Ernesto Balmaceda y Stella Baez
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.