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.”