Scene: Cristina is lying on the bed at my house and all snuggled up in the blankets. I’m sitting at the bottom of the bed with the computer. Homer is in and out of the room at first and then working on his computer at the desk. Later he joins Cristina and her pile of blankets. It’s homey (or homery?) and very relaxed.
Cristina has such a shiny personality and smile and manages to put people at ease immediately. I love that girl! Homer and Cristina are fearless in their exploration of the dance. Together Cristina and Homer provide, not only Tango expertise, but themselves as role models for working Tango couples.
Q: If you had to define the underlying emotion of your personality…of who you are… how would you describe it?
Cristina: Shy but eager to socialize. I use Tango to make me a more sociable person. I was very conscious of that decision when I decided to learn Tango. It was very scary. No one knew me in Tango, so I knew that I couldn’t embarrass myself. I could define myself because no one knew my background.
Homer: Sensitive and contemplative with a hint of mischievous energy. Sometimes I get a rebellious tendency when I feel that something is out of balance.
Q: How does that play out in Tango?
Homer: The sensitive and contemplative helps me try to understand and appreciate all sides that Tango has to offer. The other part decides what it needs to do in any given moment.
Q: For instance?
Homer: Okay… when I moved to San Francisco in 2002 and soon realized that there was a need for something more that would bridge the gap between traditional music and more alternative music. This idea, with the help of many like-minded Tango folks, turned into Cellspace, whose positive, balanced, and progressive environment has become a standard SF event over the past three years. For me Cellspace represents the result of several years of personal growth – from being a naive novice, to a rebellious dancer, to a state of allowing Tango to evolve naturally.
Q: Well.. what about the way you dress? rebellious, revolutionary, necessity… what is it?
Homer: It is just me. a process of growing into myself ..into my Tango identify. Its been a natural process.
Q: I noticed more people dressing in what I perceive to be your style in Buenos Aires during my last trip. So the dress code for the Tango community is changing. You hear about it on Tango L all the time. People are wearing sneakers to milongas or dressing down and of course, there are the complaints. Did you experience any negativity about your choice in dress?
Homer: You can say that for the first year and a half, I wore a 3 piece suit , or tux, or just dressed up. I was living in Arizona and then LA. Then I slowly started to add or take things away from my outfit. Sunglasses or kangol hats with my tux. Actually, it all started in February 1998 when I shaved my head because I was going bald. So I bought my first kangol hat. I still have it. Then I started experimenting with other types of clothes. .. jeans, t-shirts etc.
Q: Why? and what did the community think?
Homer: Once in a while, people would say I wasn’t dressing right for Tango.
Q: Were you the only person?
Homer: Moti Buchboot, Jaimes Friegen, and I would go out with our partners. Its easier for women to be more casual but men generally wore their shirts tucked in. etc. We would hang a 6 inch bungee cord from the waist (belt loop) and call it our special purpose. We would hang trinkets off our belt buckles…. bart simpson, toys etc. We used to be called the dirty 9 (cant remember who the rest were) but eventually became the dirty 4. It was great because the women liked dancing with us (mostly in the line of dance except James who liked to hang out in the middle).
My style of dress was defined for me when I signed up to go to Linda Valentinos event in LA with Cristina and she told me that I could go but I couldn’t wear sneakers, jeans, baseball caps, t-shirts..ie..no “hip hop couture.” I asked for a refund of my money and setup a protest all night milonga without a dress code. It was very well attended and designed not to conflict with her event.
Q: I didn’t know that your fashion was called hip hop couture!
Homer: She helped me define my style… Tango hip hop couture. but from that point on, I have refined how I dress. People started making pants for me and I started wearing nice dress shirts left out.
For example, with the same pair of pants – there’s the casual hip hop couture which is a t-shirt – if I wear a soccer jersey it is sport hip hop couture – if I wear an untucked dress shirt it is elegant hip hop couture. If I wear something really crazy – glow in the dark, etc – it is funky hip hop couture.
Now I’m getting into different types of jewelry. Cristina has been giving me different items. Maybe you could call this hip hop karma. (shows me a pendant in sanskrit)
Q: and Cristina?
Cristina: I wear what’s comfortable. I never categorized myself as either casual or elegant. I want to be comfortable, and I want it to move with my body. Sometimes I will indulge in sparkles.
Homer: Cristina is a total Tango fashion maven and she spends hours picking out clothes. Women in the bay area adore her and look up to her as a fashion idol.
Cristina: I’m able to carry off weird combinations because of my personality. If an outfit is carried well, it doesn’t necessarily have to work.
Q: What do you like best about dancing with Homer?
Cristina: The intimacy of the connection…. the comfort zone… the complete trust of each other…the sensibilities of how we fit to each other as dancers, as individuals and as a couple. Its like experiencing the most in depth conversation with him. No judgement, no criticizing.
Q: What do you like best about dancing with Cristina?
Homer: The best thing that I love about dancing with Cristina, is the unique energy that she gives me and support as a follower. She is at the same time able to follow everything that I lead and also make it her own. And Cristina has the incredible ability and eye for creative movement so oftentimes she can take an idea that I lead and can help me evolve it to something that I didn’t see. Especially when were practicing. When we’re practicing, she can give me very concise and important information about myself as a leader and what I can do in order to lead better.
Q: What do you think he likes best about dancing with you? (Homer is not around)
Cristina: The maturity of my experience… not only as a social dancer but as a person. As a social dancer, its how I express myself… my confidence in how I dance… musicality, my own way of moving. I think he finds it enjoyable and also something he can really relate to. I think another aspect that he enjoys about dancing with me is that I go in with the idea of taking care of us… not just myself… as a shared experience… not just what I take but also what I can offer.
Q: What do you think she likes best about dancing with you? (Homer has not heard what she has shared)
Homer: I try to take care of her by listening to her body and the way she moves. Also I feel that because we are in an intimate relationship, we are able to connect at a level that is beyond ordinary levels of Tango bliss. On the other hand, we know that our Tango connection can either be the most heavenly experience to the worst in hell. When its good, we let it last.. when its bad, we stop dancing immediately and walk away without hard feelings. This process did not come naturally but its a way of preserving our relationship first and the dance second.
Q: When I was in BA, I asked for a private with a well known teacher. I was told by his wife that they only give privates to couples. Later, a friend explained that this couple is very careful about being alone with their students. Have you ever felt compromised?
Homer: No because I don’t let myself fall into a compromising position with my students and I believe that my students understand my intentions of being a teacher and not someone trying to seduce them. I also feel in my experience that men tend to be more aggressive and women more subtle about seduction. Lastly, I have worked very hard to change my career to be a Tango teacher and that is something that I don’t want to compromise or belittle by inappropriate behavior.
Cristina: It happened when I was a student… not a teacher. During a private lesson with a teacher I had to express that I only wanted a lesson. He stopped but I lost a lot of my innocence and the lesson ended shortly.
Q: Turning points in your dance?
Cristina: 1st turning point – 4th year when I started practicing more and given the opportunity to not only criticize and analyze Tango but also my own movement and how it relates to Tango. I had enough experience that I could start to analyze it more carefully… objectively and subjectively. How I see and how I feel. identifying my own personal style. … owning my movement.
2nd turning point – after my 6th year… I had met Homer already and had also traveled more and had danced with all kinds of leaders. I realized as a follower that I can be a chameleon and be the follower that my leader wants me to be. At the same time, find a way in myself to express my own identity.
For instance, I can pick up how Homer wants me to dance but I can also find a place for me… an expression of myself.
3rd turning point – when I started teaching with Homer as an experienced follower. I have had to reflect on my knowledge and attempt to articulate that to others. I had to understand my own experiences.
1. My first move to LA (97) and learning social dance from various stage dancers
2. Returning to Tucson (99) and opening the Shoebox Tango Club (a live-work dance studio)
3. Back to LA (2000) and discovering the organic Tango philosophy (plus a month of classes with Chicho and Lucia)
4. Settling with Cristina in SF (2002), becoming a founding member of the non-profit Project Tango and opening cell space (2003) with a group of like-minded volunteers.
Q: In reflecting on your experiences, did you ever feel that you took a wrong turn?
Cristina: Yes definitely. For example, now I’m very aware that I took classes in the past that were a complete waste of my time and now I also realize, that even though it was waste of time, that I learned something about myself. I learned that not all Tango teachers are good teachers and that I should be more vigilante as a student not to eat everything they feed me. I need to take the time to examine what they are teaching. For instance, how does this relate to my body or how does this relate to how I hear the music. I know now that I need to figure out things by myself.
Homer: In my philosophy, I am who I am by making mistakes and learning through my failures – a way of thinking I learned after 9 years of martial arts (not to mention the keeping the cup half-empty attitude when it comes to learning Tango).
Q: What was your biggest mistake that you learned from?
Homer: The biggest mistake was when I lost a friend because I did not know how to separate my artistic, philosophical, and professional Tango boundaries from my friendship boundaries.
Q: What qualities does an excellent teacher have?
Cristina: Excellent social skills. For example, the idea that they need to recognize that each person has a different learning pattern. They need to be able to deal with that in the most effective manner. They also need to be respectful of other people and have to present a personality, that even though they are the teacher and have more knowledge, they also need to have the energy that they are open to learning. Its coming into the room as a teacher and student. They must come into the room with a very good grasp of the material that they are teaching and be able to articulate it.
Homer: In addition, an excellent teacher has to create a positive environment for their students to learn and grow. Also, a good teacher must leave the door open for each student to take the path towards their highest level of Tango intelligence, even if that means the student leaves and takes another road to achieve their full potential. In fact, a good teacher should encourage their students to explore everything that is Tango around them so that they can make the best decisions for themselves.
Q: Not everyone has the same drive as we do to achieve our full potential. I have found that I have to accept that some students are happy with a limited level of dance.
Homer: Tango is both a social form and an art form. Each student decides how much of each element they want in their Tango. Some just want enough dance technique to be social and others want to be explorers.
Q: What are the qualities of an excellent leader?Cristina: A leader who owns his movement and his dance. He must know his music. He must be a good listener of his follower. Be caring… be clear in his lead.. and who isn’t afraid to make mistakes.
Q: Are the qualities different for a woman leader?
Cristina: no the same.
Q: Do women have the same struggles as a man in leading?
Cristina: ummmmm… it depends. If a woman leader is a strong follower, then there’s a different sense of tentativeness to her lead versus a beginning male leader. The other extreme, is that as a beginner leader she can be too strong.
Q: What are the qualities of an excellent follower?
Homer:That they are sensitive to the lead but strong in their answer. They own their bodies … not the leaders. Also good followers are just as involved in listening and interpreting the music as the leader is, while still following.
Q: What do you think is the most common flaw of leaders?…. pet peeve?
Cristina: When they project arrogance… when they are over confidence. (laughter) when they’re not listening in general.. specifically, to the music, to the floor, or even to themselves when they’re too caught up with other things.
Q: What do you think is the common flaw of followers? … pet peeve?
Homer: When followers become frigid and not so flexible within the embrace and in the form of the dance. When they don’t allow themselves to have fun and make mistakes and work through them.
