Fernanda Ghi y Guillermo Merlo
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.