Archive for the ‘Juan Carlos Copes’ Tag

THE MILONGAS PORTEÑAS OF THE 1970’S   1 comment

Individuals with levels of ignorance that range from innocent to malicious, have attempted to create the idea that the people of Argentina couldn’t care less for the tango, except in times of bonanza when they can make a few bucks by becoming tangueros. The fact is that there is so much about the social and cultural aspects of the tango that begs explaining. Thus, we pay homage and give due respect and consideration to the humble milongas of Buenos Aires, where the preservation of the authentic, traditional and purest form of Argentine tango dancing has been taking place without interruption during both times of bonanza and misery.

The decade of the seventies was a horrendous experience for the Argentine Republic, as members of a repressive elite supported a military war that has become to be known by the infamous name of “dirty” because it was waged against citizens of the nation. Citizens who happened to have dissenting viewpoints, or were singled out by enemies or competitors as “dangerous” to their own selfish interests or the “welfare of the country.”

As a result of that, there are still thousands of Argentine citizens unaccounted for. They have disappeared (some having been dumped from military cargo planes in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean; others buried in unmarked graves, some after their unborn children were ripped from their guts, and rats were used to fill the void) under the excuse of cleansing the country of dissidents who rubbed somebody the wrong way.

In this climate of terror and persecution, the business side of dancing suffered because the secret police regularly raided dance halls under the excuse of looking for terrorists, communists, and other enemies of the state. People began to stay away from the most prominent clubs where dancing (all sorts of dancing, not just tango) took place.

The conclusion drawn by many, and supported by outright lies told by prominent touring professional teachers, was that tango died in the seventies as a consequence of being proscribed and banned by the government. The reasoning followed that if the tango had “died,” it was because the Argentines “killed” it, and Americans and Europeans with hard currency on hand performed some sort of exorcism, and voila, here is the tango again but now it belongs to the world.

Not so, writes Adela Zulema Cardozo, a surgical nurse and a founding member of the Institute of Tango Research. The ignorance of such claims is partially a consequence of the minimum cost of admission charged by the organizers of the numerous milongas porteñas during the seventies, that allowed access to their salons to a very large number of people of limited or non existent resources. These were indeed modest places, owned by regular people who could not afford the prohibitive costs of radio, TV and printed advertising, which is what gives massive promotion to an activity proposed to all sectors of society.
But maybe, these promoters were not interested in advertising since their facilities never lacked attendance because of the high interest shown by the public in dancing tango.

These milongas porteñas were the authentic seeding grounds for some of the greatest dancers who a decade later began to showcase the Argentine tango on stages around the world. Among them were Juan Carlos Copes, Virulazo, Antonio Todaro, Eduardo Arquimbau and many others. That’s the reason for their designation as milongas porteñas in contrast with other well publicized places “where they also danced Tango.” These other places were exclusively frequented by tourists, or by a public that had nothing to do with the authentic milongueros, who would only attend these “visible” venues, when as professionals, they were invited to do an exhibition.

Of all the milongas porteñas of the seventies, salon Italia Unita is perhaps the eldest of them all, with over a half a century of illustrious existence promoting the dance of tango. Others had a more ephemeral existence lasting part or all of the decade of the seventies. Some have been recently reopened for the benefit of the new tourist crowd that participates in locally organized international Tango encounters.

The common characteristic of all these milongas porteñas was the alternating use of both Tipica and Tropical/Moderna music in contrast to the decade of the forties were Jazz alternated with the tango. Within the Tropical/Moderna repertoire, cumbias were the preferred choice of the dancers.

The most classic, traditional and oldest salon tanguero is Salon La Argentina, originally located on 361 Rodriguez Peña Street, one block from Corrientes, and today on Bartolome Mitre, near Callao.
Another traditional and very old salon was Augusteo. There were dances with two orchestras: Tipica and Tropical on Saturdays and Sundays, and with recordings on Fridays.