Q: What do you think you still have to learn?
Cristina: Music, history, tradition,… I still have more to learn about myself as a person… as I grow older, there is that sense of looking forward to something more from me.. which I like. I have so much more room to grown technically and musically, I wouldn’t say that I have learned everything. That would be the death of me as a dancer.
Homer: A lot… right now I’ve been learning upright bass so that I can play Tango music and perhaps contribute one day to the evolution of the Tango music form…even if it takes me 10 years. Most importantly, I’m trying to learn how to survive myself and not burn out as a Tango teacher and dancer.
Q: How does one keep themselves from becoming burnt out?
Homer: By constantly listening to, paying attention to, your current physical and mental Tango health and making the appropriate changes to keep you going.
Q: Your priorities?
Homer: My relationship with Cristina comes first. Then myself as a Tango dancer and then my career as a Tango teacher.
Q: Do you consider yourself a dancer or a Tango dancer?
Cristina: I consider myself as a dancer because I can move my body to the feel of the music. Once I start thinking of myself as a Tango dancer, it becomes more than just the physical movement itself. I also become a social person in all of its essences. As a person who talks, converses. I see myself as a Tango dancer because I am able to connect and converse with different leaders and followers through the music. Tango is not just the dance itself. It is what happens between the leader and the follower. Rather it is exciting, sad whatever. There is more of me at stake.
Homer: Both. For me, there is no difference. The vehicle for me to express myself as a dancer is Tango but I do consider myself a student of dance.
Q: What is this about you being the queen of the serpents.
Cristina: Maybe its because of my long curly hair… you know… Medusa…(laughter) A friend of ours, Jaimes, coined this name. He called me Queen of the Serpents because I can go slow or fast… and I move in a spiral. Homer interjects: yep, she can throw in a leg wrap that is amazing!
Q: (We later discovered that once, when Cristina was a child, she killed a cobra with a garden hoe!) Homer, why are you water?
Homer: My friend, Jaimes, decided to give colorful descriptions to his Tango friends. Jaimes is a dragon. Alex is a wizard and I am water because of my nature to flow with my partner. If they are not able to follow me, I follow them but if they follow me well, I increase the current flow and our dance becomes more dynamic.
Q: Have you ever had an insecure moment in the dance?
Cristina: ALL THE TiME!! Definitely. As time goes by, it becomes less often. When it attacks, I don’t fear it as much anymore. What I do is ask myself why is this happening?. What is triggering this? Does this involve just me or another person? My insecurities usually pop up when Homer is involved. Then I talk to Homer about it and he helps me figure how what I’m experiencing. When I begin to understand it (not necessarily solve it), I feel better.
Q: Well, I have to tell you that for example, my experience in Portland affected everything in my Tango life. I started to question if Tango was for me.
Cristina: I have been attending Tangofest for 6 years now, and it does the same to me. I question my ability to follow in the presence of many many good dancers.
Q: Yeah, but I don’t feel that there is a sense of kindness or empathy for the less advanced. Its like being in high school again.
Cristina: Its exactly like that. Apparently, I developed this reputation that I don’t sit with the advanced dancers at the stage or near the podium. They asked why I don’t sit there and I said that I want people to feel that I was accessible. I try to sit among everyone in order to dance with beginner and intermediate dancers and to not be apart. There are so many good followers and the leaders go ga ga over the quality. But the other followers feel such low self esteem. The mechanism for community is there, but the reality of it is different. We are big supporters of the underdog.
Homer: Yes. as a beginner, sometimes I would have a hard time asking someone to dance. Sometimes I still do. Also, performing has been the biggest challenge to myself as a social dancer. I used to hate it but now consider it a challenge and something that makes me a better dancer. Its one piece of the overall pie.
Q: Onto brighter things: Best moment in Tango?
Cristina: When Homer and I danced at the Argentine Embassy in Washington DC March 2004 to Nothing Else Matters. That was my best moment because it was the best interpretation of how Homer and I can convey how we feel about Tango. We felt we showed how connected two people can be in the dance. After that demo, many people came to us a year later. We don’t remember any specific pattern, but what stood out was the connection that Homer and I were experiencing.
Homer: In addition to Cristina’s, two weeks at the 2004 Carpe Diem Festival in Sweden where a large group of Tango people cooked, cleaned, recycled, played and danced together. It gave me a really strong sense of what a Tango community could be at its best.
Q: What was your reaction to the Wall Street Journal article? and how did you feel about the reaction from the Tango community?
Cristina: First reaction: I was very proud of Homer. He deserves the acknowledgment even though the article didn’t give the full story of who Homer was as a dancer and instructor. Regarding the backlash on Tango – L, I knew there was going to be negative feedback but I also realized that there would be support from our friends. When you have a good moment, it also carries liabilities. So I think sometimes it’s good to acknowledge those liabilities.
Q: The future of Tango?
Cristina: Its going to continue to evolve and cross cultural boundaries and unite all the dancers under one common language.
Q: Is this utopia?
Cristina: I hope so…but its true.. every country that I visited, Tango was a way to communicate. No matter how good or bad.
Homer: The future of Tango? Lets find out..
Scene: Falcon contacted me through email and expressed his appreciation for the interviews on the website. I suggested that we rendezvous in Buenos Aires for an interview. He agreed. Personally, I didn’t know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to encounter a very relaxed pleasant Argentine professional dancer without any pretensions. amazing…:-)
We met in the lobby of the Bauen hotel. I was late and almost missed him because the previous interview took longer than expected.
Q: A little history first… who was most influential in your development as a tango dancer?
Hector: I was 4 years old when I started dancing Folkloric and was 14 years old when I started dancing Tango. I began working with the Dinzels when I was 21 years old. Maestro Dinzel is profound as a Tango instructor.
The most important highlight was working with Miguel Zotto in the Tango production Tango X 2. Miguel taught me so much. I knew how to dance socially but I learned a lot from him about the traditional aspects of Tango. Even though I might “know” a Tango concept, Miguel helped me “understand” it.
And then there was Todaro in Buenos Aires. When I met him, he was already very old and he danced Milonguero style. Todaro had a huge vocabulary.. it was unbelievable.
And of course, there was the show Tango Passion. I worked in many companies around the world.
Q: How would you define your style of dance?
Hector: I am very traditional… and an artist. I feel I dance real tango . I don’t do many lifts and I dance on the floor. I love close embrace socially and do as much as I can on stage. Of all the dances, Milonga traspie is my favorite and is probably what I am known for. I enjoy it
Hector: Maybe because it was very difficult for me to learn… and also because it’s fun. Tango is so serious.. the music… Tango can be melancholy and I like it but sometimes I want to be more upbeat.
Q: Why do you think milonga traspie is so difficult for people to learn?
Hector: It is more difficult than Tango because the Tango gives you many possibilities to follow the music. In Milonga you must be exact in how you follow the music. Sometimes people think it’s the speed and, sure, the melody has speed. You can stop and wait in Tango. It is part of the choreography. That really doesn’t happen in milonga. You must be on tempo.
Q: What are the other differences between the Milonga and Tango?
Hector: Most of the Milonga steps you can do in Tango, but not most of the Tango steps in Milonga.
Q: Why do you say that?
Hector: …Because of following the music… following the beat. In Tango you can do decorations but in Milonga that is difficult.
Q: And what is required in the leader for Milonga?
Hector: The same rules as Tango. Open embrace or close embrace and it’s not necessary to take smaller steps. However, when you dance traspie, you can mix between regular and traspie. The contra-tempo needs to be small step… because the beat is shorter, so the step needs to be smaller. but regular milonga… sure take big steps. Also doing large steps in traspie would not be elegant.
Q: And for the follower?
Hector: She must know how to dance milonga traspie. It is difficult to do if you haven’t learned it. It’s also very important in traspie to follow the lead … not guess… go after the lead.
Also she must have relaxed legs and put her weight into the ground. In any folkloric dance you need to be grounded. In classical dance, the weight goes up. It’s the same for Tango, except you have more possibilities so your weight can go up. Additionally your weight must reach the floor exactly on the beat… and just once. Not twice.Some of the dancers, women and men, fly on the music… so you don’t know where your partner is. They must be grounded.
In Tango you can lie, but you can’t in Milonga because of the tempo. It’s difficult to teach the traspie because of the weight change. I try to explain that it’s like the feeling of regret… think I am going to step but change my mind.
Q: Where does the lead come from?
Hector: In close embrace and Milonga I use the chest.
Q: Can you tell when the follower is not following the chest and is thinking more of their feet?
Hector: I can realize when the follower is following the feet. It usually means that she or he is thinking about how they look… elegant… not the dance.
We don’t need to care about the mirror. Our mirror is inside. As a dancer you want to enjoy the dance. I dance very relaxed. No tension in my arms or my body or my mind. I go to the milonga to enjoy it.. not suffer. So I want to enjoy the dances I have. Even if you are an artist, people can see if you don’t feel the dance. The best artists are the ones that feel.
When you go to the milonga, sometimes you feel like you are doing everything right.. and another time, everything is wrong. it’s not the technique or loss of knowledge… it’s the lack of feeling. If you feel bad that is okay. It is still a feeling… but to be in your feet and not feel anything.. that is not good.
I always compare the dance with language. You and I have spoken English for an hour. Sometimes I say I can’t speak English. So now I have to think in Spanish and speak in English. After a while I relax and now I can speak English with ease.
Q: Carlos Gavita was an artist that transmitted the feeling. He was very slow.. and did nothing.. but the feeling from him was remarkable. He didn’t need to do many steps.
Hector: I met him almost 20 years ago. He was performing and he was an artist 30 – 40 years ago. Carlos was traveling around the world when no one else was traveling. He came back from Europe after being gone for 15 years. He wasn’t competitive. In Tango we have levels. If I’m going to teach and Gavito is also teaching, I respect him. I MUST respect him. He was older, had much more experience.
If anyone asks me about Dinzel, Copes… I respect them because they are on another level…. older than me in the profession. We always have something to learn. Sometimes the new teachers, new dancers, they don’t care about the important things. But when we become older, we become wiser. hopefully…
Q: And Nuevo Tango?
Hector: Nuevo Tango – I like it. Everything is going to change and we need to change with the world. Even if I personally don’t change my dance. This is good for the tango. Otherwise we will keep dancing like we did a 100 years ago. We need to change with the times.
and Nuevo music – I like some of it.. and some of it i don’t…. because it doesn’t feel like Tango. The Nuevo dance is different. Some of the new teachers dancers try a different way, and they find a different way or step to do… to see if our body can do it. It is interesting. Maybe I understand because I like to dance other dances too.
Q: How is the Tango different from other dances?
Hector: The tango dance is more important than the tango music. It is a language. Another important thing about the Tango is that you can dance in any part of the world at a Milonga. That doesn’t happen with other dances. Even if you don’t speak the language.
Also , you improvise all the time… and you do that most of the time within the real embrace of your partner. In open embrace you can do many steps, it doesn’t feel like a real embrace. Tango is about the embrace. If you dance ballroom, you hold your partner. but in tango we embrace the partner. In english it is very clear. In Spanish we don’t use the word hold.
