Archive for the ‘close embrace’ Tag

No minors allowed   2 comments

No minors allowed

By Alberto Paz

Almost every time an elder habitue of the milongas in Buenos Aires goes “on tour” (insider euphemism for passing away) a perennial myth is recycled . The one about this or that dancer [who] “began dancing at age 14.” Assumptions about a teenager making the rounds of the milongas and beginning to show a talent that many years later would be discovered by some American with a movie camera are immediately part of the awkward folksy tales told by people dealing with the death of someone they really didn’t know.What is missing in all the stories that attempt to establish some historical context in the wonderful world of tango fantasies is the concept of time, chronology and the living testimony of people who lived through the period and still remember the moment in time when all these wonderful happenings were supposed to have occurred.

In 1950, when someone born in 1936 would have been 14, boys wore short pants with their legs beginning to show the darkened hair of puberty. The long pants would only become a rite of passage at age 16. Two years later they would qualify for military service, voting and admittance to X-rated movies and admission to a milonga. The few who would actually be welcomed at these places for adults were limited in their dancing to sisters, cousins and the occasional dancing with the wife of a mentor. None of the romantic and exotic quixotic images that modern day experiences try to attach to life in the past really existed. The world of the milonga has been, was and to a lesser extent still is cruel and cold when it comes to the motives and expectations of those who become revelers of the night.

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the popular music of Buenos Aires coexisted in the great dance halls with foreign rhythms such as the foxtrot, bolero, rumba, and jazz. Above all, the rhythm of the tango and its lyrics were always present on the airwaves, at the theater, in the movie houses, in the printed media, at the downtown tea houses, at the cabarets, at both grand and modest neighborhood clubs, and of course at the exclusive hangouts called milongas where patrons listened to and danced only tangos, valses, and milongas.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s the recording companies were back in force and the tango began to languish. It was replaced by a succession of dances coming from pop music and rock ’n’ roll. Until then, the recording companies had been making money reproducing the sounds that people sang in their homes and wanted to hear on records they bought. That applied equally to classical and popular music. Once the recording labels exhausted everything that could be remembered, improvements in technical quality kept making money for the companies without adding anything in terms of novelty. Soon more improvements such as long-playing records (LPs) came to satisfy listeners, but the recording industry eventually ran out of material and it set out to invent a form of music that could be repackaged in a variety of ways with a massive marketing campaign aimed at the younger generations.

The priority of the industry being focused on ways to rake in profits seems to be the reason that recording executives ordered the destruction of master recordings of all the tangos that had been recorded at the studios of RCA Victor of Buenos Aires.

Around 1956, the recording industry created the new wave, la nueva ola. It was a massive marketing campaign that resulted in the sly conversion of the long-standing tango and jazz clubs into extra-large concert venues. Nobody could dance there because space was at a premium. Acho Manzi, a veteran popular poet, commented with sarcasm on the subject: “They even did away with our carnival celebrations, in addition to silencing the whistling from the streets.”

The nineteen fifties were marked by the generation of so called “petiteros” and “caqueros” born in the cribs of the upper class but immediately imitated by the adolescents of the middle and lower popular classes to the point that “caquero” almost became a synonymous for “adolescent.”

The “petiteros” were reputed to be anti-Peronist. In those years, the late 40s and early the 50s, whenever there was political turmoil, the Peronists went to the Petit Café on Callao and Santa Fe and broke its windows. The petiteros were on one side of the social equation, boasting of modernity, Yankee-fication, compliance with the latest fashions, and plenty of disposable income to follow those trends. On the other side were those who imitated them wearing the Oxford gray pants, blue jacket with two vents, the hair slapped with brilliantine (like a cow’s licking, as they used to describe it), the essential yellowish beige moccasins shoes, and striped tie. The social milieu of the youth was split in half.

