Elitism in Argentine Tango Dance

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Dance should not be about competition or elitism, i.e. only dancing with people in your ‘class’ or at your ‘level’. Oftentimes, people will prefer only dancing with other people at their level and going to great lengths to avoid making contact with others they deem unsuitable. This is such a shame, not only for the development of the dance but for their own potential enjoyment possibilities.

From my experience, sometimes, you will dance with an experienced dancer and it will not be enjoyable, whether that be due to lack of physical connection, an energetic disconnection, you don’t connect to the music or maybe one or both of you are simply having a bad day! On a different day, that dance with the same person to the same music may be fabulous.

On the other hand, oftentimes, you can dance with someone who is relatively inexperienced or just beginning as a Tango dancer and yet have a wonderful experience.

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It’s about and allowing yourself to be totally ‘in the dance’ and coming together with another for a moment in time that may last just a few minutes. Your attitude together with your willingness to fully give yourself to the dance will largely dictate the quality of the dance.

Men, Listen with your body! Be aware of the lady’s axis, the position of her weight, her response to your movement and accompany her.

Women, be open to possibilities and allow your body to feel what is invited by the man without any preconceived ideas or expectations and without concern of making a ‘mistake’.


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Interview done in Buenos Aires, March 2008 

ATDRC: What were the influences in your life, artistic or personal, that helped you in the development of your style of dancing?

CHICHO FRUMBOLI:  My father had an artistic side that was significant.  He was a fine arts professor, he studied the guitar, and I believe that this had a lot to do with my own artistic development, and creativity.  I also remember that when I was a child my father often listened to Piazzolla, and that was my first contact with the tango; with the music more than anything.  That’s why before I became a dancer, I was a musician.  At the age of 13 I had my first drum set.  Ten years later I began to study theatre with the great teacher and actress, Cristina Banegas. 

I began my study of tango dancing like most people do by learning the basics and the structures of the dance. But all of this was so technical that it started to feel quite limited to me. I was a milonguero, I came from studying with Tete and Maria, which was a style that took into great consideration the physical connection with the person you found yourself dancing with in the moment. I needed to express with my body something more and it was at this time that I found my first tango teacher, Victoria Vieira, before Tete, and she took me to meet Gustavo Naveira who had developed a structure to the dance that I had never seen before. Gustavo and Fabian Salas had a practice group where they researched these new forms and they invited me to participate. This was all completely new for me, I had to re-learn the dance within that new form by listening and watching. In one month-and-a-half I learned what I hadn’t learned in two years. That’s why for me Gustavo Naveira has been the greatest influence in my dancing, and in my early development. Gustavo and Fabian often traveled abroad to teach, while I stayed behind with all of this information, practicing, and waiting for them to return in order to know where to go with all of this new information that was changing my dance. For me, my work with the dance became a very solitary practice. This coincided with my first trip to Europe, where I went to Paris, and I gave workshops in several other cities. I went with the idea of staying one month but ended up staying for 5. During those 5 months, I began to dance occasionally with Lucia Mazer, though I was still dancing with Victoria. When I returned to Buenos Aires, I stayed for 3 months and then returned to Europe because in that moment it was difficult for me to be accepted with this new style of tango that I was dancing, which was not very well received in the world of the traditional tango. When I arrived in Paris, they welcomed me with open arms. They wanted to learn that freedom within the dance, and not fall into the same basic structure that everyone was already familiar with in the tango. It was in that moment where I began working more seriously with Lucia Mazer, and we worked for 4 years together in Paris. Those were the most creative years of my career. I began working with Eugenia Parilla after this period, and we worked together both in Buenos Aires and Paris. She arrived right at the moment where I had processed a huge amount of information that I had not been able to give form to yet, and it was together with Eugenia that I had the most artistic moments of my career. In that moment there appeared a different dynamic of the tango that has to do with using the partner in order to facilitate movements. Up until that point, historically there was always a scenario where there was a lead and the woman followed, but today the connection is works differently. There is much more working with the body of the partner and the woman appears much more as a protagonist in the couple than before. We found a new way of showing ourselves, standing out both singularly and together as a couple in this new dynamic, creating new movements, because even the sacada didn’t exist 7 years ago. 

ATDRC.: What is the order of priority when you think about the woman’s role?