When we talk about improvisation.. sometimes it is not pure because you know the step but you improvise the sequence. But in the Tango, you can change in the middle of the step.. then it is pure. You never know what is coming. In ballroom, when you start to do something, you pretty much know what is coming even though you may improvise the sequence. In Tango, you never know… especially if you don’t know your partner. Sometimes, I lead (a question… i ask) and when my partner does something, it is an answer. Sometimes, with a question my partner will answer in a different way and then I need to ask a different question. Sometimes you have to say your question louder. (laugher) One of my teachers, Maestro Dinzel, would always say that each Tango is unique. You can not repeat the experience. Even if you do everything the same, it will not be same.
Q: Any final words of advice?
Hector: Never stop learning. Try to learn the most you can. Even if you are talented, still work, study, rehearse.
Scene: Interview with Graciela Gonzalez at her home. I met her at the final milonga for El Pulpo’s Festival. Tara, Luz, Graciela, Geri and I were talking about cleavages… yes cleavages. That’s what happens when you get a group of independent women together.
First she shows me photos of Pupi and tells me that on the 20th of December, Pupi will be 70 years old. She’s going to put together a video of all the old photographs. Then she offers Ronnie and I coffee and manages to make us feel very welcome. Graciela has a lovely smile and is very gracious.
Q: When did you start dancing? Why tango? Your teachers?
Graciela: In 1988, I began studying tango. My parents danced Tango and my father never wanted to teach me but I wanted to dance with him. My parents aren’t alive now and they KNEW how to dance tango. They were from a much older generation. If they were alive today, they would be 80 years old. They lived in the golden years of Tango.
Q: When you say they “knew” , do you mean the manner… the quality?
Graciela: When they were young, the only music they listened to on the radio was tango. In order to get married, they needed to know how to dance. It was the “in” music at the time… tango and jazz.
Q: With whom did you study?
Graciela: At a cultural center near my house, a group of disciples of Gustavo Naveira organized a practica on Saturdays. I saw a notice and since it was close to home, I began going. The first day, I almost danced 4 hours and from that day on, I never stopped dancing. 1988. (18 years ago)….the 9th of January.
Q: At that time, who else was popular? other than Gustavo Naviera?
Graciela: Pupi Castello, Pepito Avellaneda, Antonio Todaro….the popular ones were the older people. Gustavo was one of the young people who was teaching. He was an upstart….he was doing something different.
Q: No women?
Graciela: When I began, the men teachers was more popular. I was the assistant of a milonguera, Alejandra, the only woman I knew that was giving classes. She was a very strong woman.
The women accompanied the men, but they weren’t the star. Miguel Balmaceda was another man teaching.
So the classes were directed towards men, the leaders. The way women learned was by dancing. All the instruction was given to the man. That’s the usual way of teaching Tango.
Q: How did you learn the women’s role?
Graciela:: by watching the old milongueras. The majority of them have died.
Q: From who and what did you learn?
Graciela: First I noticed the feet and the way someone walks. There wasn’t anyone in particular, I watched everyone and then I danced. I danced without adornments because every man was different. They danced very well so I felt that it showed a lack of respect to do adornments…. Because I didn’t have time to think about doing an adornments. Each man had a world he created of his own in which he danced and I would discover that from dancing with him. Someone who learned during the `80′s went through a series of stages in their dance.
To watch… to be invited…. to earn the right to be on the dance floor. That’s true for all of us who began at that time. We had nicknames for the young people.. Miguelito, Gracielita.
Q: Who did you start dancing with?
Graciela: I started dancing with Pupi in competition. In 1998. Pupi invited me to dance at a practica and there was a competition going on at that time. He said “let’s dance in this competition”. I didn’t realize he was an important figure so I said “okay”. In the first one we came in second. After that, we came in first. The competitions took place at different milongas. That was the style.
Martita danced with Petroleo and sometimes with Pupi. She was amazing. Small and thin and she did fantastic embellishments. Pupi taught me the embellishments that Martita used.
Margarita, another milonguera, is still alive. She is approximately 70 years old and still dances at the Sunderland club. Other names were La Rusa and La Gallega “Adela”, La Tana…
Q:….why do so many of the women have nicknames only?
Graciela: The women only had nicknames and the men might have both…. El Cachafez and Carmencita. and Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves (Nieves is not her last name, it’s her middle name). Milena Plebs was the first woman to appear with a first and last name and changed the history of women in Tango. She is approx. 44 years
Q: Do you have any stories you would like to share about some of these personalities?
Graciela: Margarita said that when she doesn’t dance she feels bad. For these people, they say they want to be dancing when they die.
Graciela: I believe that for the new generation, Tango is an element chosen but it’s not the only thing.
Q: Are you part of the new generation?
Graciela: I’m part of the generation of the 80′s. For example, last year when the fire happened there were no milongas for more than a month, the man El Tano Guillermo didn’t know what to do with his life. He was totally depressed. The place where he belonged was closed. So for many people of that generation, the milonga is their life. His past? He lived for a long time in Canada. He danced milonga traspie but with troubles with his life, he changed.
Q: Like Carlos Gavito?
Graciela: Si….but this applies more to the men, because the women have children and grandchildren. So for some people, the milonga is all there is. For me, I like to meet with friends, read books, …..
Q: Is the reason why the newer generation is different is because the men are more involved in the family?
Graciela: Yes. It’s 50 50 with the new generation. In the dance and outside of the dance as well.
Q: Are the women stronger… more vocal about their needs?
Graciela: Si… the women have much more participation in life in general. Couples didn’t split up in the past, now we see couples splitting today that we didn’t see in the older generation.
Q: What is it like now compared to then? the social scene? the personalities?
Graciela: Many things. The dress – before you had to be dressed elegant sport … men had to wear a jacket maybe a tie… women did not wear pants. and now everything is okay.
Then the economics of the people. After the show tango Por Dos with Miguel Zotto and Milena Plebs, you started to see more young people dancing. They weren’t as well off and so they went dressed as they could. It isn’t that the milonga changed but that the country changed economically.
The codes are more relaxed.
Q: Which codes?
Graciela: The cabaceo, women dancing together, the lack of a cortina at some places, and the line of dance changed. Now it’s chaos because everything is open at different levels of dance. You don’t earn the right to dance. On the one hand, it’s good because you have young people dancing but on the other hand, it can be total bedlam.
There are also more foreigners than before. Almost 50% now are foreigners in most milongas.
Q: Have they changed the dance?
Graciela: No…at first, they were from Holland and Germany and the United States. Now it’s everywhere.
Q: I saw a video of you dancing at someone’s birthday party. Maybe with Pupi and I also saw a video of you talking about the role of women. Were you a pioneer regarding the women’s role? Was it concerning adornments? women teaching?
Graciela: Yes I was a pioneer. I created the first course of technique for women at La Galeria of Tango. The owners were Gavito, Eduardo and Gloria. They invited me to do something at the Galeria. I was already giving classes with Pupi so if I gave classes with another man, that would have ended my teaching relationship with Pupi. So we created the first practica with only women teachers. Martha Anton, Veronica Alvarenga, and me. Both women and men attended and then, out of that, came the 1994 first women’s technique class.
Q: What did you teach?
Graciela: I taught by myself….. balance, the attitude, the quality of walk and embellishments. Only women attended.
Q: What was the reaction from the community?
Graciela: For Gavita and Eduardo, they thought it was a good idea. With the old old milongueros, they could not understand why the women need to learn. Margarita thought it was a good idea.
Q: You knew how to lead and follow?
Graciela:: yes – all three of us.. Martha, Veronica and myself
Q: How would you define your style? a signature? a specialty?
Graciela: Good feet.
Q: And your most special tango moment?
Graciela: Every moment is special so nothing in particular…. because they have to do with my growth … my development. Wait… Traveling… the first time I went to United States in 1985 at Stanford. it was my first class and somebody said to me, has Graciela Gonzalez arrived yet .. and it was a class of 80 people. It was very emotional moment. I thought, “what am i doing here?”…. and after earning the confidence of the people there, I felt better. I was the first woman to give classes alone at Stanford and received rave reviews.
Q: How was it to work with Pupi, Gavito, Daniel Trenner?
Pupi – a personality and he was my teacher
Gavito – a friend. I went to NY for a festival .. I wanted to sleep, I was tired. Some people said , “Come with us… let’s have a drink”. It was a surprise because Gavito was waiting for me.
Daniel Trenner – the first person who brought groups from the United States to Buenos Aires.
Q: Where is tango going?
Graciela: The aesthetic of tango has changed but structurally there’s nothing new. The women has a lot more aesthetic participation. The structure for example volgadas, already existed.
Q: Can you describe what the perfect dance would feel like?
Graciela: It’s the sense of a trip. It doesn’t have anything to do with the form of the Tango. It could be just walking… traveling… or lots of figures but it depends on a lot of different circumstances.
The connection is the most important. If there is no connection, there is no trip. It’s just training… nothing.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for tangueros/as?
Graciela: Many of the old milongueros/as don’t travel or give regular classes, so I would recommend that they take classes with them before they die.
Examples are Pupi Castello, Margarita Guille(at Borges), and Eduardo Pareja at Estudio La Esquina
Scene: I am taking a musicality seminar in Buenos Aires with Gustavo Naveira and his partner in the dance and life, Giselle. Originally, I was going to ask Gustavo for an interview but Brian, an instructor/organizer from Boulder Colorado, thought that Gustavo might be busy with his new book. So I thought, why not ask Giselle? I did … she accepted and we set a date. I went online to do some research and didn’t find a single interview with only her alone. Most of the time, the interviews were with Gustavo or with them as a couple. This is not to say that there are no interviews with Giselle… but I couldn’t find any. Then I was even more excited because, being a woman, I really wanted to hear what Giselle had to say.
Q: Giselle, I couldn’t find an interview with you on the internet. Is that true?
Giselle: I did one with a German girl but I don’t know if she publicized it.
Q: Well, we will be one of the first. *smile* So, your bio on your website is quite thorough. http://www.gustavoygiselle.com/english/05_cvs/curriculum_ga_ingles.htm In it you mention that you have had a lot of classical training. How has your classical training helped or not helped?
Giselle: I started with classical ballet when I was very young as my first approach to the dance world and I continued for 10 years. Tango appeared in the middle of that process in 1985-86, and I continued dancing both disciplines. But for me it was difficult to dedicate fully professionally to both, so I chose Tango.
When you have a ballet background and you want to dance Tango you have things in common and others that you need to change.
In classical, you open the body (first position – open and rotate legs) and in Tango you close the body. (legs together). This is the first thing that you notice and you must “correct” that posture. Then, in classical, you dance by yourself to “show” to others, but the priority in Tango is the partnership, the inside, so that changes the focus completely.
Classical helped me because I learned a lot about my own posture and the body’s possibilities. You know how to control your balance and how to work with different parts of the body. That is really important, even dancing in a couple.
Q: What are the qualities that make it possible for one to be a good dancer? or have the potential to be?
Giselle: Talking about Tango, the perception of the other person is important…. to dance together. It’s important to concentrate deeply on the movement of the other … not just yourself. This is necessary for the leader and follower.