Salon Rodriguez, known this way because of the street where it was located, was actually Circulo Italiano Lider Piedmont. They organized dances always with recorded music Wednesdays and Sundays from 6 PM to 11:30 PM. Notables habitués were Magdalena Copes, mother of Juan Carlos, , Carlos Alberto Estevez better known as Petroleo, a dancer of prestige, and many other well known personalities of the world of tango.

At Salon 25 de Mayo, known in the tango jargon as La veinticinco they danced on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with orchestras, Tipica and Tropical-Moderna; on Sundays the dancing started at 4 PM and lasted till 1 am. The attendance tended to be an older very tanguero crowd.

Salon Belgrano, located on Belgrano Avenue, was actually the Hogar Asturiano. In the seventies they had dancing every night, with different organizers each night. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the milonga was known as the Copes Tango Club.

El Nilo belonged to the Croatian community and at one point it was a movie house. Located on Boedo Avenue, they had dancing with orchestras on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 PM.

Salon Reduci, as well as Augusteo and Italia Unita, Unione e Benevolenza and Nacionale Italiano, belonged to the Italian Association of Mutual Assistance. It was built in 1929 and it is located on Rodriguez Peña 1442. In the seventies, they danced there with orchestras on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 PM to 4 AM, and on Sundays with recorded music from 5 PM to 2 AM.

Salon Canning on Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 offered (and still continues) dancing every night to recorded music.

Casa de Galicia had dancing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; on Sundays they danced with four orchestras, two Tipicas and two Tropicals. They worked in two shifts, two until 9 PM and two until closing time. Each orchestra played half hour sets.

Salon Italiano, actually Nazionale Italiano also had two orchestras, Tipica and Tropical on Saturdays from 9 PM to 4 AM, and on Sundays until 1 AM.

Palacio Rivadavia offered dancing with a high percentage of recorded tangos on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Salon Constitution offered tangos in the Seventies. Later it became the palace of the bailanta, a dance party considered by many even “lower class” than the tango, perhaps because it was the preferred form of entertainment for the dark skinned people of the interior of Argentina, and the dark skinned immigrants from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

The Casa Suiza, also known as Salon Suizo held dances only during Carnaval time. They were organized by the Shimmy Club, a black association, and it had two dance floors. The main floor at street level attracted the tango crowd in a similar way as the salon listed above. In the basement, members of the Shimmy Club danced candombes to the sound of small drums, although they also went upstairs to dance tangos and cumbias.

Other salons where people danced tangos in the seventies where, Verdi, Region Leonesa, Glorias Argentinas, America del Sur, Unione e Benevolenza. Some are still in existence today. There were also social clubs like Estudiantes de Buenos Aires, Almagro, Bristol, Huracan, Boca Juniors. And confiterias such as Marcone, Mi Club, Crillon, Okey, Tourbillon, Retratos, Marabu, Bamboche, Savoy, Siglo XX, and Regine. It was not unusual that around midnight or 1 AM, they stopped selling admission tickets because they were filled to capacity.

There were other venues like Antezana, Circulo Social Mariano Acosta, La Taberna de Ricardo, Sociedad de Fomento Mariano Acosta, Noches de Atenas, Los Bohemios, Peña de Tango Angel Villoldo, Cantina La Galera and Cantina La Herradura.

Of all places, Salon Italia Unita was perhaps the one that typified best, the popularity of the tango in the seventies, a period when tourists stayed away because of the political and economic unrest in Argentina. Built between 1878 and 1883, it is an ample salon with balconies at both sides and at the entrance.
The dance floor has a parquet floor that has been completely replaced twice in 1981 and 1989. At the far end is the stage where the orchestras sat. Large mirrors covered the side walls, and all around the dance floors there were chairs for the ladies to sit. The gentlemen stood in the center of the dance floor (dancers moved around in la ronda) and from their vantage position they observed the ladies sitting or standing around the dance floor, ready to invite them to dance using the classic cabeceo, the nod of the head. They danced with the lights on. Gentlemen were refused admission unless they wore a jacket and a tie. Persons under the age of eighteen were not allowed in, and it was forbidden to smoke in the salon. Smokers had a side hall with chairs to enjoy their vice.

