Antonio Cervila Junior
Scene: Junior left the States to perform/work in Buenos Aires so we decided to conduct the interview through email. What I enjoyed about Junior was his complete honesty and forthright responses. It was a pleasure.
Q: Do you consider yourself a tango dancer first or a dancer?
Junior: I am an artist, then a dancer, then a tango dancer. That’s specialization. Besides being a tango dancer, I am a jazz, salsa, samba dancer. Besides being a dancer, I am a filmmaker.
You are a dancer when you dance many things including perhaps tango. A tango dancer dances tango but tango fusions and the globalization of tango have made it so that a dancer can dance tango and a tango dancer can tango to music that is considered tango. I like it.
There is a theory that tango was born as a dance first. It was a way to dance. They danced tango to all the music, Polka, Mazurca, etc. Afterwards, they invented a music for that way of dancing. So, dancing tango to a Nina Simone song is not only acceptable, but a blast in my opinion.
Q: I would like to expand on this point because the idea of the dance coming before the music is interesting. Those of us who are into alternative tango music always hear the comment that it’s impossible to dance Tango to Piazzolla, El Arranque, Narcotango, Norah Jones etc…. (unless it is choreographed). I have always felt that Tango is a language… a tool that I can use when I dance. So if a TLC song comes on that I love, then Tango can be a part of the movement, the dialogue. It gives me a base from which I can move in and out of because the nature of Tango is improvisational. And because I am a dancer first, I can hear the possibilities of the music. … a cross can be led to take 8 counts if the music, mood, my partner call for it. It becomes possible, in the moment, to create something that someone else may think must be choreographed to achieve. Therefore, the concept that the dance came before the music makes so make sense to me.
Junior: You can dance tango to EVERYTHING. Well, I can because I want to. Piazzolla is a genius. Great to dance, but traditionalists don’t like him. So they don’t want to dance to his music. Then of course, it becomes impossible. The only possible things are the ones that you believe.
I came from Copacabana and would turn tango into salsa, mixing the two dances. I loved it. And then turn Milonga into Merengue. Anyway, I don’t like to say that I am right and traditionalists are wrong because there is no right or wrong. It is only what you really feel. And everybody agrees that tango is a feeling. So, if you don’t feel Piazzolla, don’t do it. But shut up and let other people be happy.
In the forties Julio De Caro was considered too modern and people from that time used to say that the real tango were the old ones from 1910. So the question is not what is tango, but WHEN. A 40′s tango was not tango for a 1910′s dancer. So a 2000′s tango will never be tango for a 60′s dancer. And it’s not a physical age, but where in the timeline you place your head. There are teenagers that are more traditional then older people.
Q: Do you feel that tango has more follower leader dynamics than other dances?
Junior: No. Followers from the salsa or West Cost Swing clubs lead too. But the dance that has more followers that propose things is West Cost Swing. Much more than tango.
Q: Hang on… I want to go with your train of thought which I think is different than what I asked, in a moment. I’ll try to first ask the question clearer. Does tango require, more than other dances, a knowledge of how to follow and how to lead? And a question about West Coast Swing. Do more followers propose things in West Coast Swing because it is tolerated better or because the dance allows it more than tango? I personally find that tango offers many ways to improvise and to propose movement as a follower if your leader is open minded.
Junior: The second question you asked and answered, so I will go on with the first one: For me, tango requires a lot of knowledge. The leader has the hard work to look good. A mediocre follower looks Ok. A mediocre leader looks very bad. So for me is not possible to dance tango with a person that never had any classes. The cross in the basic step for example. It’s not natural. You can’t lead a cross if she doesn’t know that vocabulary. You can lead an ocho, a back walk, a front walk. And many times, if you try a molinete, she is not going to do a grapewine, but all back steps.
So I believe that both need some vocabulary to talk and understand the same language: tango.
Q: But wait, Junior. The question for West Coast Swing is, do more followers propose things in West Coast Swing because if it is tolerated better or because the dance allows it more than tango?
Junior: Yes, tango leaders thing that being “macho” is more tango. That’s why in tango there are so many stories of men beating their partners. Even today. Young couples. Mid 20′s have more conservative minds than old guys. Tango people are conservative. Even with sexuality. West Cost Swing and Salsa are more relaxed. So, many tango leaders don’t even feel their partner. The follow is only a tool to show what he can do at the dance floor. It’s not a dialogue. So, it’s not that tango followers propose less. It’s that many tango leaders don’t listen to their partners.