Also, the rhythm is important, and that is sometimes difficult, but you can train for that.
Q: The embrace is a two way street.
Giselle: Yes, on the side of the leader, he is deciding the movements of the couple but he is aware of the follower’s reaction, so at the same time he is “following” the follower and accompanies her movements. On the follower’s side, you can react better when you have the movements “inside” and you don’t need to “think about it”.
Nowadays, you can dance for maybe one year and you can become an advanced dancer. People are dancing better faster but we must keep in mind that the experience of dancing for years gives more quality to the dance.
Q: What makes it easier to be an advanced dancer?
Giselle: There are many more teachers than before (when I started), more milongas and practicas, and more people dancing. So you learn faster.
At the same time, you receive a lot of different opinions, and the dance, I think, is already “discovered” so the learning process is accelerated.
Q: How has teaching changed?
Giselle: At the beginning, nothing was organized. I took classes from Antonio Todaro and Pepito Avellaneda. They were the only ones that have some kind of method. But they taught sequences, and that was the way, because there was not a deep analysis like today.
Q: Did they focus on the follower’s technique?
Giselle: Not really. At that moment, they would say, “Close your knees”… what they thought was important and this would be different for each teacher. I figured out many things by myself, dancing and watching.
They taught alone and would use me to demonstrate. I had no role models except at the milongas
Q: Do you dance with other people now?
Giselle: When you dance with different leaders, you learn many things…. and the most important is to “follow” in different ways. But with the same partner, you can develop the “couple dance” and explore the dance more fully/deeper. Both are okay and both are necessary in the dancing tango life.
I did both, but now I’m focusing on the “couple” growth.
Q: I read a quote from Gustavo that Tango makes him feel like a man. Does Tango make you feel like a woman?
Giselle: I always feel like a woman. *laughter* I don’t like to dance the role of the man. I learned a lot about leading when I started teaching. Intellectually, I like to lead to understand the dance.
I have always loved to dance. I never did anything else in my life… from 3 years old to now. So, I like to do everything. However in social dance, when it’s about Tango, I prefer to follow.
Q: What were some turning points in your career?
Giselle: There were two moments ….
1991 – I performed in London with the cast of “Tango Argentino”. It was the last tour of the company and I decided to stay in Europe and not return to Buenos Aires. I stayed in Spain for 7 years and created a tango group from the school of theatre. I started giving classes and 5 – 6 couples became “tango dancers”. We started doing performances. To create, teach (and they were not dancers… they were actors), make a show with a script, well.. that experience was incredible.
The second moment was meeting Gustavo. That was the beginning of the change in my dance.
Q: What did you change?
Giselle: The first moment I danced with him, I felt like I had danced with him for my whole life. Still we were different.
He was more a teacher and was crazy to analyze the dance and I was at that moment more into performing. But I was also crazy about the analysis of the Tango. So we could together go deeply into the dance, enjoying much more the improvisation and the choreography. While having the same partner, you can concentrate in more detail in the technique of the dance.
We first met at a festival in Spain. The two of us were teaching alone. The first time we met was at a milonga before the festival. We never met in Argentina. The organizer of the milonga asked us to dance and we had just met two minutes before we did the performance. It was amazing (like we were dancing the whole life together) . Then the festival organizer wanted us to perform together for the festival to a specific song.
A year later, we met again in Spain and then for 2 – 3 years, we would meet in Europe. Then I decided to return to Argentina in 1999. Gustavo and I became partners for the first CITA with Fabian Salas..
Q: Was it difficult to become part of a couple after teaching alone?
Giselle: No, we added our individualities and we built our teaching together. When you have feedback you can create and discover more, if you are in the same way. Alone takes more time…
Q: Do you have any advice for couple who are teaching/dancing together?
Giselle: For me, about the teaching, the most important thing is to be in accordance about the technical issue you are approaching in a class. So, both are saying the same thing to the students. And for the dancing you must be comfortable and like to dance with the other, and then it works.
Q: Has being a mother changed your dance?
Giselle: It certainly changed my life. Our children are our priority. Every time they are first. We adapt our rehearsals, our work etc…. We have continued working but we have less time and I want to continue with both.
Q: But did it change your dance?
Giselle: I didn’t see it, but a lot of people told me it did. When my son arrived, they said I changed… was more relaxed. I didn’t realize it but I guess I felt more comfortable.
Q: Did Gustavo notice?
Giselle: I don’t know. When I asked him Gustavo said: He didn’t notice any special thing, because of the children. We are, of course, changing all the time because of a general process.
Q: If you had to choose an element… fire, water, air, earth .. which would you choose to describe your dance?
Giselle: I am a quiet dancer … so, if I have to choose, I would be for the earth. More grounded, I feel really connected to the earth when I dance. I think also Gustavo is Earth so, I’m comfortable reflecting his dance and creating something together in the same way.
Q: With another leader, would you still be earth?
Giselle: As followers, we always adapt to our leaders but we also keep something of ourselves.
Q: Common problems among dancers?
Giselle: A common problem that I see today is something related to the generational change. There is a clear difference between the actual tango and the old one.
Some people, today, know the dance from before, so, they are trying to keep their knowledge setting “styles” or talking about “traditional” Tango, and they teach in a way they think is good to conserve the sources.
Some others know only the new one. This is the new generation. But they now worry… who is right and who is wrong?
The truth is that the dance has changed. Now we are dancing differently from before. This is the natural evolution. The new generation is dancing already different from me. This is a big change that the Tango went through just from the beginning.
Q: New generation?
Giselle: Yes, the young people are dancing really well. Tango has really improved with the new creational dancers.
Q: Any advice to offer?
Giselle: You should not think that in a certain moment you know everything.. and that you have finished with your learning. Tango has no end.
Scene: Ronnie has again, consented to be my translator. Ronnie and I have just completed El Pulpo’s Festival and had taken several of the Master’s Classes with Gloria and Rodolfo and were excited at the prospect of interviewing them. When Gloria arrives, every head turns because she has remarkable presence. I tell her and Rodolfo replies, “Every day, every hour, every moment she is beautiful”.
Q: Virginia Kelly was a student of yours?
Q: …and so was El Pulpo and Juan and Gimena. What I find interesting is that your students are so different in style, yet all share the trait of individual creativity…. definitely not a rubber-stamp of you.
Rodolfo: Si… I encourage my students to develop their own sense of self… to create something unique. My students, I call them, Dinzelitos. (Ronnie and I start laughing… thinking especially of El Pulpo as a Dinzelito.) We are very open to all styles of tango… the only thing we do not tolerate is the mistreatment of the woman…. like making a woman show her underwear or reveal herself when it has nothing to do with tango. A man has to take care of the woman. I live with a woman and have to respect her in every way.
Gloria: We work with the spiritually and soul of Tango as teachers. We work with this and encourage our students to express their spirits and soul and so of course they will each be different.
Rodolfo: Instead of giving them fish, we teach them to fish and each one fishes in their own way.
Q: Because the two of you are so much a part of Tango’s recent history, I was wondering if you could describe your first years together.
Gloria: We didn’t have a teacher. We learned from our parents, and our families…. through osmosis. There were no teachers. I was originally a classical dancer. We started teaching because there was a need. We then established the basis of tango which other teachers have used as a format.
Q: Did you meet through Tango?
Gloria: Our souls were joined long before we met. (They look at each other with obvious affection) We met on a television show about Tango and Folkloric Dances.
Q: Did you fall in love immediately?
Gloria: No… He had long hair and a big beard. Later, we had rehearsals in a theatre and I saw an attractive guy… his hair and face was shaved so I didn’t realize he was the same person.
Rodolfo: Yes… before I was a hippie.
Gloria: With the politics at that time, the young people were very rebellious. In our era, when they killed Che, the men were rebellious against the politics. So they wore long hair.
I was the first ballerina at the Teatro Colon but I moved into Tango because I am Argentine and Tango is Argentina.
Q: Were you involved in tango during the military oppression?
Rodolfo: Yes… We were working at “El Viejo Almacen”, one of the most important places for Tango at that time. We danced there every night and there was no place to study. So we began to teach Tango so that Tango wasn’t lost.
Gloria: But the military left us alone because people with a lot of money and power came to see the show. In another building, we started teaching. We were very young (1970 and 80′s). We were threatened because we were teaching Tango… anonymous threats but we were young and didn’t care and didn’t want to see Tango lost. Also we thought, “we aren’t doing anything bad”.
Rodolfo: …and our students came from all social levels and cultures… Germans, French, maids, architects… extremely diverse… and they would all get together to go dance Tango at a club.
Gloria: Tango unites and reunites. The group was very heterogeneous and yet together.
Q: Were there many clubs to dance at during this period?
Gloria: There were places where you could go and you might dance some tangos… not Milongas… not totally Tango. What happened is that the show, Tango Argentino, created an explosion in Tango.
Q: Why do you feel the military tried to oppress tango? Why tango? Why were they threatened by it?
Gloria: They didn’t want people to get together in big groups. When they took Peron out in 1955, if you had more than 7 people together, it was considered a political meeting. The guerillas were putting bombs in different places. Also the lyrics of tango are very inflammatory. At the same time, there was an invasion of foreign music.
Rodolfo: No milongas… but the Tango is a dance that fosters liberty and it encourages people to come together and do their own interpretation of the dance… and this is the definition of democracy. My liberty ends in the moment that your liberty starts. So everyone on the dance floor can do their own thing until it interferes with someone else. Therefore a milonga is a great school for democracy and liberty, if you look at it this way, as we mentioned during class. It is my opinion that the military felt the same way. In the history of Argentina, when the military has control, Tango is repressed. When there is democracy, Tango grows and prospers. There is evidence of this in the numbers.
Q: Just to clarify… if more than 7 people were considered a political meeting, what about the clubs where you danced?
Rodolfo: Every once in a while, there would be a dance. We went to underground milongas.
Q: Your book with all the diagrams of all the possible moves, gave me the impression that you were a technician… and then your classes gave me the impression that the intimacy of the dance is most important to you…. the communication between the two dancers. I found it to be an interesting blend. The book was about looking at the trees and your classes were about the forest. It is unusual to meet someone who combines both.
Rodolfo: and we only did one little leaf of the tree.
Q: … but the veins and the molecules..
Rodolfo: but tango is much more than that. It’s like scratching the shell of the egg. I still hadn’t described the inside of the egg in that book. It is just the beginning. A student brought me the manuscript with the diagrams and I reviewed it, but Tango is so much more.
Q: The exercises that you gave us in the master class were remarkable. (the exercise emphasized intense interplay between the follower and leader) My husband dances in the way that you had us dance in the final exercise.
Rodolfo: They’re not exercises… it’s dancing. The least able tango dancers resort to the figures. In recent years, we have been teaching people with disabilities to dance… and they dance. People with cancer… with Parkinson’s… psychotic… it changed their lives… not cured, but it made the quality of their life better…. and that’s when we break through the shell of the egg. We do it for free. We do it for and through the Tango.
Q: Could you describe your dance style?