CHICHO:  I don’t think that woman is going to occupy more or less space, if not that the couple takes on more strength and power when it is a couple, with an equality between the two, and today that is really a division of 50/50.  This has to do with the way the man is marking in the moment, if she cannot feel comfortable dancing, then I cannot dance.  If I am only thinking in my own figure, in my step, in my elegance, and I forget completely in my partner and then surely there will be an accident, or a kick or some kind of total disconnection.  If I want to take the movement to create a sacada, I have to communicate to my partner in the gentlest way that we are going to do that particular movement.  To do it gently I have to be subtle in my marking, I can’t mark only with my hands, I have to do a completely corporal marking, or I propose something and she responds but she does it with another proposal and I then follow her.  The strongest thing I achieved with Lucia was this kind of connection and balance.

ATDRC:  Do you think your way of dancing has changed the tango? And if it did, in what way?

CHICHO:  I think that yes in some way my form of dancing has changed the tango, I know this mostly from comments that people make to mean also because of the process I have lived over these past 13 years I have been dancing.  I know that there are people who follow the method which I teach because I see them in the milongas, I see movements that were created by me.

ATDRC:  Do you believe that Tango Nuevo really exists?

CHICHO:  Tango Nuevo does exist, but it has so for a very long time, it’s not from 5 or 10 years back, Copes was dancing a new tango, Miguel Angel Zotto had a new tango, so we can say that there have been periods.  Every once and a while there is someone who appears and proposes something new and that is the new tango of the moment.  To think that ‘Tango Nuevo’ is something that occurred only 10 years ago is a commercial exploitation that we owe to the festival organizers, I don’t think I am doing ‘Tango Nuevo’, I feel that I am dancing tango.  Because today there is a new generation that learned to dance 2,3 or 5 years ago, who only know how to do the new styles, the ganchos, the colgadas, but who are not in contact with everything that came before, and I go to the milongas and I see people that know how to move but that don’t know how to dance, people don’t breathe tango like they did before.

ATDRC: How does the woman influence in this contemporary style of the tango?

CHICHO:  Like I said before, today the woman has a lot more participation. Before the man gave orders with the hand in the back of the woman, or it was all choreographed and the woman had an idea that she had to do everything on her own.  Today it is another playing field, on another level, she has a much greater freedom within what happens inside of the embrace.

ATDRC:  When you dance with a woman does she dance with her own style or is it something that you develop together?

CHICHO: I don’t care with what style she dances, what interests me is that in the moment when we are dancing together, that we are having fun together in the moment, I need to feel good next to that person.

ATDRC:  But the individual style of the woman, does it change when they dance with you?

CHICHO:  Actually, her style changes and mine as well, more than anything because of a need to adapt to one another.  For example, when I danced with Lucia I did things in one way, and when I began to dance with Eugenia she proposed a different way of dancing, and so my body had to adapt itself.  Because it can also be said that the professional dancers dance in one particular way and that the woman who comes to dance with them has to change her style and completely adapt herself to the way he dances, because he is incapable of changing, and that for me is a great error.  Because if they were capable of adapting their dance to a new partner, the tango would go through a much faster evolution.  For me the style is something you search for with your partner, and not something that you find separately. 

ATDRC:  What differences do you find in between the more traditional tango and the tango that is being danced today?

CHICHO:  I believe the greatest difference is exactly that, the space that each one occupies, and to be really dancing as a couple and not as separate entities.  And so, the difference is between dancing a violently marked tango or to be able to dance without barely touching one another.  Because in regards to style they can’t be compared, they are time periods completely different.

ATDRC:  In regards to the music, has it changed or does it have new influences?

CHICHO:  I haven’t heard anything new yet which reflects what a real tango can make you feel.  The dance of today has adapted itself to that kind of music referred to as electronic tango, and it doesn’t fall into the same category as a Pugliese or a Troilo.  The tango was hidden for almost 30 years and that is the emptiness which is present today in the tango.  There are people who are 60 or 70 years of age, and now there are those who are 30 years old, which is saying that there is a 20-year gap within the tango, because there aren’t really that many people in their 40’s and 50’s in the milongas.  I believe that same thing occurred in the music, there was Piazzola and then there was a jump to Gotan Project, directly to Narcotango, and there hasn’t been a musical process that has accompanied the dance through its evolution.  The music hasn’t evolved, it jumped and skipped a very important part of the creativity that is happening in the dance, which continues to grow and evolve creatively.  

ATDRC:  If you had to do a self-critique of your form of dancing, what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses

CHICHO:  I believe that my best qualities have to do with my musicality, and obviously my creativity within that realm.  I began as a musician and I continue to be one.  The music is what moves me on all levels, I need to feel it in order to be able to dance, and I believe that is visible in my dancing.  And I believe my weakness has to do with my inhibition, I still don’t feel that I have exploited and showed everything I have to show, almost as if I haven’t been able to give myself completely as I would like to.

