Cacho Dante

September 3, 2019

November 5, 1939 — August 2019

My friend Monica Blanco, a tango teacher in Mexico City, wanted to learn more about the man’s role. We attended Cacho’s classes in Club Bailable Juvenil in August 1999, where she practice the lead with me.

It was nice seeing Cacho after a long absence from the milongas and teaching.  I attended his seminar in November 2012 to translate for students from Singapore, Japan, and Korea.

Cacho was living in Mar del Plata for the last several years.

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Ricardo Vidort lives on through his words

August 30, 2019

Today would have been his 90th birthday.  He’s still with us in our hearts.

These are Ricardo’s words a few months before his passing in May 2006.

Life is a beautiful thing if you know how to live it. We all try to live it, but we (milongueros) live in a different way for what we feel.

You move with the grace that the music gives you, to dance the way you want to. We put that movement in several steps, and from those steps we can make 500 or more. Put feeling — that’s the secret of the tango. So you move and you hold the woman with strength but softly. She feels safe inside, and she feels that you are taking care of her. In that moment the priority is the music and the woman. I don’t care about the people. I dance before 3,000 people, and I dance for two. For me, it’s the same. I dance for my partner. I don’t dance for them. The feeling is unique like fingerprints. Nobody can teach you feeling. I can see it in your movements, and I correct that. I don’t correct what I want you to do, I correct what you feel in a better way so it’s your way, your feeling, your thoughts.

Tango has a way, we call it close embrace. It’s very difficult for a woman, especially a foreign woman, to understand that a guy is going to put you here (on his chest). We bring our energy together in a close embrace, and our bodies enjoy the music. We try to move together, one helps the other to be in the music, one helps the other to do short steps, because we don’t need long steps. We need to walk like we walk on the street but with feeling.

You can copy my steps, but you can’t copy what I feel. If I were to dance now, and I danced this tango, I wouldn’t dance the same way as in the video, because today it’s another feeling. And that’s what people need to understand. You can love ten people in your life, with passion or whatever, but it will be different with each one. That’s the secret of life.

Most of those who dance tango are crazy for the steps and figures — I want to be a better dancer than he is.  No, be better than he is showing who you are. See me work and afterwards you tell me how much you are going to pay me because I give 100% and I enjoy it.

There are thousands who dance tango, but there are very few who dance tango with feeling. We are no more than 30 or 40 milongueros, so when we die, nobody will remember us.

Who is the best dancer? The one who shows he knows a lot or the one who tries to give you his heart, his feeling. I believe the latter, so I do that. A lot of people asked me to dance on stage in lots of places. I never wanted to do it because I would have to change my style. I have to dance what people want to see. No, what you want to see is what I’m going to give you, not what you ask for. I can give you love because you love me. I can give you love if I feel it. If not, it isn’t love. That is what I feel.

It isn’t true you need to learn special steps, that you need to go to a ballet studio to do exercises, no. You need to feel that your body is enjoying it so the body doesn’t stop. You can enjoy it five or six hours. You see people in Buenos Aires of 78 years who seem 25 years younger when they dance.

When I began to dance outside of my house, I was 14, but I already danced. Big guys, 23 or 24, took me along because if not they wouldn’t let me enter.

I feel that the most beautiful thing that you can do for someone is to serve them because it’s the only way you feel your worth. We are part of something that is like music. It’s like we are part of a mechanism — it works only if you put your own self. If you don’t put your own self, you’re out. So put your own self to continue because you’re going to learn something new every day. I wake up happy every day in my life. Why? Because I’m alive.

You need to die to be part of what you’re going to leave in energy to the world because we all are energy. So we need to leave the best.

Celebrating 59 years of tango

The woman in both photos is Jill Barrett of London, who organized classes and taught with Ricardo.

Tango BA Festival

August 15, 2019

The annual tango festival is underway this month, culminating with the world tango championships at Luna Park on August 21.  Tango enthusiasts from around the world descend upon Buenos Aires for classes, concerts, talks, movies, and the competitions.

One of the many open milongas during Tango BA 2019

A view of the Salon Mayor at Usina del Arte in La Boca where there were daily milongas.

I checked the Tango BA site for the program and found lots of concerts by tango orchestras.  There are more of them this month at Usina del Arte and Centro Cultural Kirchner that the rest of the year.