Gloria: Other people can define our style, but I feel the dance… I’m part of it..sensual not sexual..we fall in love again…. perpetual romance. It makes me become eternal… time stops… it is eternity in the dance….and I dance a lot with my eyes closed.
Rodolfo: Everything she said..we are always improvising.. we never repeat anything. Tango is about here and now and it is always changing. We hear the music and respond. We can’t explain our style.
Q: You seem to be a well balanced couple… not the same but balanced. How are you similar and how are you different from one another?
Gloria: It’s like giving a definition of love … of tango …. I love him. He’s the only one that makes me feel good.
Rodolfo: We are together 34 years and we’ve worked a lot
Gloria: …and we fought a lot in very difficult times. We have gone through times when we have been hungry but our path has always been to teach. The show, Argentino Tango, changed everything…. but I always knew that something would happen to breath life into Tango… sooner or later… something would happen to make tango universal. He is a tiger and I am a cat
Rodolfo: A very sweet cat. Oil and vinegar don’t mix but they make a salad very rich. She’s the oil and I’m the vinegar.
Gloria: It hasn’t always been easy but we’ve gotten through the difficult times. If we were dancing, sometimes we would forgot after we got home what we were fighting about.
Rodolfo: The most important thing has always been the two of us. We can be teachers, parents, but we always knew what was most important… each other.
Gloria: What is the search for each person in the couple? and our search was to be a couple. We have only been apart 10 days in 34 years.
Rodolfo: The last five days we were apart, I traveled to Miami to meet about a contract and I was caught in the Katrina Hurricane. I was signing papers to choreograph a tango show that will open there in June. They are building the location now. We will do the casting down here and fly back to Miami in April and May for the opening and then will come back here.
Q: Where do you teach now?
Rodolfo: At the University of Tango. Gloria is the Artistic Director and I direct the curriculum with the Dinzel method at Agrelo 3231. We have 900 students full time and 900 part time. The students receive a certificate as a teacher of Tango and one of our goals is that Tango be taught in all the schools in Buenos Aires. I am currently working on an agreement with the Ministry of Education to have Tango in all the public schools as part of the curriculum …. then the private schools will follow.
Q: the Dinzel method?….
Rodolfo:….is a pedagogical organization of all the elements of Tango.
Scene: Miami in one of the classrooms at the Fontainebleau Hotel during the Tango Fantasy Weekend. I am, of course, sitting on the floor, totally exhausted. Guillermo is drinking mate and Fernanda is sitting on the edge of her seat, relaxed but animated. They compliment each other in personality and appearance. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time. The interview had to be squeezed between lunch and the afternoon session. But they seem as excited about the interview as I am. They are very down to earth and interesting people. Certainly not pretentious or unapproachable.
I wasn’t able to see their performance at the dinner show, but I understand from friends that they were fabulous.
Q: How would you define your style?
Fernanda: Our performance style is about communication and everything has to be together. We do not compromise the character.
Q: The character?
Fernanda: When we are on the stage we are a character…… a fantasy.
Q: Different personas?
Guillermo: Yes. For instance, Fernanda can be a sweet lady dancing with a poor guy that has no personality and is kind of funny.
Fernanda: or a strong woman dancing with a strong man. Now we are working on choreography where Guillermo is an animal trainer and I’m a panther.
Guillermo: When we dance everything is between her and me. We try to keep this commitment while teaching and performing.
Fernanda: In other words the step is secondary.
Guillermo: The step is an excuse to make the character talk. The embrace and the connection are the most important elements.
Q: Do you ever dance where you are both women?
Fernanda: We’re thinking about it. However, we need a reason for women to dance together in performance. For example, when women dance on a social level together it needs to be honest. In other words, if they prefer to dance together, that’s okay.
Guillermo: I really feel that the milonga is a temple. You must have respect and observe the social codes.
Q: What are the social codes?
Guillermo: For us, the social codes are very clear. We learn to dance using these codes….respect the ballroom, dress according to the place and the occasion, eye contact, respect the line of dance, remember you are not dancing alone, when you choose a person to dance have a reason, be honest when you dance, and many more.
Q: Fernanda, you mentioned that when women dance together, they must be honest and again Guillermo, you mention honesty. What does that mean?
Fernanda: Tango is about communication, so if the relationship is between men..why not? Again, be honest. But if you are a woman and don’t connect with women on an intimate level, you shouldn’t dance together at a milonga.
Guillermo: Most men dancing with men occur at practicas and the same with women. But once you are at the milonga, do not practice on the dance floor. And I also agree with Fernanda. In Europe, we were teaching a class on giros. I said, “Guys come with me and women go with Fernanda”.
One guy wanted to go with Fernanda. Later we asked him why and he explained that he wanted to learn the follower’s role because that is what he dances and his male partner dances the leader’s part.
Fernanda: They are happy and respect other people on dance floor.
Guillermo: After all they are human beings. We are living in the 21st century. Everything in life is changing so we need to be open and accept other people’s lives. Roles between men and women have changed. Before only men worked, now everyone works.
Fernanda: Back to the style question, I don’t like it when people come to me and say, “I want to dance your style”. They need to just learn elements from us and then develop their own style. So when we teach we try to be very neutral in our movements. Not stylized.
Guillermo: We teach people the tools so that they know how to play, to dance, from the basic body position.
Fernanda: We have our personality, so it’s hard when we teach to leave our personality off the floor and out of the classroom.
Guillermo: There are so many ways to do the embrace. I think it doesn’t matter where you put the frame but you MUST have a frame for balance and position.
Fernanda: It’s very political what has happened in tango. We don’t want to say, “This is the way it is”. In Argentina, historically the basics were all the same but the style was very different. Now students want only one way and that’s tango.
Q: Is that different in other countries?
Fernanda: It’s the same in Europe and the same in Asia. Everyone is so confused. Of course, a certain amount of confusion is necessary to arrive at the final answer for you. Today students are so lucky because a lot of the teachers now understand about body position and how to teach movement. We learned from milongueros. For them, Tango is a natural way to express yourself. So they would say, “do ochos” and walk away. We started learning about expression so that we could teach it to others. In other words, giving names and descriptions to the movement.
Q: What is the difference between expression and style?
Fernanda: Expression is what you can and can’t do with your body, depending on your body frame, the way you interpret the music, the length of your legs… ect. This is what we call corporeal expression, which can change just as you change. This body expression creates “your style”.
Q: Okay, that’s a personal style. What about dance styles?
Fernanda: Each style that is popular today (milonguero, close embrace, tango salon, etc) can help you to find your own dancing form or style. Perhaps you may find a combination. We advise students to not limit himself or herself with one teacher’s style. We strongly believe that each individual should find and create their own form and style.
Guillermo: But in creating your own style, you just remember that the embrace and communication between you and your partner is tango. If you lose the connection you are doing something else, not tango.
Fernanda: What you do with your feet doesn’t matter. If your foot is on your head, who cares. Just connect.
(Guillermo demonstrates. We laugh) It’s always steps steps steps. One man said, “I need a name for the style.” We said, “Why?” He explained that Americans need to know what they’re buying…. need a label. Tango is very old. It’s been around forever. Probably every move has been done so when someone comes up with a new style, it’s really not new. Someone, somewhere has done it before. It’s marketing.
Q: Do you feel there’s a lot of snobbery?
Fernanda: Of course and not just Argentines. People are putting things outside. If you want a revolution, turn things around. It’s not about what we’re doing outside; it’s about inside….a chance of being part of your dance. The dance is to help humanity. We need to pass a different level. I would do aerobics if I wanted just movement but tango allows learning about patience and respect.
Guillermo: People want steps very fast but they don’t practice. You have to practice. This is the first day of the Congress and you probably have learned 5 months of elements. It’s not going to do you any good if you don’t practice. I think this Congress needs to allow time for practicas not just milongas.
Q: What do you appreciate in a partner?
Fernanda: As a woman, I want the connection…..how you hold me…..how you listen to my body. If he doesn’t realize I’m there, I don’t care how good he is.
Guillermo: I like to feel someone in my arms. I want connection.
Fernanda: I was talking to Copes and we were talking about ying and yang. When you dance and the energies are both negatives or both positives, nothing happens. But when they compliment each other it works. Copes danced with a very thin woman and he thought, “How is this going to work?” Well he was surprised because when he embraced her, she molded herself into his body.
Guillermo: That’s why we change partners during the milonga. We’re looking for a connection.
Fernanda: You can try for a connection and there’s nothing because you need both people to want the connection.
Q: A difficult aspect of tango?
Guillermo: Connection and frame.
Fernanda: As a teacher it’s difficult to find the words and the right way to communicate. For instance, many times when we talk about the torso, the student is only thinking about the chest, and for us it is the entire upper boy including the arms. As a dancer, the most difficult aspect is to stop my emotion, my temperament and make a fusion with someone.
Q: To stop your emotion?
Fernanda: For example, let’s say that my partner and I have been rehearsing choreography for a long time. The time of the presentation comes and in the middle I change a movement without thinking, just because I felt an impulse. This is wrong and a problem because I have forgotten my partner is waiting for the agreed movement and I will certainly throw him off.
Q: How do make your relationship work?
Guillermo: We are very lucky. We love each other a lot and we have a lot of respect for one another. We live together, we run together, we do everything together. So our secret is a lot of respect.
Fernanda: We have that ying yang, the negative and positive. We match. Our life is like our dancing. We are transparent.
Guillermo: You can tell who we are right away.
Fernanda: Sometimes, we find a problem in our relationship. So if we improve our dance we can change the problem. For example, if I’m not patient with him in the dance, I’m probably the same in life. So definitely, the dance has helped us work on our lives.
Guillermo: We can see the personal problems people have by watching how they tango. Do they push away? Do they listen to their partner?
Fernanda: We have also noticed that the body and the question go together.
Q: How does that work?
Guillermo: There was a leader who danced tight and hard and he said in this hard, complaining voice, “I don’t understand why the women can’t follow me.” His tone was very disrespectful and he was not taking any responsibility. I had to find a way to explain the problem so that he would be willing to become a better leader. Finally, he got the idea and his voice changed and he said, “Yeah, I was a little tight”.
Fernanda: There is a relationship between tango and the ego. We can learn about our ego from tangoing. You must take that ego apart in order to dance. It is the ego, which asks for a style that will look like someone elses.
Guillermo: Argentines are not the only ones with big egos. Many people have a big ego. Maybe Americans are not so obvious….more polite.
Q: Could you describe a magic moment in tango?
Fernanda: When we had a chance to do the show for the first time. We had just arrived in the States and we performed Tango Dreams in Miami in 2000.
Guillermo: For me, it was the first time we danced in New York. It was a tango vals by Osvaldo Pugliese. It was not a performance, it was a social dance.
Fernanda: Ah yes, it was a magic moment for me too. We have so many magic moments.
Guillermo: Another was when we produced our show “Tango Dreams” in Los Angeles. After we finished the show, we were sitting in our dressing room and we looked at each other in the mirror. That was also magical.
Q: One last quick question before the workshop starts. When did you meet?
Fernanda: We met 5 years ago.dancing salsa.
Guillermo: We were at a different point in our lives, a different momentum….that’s why we were dancing salsa, swing. Now, it’s tango. I fell in love at first sight.
