I’m usually impatient with people who are only interested in fancy steps and moves. But maybe I shouldn’t be... because I’ve been there myself. I was fairly quick to recognize that the stage tango that was being sold in the U.S. in the 1990’s was a waste of time, but it still took me a long time to understand the real tango. My discussion with Natu five years ago is a good example. Although I was dancing a lot in the milongas, and getting to know the milongueros, I still hadn’t developed a good eye for what I was seeing. At the time, the athleticism of Tete looked “better” to me than Ricardo’s dancing. Of course, Tete is a great dancer (we’ll look at him soon), but comparing him to Ricardo is like comparing apples and oranges. Today, with about 10,000 more dances under my belt than I had that night in the parrilla, I understand what Natu was trying to tell me. Ricardo Vidort really was the Grand Architect of tango dancing.
I won’t go into a detailed analysis, but for those who want to see what they can learn from Ricardo, I can suggest some things to look for. First, of course, you’ll notice that he’s always in the compás. (He once told me that he and the other milongueros used to play a game where the first person to take a step out of the compás during the evening would have to pay for champagne. He says he never had to pay—which sounds right. I could never, ever, imagine him taking a step that was out of the music.)
Ricardo was able to incorporate the compás into his giros, and corriditas (short runs) in a very unique way. Sometimes he only stepped on the strong beat, and sometimes he did a whole series of quicks into and out of the giros. He did corridas to the front and back, he added pauses, and sometimes he curved them. He also incorporated, sacadas, and vai-ven steps (“come and go” or rock steps) into his corridas like no one else. And he had an unusual way of planting one foot and making small stabbing movements with the other while continuing to lead his partner. Tango is almost always danced with a step or weight change from one foot to the other, but Ricardo developed a way of staying on one foot, and marking several beats with the other while his partner danced. (The only other dancer I’ve seen do this is Osvaldo, who apparently learned and practiced with Ricardo when they were young.) Finally, you might notice that when he does runs on Alej's left side, he doesn't switch to contra paso. He makes it look natural, but if you try it you'll find that it's not very comfortable—which is probably why he was the only one in the milongas who did it.
I remember once asking Ricardo if I was doing giros correctly, because they didn’t look like some of the giros I’d seen him do. He looked for a moment, and said, “Sure. That’s a good giro. You can do it like that.” It was a smart answer—but a little different than what I was expecting. If you ask that question in a tango class, you’ll probably get a demonstration of some turn the instructor has memorized, and then he or she will tell you you're right or wrong, depending on how well you're able to copy it. Implicit in Ricardo’s answer was something that every milonguero knows in his gut: There is no “right” way to do a giro. Learn how to move to the music on a crowded floor—and sooner or later you’ll begin to make giros. There may be as many different giros as there are milongueros. (For those who want something a little more concrete however, we will demonstrate a couple of simple linked left and right giros in the next chapter.)
Tango can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. To see how the Grand Architect does it, take a look at the window below. You’ll see Ricardo at his best, combining everything—sacadas, giros, quick steps, hesitations, and vai-ven, in a brilliant two minutes of unrehearsed dancing. Check out the hesitating, running corrida he and Alej do along the tables, as they move away from the camera. (You can see Ricardo spot the other couple move down the line of dance to give him room before he makes his run. And if you continue, toward the end, you’ll see him use another corrida to escape to the middle of the floor to keep from getting boxed in. Using the tools of tango for navigation and musical expression at the same time is the mark of a great tango dancer.)
Two minutes of truly brilliant, unrehearsed dancing. (Celia's, 2001)