Orquesta Tipica de Ernesto Franco, bandoneonist of the Orquesta de Juan D’Arienzo.

Sexteto Mayor (ensemble for Tango Argentino that traveled the world in the 1980s), Quinteto Real (formed by the late Horacio Salgan, now led by his son), Color Tango celebrating 30 years, José Colángelo, the last pianist with Anibal Troilo’s orchestra, and Ernesto Franco and his orchestra, the 90 year old bandoneonista who played in Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra, are only a few of the those on the festival program.

Jose Conangelo (last pianist with the Orquesta Anibal Troilo) and his quartet along with the Franco Luciani (harmonica) trio for the final concert of the Festival 2019 at Usina del Arte.

I haven’t gone to dance at a milonga in a year, but I went yesterday to one held by the festival in the Abasto shopping mall, near the home when Carlos Gardel lived with his mother.  The milonga was advertised on the site:  At the Patio del Zorzal, Gladys and Oscar Zalazar will conduct a dance class for all levels; then there will be an Open Milonga with recorded music spun by DJ Andrés Valenzuela, followed by a dance exhibition featuring Jesús Velázquez and Natacha Poberaj.

An area on the first level of Abasto was set aside for the milonga with chairs and tables around it.  The Zalazars invited people to participate in their class.  A foreign visitor and I decided to have coffee and talk instead of watching it.  When we returned, the milonga floor was full of dancers of all dance levels.

There was no word in the promotion that this milonga was “contemporary tango” music, which I learned much later from a person in charge.  It was easy to see that many were trying to dance because they came to dance, not because they were inspired by the music.  Plain and simple: the recorded music was horrible.

I started talking to seniors on the sidelines about the music.  They all agreed with me.  They wanted to hear tango music for dancing, not contemporary tango for exhibition.  When I had the opportunity to talk with the person in charge, I asked him why the DJ wasn’t playing dance music that the people wanted to hear.  He said this was organized as a milonga with contemporary tango, whatever that means.  Why? Did they expect to draw a younger crowd?  The majority of the dancers were over 60.  Many sat out in protest.  I asked one couple on the floor if they liked the music.  They replied, no.  So why are you dancing?  They immediately walked off the floor. More should have done so.  It would have sent a strong message that this is not the kind of music real tango enthusiasts want for dancing.

I recall a story Alito shared with me years ago.  He said, “in my era, if the DJ played DiAngeles or any orchestra not for the milongas, he could be taken out to the street and shot.”  That’s how demanding the milongueros were about the music.  If they didn’t like the tanda, they did not dance.  It was a strong message to the DJ that he had to play the music they wanted or else the floor was empty.

If the music presented for dancing doesn’t have a strict tempo, it’s not for dancing.  The milongas in Buenos Aires that offer this kind of quasi-tango, the level of dancing will suffer.  Dancers need and require the best tango music available.  The music of the golden age of tango is available everywhere in the world.  There is no reason not to provide it for dancers everywhere.

D’Arienzo, Troilo, Calo, Di Sarli, and other orchestra recordings will never go out of style.  These recordings endure for one reason: it’s great music for dancing.  Substituting inferior music that attempts to compete with the greats will only bring on the demise of tango and the milongas.   Any DJ that avoids and rejects the golden age music has no respect for tango.  It’s only a job.

Sexual misconduct at the milonga

July 30, 2019

“What we are witnessing at the moment is nothing short of an uprising of women against sexual assault. They are revealing its epidemic frequency in our society and all the ways in which it is enabled by a culture of silence.” 

Laila Lalami, The Nation

I wrote in this post about sexual misconduct in the milongas, but I failed to use those words.  I began writing this post in 2017.  It hasn’t been easy for me, but all the media attention focused on sexual misconduct has helped.  This has been a big wake-up call.

I’ve experienced sexual misconduct in many ways for many years in the milongas.  The problem was I didn’t react appropriately when it happened; I just laughed about it and excused the behavior in my mind as no harm done.  I’ve joined others at #MeToo by speaking out here.

There are so many terms for things we didn’t want to talk about and if we did, we women took the blame:

  • Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and any conduct of a sexual nature that is without consent, or has the effect of threatening or intimidating the person against whom such conduct is directed.
  • Sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent.

Sexual assault goes on in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  Of course, there are men who act appropriately, but some who take advantage of being intimate in the embrace with a woman for only ten minutes, even in a public place.