Scene: I had the pleasure of taking a day of Milonga Workshops taught by Fabienne Bongard, which were sponsored by Berkshire Tango. I love leading Milonga and wanted to expand my repertoire. I found Fabienne’s instruction to be very clear. She started with the basics and built layers that created a solid foundation for embellishments and improvisations. I highly recommend that milongueros attend her classes at Dance Manhattan in NYC and/or any of her workshops. I certainly benefited from the workshops. Something happened in those few hours. My lead became more confident, definite, and clear. Fabienne is also a member of Tango Mujer, a performance group of 5 women..Brigitta, Angelika, Valeria, Rebecca, and Fabienne.
Sunday morning, I woke Shawn and Fabienne up and we checked out Shawn’s new clothes that she bought in Miami. Wow..great lacy black stuff. I’m going to Miami for Tango Fantasy so I guess shopping has to be added to my list of things to do. Then Fabienne and I sat down at Shawn’s dinner table with our coffees and baggy eyes. What can I say? We had a late night.
Q: Yesterday I mentioned that Valeria, in describing tango dance styles by element, said that you were water. (Please see interview with Valeria) You were surprised because you see yourself as earthly. Well, I danced with you last night and I think you’re water. You flow.
Fabienne: Of the four elements, I identify with water most. It’s the place I want to be.in the water. I have always felt like a fish but have considered myself more earth like in the dance. Maybe dancing with Rebecca and Brigitta, who are air, and Angelika, who is fire, has transformed my dancing.
One day I was at the pool where I have a membership and it was so beautiful with the skylights, stars, etc.. and I was swimming on my back. I was imagining the grace of a whale in a vast ocean and then in the midst of that beauty I bumped into someone that I was sharing the lane with and she was outraged. Obviously I wasn’t in the ocean.
I felt ashamed because I teach leaders not to get lost in the moment and the figures but to be conscious of the other dancers. Whatever magic you try to create with your partner is gone when you bump into someone.
Q: Valeria has said that Angelika is fire, do you agree?
Fabienne: I would agree. She has this tremendous thing that is boiling. She is very dramatic.
Q: How does it translate to dance?
Fabienne: I don’t mean that it’s harsh. It’s soft but can also be explosive. Because she is a woman, she has a soft side….not like men who you would say are fire. I would think that men would love to be labeled as fire. (laughter)
Q: We talked about the elements (see interview with Valeria), but let’s approach it differently. How would you define your style?
Fabienne: I like the close embrace style and the more rhythmic tangos best. Within the dance I like to play with the lyricism as well. For instance, you might have a prescribed rhythm that is on the surface but at the same time something else is building within the music, which might cause you to approach the dance differently at that moment. That’s fun.
With milonga you must be grounded in the beat. The play and the shaping come not so much lyrically but rhythmically through the use of double time or traspie, which means to stumble.
Q: What attracts you about milonga?
Fabienne: I’m attracted to milonga because of its joyful quality and the fact that it is the origin of tango before it became sophisticated. Milonga is not pretentious. If you dance milonga and you have a wrinkle in your forehead, you have a problem. I say, “Give yourself a break. Things don’t always have to be tragic”.
Smile. Some people will say that this attitude is so untango. There is a reverence to Tango in the way you have to look, your presentation, your clothes, and if you smile you may lose the aura.
I saw a movie, “The Human Nature”, about a scientist who finds someone in a jungle who is not civilized. Anyway, the scientist works to give him culture. When he shows off his product, the ultimate proof of civilization and culture and sophistication was the man’s ability to tango. Can you imagine?!
Q: Shawn: Do you feel that anything has sullied the dance? How about alternative music?
Fabienne: I like alternative music. However when I teach I am more likely to use traditional music with a stronger beat.
Q: Shawn: How about the new “hang” movements coming from Argentina and the West Coast?
Fabienne: I love single axis turns. They are beautiful and thrilling. It’s like being on a roller coaster. It looks good and it feels even better.
Q: Shawn: I used to think that it would take a certain leader, but I was dancing with a pimply, pale computer nerd type and I just listened to the music and I actually had what I call tango heat with him. I was amazed.
Fabienne: Were you having tango heat with him or having tango heat with tango?
Shawn: That’s an interesting question.
Fabienne: Sometimes you can have tango heaven and your partner is not in heaven. Everyone’s tango heat/magic feels different. When you apply yourself and you are open, all kinds of magical things can happen in the least expected places with the least expected partners. On the other hand, if he is not the partner of your dreams, there’s always the music, the feel of the floor under your feet, the embellishments you make, or maybe the texture of his shirt.
Q: What is tango magic for you?
Fabienne: I was in Buenos Aires attending a Milonga workshop taught by Pepito, the “king of the milonga”. At the end of the workshop, he asked me to dance and afterwards he said, “Oh, we just practiced for 5 years”. I was flying and in the clouds for a whole week. It was a piece of heaven.
Another time I went back to Buenos Aires. Brigitta had told me about this man. And she was right. It was incredible. It was like he was whispering things. You had to pay attention but once you understood and listened, it was like you were on a mountaintop. He was like wind.
Q: Has teaching altered how you feel about Tango?
Fabienne: At the beginning, when Rebecca and I were practicing a lot, it felt like we had a toy…this puzzle..it was so exciting. Now, sharing this puzzle with my students and watching that same excitement occur for them is very gratifying.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of tango and milonga?
Fabienne: For milonga, a difficult aspect is to stay grounded and to not let it take you. For tango, it’s keeping it all together..the music, the pattern, the floorcraft.
For teaching, it’s difficult to alter how students relate to the floor. Another delicate area is what I call “stretching” the musical ear. Like hearing the syncopa.
Q: How would you describe your ideal partner?
Fabienne: From a leader, I look for musicality, inventiveness and if there’s humor, it’s bliss. Also I like it when they don’t break your arm with a frame that is only conscious of its image. A good leader accommodates the follower and looks out for her well being on the dance floor and within the embrace.
From a follower, I like someone who is good enough that you can be creative and not have to watch out for them constantly to make sure that they do the cross etc. Good energy and staying in the moment is also important.
If your partner is limited just play with the music and keep the movement simple.
Q: Okay, being in the Berkshires now, a small town, do you feel tango is different outside of New York City?
Fabienne: Well, the scenes are smaller and there is less variety. And I think that, when you rely on guest teachers, you have just sketches of style and method Of course, when options are limited, it’s better than nothing.
It’s good to go to different teachers once you have a good base because sometimes a teacher just gives a different perspective or angle and suddenly you understand. It becomes clear. Pablo Pugliese tells me that his father would say “Just stay with me for two years and then go out and experience other teachers. But first, be grounded in one. ”
Q: When did a light go off for you?
Fabienne: The light still goes off for me. I can look at something and say, “This is brilliant!” and then suddenly realize that it goes back to a simple component. I get a kick out of learning a new way of explaining things.
Q: We all know that the tango schools in Manhattan have different personalities. What is Dance Manhattan’s?
Fabienne: I would say that we have a very open approach at Dance Manhattan. Each teacher has a different personality and approach, and therefore, we attract a wide range of people. I think a school needs to keep its mind open to new possibilities and that’s what we do.
We’re also different from other schools because our basic program is designed to make people think in terms of the follower. It’s a strong, demanding program that lasts for 16 weeks.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Fabienne: I came to the states saying that I wanted to stay here 6 months, thinking that maybe I would stay longer but not saying anything. I don’t know. My husband is from the West Indies. It would be nice to be in the sun and somewhere near water.
Q: Tango is…
Fabienne: Evolving. We see that the experience of yesterday is not the experience of today. You have to be open in order to create more magic for yourself and others.
Scene: Once again, I am holding an interview after dinner over cafe and postres. We all have this glow of satiation and are enjoying each other’s company. Ernesto is a riot…with a good natured hyper activity that sweeps you away with its energy and friendliness. If you attended 2007′s Festival de Pulpo, you would know that Ernesto is the instructor who took his shirt off during the class – to everyone’s delight.
When you watch Stella dance with Ernesto, what you notice immediately is that she is always focused on him. There is not a moment that you would think that Ernesto is not her moon and stars. When they teach, they ask their students repeatedly to “be with each other”…to “feel one another”.
I wanted to interview them because I felt there was a love story here. I was right.
Q: So Stella, how did you begin your involvement with Tango?
Stella: I started 21 years ago here in Buenos Aires. I was an actress in teatro and they asked me to learn Tango for a show. So Tango became a hobby. My first teacher, for almost two years, was Pibe Palermo. My second teachers, for the next 5 years, were Ernesto Carmona and Norma Gomez Tomasi. Ernesto told me that, “If you do whatever I tell you, you will be a very very good dancer.”
Q: What kind of teacher was Pibe?
Stella: He was a milonguero. No technique or at least, no explanation of the technique. He would just dance and say, “Good. Good”.
It was more intensive with Ernesto and Norma. Everyday I took a group class and 3 times a week would take a private. I loved to learn more than I imagined. But I never thought that Tango was my destiny. Some of Ernesto and Norma’s students were Joe Corbata and Marcelo Varela y Analia Vega.
Q: Did Ernesto and Norma have a specialty?
Stella: Yes. Stage Tango and musicality. I also remember how much he insisted on the technique of the woman. He made me work very hard. His other advice was that the best way to learn was to go to milongas and practice practice practice. My favorite milongas were Almagro and Sunderland. I also worked with Gustavo Naveira and Graciela Gonzalez for a year. I think we all need to have people who watch us and let us know how much we are progressing. Gustavo played that role for me and, occasionally, we still take classes with him. But the best teacher was and is my partner, Ernesto Balmaceda. With him I have learned the most. I met him 10 years ago at Nino Bien.
Q: And you, Ernesto?
Ernesto: When I was a teenager I would watch my father give classes to my cousins and sometimes I would help him.
When my father died in 1991, I made a promise that i would continue with Tango. In the year, 1995, my brother Julio asked me if I would help with the beginner’s class at Almagro. That is when I started my professional career. I would give the beginner’s class and he would teach the intermediate class.
In 1997, my brother took his first trip with his partner, Corinna, for 2 weeks and asked me to cover both classes. In 1998, when Julio y Corinna went on an extended tour of Europe, I took over the classes.
Q: So, how did the two of you meet?
Stella: We met at Nino Bien. We made eye contact and Ernesto tightened his tie and asked me to dance one tanda with that James Bond motion of his head. Afterwards at other milongas we would dance for one tanda.
Then one night, I arrived at Nino Bien with a male companion. Ernesto motioned with his head that he wanted to dance. I turned to my friend to tell him that I was going to dance with Ernesto but when I turned around Ernesto was gone. I walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. He told me then that only two women have ever refused him… both at La Viruta and he will never ask them to dance again. I said, “But I want to dance with you”. Then we danced all night. He never let go of me. The other gentleman finally left.
At the end of the evening, Ernesto said to me, “I will see you tomorrow night.” and I said okay.
The next day, Ernesto worked until 11pm and then he called me and asked if he could eat at my house before we went to the milonga. He arrived and we never made it to the milonga. We started living together immediately.