The petiteros were one step above the high echelon of society with the best clothing, and with other music, far from the tango. The rest, the ones who tripped on their Oxford trousers and poured a bottle of brilliantine Glostora on their heads, gave away their origins because they couldn’t imitate the peculiar well-to-do accent, the very accentuated letter Y instead of the LL, and a way of speaking with the mouth almost closed, through the teeth, that was instilled from their cradle in the Barrio Norte homes.

One thing they all had in common was that nobody considered going to a tango dance hall conceivable. The true caqueros did not go to dance to the clubs, not even in carnival time, because besides the jazz (as they called the characteristic orchestras playing all rhythms), the musicians in the clubs played those tangos, milongas and valsecitos that splattered their gabardine trousers and Elvis-in-the-Army style of shirts with epaulets with “low class grease ”. They went to ‘asaltos’ where it was guaranteed that, except for some party crasher, everyone there were ‘people like us.’

Rich or poor, everyone who claims to have began dancing in the 50’s went to “asaltos,” a sort of home invasions at somebody’s home where they danced on a tile, with arms stretched downwards, keeping the beat more with the shoulders than with the feet, and you sweeping the floor dragging our brown moccasins imitating the caquero style. The caquero only danced foreign music, such as Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Elvis Presley and others, nothing national. The middle and lower class kids learned the caquero codes from those whose parents sent him to the private schools of the well-to-do hoping for a better future.

Thus it was learned that narrow trousers and pointed toe, tall heel shoes with clasp to the flank were out of fashion. That when going to an asalto one should begin with the finger sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres because the cream cupcakes were for dessert. Not to ask for mints, to sip the pineapple gin fizz being served, and to transfer their Kent or Saratoga cigarettes to Chesterfield packs.

Half way through the 1950’s things began to change for the country of Argentine. Following the overthrow of the Juan Peron government in 1955 successive military governments began to gradually subvert individual liberties and eventually ruled for years under a state of siege. Almost an entire generation was lost to dancing, tango and otherwise. Much later, when the aging caqueros returned to the downtown clubs and began to apply their caquero style of dancing to a renewed interest in tango music, another legend says that people asking who were those older men who danced with young women hanging from their shoulders, someone said, “they are milongueros.” People who until then had a clear understanding of what classic salon tango looked like began to ask scornfully, “What is it that they’re dancing?” Some woman in combat boots seriously explaimed, “Close embrace, milonguero style.”

Reference: Gotta tango, Human Kinetics, by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

TETE   Leave a comment

In the early morning of Thursday, January 7, 2010, two days short of his 74th birthday, the life of Pedro Rusconi, better known in the world of tango dancing as Tete, completed its full cycle. Close friends will remember as long as they live his inimitable mischief and innocence enlivening the popular milongas in Buenos Aires. Tete’s absence is a painful reminder for many who have known about his indefatigable presence among the exclusive circle of friends since the resurgence of the tango as a social dance in the late eighties. He was the darling of many youngsters.

With Mariana Dragone and Indio Benavente With Mariana Dragone

For an even larger world population Tete was painted as an iconic myth who allegedly invented the close embrace milonguero style, a claim he never made nor typify in the colorful style of his dancing. The reality was, as some tango bloggers pointed out, that although he was admired tremendously, not everyone cared much for his style of dancing. From thinking that he was overrated and difficult to dance with, to  adoring him, he was one of the many personalities of the milongas in Buenos Aires. Everyone loved him. That’s life in the world of the milongas in Buenos Aires.

In sharp contrast to many Argentines who finagle their way into the American market with the most ridiculous resumes claiming to have taught at “close embrace milonguero style” academies in Bs. As., to impress unsuspecting organizers, Tete did very little traveling compared to those who have appropriated the “close embrace” mantra while spreading poor instruction, teaching very little, because they are guaranteed repeated business. He first had a rare appearance at a Tucson, AZ tango festival in the late 90’s, and a couple of tours in the past five years through the circuit supported by the “close embrace” cartel that cycles practitioner after practitioner of that style several times a year in preordained cities.