It’s time for me to write about this from personal experience.

We know that tango is a dance of intimacy unlike any other.  Inappropriate touching and sexual comments are common.  Workplaces have rules about sexual harassment, but there is nothing written about appropriate conduct at the milonga.  Sexual misconduct in the milonga is public.  Very few women talk about it.  They know if they don’t accept an invitation for “coffee” (a euphemism for sexual relations), future invitations to dance won’t happen.

There is a general acceptance of that type of behavior.  I know.  I’ve accepted it for years.  I had my butt patted as I returned to my table.  I had unwanted tongues in my ear while dancing.  A kiss on my neck is not how I want to end the tanda, but my laughing response was only encouragement.  Saying “no” in the moment is the only way to change the culture of the milongas where some men expect women are ready for a sexual encounter after dancing with them.

Too many of us tell ourselves, “it wasn’t that bad.”  The truth is it’s all unacceptable.

A milonguero told me: I touched her breast with my hand when we danced, and she didn’t say anything.  In his mind, the woman likes what he’s doing to her without her consent.  I doubt it.  She’s in his embrace in a public dance.  What can she do?  Push him away and tell him to stop?  That’s long overdue, but she remains silent like a good little girl, and let’s him have his cheap thrill while she hopes that no one notices.  Ladies, what do you say or do in these situations?

I spoke my truth as I was leaving a milonga.  I had the courage to say “no!” to a milonguero who turns on his seductive behavior when greeting women. I avoided him for weeks.  He approached me, and I offered my cheek for the customary cheek-to-cheek air kiss, but he went further by sucking my earlobe!  I looked him straight in the eyes and said “NO MAS.”  He smiled as though he didn’t believe me, so I said it several times for him to understand that I didn’t like his unwanted sexual advance.  We’ve danced only a few times and have no contact outside of the milonga.

Recommended reading: http://www.thebubble.com/explainer-how-we-went-from-free-reign-machismo-to-niunamenos/

Ernesto Jorge DeGouvea

July 14, 2019

I went out for a walk this afternoon for exercise and fresh air on this cool, but sunny, day in Buenos Aires.  I didn’t take my usual route and suddenly noticed Jorge sitting in a restaurant.  I was so happy to see him.  The last time I saw him was almost a year ago when he danced an exhibition in Obelisco Tango at the beginning of the annual Festival y Mundial de Tango.

I went inside to talk.  He had finished having a meal, so we had time for a chat.  He’s still going regularly to dance a few times a week.

I realized that I’ve known Jorge longer than any other milonguero.  I danced with him during my visit in 1997.  Many milongueros with whom I danced over the years are gone.  Jorge is still dancing and still smiling.  It was so good seeing him today.  I’m glad I had my camera in my pocket to snap these photos of him.

Nestor Leon

May 2, 2019

October 25, 1934 – May 2, 2019

Video

Improving your social dancing

April 23, 2019

Another blogger wrote about her dilemma on finding the time and money to improve her dancing.  Tango is a booming industry because of an addiction adults have for taking classes for years in the hopes of dancing like their favorite professionals.  The ego is never satisfied with how well you dance.

I know American women who paid Argentine tango professionals one hundred dollars or more for an hour private lesson.  Did it help their social dancing?  Did the men dance with the women in a milonga?  No.  But the women got to tell their friends about dancing with world-famous tango stars.

What is the best way to improve your social dancing?

1. take lots of group classes, weekend workshops, private lessons?

2. focus on technique and choreography?

3. find a practice partner?

4. dance in the milongas, preferably in Buenos Aires

No. 4 is the best way.  Classes may get you to practice some, but a class of beginners doesn’t help many improve beyond a basic level.  Ladies, you need to dance with men who know how to dance.  Workshops with teachers who disappear in three days with your money do you no good, especially those with a championship title who sell choreography instead of improvisational skills for the milonga.

Case in point.  Jean arrived for her third visit in Buenos Aires.  She danced very little in the milongas during her first two trips because she was too busy with classes and going to the wrong milongas.  She came to improve and gain confidence as a social dancer.  I gave her a milonga schedule where I knew she would dance.  I told her to forget classes with teachers whom she would never see at a milonga.  She followed my advice.  She went to the evening milongas and danced every tanda for four hours, something she never does at her local milonga.  I filmed her dancing in the milonga at the beginning of her trip and at the end.  I pointed out one thing to practice.  Her dancing changed by the end of three months.  She had to adjust to a different partner for each tanda.  The result was she gained confidence, her dancing improved and she enjoyed it more.