Q: And your comment on mediocre followers and leaders is very interesting. You applied it to Tango. Does the same importance on the leader apply to other dances as much? or does it feel to you that leaders in tango much work harder to look good?
Junior: I think that in every dance, in my opinion, the leader’s part is more complex and takes more time. That’s why many men get frustrated and give up dancing. That’s why there are more women then men dancing everything.
The other reason is that the society doesn’t give incentives to boys to start dancing. I love how you can see it in Billy Elliot.
So when you are a teenager, the girls dance and the boys suck. So, when you are in your middle 20s, 30 or 40, you find tango. And at the milongas there are 5 guys and 40 women dancing. So these 5 guys (not so good) think that they are great. But that’s not true. They are the only option that these women have. I see it everywhere, leaders with a big ego. Many of them are not good. But they think they are tango Gods.
Q: I have danced with you to alternative music (Norah Jones) and what impressed me was how you dance. I hesitate to say that you added salsa moves or west coast moves because that’s not what I experienced. It felt like “dancing” and I have never experienced such a rich dialogue. I say this because you are expressing your feelings intensely and I want to make it clear to readers that you aren’t just talking about it. You live it and express it in your dance.
Junior: I will put in another way. It’s not that I live what I talk. I say what I live. I don’t believe in a communist that has a BMW.
Q: Excellent point. So…paint a picture of the perfect leader.
Junior: Perfection exists? Or is it just something that we invent so that we live frustrated the rest of our lives? But I think that a good leader is the one that feel his partner. Don’t try to do uncomfortable moves for her just to show off. Takes care of her on the dance floor. Listen to the music. ENJOY the music and the person that is in front of you.
Q: And the “good” follower?
Junior: A good follower is the one that don’t try to take the control. It is not a war of who has the remote control and decides when to zap. Try to propose things but not to impose things. Wait for the lead, breath with the leader, walk by yourself after you feel the lead. Otherwise, for the leader it feels like “moving furniture”. Ah, just one more thing: smell good…… oboy
Q: ummm… I might add the leaders should smell good too.
Junior: I think so. But I don’t dance with many leaders.
Q: Can you go into detail about “proposing” versus “imposing”?
Junior: A democrat proposes. A dictator imposes.
Q That’s very clear. The feeling and the image. You mentioned in Tango-L and in a conversation here in the Berkshires, that you experienced prejudice because you are not Argentine. Could you elaborate on that? And do you still experience today?
Junior: I don’t experience prejudice anymore because I studied a lot and now I am respected. But at the beginning I had a lot of that. The close minded Argentinians think that tango is only for people from Bs As. But they love to put foreign dollars in their pocket to teach them. Tango was created in a Bs As that had more immigrants than Argentinians. And people, not only in tango world, but in dance world, respect other people on how good they can dance. If you do 5 piruettes you will be better person than if you only can do 2.
So, I realized that I had to be good to have respect. And I studied books, watched shows, has classes, rehearsed a lot. Then one day I heard: he is good. And there was no prejudice any more.
Q: Where do you want to go with Tango? choreography? production?
Junior: Tango is so stuck in one place. I think tango can give much more than it is giving. Tangueros only have to realize that everything is changing. We can’t dance exactly like in the 40′s because we are not in the 40′s. The world has changed and so has changed people. If a tanguero is very traditional and thinks that everybody has to dance like in the 40′s ONLY, I think that he should not use TV or cellular phones. He has to live like on those days.
My choreography is modern. My dance at the milonga is calm and subtle: introspective. My productions try to bring young people to tango.
Q: There has been a lot of discussion on Tango-L about the v frame or parallel – the differences and like all Tango-L discussions, which is better. Do you have a preference and if so, why?
Junior: It depends on the step and the style. I use the 3 frames. Parallel most of the time in choreographies. A frame, (apilado) at the milongas and some choreographies. and V frame for the colgadas.
Q: Could you describe a Tango moment that you have had? when you understood something with clarity?
Junior: When I started going to the milongas. I first learned choreographies but when I discover the improvisation and the feeling, it was a whole new world. Like Matrix.