Many orchestras played at Italia Unita. Maestro Juan D’Arienzo‘s final performance at the helm of his orchestra took place there, and there is a long list of major personalities of the tango scene who, alongside thousands of unnamed milongueros, spent many glorious hours enjoying and dancing the tango in the decade of the seventies, while some kept saying, and pathetically some still repeat, that the tango was dead.

Marisa Donadio, an attorney and also a founder member of the Research Institute of Tango contributed with documentation used in this article.

THE PROFESSOR   Leave a comment

Copy of the March/April 1999 issue of Danzarin courtesy of Judit Lentijo

Shortly before the successful Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino held in Buenos Aires at the end of March 1999, Fabian Salas, one of the organizers of the event was interviewed by the underground publication DANZARIN. In the March/April issue of the eight-page publication, Fabian was featured on the cover in a Tango pose with Lucia. The tongue-in-cheek headline reads EL CATEDRATICO, (the professor). Inside, along with the interview, the same photo is framed behind lines, triangles and circles to emphasize the title being conferred to Salas on the cover.

There is no name anywhere to identify who publishes DANZARIN or who’s the interviewer. A phony website URL promises English versions of the interview. The chat with Fabian Salas proves to be candid and revealing.

Asked if he always dances with Lucia, the girl on the cover, Fabian says, “No, but she is one of those who accompany me the most when we train.

To the interviewer, the word “train” sounds like it refers to sports instead of dancing.

What happens is that for us the tango is gymnastics,” Salas explains. “We get together to work on movements that allow us to improvise continuously. Above all, we dance fully aware of what we do, like a research that leads us to specific results.”

What we have generated in the tango until now, comes from a process of many years working together with the intention to apply a reason to the movements.

We consider the tango as a dancing technique and as such having a theory and certain tactical questions that make it a science and not a pastime.

It sounds extravagant but there are mathematical questions in the tango that deal with the logic of the bodies. Besides, I feel that rational knowledge, can’t take away from the emotional aspect.

The interviewer is concerned about Salas projection towards an excessively specialized society.

One thing is to talk about professionalism,” Fabian says, “and another is to talk about mediocrity. Soccer continues to be very popular, yet it is more and more professional.”

The interviewer says that doing what Salas proposes will generate some resistance from the people who base the tango on feelings.

That’s anecdotal,” Fabian says. “The tango was born in the neighborhood, I’m a product of the neighborhood and I like that twist, but I can’t help recognize the value that technique has on the most advanced couple’s dance in the world.

What’s fundamental about the renaissance of the tango is not a feeling that somebody who lives abroad can’t feel. Why do they dance in the USA for example? They dance because the tango represents the universal man/woman relationship. Today we analyze the dance as language. Most people speaking a language know nothing about grammatical rules, however they speak. Here (in Buenos Aires) it is the same; we dedicate ourselves to do the grammar of the dance.

Fabian Salas began to dance i 1988 and he learned like everybody else with things that later he realized didn’t work.

The first time I went to Almagro, they kicked me off the dance floor; it was a time when they danced a style with very short steps,” he says. “I tried to do what I had learned from Copes: ‘one-two-three and ocho,’ and in the ocho they systematically pushed me away, until I had to leave.”

Fabian Salas in the beginning had very few options.

Yes,” he confirms, “and they pushed you around everywhere. If you went to a milonga right away somebody would come close to intimidate you, or if you were lucky to be like,” here the interviewer uses the letters NN to hide the name of a well known show dancer who according to Salas is the mama’s boy of the milongas.

He sat at the table with the milongueros and they adored him; he could screw up at will and all was cool, but if you just screwed up once, they would push you, kick you and hit you. I’m not complaining, but that is the way it was.