ATDRC:  There are people who belong to a more traditional style of tango, who think that what you do isn’t tango.  What do you think in regards to those kinds of comments?

CHICHO:  I can’t talk to someone who thinks that way, because I believe that they haven’t understood anything, and they haven’t understood what the tango is.  I am more interested in what it is that really touches people, and the recognition that I have received, I am not interested in sharing that with other professionals

ATDRC:  How do you see your career unfolding in the future?

CHICHO:  I think that everything I do from now on until my last days on this earth will have to do with something artistic, today that is the tango, tomorrow that can be something else that allows me to express myself artistically.

ATDRC:  To start wrapping this up, what do you think about the direction the tango is beginning to take, socially and artistically?

CHICHO:  I think it is a very critical moment, there are many new young people who are beginning to dance today and if we as teachers can’t transmit what was taught to us as the essence of tango when we began, the tango will be lost, because the essence will be lost, and therefore losing its foundations.  The most important element is to keep the tanguero essence alive, the style doesn’t matter, but that the people are really dancing the tango.  Today the road is confusing, it’s in this space where or it either takes a turn towards modern dance or it continues being tango.  Today people are dancing tango, but they are not living the tanguero essence, they don’t love the tango.

ATDRC:  Do you think the large and increasing interest that foreigners have in the tango is affecting the dance?

CHICHO:  My idea, and that of Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas as well, was always that the tango needed to be popular in the world.  Obviously, it is born from one country and has its origins, but it needs to be universal.  It cannot belong only to Buenos Aires. There is no way to prevent this expansion from happening, as every day more and more people are dancing tango in every part of the world.

The Magic Hands of Rodolfo Biagi (Argentine Tango Composer)

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Tango composer, pianist and orchestra leader Rodolfo Biagi was given the nickname “Manos Brujas (Spellbinding or Magic Hands)” for his energetic and easily recognizable rhythmic style.

Biagi was born on 14 March 1906 in Buenos Aires and gave up his studies after finishing grammar school. The young Biagi wished to devote himself entirely to music. Naturally, his parents disagreed, but they struck a deal. Biagi’s parents would buy the violin he wanted, but he had to enter the Escuela Normal de Profesores Mariano Acosta. Biagi, however, was drawn to the piano when he was enrolled at the conservatory of the newspaper “La Prensa.”

At thirteen years old, without his parents’ knowledge, Biagi made his debut as a pianist, playing the musical background for silent films at a local cinema. One evening, the maestro Juan Maglio had been to that very cinema and was impressed upon hearing the pianist. Maglio invited Biagi, then only fifteen, to play with him. Biagi later on would join the orchestra of bandoneonist Miguel Orlando at the cabaret Maipú Pigall.

By 1930, at the age of 24, Biagi was approached by José Razzano to accompany the famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel on some recordings. On the first of April of that year, Biagi recorded the tangos, “Viejo smoking”, “Buenos Aires” and “Aquellas farras”, the foxtrot “Yo seré para ti, tu serás para mí” and the waltz “Aromas de El Cairo” with the violinist Antonio Rodio and the guitarists Aguilar, Barbieri and Riverol. Gardel invited Biagi to join him on a tour of Spain, but Biagi declined.

He then joined several other orchestras, the Juan Bautista Guido orchestra and the orchestra of Juan Canaro. He met Juan Carlos Thorry during his time with the latter and composed with him the tango “Indiferencia.” Working with Canaro brought Biagi to Brazil and upon his comeback, Biagi left Canaro’s orchestra. Biagi remained inactive for a time, during which he was a frequent patron of the cabaret Chantecler, where his friend Juan D’Arienzo played. D’Arienzo’s pianist, Lidio Fasoli, was notoriously late for everything and one evening, D’Arienzo asked Biagi to replace him.

Biagi and D’Arienzo worked together for three years and during this time, Biagi established his defining style of playing. The D’Arienzo orchestra was a popular and successful group, appearing on the radio, at balls and clubs, going on tours and performing for Enrique Santos Discépolo’s movie “Melodías porteñas.”

