XXXXXXXXXXXX-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I used to think my only job in tango was to dance for my partner and myself. I thought that as long as you don't bother anyone else on the floor, that’s it. You have no responsibility to anyone who might be watching. I think my attitude was a reaction to the place in the U.S. where I began in tango. Everyone there was learning a sort of low level stage tango, and they were always looking for a way to "demonstrate it to the community”. They held milongas in bars and restaurants so people could see them, and they looked for public events and places where they could do demonstrations—but to me it seemed like a thinly disguised excuse to show off.
However, nothing in tango is simple. One day I was giving my “dance only for yourself” opinion, and one of the milongueras said gently, "Well yes. But you and Alej are friends, and we like to watch you dance. People enjoy watching other people in the milongas, and it’s nice to let people enjoy the music with you." Then a week or two later I heard Miguel Balbi say something that surprised me. He's been dancing for 50 years, he's seen it all, and he's intolerant of bad dancers. For me, there is no better dancer in the milongas, so it never occurred to me that he really paid much attention to the way anyone else danced... but here's what he said: “Sometimes when I come to a milonga I don’t feel like dancing, so I just sit. But if I notice someone who’s dancing well, I’ll start to watch. Pretty soon it’s like I’m out there with them... and then I wake up and start looking for a partner."
Once again, something I was sure about in tango was in doubt. My attitude began to seem a little too militant. Maybe even hypocritical... because here I was filming everyone and enjoying their dancing, while acting like my own dancing was private. Today, I still feel that the purpose of tango isn't to show off for other people. But on the other hand, Alej and I are part of the tango community—a "piece of the main” so to speak. We have friends in the milongas, there are women who don't get many dances, and there are older people who like to watch because they can't dance much anymore. I realize now that there's nothing wrong with being aware of them. Of reserving a small part of what you do to make it look better and share it.
A few months after this small attitude adjustment, we were contacted by a company that was putting together a tango dinner show for a tourist group that was visiting Argentina. They got a tango orchestra, and they invited a some couples to dance tango: Osvaldo and Coca, (who had just won the world championship), professional dancers Javier and Geraldine, three milonguero couples from the Milonguisimo Show at La Ideal, Alejandra and I, and another couple that I didn’t know. Because of my recent epiphany, I decided that it wouldn't destroy me to dress up and dance at a place where other people might be entertained. The deal was that we would get a free dinner and drinks, Javier and Geraldine would do a performance, Miguel Balbi would sing with the orchestra, and we’d all just dance around like in a milonga. It was in a spectacular location—an old factory that had been remodeled, with a large wooden floor, and a balcony all around. The atmosphere was formal, with waiters in tuxedos, and tables set up around the floor and the balconies with enough space for a couple of hundred people to have dinner and watch us dance. Everything was set and ready to go … but no one showed up! It turns out that the tour buses were delayed, and all the guests were stuck in Santa Fe.
So we ended up with the whole place to ourselves. Geraldine and Javier ate and left early, but the milongueros, who never pass up anything free, stuck around. We had a great meal, and champagne, and our own private milonga, while the waiters sat and ate in the background. And although the light was terrible, I did some filming. Sometimes I don't really absorb what I'm filming, but afterwards I realized that the couple I didn't know (names are coming soon) were very good. So here is the video I shot of them. You can also see the milongueros from the Confiteria Ideal show: there’s a little of Alberto Dassieu at the beginning, Miguel Balbi dances in the second half of the video, and Hugo Rojas is also briefly visible in the background. We’ll look at them more later, but for now, you might enjoy comparing the styles of the mystery man and Miguelito (who was one of his tango role models) as they move around each other in the last part of the video:
You may notice that the man has a very unorthodox style. He dances back on his heels and his step is very unconventional, while is partner dances like a classically trained dancer from Teatro Colon (which I think she is). She dances with her head erect, with the bridge of her nose pressed directly against her partner’s cheek. And she also sticks her butt out a little, which is the current fashion among performers. Normally when I see a woman with this posture, I think it’s just one more stage dancer who doesn’t have a clue, and I ignore her. But as I studied the video, I began to think they were very good. So, although this is a website about milongueros, and it’s not about performing, I decided to include them. After all, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And who wants to have a little mind? Or, for that matter, who wants hobgoblins?
I don’t have their names yet, but Alej knows the man. She used to dance with him at Gricel, and although he isn’t a milonguero, he learned from them. His dancing is influenced a lot by the "mesa de los maestros", the famous table at Gricel where Miguel, Tonino, Hugo, Ernesto Delgado, and their friends always hung out. I included him and his partner because the way they use the music is spectacular. Notice that 95% of their dancing is just walking to Biaggi’s hypnotic compás—but they use a variety of subtle variations to follow the music. And when the music asks for something else, they do it so perfectly that it that it looks as though it was planned ahead of time.
I'd like to give two interesting examples. Unfortunately this video skin doesn't have a counter, so I put two small arrows like this: ^....^ just under the frame to help find the parts I'm talking about. If you can place the slider right over the first arrow, you should see the man, who has done mostly walking to this point, hesitate for a moment, and then lead his partner's leg in a sweeping ocho cortado, exactly when the music runs quickly up the scale. It's where the couple are dancing right over the neck of the wine bottle in the foreground, and it's masterful, musical tango dancing. Then, as the slider moves between the arrows, you can watch them use the compás beautifully, as they follow the bright, clear notes of Biaggi's piano. (This is the piano sound that gave Biaggi the nickname "Manos Brujas"- "Magic Hands").
Notice how the woman reaches back as she walks, and then as the slider reaches the second arrow, you'll see something incredible. The woman, who has done almost nothing except follow and walk, does a quick boleo kick exactly when there's a hit in the music that calls for it. It's when she's led over to the column on the right, and it looks like her foot almost touches the column. A moment later, the music ends. Now that's the way to dance tango! Here's a young woman who looks like she came from some dance academy, and she has the music inside as much as any milonguera with 65 years of tango behind her! It's done so precisely that it's like she gave one of the bandoneons a sharp kick with her heel, and caused it to give out a little yelp.
By the way, do you know this music? Biaggi's not too hard to identify, but the first tango was driving me crazy. I knew the melody as well as anything, and I could hum along to it, but I had brain lock and I just couldn’t place it. It’s one of the world's most famous tangos, and we’ve discussed it several times on these pages. Can you get it? If not, here's a hint. We'll break the rules and put in a performance to the most famous version of this tango. It's an old film clip from "Baile Nuestro" of La Gallega and Pachin that I’m in love with:
¡Que barrio! ¡Que musica! Look at the part about 10 seconds in, where they both sink down and stomp their feet. They're like two animals enraged by the music—almost like they're getting ready to fight. And then, in the middle part of the video they do a corrida, where they walk in 360 degree circle, turning as they go, and then tighten it into two spinning giros. This is no phony performance. ¡Que pasión que tienen! This is the rough, music driven tango of the arrabal, and whenever I hear Troilo playing this difficult and angry piece of music, I think of them.
Even though it's an exhibition, it's very moving for me—and it's even more moving when you think about what was happening in Argentina at the time this was filmed. But it's also funny, because La Galleguita is so heavy that Pachin almost falls over when he has to support her weight. My guess is that they started dancing when she was a young slip of a girl, and as she slowly got bigger and bigger, the sentadas and leans got more and more difficult, until finally, the poor man was risking a hernia every time they performed.