Mingo Pugliese would tell me, ‘if you take classes with me, you can’t take classes with anyone else,’ and he was the kindest of all. The rest would tell me, ‘if you are going to see so and so you are not allowed to set foot here anymore.’ Antonio Todaro was the only one nobody would badmouth. Everybody else was at each other’s throat. I was in that quandary when I met Gustavo Naveira. I thought I was number one and he slapped me to reality. I realized that he was on the same road as I was, but he had been traveling longer. We became friends and began to hang out together in spite of the fact that until very recently we continued to work separately.

The interviewer expresses a wide accepted impression that Salas is Gustavo’s lieutenant.

Sometimes they refer to me in a derogatory way as a clone, but the truth is that I never took a class with Gustavo. Long ago he helped me with some choreography and I worked next to him as an assistant, but never as a student. Notwithstanding, it is not an offense because for me he is the best dancer in the world.”

The interviewer wants to know if Gustavo and Fabian transmit how to reach the foundations or do they convey a sequence of steps derived from the foundations.

Our wrongly called ‘clones’ understand the functioning of the system. They come from a different direction because they learn to dance the way we teach them (sic). We mix in the teaching what we do now and what we used to do before, so they don’t really know how to distinguish what is traditional and what is not.

To have a guy who in three years can dance, like Chicho for example, is something that didn’t happen before. So they chastise us and they say that we have ‘clones.’ But, look at Zotto and tell me if he doesn’t have ‘clones.’ You enter a milonga and see a kid dressed in a suit, stiff looking, his dancing looks refined, and a look of consternation on his face, and you say, ‘this guy took classes with Osvaldo or with Miguel.’ Their ‘clone seal’ is more evident than ours. To me, dancing brings me happiness, not sadness. I can have a look of concentration, but I’m not suffering and my heart is not broken.”

The interviewer points out that Fabian seems to find pleasure in making things difficult. For example he rotates his hip 270 degrees when a move may require only 90 degrees.

Yes, of course, but as a dancer I’m still in the formation period. As a teacher I am clear about what I teach and one of my tasks is to find all the possibilities.”

So what’s the idea?

Every change produces resistance. We are beginning to value some elements as techniques for dancing, which is not to say that you dance better or worse. It means that they are elements, essential knowledge that make the dance what it is.”

So what are those elements?

As a technique of motion between two persons, it is handled as a system of axis. The possibility of motion of two bodies in general is handled in a circle, that is, the dance is designed to flow in a circular trajectory. From the moment that an axis appears, there is circular motion around that axis. This is changing constantly and the dance is built rotating, not in the limited sense of turning around the same axis but in the sense of moving the axis. The axis can be in the man, in the woman, or be external to them. Always one of these elements is the axis and they represent the concrete motion possibilities between two bodies with four legs. This is an important element too. When you walk, you go from a position of balance to a position off balance constantly. Between two legs and another one you get a logic of pizza slices, that’s the reason of the triangle.”

The interviewer wants to know if it is mandatory to step inside the pizza slice.

When you mark with your body, you don’t need your hands because the dance is handled in space. When you occupy a space, the woman cannot occupy the same space unless you slap her into it. She goes to the space that you generated with your body, that’s why she is inscribing a triangle into where the motion has dynamics. If you are standing in the center and the woman approaches the center, you fall unless you look for the centrifugal force. We don’t mark with our hands. We use the hands for containment. We use our bodies very much.”

Is Fabian worried about polemics created by C.I.T.A.?

They are useless. We are beyond the anecdotal. We are doing something for the tango, good or bad we have clear intentions. For C.I.T.A. we convoked all the teachers. Many are not here because they didn’t want to be here, or because they couldn’t be here. The problem is that it takes a whole lot of money to organize something like this and that is the reason for the high prices. We would like to do something that is very good and has lots of popular support.”

How can the locals participate at about $700 a head?

We are looking at the possibility of offering grants so the cost of the whole week would be around $200. We are working with the people of New Direction in Culture. Those interested in grants can come to see us everyday from 2-6 PM at Cochabamba 444.”