The first four months of our relationship we would go to the milonga separately. Ernesto didn’t want to show that we were in love. Than one night at Nino Bien, I kissed him and he was shocked and said, “You should never do that at a milonga with me”. I started crying and I left.
Q: What happened then?
Ernesto: I followed her and after that we would enter the milonga together. I realized that a man needs only one woman and I had the best. Later, I asked her to teach with me and she said, “No”.
Stella: I was still acting and studying dance and didn’t think I was ready to teach classes until one day, in the intermediate class, Ernesto was trying to explain something to the women that they were not understanding. He called me over and demonstrated the movement with me and I started explaining the technique to the women.
Ernesto:And I said, ” Keep talking”.
Stella: I understood then that all the years I had spent studying made it easy to teach. I found that I enjoyed sharing my knowledge.
Q: That’s a great story. I just want to ask a couple more questions. What changes have you noticed in the Tango World?
Ernesto: The best change is that there are more people dancing. The worse change is that there are a lot of inexperienced dancers teaching classes who shouldn’t be. I don’t think that is good for Tango.
Stella: For me, the biggest change is the women. Now the women are technically much better than before. I also feel that some of the younger dancers, not all, have changed the embrace. For example, the leader’s left hand with the palm up. I personally prefer the traditional embrace because I feel that the other embrace loses the energy which is contained in the traditional embrace.
Q: How would you define your style?
Ernesto: Salon Elegante. We change our embrace throughout the dance to make the movement we want, but still, we do not neglect the feeling… the connection. If there is no feeling, there is no tango. We feel strongly that the embrace has to be a caress.
Q: What do you think you are known for? …your specialty?
Ernesto: The vals. Our favorite vals are
Desde Alma – Pugliese
Sonar y Nada Mas – De Angelis
Flor de Lino – Calo
Corazon de Oro – Canaro
For us, the vals is love. I always can find Stella’s heart when we dance the vals.
…. and that is the perfect ending for a love story.
photo: Carlos Vizzotto
Scene: In Buenos Aires at Pulpo and Luiza’s apartment. We’re sitting at the kitchen table after another fantastic private lesson. During the lesson, I lead Luiza and she works with me on how my lead feels (giving sound insight into placement, technique) and Pulpo walks in and will take an old approach to a move and do something totally different… basically saying… do something with this…explore this. The two of them balance one another. I feel fortunate to call them… my teachers.
Norberto’s nickname, El Pulpo, was given to him at a milonga by Pablo Banchero. El Pulpo is Spanish for octopus. Norberto’s moves can involve a weaving and intertwining that is unique in Tango.
Q: What makes you unique as teachers?
Pulpo: I can’t say. Our students will tell you.
Luiza: It’s difficult for us to say how we are unique because it is a comparison and we don’t like to compare ourselves to other instructors. We would rather say that we are strong about opening minds and bodies… letting the students understand how much they can explore…helping them to see the possibilities.
Q: Your dancing is definitely unique. How did your style of dance evolve?
Pulpo: When I first started dancing, I discovered steps that were already invented but I thought I had invented them because I discovered them without being told or having seen them. So, I would show my teacher and he would say, “This was already invented”. So I kept inventing (when nobody teaches you something, you can invent it for yourself) but everytime someone would say, “that is already invented”. It drove me to continue to try to find something NEW.
I realized that if I couldn’t invent anything, I could try to mix the steps. So I started changing the steps and that’s when my real inventions started to happen. I was 20 years old.
After 7 years, I had all the steps of my teacher and my new steps. What I didn’t have was the same kind of creativity of my teacher.
At this time, my teacher was not paying much attention to me and I didn’t like it. I wanted to be my teacher’s favorite and now I understand I was an idiot.
Q: Why wasn’t he paying attention?
Pulpo: One day, I asked my teacher , “Why don’t you ever pay attention to me”. He said, “Aren’t you a self made dancer..a self educated dancer”. And with that answer, I understood that the only person that understood me was him. We have the same vision…the same comprehension.
My teacher never said, “This is not good”. He never censored me. And so, I try to do the same thing. I have learned that a teachers is forever and when you take a student, it is also forever. I still see my teacher today and I am still driving him crazy!
Q: Your approach is/was so different. What was the reaction?
Pulpo: Most of the people from my generation were doing the same kind of search. At the beginning I would hide a little and then later I would fight and finally I didn’t care. It felt like I was living in Berlin in 1945.
But I was driven to discover ..to explore.. so I couldn’t avoid it. I can’t avoid it. I am still adding to my inventory.
When I first started dancing Tango, I had to learn a huge repertoire. Now, the repertoire is even bigger and that’s good for Tango and a challenge for the new generation. Whoever wants to dance well (in the major leagues) must study a lot even with natural talent. There is a lot of competition to be in the major leagues now. More now because there are more people. But to just social dance, it is not necessary to have such a huge repertoire.
Q: Luiza, how did you meet Norberto?
Luiza: I first met Norbeto in January 1998 in Sao Paulo. Actually my very first Tango contact was in Portland, Oregon in Sept. 1997. I was living there, studying singing, and a friend, Refaela, a Flamenco teacher, invited me to join her to this “Argentine Tango” class. I was completely thrilled at the first class, so when I went back to Brazil six months later I wanted to find an Argentine Tango teacher to keep learning. a friend of my mother gave me Pulpo’s number and I called him. I started right away.
Q: And how was this first venture into a new style
Luiza: Little by little, I started feeling that his idea of Tango was special and I identified a lot with it. The concept of creativity and infinite possibilities made me become very interested. The followers level or “surrender” was an incredible challenge for someone that was always somehow a leader in life. It taught me to lower anxiety, to wait and listen more. It made me live more the moment in an almost frightening way. it was too much of a change. It really brought up things that were present in me, but in a way very hidden.
Q: Has the style evolved for you?
Luiza: Of those seven years of experience, the style evolved a lot and I believe that teaching made me inevitably more conscious of what I had to do as a dancer. It gave me awareness and a good base to grow from . I believe that part of the leader’s possibilities of movements come from what the follower can offer. It’s the ability of adapting and availability as well.
Q: Why tango?
Pulpo: For me, it was easy. My father was a Tango musician. If my father was a lawyer and not a bandoneon player, I would be a judge.
Q: Your father was alive during this time. Was he supportive?
Q:So you admire your father?
Pulpo: Yes, but to be clear… among artists there is no admiration… there is love. (The photo above features his father’s bandoneon)
Q: Did you feel that the 2005 festival was a success?
Pulpo: The students said that they loved how they were treated. People felt very welcome and kept telling us how happy and satisfied they were. .. that they lived a dream. One student, who has attended many festivals, commented that our week was her favorite because of the environment, the attention she received from the professors and staff, and the scheduling of the events. I was also very happy with the venues. Dandi had all the facilities… air conditioning, food, beautiful design….
and I loved where we had our milongas, El Bandoneon, which is now called La Patriotica.
Luiza: Yes… it fulfilled our main goal, which was a celebration of friendship and an event where we could have mainly people that we like and have good energy around us.
Q: What was your favorite moment?
Pulpo: Rock and Roll – my party with 400 people – when all the teachers danced to rock and roll. Im here for the party! was the cortina.
Luiza: The birthday party – when the teachers starting dancing to ACDC and the cakes, confetti etc.
Q: What would you change next year?
Pulpo: Delegate and coordinate more next year so that Luiza and I feel a little less stress. We want a festival with a youthful spirit – not necessarily young people. We realized that we want a staff that has presence, is willing to take more responsibilities, but can also be joyful and playful.
Luiza: For me, shorter classes, maybe have only 3 classes a day.
Q: Was there a moment of Tension?
Pulpo: The first day.
Luiza: The first party was tense because it was the beginning. We took too much responsibility on ourselves.
Q: What made you laugh most?
Pulpo: My birthday party… I felt like I was in a dream.
Luiza: The last day when everyone was exhausted, I was talking to Paul Marshall during our class and I mentioned that people were so tired that they weren’t working on what we were teaching. I ran up to each couple to show Paul and we both started laughing.
Scene: Pablo and Dana in Buenos Aires at their new studio DNI at 2140 Corrientes. Ronnie, who has agreed to help translate, Asa, and I arrive and go upstairs where workmen and Pablo are painting the walls and a mural of the school logo over the mirror.
Pablo is barefoot and a real sweetheart. Very intense and focused when he speaks… when he does anything. Dana is a bundle of energy with a ready smile and kiss for everyone. Both of them together, make an extraordinarily dynamic couple. They are two of my favorite teachers in BA and I was fortunate to take classes with them at Pulpo’s Festival which were well attended but small enough to receive individual attention and with plenty of room to move.
Dana hasn’t arrived yet so we began with Pablo. The entire interview took 3 hours and no one was bored!
Q:You definitely have and teach a unique technique — how did you develop it? What was the impetus?
Pablo: We first started to think about our own dance because we felt that it was uncomfortable… perhaps it was some detail that we noticed about how we walked or how we communicated with our body. We (people) never think about how we walk because we were only one year old when we started walking…but when we start to dance, we change many things that are natural for us. For example, we embrace each other one way in life and then we change the embrace for the dance. We stop hugging and communicating with our bodies. When people in general start to dance, there are obstacles that they put up that prevent natural movement. The older milongueros/as dance with so much heart… Unfortunately, these feeling are impossible to teach, so the young people had to try to interpret. We felt we needed technique in order to learn to express ourselves. So we started investigating natural movement in order to achieve what we felt was missing from the old learning.
Q: Why aren’t young people able to learn the same way that the milongueros/as did?
Pablo: I think that young people learn by looking at things because this is the age of imagery. I learned that way too, and I had to reeducate myself. I can become the image but the image has to have feeling. The image is only a part… like the drawing of what we want to present.
Q: I’m guessing that this is similar to discovering a person who looks great on the dance floor but doesn’t feel good in the embrace.
Pablo:Image is structure and how you get that image is what you do inside. If a person is looking at an old milonguero, they have to codify what they are seeing. So Dana and I looked for a bridge so that we could show people how to achieve the feeling inside, between two people.
What we want to transmit is not the old style versus the new style. They dance Tango with their own visions. So the work we needed to do, was to codify what already existed and take all the information and put it into a new system and than relate it to the body.
Q: But how is it different for the new generation?
Pablo: Bodies are different and women have more roles in society. For example, Dana is a very active independent person. I can not say, “You do that… you do this”.The result is a change in the dance. The dance of Tete is a wonderful way of dancing but it is expression. We needed to find our own personal identity in the dance.
Today, my generation needs to relearn to feel. They have lost the most common feelings. Life isn’t like something in a movie… it has to do with simple contact…with themselves and others. I knew the figures and forms but I needed to connect with Dana… wanted to make the two go together. So we started out by deepening our own communication and then looking for a way to show others how to connect more profoundly.
Dana is very intuitive… she naturally feels things ..all things…she makes easy connections and you see it in the dance as well. I was studying the form, movement but with her, I started thinking about movement in space and then Dana brought it down to a finer level. With the combination of our personalities, it just became totally different. We each brought something different to the dance, so we had to find a common language. Basically, our teaching technique uses language based on anatomy but the motivation is two people who want to communicate through a common language.