Many of the milongueras I know learned to dance in the milongas.  They didn’t learn in classes.  There were no technique classes to attend.  Their private lessons were tandas with the milongueros at Club Almagro and Club Buenos Aires.  The milongueros know how to dance well, and the women learned by dancing with them.

Teachers avoid explaining the embrace because they don’t use it themselves.  It is what sets tango apart from all other social dances.  Any milonguero viejo will tell you that the key to dancing tango is the embrace.   It is the vital element in the tango conversation.

I know many of you are thinking there is no way you can go to Buenos Aires to improve your dancing.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Find a way before the milongas and milongueros are extinct.  Or at least stop taking classes that don’t help your social dancing one bit.

Dancers who become teachers

April 22, 2019

A friend and I were discussing this topic.  We agreed that they are two very different things.  A dancer doesn’t necessarily know how to teach, and not all teachers dance well.  One with dance training has limited experience from classes, but no practical experience as a teacher.  We have all known someone who returns from a few weeks in Buenos Aires and announces they will be teaching tango.  The same goes for those who win a tango championship and start teaching.  The title of champion often is understood to mean, if they were good enough to win, they are good enough to teach.  Those who prepare as school teachers take university courses in education to learn methods for teaching before having the opportunity to apply them to real classroom experience.  Teachers become better teachers by teaching.  No one has to pass an exam or present their credentials to teach tango.  When I began assisting my dance partner with group classes 30 years ago, I had no training as a dance teacher, only years of training as a dancer and musician.  I observed how my partner interacted with the students, presented each lesson, and the results he achieved.  I didn’t agree with his teaching methods, but it was his class.  Those years gave me the incentive to begin teaching social dance classes on my own.  I continued learning how to teach by listening and responding to my students.  Over the years I have talked with milongueros about sharing what they know in private lessons.  The first thing each one has said is that they don’t know how to teach nor have the patience required; yet when given the chance to teach, they surprised even themselves.  In order to teach well, one needs to have a depth of knowledge of the subject.  No one has more knowledge and experience dancing tango in the milongas than the milongueros.  Most of them have no idea of how tango is taught today, but they know what they know.  They know the music.  No one taught them how to feel.  No one taught them their technique; they didn’t know that it existed when they were learning.  They danced what came naturally for them from the music.   I’ve heard many dancers say the milongueros don’t know how to teach.  They are expected to teach tango the way it has been taught for many years by dance professionals that keep dancers going to classes for years.  Milongueros impart all they know in a few hours. Most use a teaching method that programs dancers to memorize patterns; the milongueros teach how to dance.  I found this post that has some interesting things on the subject of teaching beginners. The young dancers who have won the tango championships in Buenos Aires are hardly prepared to teach tango.  They practice the steps they learned from their teachers, but they have no feeling for the music.  They have little or no knowledge of the different tango orchestras like the milongueros.  Their titles almost guarantee they will be doing exhibitions around the milongas of Buenos Aires marketing themselves as performers and teachers.  Foreigners go to the milongas to see exhibitions by young couples who are handsomely dressed and capable of performing a rehearsed choreography perfectly. At some point, I hope that more dancers will begin questioning those who teach tango before signing up for their classes.  They say that a tango teacher is born every day in Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately, those who teach aren’t from the milongas.  The future of social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires depends on the development of social dancers.  Without them, the milongas eventually will close.

Ten commandments of the milongueros

April 19, 2019

These are the unwritten rules that every milonguero respects.

1.  Thou shalt always dress well.  A milonguero bathes and shaves before the milonga. A pressed suit, clean shirt and tie are his uniform. Trimmed hair, shined shoes, and scent of cologne complete his attire for the milonga.

2.  Thou shalt dance ones own style.  A milonguero is a self-taught dancer with his own style, who can dance elegantly with any woman and make her happy.  A milonguero has learned by observing others, but he never copied them.

3.  Thou shalt dance well or not at all.  If there is no woman with whom he can dance his best, a milonguero is content to listen to the music and observe the dancing.