When Biagi split with D’Arienzo, he put together his own orchestra, which made their debut on 16 September 1938 at the cabaret Marabu. His and D’Arienzo’s orchestras were crucial in the traditional positions of tango interpretation. Biagi had a show on Radio Belgrano which launched his nickname of “Manos Brujas” when he played a foxtrot by Jose Maria Aguilar at the beginning of each show. Biagi’s orchestra was the first to appear on Argentine television in the early fifties. His tango group saw many talents, including singers Jorge Ortiz, Alberto Lago, Alberto Amor and Carlos Acuña. Musicians such as Alfredo Attadía, Miguel Bonano, Ricardo Pedevilla, Marcos Larrosa, Claudio González and Oscar de la Fuente were also involved. Biagi performed for the last time in public on 2 August 1969 at the Hurlingham Club. Forty-one days later, on 24 September, he passed away from an extreme drop in blood pressure.

Argentine Tango Singer – Roberto Goyeneche, ‘El Polaco’

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While the Argentine tango singer Roberto Emilio Goyeneche was nicknamed ‘El Polaco’ (‘the Pole’) for his blond hair and thinness like Polish immigrants of the time, he was actually of Basque descent. He is considered to have epitomised the bohemian life of 1950s Buenos Aires.

Goyeneche was born on 29 January 1926 in the neighbourhood of Saavedra in Buenos Aires. His career in music began in 1944, when he was 18 years old. After winning a local contest, Goyeneche joined the orchestra of Raul Kaplun. His debut performance was broadcast on Radio Belgrano. He then went on to sing with Angel Diaz for Horacio Salgan’s orchestra. It was Diaz who gave Goyeneche the nickname ‘El Polaco.’

In 1956, Anibal Troilo, a dear friend and a bandleader with an eye for talent, hired Goyeneche to join his orchestra. Together, they recorded 26 songs. In 1963 he started his solo career, which had the highlight of Goyeneche being the first singer to record Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Balada Para un Loco’ (‘Ballad for the Crazy One’). He continued to sing under other great maestros of the time, such as Armando Pontier, Raúl Garello, Atilio Stampone, Baffa-Berlingieri and many others. Goyeneche later reunited with Troilo to record two LPs, ‘El Polaco y yo’ (‘The Pole and I’) and ‘¿Te acordás Polaco?’ (‘Do You Remember Polish?’)

Goyeneche had the reputation of being a singer like no other. His diction was deemed perfect, even in the later years of his life. He was expressive in his phrasing and added particular details to his recordings and performances which made him a unique vocalist. He had his way of handling accents and silence, he delayed some words of the lyrics, he would intimately whisper a line–all of which made him exceptional and easily recognisable.

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Goyeneche was also considered a singer who was a respectful interpreter of the tango rhythm during a period when soloists mixed with ballads or other sophisticated songs with a tango influence. He recorded hits like ‘El Motivo’ (‘The Motive’), ‘La última curda’ (‘The Final Curse’), ‘Naranjo en Flor’ (‘Orange Blossom’), ‘Qué Solo Estoy’ (‘How Lonely I Am’), ‘Lejana Tierra Mía’ (‘Far Away From My Land’), ‘Volvió una Noche’ (‘He Returned One Night’), ‘Pompas de Jabón’ (‘Soap Bubbles’), ‘Afiches’ (‘Posters’), ‘Maquillaje’ (‘Makeup’), ‘Malena,’ ‘Soy un arlequín’ (‘I’m A Harlequin’), ‘Maria,’ ‘Garua’ (‘Drizzle’), ‘Cuando Tallan los Recuerdos’ (‘When They Carve Memories’), and ‘Ya Vuelvo’ (‘I’ll Be Right Back’).

He toured internationally, with notable performances like singing in the ‘Tango Argentino’ at City Centre in 1985 and in Paris in 1987.

Even in the 1980s, Goyeneche was still an active performer, appearing as a special guest in movies like ‘El Exilio de Gardel’ (‘The Exile of Gardel’) and ‘Sur’ (‘South’) directed by Fernando Solanas.

Goyeneche died of kidney and heart failure on 27 August 1994 in Buenos Aires. He is considered one of the greatest tango singers of all time. He made more than 100 records over his 40-year career. An avenue of his childhood neighbourhood of Saavedra is named after him.

Tango Composer – Osvaldo Fresedo, ‘The Kid from La Paternal’

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As his nickname suggests, tango songwriter and orchestra director Osvaldo Nicolas Fresedo grew up in La Paternal, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He happens to have the longest recording career in tango, spanning from 1925 to 1980. In the course of 55 years, he made 1,250 recordings.

