El Chino

This next video is the first one Alej and I had a real disagreement about. I’ve been watching it for about two years, and I’ve learned a lot from it... but Alej felt that people from outside the milongas wouldn’t be able to see it. She thought they might think it was less interesting or less exciting than the other videos we've put here. She even felt that some people would think the dancing wasn’t as “good” as the others.

It is a clear change from what we’ve shown before—but remember, there are lots of different kinds of tango. To me, El Chino and Ophelia represent an older and quieter tango that’s more common to the “salida del sabado” tradition in the neighborhoods (Saturday night milongas with dinner and dancing for couples), than to the more frenetic milongas downtown. Here are El Chino and Ophelia dancing to one of my all time favorite tangos, Como se Muere de Amor ("How She Dies for Love"):



I’ve watched this one so many times that I’m not sure if I can still be objective about it—so I asked Alej to comment first. Here’s what she said:

“They dance very slowly, and he takes a lot of care of her. If anyone gets close he waits and waits. He’s protecting her all the time. The milongueras love to dance with someone like El Chino (or with Pocho, or Miguelito). You feel totally safe with them." [ We've shown both Alej and Noemí dancing in a very different way with Gerard on the last two pages, but both of them also dance regularly with El Chino ]. Alej continues: “When he has room, he moves. You can see they both know this music so well because it’s inside of them. They dance the way some of the old people from the neighborhoods speak—they take a lot of time, and they speak very clearly and carefully, without hurrying.”

In tango, you often see different things at different times, so a couple of weeks later I asked her to look at the video again. This time, after a few seconds she said, “Wow... mira como esta saboreando la musica!”—“Look how he 'savors' the music!”

As far as technique, I think El Chino takes about four or five steps that are as nice as any I've ever seen. There's also one very nice giro in the middle, and another one right at the end that's a small masterpiece. Look how smooth and balanced he is. Alej and I both know him, and he's a very nice man. I think people reveal a lot about themselves when they dance tango, and he dances with a mix of humility and confidence that is who he is. I don't know how to explain it, but I just feel like there's a lot to learn from him. I've watched this video so much that El Chino and Ophelia have become inextricably tied to the music. In my mind, Como se Muere is their tango, and as I watched them over and over, my dancing began to change.

Epiphany Three: Dancing Tango is More Than Just Moving

I don't want to get too far out into touchy-feely land with this. After all, tango is really nothing more than just moving around a dance floor in response to music. But even a novice dancer should be able to sense that some music calls for more "moving around" than other music. Let's listen to the first part of Viejo Porton:


Rodolfo Biaggi


Very fast Biaggi valses like this one and Lejos de Ti are two of our favorites—and I think it's fair to say that they are almost totally about movement. Listen to how the energy builds and builds, until Biaggi's orchestra almost works itself into a frenzy. Ten years ago I would have laughed if anyone told me that dancing tango could be as exciting as fast skiing or windsurfing... but it is. Flying around the floor to Viejo Porton, bending four and seven run corridas into fast giros is just as thrilling as a fast descent on skis. Sometimes Alej and I get going so fast that I can feel the tension in my arms as we hold on to keep the force of the turns from pulling us apart.

But tango has a lot of parts. The slower tangos at the other end of the spectrum require a very different kind of dancing, and as I began to absorb the way El Chino danced to them, I began to move to them in a much more contemplative way. But is it really correct to say that you can dance tango by not moving? Is it something someone else could actually see, or have I just watched this video so much that I'm imagining something that's not there?

One night we were in Salon Canning. It isn't our favorite place because it's usually crowded, and sometimes it has a lot of aggressive dancers—but we were there anyway, and when a De Angelis tanda with Como se Muere and Dejame Así came on, we decided to get up. There was almost no space, so we had to work our way along the edge of the floor. We were right up against the tables, and I was watching out for couples that sometimes drift out from the middle, and trying to block out the distractions. We weren’t really doing very much—but I thought we were moving well. I was trying to find El Chino's serenity, and his way of listening to the music. When we were boxed in it didn't bother me at all. I just enjoyed the music, and even when there was room to step I didn't do it until it seemed right—and the whole thing felt pretty good. We must have been one of the least conspicuous couples there, but as we left the floor, an older man who was sitting against the back wall caught my eye and motioned me over. When I got to his table he smiled and said, “Te llega bien esta musica, no?” When we sat down, Alej asked what he wanted. When I told her, she said, "What a nice way to put it!" The translation is: "This music arrives well to you, doesn't it? ”


21. Comment by Tony y Yelena (San Francisco) — April 28, 2008

Amidst the flash of fanciful figures and parade of professors flowing through YouTube and our tango communities, I return to your site as a strengthening oasis and fountain of tango nourishment. It has been a while, but I must thank you again for such a wonderful resource you have created. Your exhaustive (in a good way), meticulous work truly shines as a labor of love.

My wife and I are still dancing in the U.S., but less so. Despite having ample dancing opportunities, our tango was affected by our trip last August. We were guided by some new friends to Sin Rumbo, where we met the Duplaas brothers. We also had the honor of meeting El Chino and dance at his milonga in Vicente Lopez. The memorable experience marked our tango, indelibly. I don't believe any one style can corner "truth" in tango, but for us, enjoying these milongas was our tango truth—a feeling, a way of being that cannot be expressed in words. It felt 'adult' and elegant. Unlike the Dancesport mentality back home, dancing was secondary to the enjoyment of the company. So coming back to the States with all these nuevo acrobatics and deaf headless chicken runs, leaves us a bit depressed. We have a feeling of homesickness for tango—or the milonga of adults, ease, and elegancia. Please keep up the wonderful work. What you, Alej, and your friends have created is truly a beacon for tango.

ps: I can't stop watching this video of El chino. Its salon aesthetic represents for us the real beauty of Tango.