release and that permission giving catalyst that we needed. It enhanced the rest of the week’s classes and milongas, and for many raised the bar for their dancing, taking them to the next personal plateau dancers always strive for. At the end of the session there were tears, quiet moments of reflection and a heartfelt appreciation for La Negra’s unique Women’s Technique class.

Later in the week, at an afternoon Tango talk featuring the women teachers, we were presented with some terrific role modeling. Guillermina Quiroga and Graciela Gonzalez credited Pupi Castello with their education in the world and ways of the Tango. They spoke about him, in his presence in the audience, with such love and respect, that he left the room overcome by emotion and tears. He was very proud of his two Tango daughters, each having respected careers as Tango professionals. Mina and La Negra both said that Pupi taught them how to exist in the life of the night, that he not only taught them how to dance, but how to understand the codes of the milonga, irreplaceable and valuable life lessons that they still carry with them today. Someone in the audience asked Graciela what a woman should bring to the milonga. It was one of those esoteric questions that might result in some dreamy ideas of what essence or nuance is required. La Negra answered with a frank and startling revelation saying that what she brings to the milonga is her survival kit that includes a pair of flat shoes, a toothbrush, money and condoms. She also advised us to know what we want from the Tango that night. Her surprising answer made everybody laugh and put a reality spin on what dancing Tango in the milonga is really about, i.e. to mate.

Posted March 29, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS

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THE SCUFFMARK WARS   Leave a comment

by Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff
Copyright @ Clarin, 1999
 

According to Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff, the various styles of dance practiced at the popular milongas in Buenos Aires generate confrontations and polemics between milongueros. Their featured article was published in daily newspaper Clarin on Sunday, August 8, 1999. The translation by Alberto Paz was first posted on the Argentine Tango Open Forum of the Internet.

For ten years, the proliferation of teachers and schools have been modifying the way to dance tango. Although the change is evident, it has heterogeneous forms. As a result of that, there is a new paradigm: today, anyone can dance.

The static postcard of the milongas today, with its colorful mixture of “hip youngsters ” and “old time historical habitues” united in the “ritual” of the dance, is not more than that: a flat image that rarely reveals something more than a repertoire of archetypes. Behind that frozen scene, nevertheless, an unsuspected and burning world exists where the old can be new, the novelty can be obsolete, a simple thing can be difficult, and the excessive is insufficient. And in that, on the other hand, all these values are in permanent change.

In 1989, and in a symptomatic coincidence with the worldwide triumph of the musical review Tango Argentino, the social dance of tango began to rise from the ashes in which it had been almost buried for decades. It is known that throughout these last ten years, the panorama was modified completely.

Today, hundreds of instructors shape thousands of dancers who attend tens of milongas. In order to have an idea, it is enough to take a look at anyone of the specialized publications (El Tangauta, B.A. Tango), or to consider that at a single school  (Estrella-La Viruta) there is an enrollment of six hundred students.

But beyond the numbers factor, the phenomenon of the contemporary milongas marks a historical change in another sense: a new change of direction in the continuous transformation of the styles of dance throughout the century.

What is being favored today on the dance floor? If it is what can be observed with more frequency, one would say that three tendencies are disputing for supremacy: the Urquiza style, the Almagro style and the Naveira style, as the fans know them, – implying a neighborhood, a club and a teacher.

They are not difficult to distinguish. Make yourself comfortable on a stool by the bar and you will see them move over the waxed surface: a couple that advances with long steps, touching the floor as if they are wearing gloves on their feet (Urquiza), is followed by other couple closely embraced and whose short steps adjust synchronously to the beat (Almagro), and behind, a third couple that unfolds all the imaginable variety of figures which the previous couples can do without (Naveira). Adding to that, there will be another couple schooled in the style of Antonio Todaro and belonging to an elite with technical formation, that alternates between the social dancing at the milongas and the professional stage performances.

The fans are simultaneously protagonists and judges of the prevailing tendencies. In some halls, one or another one dominates. But on several pistas the practitioners of different styles mix with each other, they seek each other out, they appraise each other, they admire themselves or they condemn the others. The commentaries can be listened to between the tables, but they can be tracked all the way down to the Internet (currently a Tango list site burns with opinions like: So and so’s dancing, looks like a cowboy with hemorrhoids ).

Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs led the first changes at the beginning of the 90’s. When they reconstructed in their spectacle Tango x 2 elements of style of the popular dance, they revealed to inadvertent eyes of the public, the wealth of the world of the milonga. Then, the halls, and the classes of Antonio Todaro, bricklayer and milonguero, with whom Zotto and Plebs had made their meticulous work of stylistic archaeology, began to fill with new customers.

A little later, Susana Miller began her classes at the traditional Club Almagro. Miller (of academic extraction) associated with Cacho Dante (a veteran aficionado) began from her classes the propagation of which usually is known as the Almagro style – very similar to the typical style of the downtown night clubs of the 40’s. Its less demanding requirements gave access even to those who were less fitted naturally, technically or sensitively. And it quickly put on the dance floor an enormous amount of new fans, generating a true leveling off of the dance.

Right now, the influence that registers greater growth is, perhaps, the one of dancer and teacher Gustavo Naveira. The faithful followers of his method of combination of steps and figures consider it the acme of creative improvisation. The detractors, who detest the way in which the Naveira dancers move around the floor looking for space for their movements, define them as the patrol cars of the dance floor.

Naveira himself affirms: a single person cannot be determining in the evolution of the dance. That’s been happening from the beginning of the tango, and without stop, always because of a conjunction of factors. Now, what is arising is a system of improvisation of an even greater variety of combinations. And these changes are also transferred to the marking techniques to lead the woman.

However, for disc jockey Horacio Godoy the future is in Villa Urquiza. Teachers Vilma Heredia and Gabriel Angió also agree that many young people are focusing their attention to the floor of the old Sunderland Club of Villa Urquiza, where they still can watch the habitues of half century ago. Urquiza is what’s coming,  prophesies Godoy. There is a group of kids that realized that the maximum wealth is there. I am not talking about figures. It’s about the musicality and the quality of the movement. It’s about a wealth of knowledge so subtle and complex that for the ordinary eye is imperceptible.

The trends, in any case, hardly draw along general lines: common characteristics, airs of familiarity. As it has always happened with tango, there are so many ways to dance as there are dancers (it is what highly distinguishes it from almost all other forms of popular social dance). And in the same way, there will be so many opinions on the question as the number of people on the dance floor.

Posted January 9, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS, GUESTS

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A FIRULETE IN MY LIFE   Leave a comment

My life and El Firulete
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.

Posted January 9, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS, HISTORY

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