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Fresedo was born on 5 May 1897 into a middle-class family and coming from a wealthy background influenced his artistry. His music was a favourite of the upper-class and aristocratic folks. Fresedo was not born in La Paternal, but his family moved to the somewhat humble neighbourhood when he was ten years old. There, he learned to play the bandoneon.

In 1913, Fresedo started out with public performances with a trio of other youngsters, including his brother, Emilio, who played the violin. They served as entertainment at local parties and played at neighbourhood cafes. This was around the time he was regarded as “El Pibe de la Paternal” or “the kid from La Paternal.”

Two major tango stars became Fresedo’s friends and invited him to play. First was Eduardo Arolas at Montmartre cabaret and Roberto Firpo at the Royal Pigall. In 1916, Fresedo formed a bandoneon duet with Vicente Loduca and recorded the tango “Amoniaco.” A later collaboration with pianist Juan Carlos Cobian would prove to be pivotal for the tango orchestra evolution of the 1920s. He was considered one of the great tango innovators of the 1920s, along with Cobian and Julio de Caro. Their style was characterised refined taste, legatos, nuances and pianos solos aimed for the upper-class. This would become known as the tango of the “New Guard” or “Guardia Nueva.”

Fresedo then went to assemble his own group, first with pianist José María Rizzutti and the violinist Julio De Caro, but they would later become a sextet. In 1921, Fresedo travelled to Camden, New Jersey in the United States for the Victor company. Other musicians on this trip included the pianist Enrique Delfino and the violinist Tito Roccatagliata. During this time, they recorded a few albums with a quartet. Upon his return to Buenos Aires, Fresedo reassembled his sextet. He joined Carlos Gardel on two recordings: the tangos “Perdón, viejita” (composed by Fresedo himself) and “Fea.”

By 1927, Fresedo was so successful that he managed to keep five different orchestras running at the same time. Fresedo worked tirelessly. From 1925 to 1928, he recorded about 600 pieces for the label Odeon. Fresedo’s second era began when he left Odeon and started a larger orchestra with a new style. Roberto Ray, perhaps the most well-known vocalist for Fresedo, joined him during this time. Their recordings are among the most memorable in tango, such as “Vida Mia“, “Como Aquella Princesa” and “Isla de Capri.”

When the 1940s began, a new generation of musicians with new styles rose up. Fresedo tried to adapt, but his style was critiqued for losing the strength of his initial style. His orchestrations became slower, but Fresedo continued to record through the 1930s and 1940s. Fresedo continued to lead orchestras until his retirement in 1980.

My Journey in Tango

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Imagine……… the music starts, you take a woman in your arms (or a man if that’s your thing!) and you start to move, as if you are one. Every move you make is met with a response from your partner just like in a conversation. Your hearts beating in unison, your legs entwined and hooked together as you move silently across the floor, it’s just you, the music and the floor on which you dance. It’s as though you are the only two people on the floor. The music ends, and that bliss which is Tango ends, until the next song starts to play.

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I first discovered Tango whilst on holidays in Seattle, USA. At the time I was walking home from a ballroom dance (a style of dance that at that stage, I spent many hours per week dancing) and heard music that was kind of familiar but different. Following the music, I found a group of people dancing Argentine Tango, a dance form unlike anything I had seen before. It’s funny how one can be involved in the world of dance and be totally unaware of other dance forms. The passion and connection created within the dance grabbed me and I quickly enrolled in local Tango classes. Three weeks later, I was back in Australia and eager to continue my journey in this new dance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy finding suitable teachers and nearly gave up hope. Luckily, I found my first Tango mentor in Brisbane and then later continued my development as a Tango dancer in Sydney. My love of the dance continued to grow as I found myself dancing many times every week. Tango now takes me to different parts of the world to attend festivals as a means of continued development and enjoyment. The journey continues.

As the name suggests, Argentine Tango started in Argentina (although Uruguayan’s may argue that) and was first danced in the 1890’s.  The dance originated in lower-class areas of Argentina. It would often be practiced between men before going to brothels to dance with women.

During the early part of the 20th century, the Tango found its way to Paris and soon after, London and Berlin. This is when Tango gained popularity with the upper classes.

Tango has had a chequered past in Argentina with restrictions in the 1930’s and then suffering another decline in the 1950’s as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings. On each occasion, however, Tango has recovered and in 2009 was declared part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO. Today, thousands of tourists visit Argentina every year to experience Tango at its home and also to develop their own Tango.