The old milonguero went out every night… dancing the Tango …holding lots of different women, and he can’t help but have certain feelings about these women. It’s not a real life today to do what the old milongueros did. I envy their ability to stay out all night but is that the life I want?
Q: I know we were talking about the need for a new communication but why can’t the youth of today learn the same way? Is it possible to learn by going out every night, dancing all the time?
Pablo: I have 3 points…
1. Society has changed – there are different people dancing today… with professional careers… so they have another life outside the dance. Also the milonga has changed… perhaps the milonga loses its mystique because of the changes. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. For example, people want to dance in big spaces. They want to express themselves, be more open. And there is another generation that wants to be close. So people will sometimes say.”This is Tango” or “This is not Tango”.
We dance mostly open but we don’t want to reject the old style or be in conflict. This is very important because I don’t want to make a distinction that this works… this doesn’t work. To be able to have a dialogue with Dana – that’s what is important.
For instance, women always had to close the legs. We think .. open your legs.. express yourself. It used to be that the man defined everything. Today, he creates a space for the woman to be beautiful. He decides the space, and rhythm and the women make it beautiful.
2. The dialogue with the other people as the spaces change. There’s a difference in what you can express in a class vs. a milonga. In class we keep adding things… but in a milonga, you take out … select… filter…and explore this kind of sensation. Maybe 5 years from now, the dance halls will be huge. Today, the reality is that you train your body with what you learn in class which is huge, and take it and make it small for the dance. It is harder to do the dance small. To translate the big things to a small movement is the most difficult. So the milonga has this intimate characteristic. In Europe, where sometimes the spaces are bigger, it doesn’t make the dance more intimate. It makes it different. What is important and beautiful is to learn what you want to do. It is important not to lose the quality of intimacy within a space surrounded by other partners.
Dana joins us and gives us all kisses and hugs.
Q: And the third point?
Pablo: I forgot (much laughter)
Q:..and teaching… do you enjoy it?
Dana: Yes. I enjoy it. There are a lot of people giving classes that shouldn’t be, but it’s not just giving classes. You must be able to teach. Many dancers are really good dancers, but I don’t believe that they are great teachers. There aren’t a lot of great teachers, because they don’t study to become great teachers. Their lives aren’t about serving as a teacher. To be a good teacher, you must know anatomy and understand how the body makes the movement happen. And teachers must have a love for what they are doing. So when we’re talking about a teacher, we’re not talking about teachers that get gratification from applause, or have their picture on a big poster. They have to feel happiness when the student learns. There are people who work very hard to become good teachers.. but not a lot.
Q: So a quality of a good teacher is to care for students?
Dana: The teachers have to understand how people function in their heads. And all the different cultures. Every culture has its own problems… physical and psychic. Everybody brings their own baggage or sense of self from their culture so when we are working with that person, we must have an understanding of that student’s background. The teacher must also understand themselves.
Pablo: The Tango reflects what we don’t want to see about ourselves in the other person. For example, if I dance with Ronnie, and it doesn’t work I am seeing a reflection of my inability to lead in Ronnie and vice versa. But instead of understanding this reflection, we might say to each other, “You’re not following” or “You’re not leading well”.
I might go to the milonga and hear something in the music and I want to express some feeling or movement but I can’t because I am dancing with another person. So in dancing with any given partner, I have the opportunity to discover something new, that I haven’t discovered with Dana. So each partner brings something different and it is an opportunity.
Dana: Pablo’s way of expression is not common and that’s because he enjoys dancing with most people. He really likes to explore what he can learn and experience with different people. That’s what is lovely about dancing with different people and that quality of exploration is something this generation needs to do. It has to do with humility, lack of ego, and a desire to share. Just because you know the dance, there is always the opportunity to learn more. The professional dancers need to be reflective and careful of their own path because they can lose the love for what they are doing.
Q: The two of you dance with an aura of intimacy. Is that quality the most important to you?
Pablo: For me, it’s what I’m looking for the most, but you can’t achieve it with everyone. The intimacy has to come from both sides. Sometimes one part wants more than the other and they have to find a common ground. Sometimes you go into embrace but you don’t feel anything… just the weight. It’s not that it’s bad. It just has its limits.
Dana: The toughest but the most rewarding search is going within oneself. If you don’t go inside yourself, Tango is just like anything else. For instance, you can sit with a friend and have a coffee together and you can get to know each other through dialogue but not physical.
Q: Tango adds another quality?
Dana: The emotion comes before the intellect in Tango. An aroma, physical contact, musica…. We don’t have to speak English, Japanese, or Spanish. It is not important. So the marvelous thing for me about Tango and what I think will last in history is that they come together… the cultures come together… doesn’t depend on social class, intellect…these two things that are so important in today’s society don’t matter in Tango.
The embrace and how I present myself and the senses are important… and that’s why it’s so fabulous. I began speaking English two years ago, but I’ve been teaching Tango for 8 years and I have taught Tango all over the world. Obviously there’s something that transcends the spoken language. Sometimes you go to a milonga, and you meet someone you might not say hello to on the street.
Q: But don’t you think that the milonga has its own classism? Young blond women getting asked to dance more, regardless of their dance ability?
Pablo: I think the milonga reflects what is going on in society. In the old days, the young people had to stay on the sidelines. Now the young people can go out and do their own thing. Maybe the older generation feels bad about that.
Dana: That thing about blonds is inevitable… that’s life. The goal should be – how can we be better people not just better dancers. People who are older must have more love and believe they can change the situation. There are some people like Pablo who dance with people who really want to dance. It doesn’t matter how big, how old. etc. The most important thing to convey is your attitude… that you “like yourself” and people will notice and ask you to dance. If they don’t ask the older lady in the first hour, you must not get tense. If you do, you will certainly not be asked to dance. Everybody needs this kind of attitude because there will always be young pretty girls… and even with the young women, they can go to a milonga and not dance as much as they want.
So in a milonga where you have all age ranges, the idea is to generate a group of people who know each other, and these people dance with each other to become more of a close group… more solidarity. For example, we go to a milonga together and we dance all night… but maybe Sebastian isn’t dancing. I see this and will say, “I want to dance with Sebastian”. Another night when I am not dancing, Sebastian will ask me. This is the way life is. We may want to dance with a particular person so – what do we do? My advice is to learn to dance better and when you dance with someone, open your heart and give something that maybe the pretty girls can’t. There are pretty women who have only had 4 classes, and they will dance at the milonga but the really good dancers would rather dance with a unattractive person who dances really well.
Q: What are the qualities that a leader should strive for?
Pablo: They have to be very prepared for whatever happens. For example, if I dance with Ronnie, she surrenders her body to me and why should she surrender her body if I don’t lead well. And the leader, as I mentioned before, is constantly receiving his own reflection from his partner.
The greatest challenge for the leader is to recognize what he doesn’t know – what he needs. Typically he doesn’t want to his partner to know what is missing but he must be aware. So he has to show all the good stuff to his partner and understand at the same time what is missing.
Dana:To lead, work with the partner, the space, the music. all at the same time.
Pablo: I think women are used to juggling many things at the same time. It’s more difficult for men. When Dana wants to explain a movement to me, she will say, “Move this way with this music, feel my weight, relax your hand, stretch out your leg, relax your hips, flex your weighted leg. And don’t forget to breath”. (Everybody laughs and Dana gives Pablo a big smile)
Q: And the qualities for followers?
Dana: Sensitivity… being open and able to accept what the leader is proposing…. listening to the music and to propose their own part of the dance. To make the leader feel good, which is the most difficult part. Technically speaking, he proposes and I have to respond immediately. I need to learn how to follow but, afterwards, I must be willing to take risks. It is the difference between dancing and following.
Women want to learn what they think they don’t know… the figures. I feel that they need to learn how their body functions when transferring weight and in connection with the leader…. what it feels like to be on axis… how to get to the next step in continuous contact with the leader and what to do with my free leg at the same time… that is Tango technically speaking.
Pablo: The follower doesn’t need to learn the structure of the dance but it is important to Dana because she wants to learn everything.
If the follower knows a lot about the dance, she can become unhappy because the more she knows the more she expects. She thinks the most important thing is the figures. I think the more important thing is if she feels good in the embrace.
Dana’s mother teaches yoga here. We started to take classes with her 6 years ago. Now, Stella is starting to change her technique by incorporating some of our work… to discover Tango movements within yoga. This works well because you work alone in yoga and can focus more on the body.
Q: What are the qualities of a good student?
Pablo: Someone who has their child part well explored.
Dana: The person who really tries to understand what is being proposed, asks questions, and works after class. I can always tell who is working hard.
Q: And going back to the concept about relating to different cultures, do foreign students have common traits?
Dana: German, Nordic – They tend to be shy and have stiff hips. Most of their motion is in the upper body. Also there are problems with ankles, flat feet, and shins. They are also not accustomed to using their joints.
Pablo:Asian – The men have more flexibility, mentally and physically, than the women. Maybe it’s because the women were oppressed for so long. For instant, if I want a boleo, it is less work to make the man to do the boleo than the woman.
Dana: Americans – trust. When you want to learn, a student needs to trust. They always want proof that you are a good teacher… your credentials.
The French are like Argentines. They think they know everything. (Laughter)
Q: In Tango, describe some light bulb moments – when you feel excited?
Dana: When I practice, or am at a milonga, or in an exhibition, I take off. Sometimes I die of pleasure. Sometimes I find myself in a big embrace.
Pablo: When I rehearse and discover something or, before, when I used to go to milongas more, something would be revealed.
In class, it’s when I am able to convey something serious in a playful light manner. In exhibitions, it’s the time before the applause… when it breaks the silence.
Q: How about perfect moments for the two of you?
Dana: All day – everyday but not when I’m tired. I need a vacation.
Pablo: When we communicate – cooking together – in bed (whhhhhhoooooaaa – and squeals from the spectators) – being silent together but breathing together … and this is not always. We achieve this in one moment but it is the result of all the work before.
Dana: Being able to laugh together… especially when we fall.
Pablo: When I feel her weight and it is totally dependent on me – at that moment I feel her total trust and it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake.
Q: Please describe Tango as a color with shape and movement.
Pablo: The form of our logo – round – when it goes in one direction something responds in another.
Circular movements – it’s like big drops of color… radiating. The base is a plain color but the drops add color – suddenly a drop of red – a lot of dynamic because if it wasn’t dynamic, it wouldn’t shine.
Dana: I totally agree.
Q: Any last advice that you would like to give?
Pablo: Don’t be afraid to dance… to sing… to paint. We carry these things inside ourselves. Everyone is born with these gifts. We can’t say we don’t like it. Everyone likes it! It’s just that we are afraid. There’s no particular age to explore, to discover movement. You have to stretch yourself. Movement is a natural expression. Anyone who teaches Tango does a favor for Tango and it’s up to the student to respectfully obligate the teacher to learn more. It’s wonderful that anyone is teaching Tango.
Dana: In this way… I agree… I thank people who teach Tango in the world but they need to keep learning.