4.  Thou shalt dance for yourself and your partner.  A milonguero dances what he feels and transmits that feeling to his partner.  He doesn’t dance to perform or for applause.

5.  Thou shalt treat women with respect.  A milonguero never approaches a woman at her table or greets women while entering the milonga.

6.  Thou shalt invite a woman to dance from the table. A milonguero uses either a tilt of the head or movement of the lips to invite a woman to dance.  The invitation is subtle and not obvious to others in the salon.  Once a woman refuses his invitation, he will not invite her again.

7.  Thou shalt not dance with another man’s partner.  A milonguero takes time to watch the floor for several tandas so that he knows if a woman he wants to invite has a commitment with another man.  This is not always obvious since they sit separately, but dance only with one another.  A milonguero learned patience.

8.  Thou shalt dance in the floor space available.  A milonguero dances compactly without interfering with others dancing.  If he touches other dancers, he quickly acknowledges it by raising his hand.

9.  Thou shalt not dance consecutive tandas. A milonguero dances only when the music inspires him.  He can wait hours to hear his favorite orchestra or a certain tanda that inspires him to dance.  A milonguero prefers quality over quantity of dances.

10. Thou shalt not be seen leaving the milonga with a woman.  A milonguero arranges to meet a woman on the street.  He always leaves the milonga alone, just as he enters it.

_______________________

“The codes are like the commandments which were born with the tango.”  — Ricardo Vidort

Back to basics

April 18, 2019

There are some misconceptions about learning to dance tango:

  1. You will never completely learn it and could spend years on one step.
  2. It is a difficult dance and requires years of study to dance well.
  3. It is best to study with a variety of teachers because one can always get something from every class.

Learning tango is approached by many as a dance to master, no matter how long it takes.  Those who become obsessed take classes with every teacher they can find (whether or not they are qualified to teach), attend marathon weekends of seminars and milongas, and work tirelessly on perfecting every detail of their dance until it no longer resembles tango.  They look to the so-called experts for criticism on how they can improve.  A simple social dance has become a world-wide market for anyone with the guts to hang out a shingle and call themselves a tango teacher.

What does “completely learn it” mean?  Learn all the steps ever created and master them?  Why spend years working on one step?  Who says it’s not good enough the way you did it a year ago?  How can someone judge a feeling?  There is a collective mindset that is brainwashing everybody into believing that it takes years to complete enough training to be worthy to dance it.

I taught social dance classes for ten years.  At the end of eight classes, the students had enough basics to go out and dance.  People have busy lives with work, family, and other obligations.  They learn to dance for pleasure and to enjoy the company of other dancers.  Those in my classes didn’t have to continue with more classes in order to dance socially and enjoy themselves.   Why isn’t it the same for tango?

Tango has been labeled as a “difficult” dance.  It is really very simple.  One needs to learn to walk with the music.  Understanding the music takes years, but dancers rarely dedicate themselves to the music first.  They go to classes where they are expected to memorize steps and then try to fit them to music they never heard.  This is what makes tango difficult.  If those who wanted to learn to dance were told they had to listen to recordings of Troilo, D’Arienzo, Di Sarli, and Calo for eight hours a day, seven days a week, in one year they would be ready to learn the basics of tango and dance after eight classes.  We can’t dance to music we don’t know.  Music that is foreign to us requires time to understand.

Ricardo Vidort once told me that he taught everything he knew in eight classes.   Then he told his students he had no more to teach them. They had to go practice on their own and develop their own style.  They didn’t need more classes.  He was right.  Those who stay in classes for years want approval from the teacher and won’t practice on their own.

People who have taken years of lessons with many teachers eventually return to basic classes.  Imagine all the hours spent in classes to improve one’s level of dance only go back to the beginning.  I suppose many finally realize that all those advanced technique classes were not what they needed.  They forgot most of it, and in the end knew that one needs only a few steps to improvise tango.

Those who place themselves at an “advanced” level continue to attend classes.   Perhaps they like showing how easy everything is for them and justify participation because they always learn something new.  That’s life. We learn something new every day and hopefully continue learning throughout our lives.  There should be a point, no matter what we are learning, when we gain more from self-study and practice.  That’s certainly true in tango.

  1. Learn the basics, practice on your own, and then go dance.
  2. Tango is simple.  Love the music first, and your tango will come out of you.
  3. Leave class before you become obsessed with collecting steps.  Then develop your own style.