For anybody with an independent mind, it has always been obvious that the way Tete danced had in no way any resemblance to the choreographed multiple iterations of the so called “ocho cortado” schools. Promoters paid lavish lip service to a person who looked and acted different to what the press releases claimed. Yet, what has had massive circulation in lieu of a real biography of Pedro Rusconi, are several manifestos made public in which Tete lectures and admonishes those who take the dance of tango in vain. Vested with a natural angel for moving with the music with a consensual partner hanging from his neck, Tete was one of those living examples of individuality and confidence that eludes those who think imitation is the way to be recognized for something else than being imitators. When it came to heed his advice/lectures/admonishments calling for respect to tradition, to the music, and to the dancers sharing the floor, Tete became a topic of conversation, name dropping and video watching but not an example to follow.

Chicagoan Sarah Graf interviewed Tete and his long time partner Silvia Ceriani at the University of Chicago on April 20-22, 2007. From that, we learn that Tete started dancing at 14, which means that he was still wearing short pants and what he danced was what every other teenager danced in the early 1950’s, rock and roll. Later, he worked for the city of Buenos Aires as a public employee from 7pm -1am. After work he went out dancing and got to bed by 8am, sometimes missing work. Tete was a rock and roll champion for 5 years. Once he entered a marathon dance contest with people from all over and all kinds of dances. He beat the record of 102 hours of dancing with his 137 hour-long marathon. In case it is not obvious, during those early years of his life, Tete was not dancing tango. Almost nobody did until well into the 1970’s. Tete and Silvia began dancing together in 1995, a period when the resurgence of tango because of tourist influence brought back the popularity of the dance. They traveled together to Europe in 1996. In 1997 German choreographer Pina Bausch invited Tete to Europe. He danced a piece of hers called “Nur Du” (only you) for three years in a row. She also invited him for the 25th anniversary of Tanztheater Wuppertal. There he danced “Nur Du” with her using his tango embrace. It was a 30-day spectacular and some of the best dancers in the world, including Nureyev, were there.

Very little else is learned about the man after that, as the interview turns into platitudes about how the present played in the past, a natural approach when solid understanding of the social, cultural and historical evolution of a foreign society is lacking. Very patiently Tete answers a series of questions associated with tales and myths about “the old times,” without any further details about his life.

As one reflects on the passing of Pedro “Tete” Rusconi, there is a compelling desire to remember those who had a marked influence during the formative years of the tango in North America before passing away: Rodolfo Cieri, Jose Vasquez, Lampazo, Juan Bruno, El pibe de Ciudadela, Pupy Castello, Carlos Gavito and Nestor Ray. Theirs was a time when blogging didn’t exist, writing on Internet lists was inhibited by a lack of fluency in the English language. All we have been left with is the echos of their words, in our minds, on tape, film or print, but it is not the same as having the sound of their voices expressing their opinions and beliefs. Tete went to sleep at his boarding house when the new sun was painting anew the muddy waters of the Rio de la Plata with the colors of a lion. A few days early, on a Sunday, he had shared a table with the usual friends, and he was very excited about the following Saturday when he would be celebrating his 74th birthday. He just never woke up going into eternal rest and becoming yet another legend to fascinate people’s imagination for years to come with his unabashed way to speak his mind.

“You have to respect the music that people like. I respect all the people that dance to all other types of music. Electronic music is not tango. No matter how much bandoneón sound they add to electronic music, it does not make it tango. You don’t have to call it tango. Piazzolla came here and played music and said it was music of Buenos Aires but he didn’t say it was tango -and he plays tango. The music of Argentina is folklore and tango. If people dance folklore the way they dance tango, I don’t like that either. It’s folklore so it should be danced that way. Folklore is folklore and tango is tango. You can dance swing or rock and roll in the U.S. and you dance it the way it’s done here. Tango is not rock and roll and it’s not swing. It’s something else. How is the world? It is terrible, right? Because they don’t respect anything. The world would be tranquil if you put everything where it’s supposed to be.”