Argentine Tango includes 3 different dances, Tango, Vals and Milonga, each with their own unique rhythms.  Within Argentine tango there are also various styles that you may hear people refer to.  Styles are as unique as dancers and I think it’s rather foolish to try to categorise either. Broadly speaking, Tango may be danced in a ‘close embrace’ where the torsos remain in contact throughout the dance or ‘open embrace’ where the embrace will be opened during the dance to allow more complex figures. As with any art form, Tango continues to evolve with new generations of musicians and dancers adding their own interpretations.

Tango is danced at social gatherings called Milonga’s (different to the Tango dance form named Milonga) whereby it is common for a couple to dance a series of 3 – 4 songs (called a tanda) followed by a short break of 20 – 30 seconds (called a cortina) before inviting another partner to dance the next “tanda”. Unlike some dance forms, it is most common for people to dance with a wide variety of people during a milonga. For an example of a milonga go to

Any form of dance is a great creative outlet as well as a means of socialising and increasing activity. Creatively, it allows you to express your personality freely without the restrictions some people may feel in life generally. It is a valuable skill to have from a social standpoint as it can help you to experience different cultures around the world whether that be through the dance itself or in meeting new people. It is also a great skill to have at social functions such as weddings and other celebrations. The benefits of dance for fitness include improving strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness (depending upon the vigour with which you dance). Posture, balance, agility and co-ordination can also be improved making it a valuable activity for people of all ages.

I continue to be amazed at the effect that Tango has on people. I have encountered many people who after ‘discovering’ Tango, have found themselves living in Argentina for 3+ months. So beware, Tango is addictive.

Tango can now be found in most cities throughout the world as well as a lot of smaller towns. Most cities will have a website with information on where you can dance Tango in that particular city.

As a beginner dancer, I was not very good, certainly not a ‘natural’. I struggled with most aspects of the dance but through persistent effort, became more accomplished. When I now hear people say, “I couldn’t do that” or “I’ve got two left feet”, I shake my head because I know that in by far the majority of cases, it is possible to become an accomplished dancer and enjoy the many benefits of dancing. I look forward to seeing you sometime on a dance floor somewhere.

The Early Days of Tango

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It was not uncommon for men to pair up with other men when dancing Tango during what was believed to be its Golden Age. The first thing that men learn in Tango is to be a follower, then, after about a year (and when enough expertise had been achieved) they would be taught the role of being a leader. People understood that it was generally because women were not allowed to go to practices which is why men had to practice with other men to prepare them in meeting women at the milongas.

A typical milonga congregation in the early days had more men than women. This means that the level of competition among men was significantly higher and, as a matter of course, higher skilled male dancers get to have a higher chance to dance with the girls compared to the lesser skilled ones.

The women’s part in being the inspirational influence of men for wanting to learn Tango was not clearly established at all. However, it was firmly believed that Tango began in the brothels, basing on the eroticism of the movements and the sex laden imagery of the song titles.

In the late 1800s, prostitution in different forms was commonplace as flocks of mostly male immigrants arrived, further elevating the demand in the sex industry specifically in the lower-class areas where Tango was believed to be born. Thus, men danced with men due to the unavailability of women and used their Tango skills to meet and attract women in brothels.

At that time, brothels in Buenos Aires were disguised as dance schools or cafes as they were known to be illegal. There, men danced Tango with women and engaged in sexual activities in exchange for money. The presence of men in the brothels were primarily for the purpose of obtaining sex with women and Tango just became a good excuse for them to be able to do so.

Miguel Calo

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Miguel Calo was one of those Argentine bandoneon player, composer and orchestra leaders who lived through the so-called “Golden Age of Tango” and is one of the genre’s most popular musicians. Calo was born on 28 October 1907 in Balvanera in Buenos Aires. The young Calo studied how to play the violin and bandoneon.

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In 1929, at the age of 22, Calo formed his first orchestra, which he later dissolved to join the orchestra of Catulo Castillo. Calo and the pianist and poet toured Spain together. They were also joined by musicians Ricardo and Alfredo Malerba and the singer Roberto Maida. When Calo returned home to Buenos Aires, he formed a second orchestra of his own, this time with the bandoneonist Domingo Cuestas, the violinists Domingo Varela Conte, Hugo Gutiérrez, and Enrique Valtri, the contrabassist Enzo Ricci, and the pianist Luis Brighenti. Once more, Calo left the group to join another, Osvaldo Fresedo’s, and go on tour abroad to the United States.

The first stage of his musical evolution is considered to have been around 1934, when Calo yet again formed another orchestra. His style at the time has been compared to Fresedo’s and the sound reminiscent of Carlos Di Sarli. The group’s pianist was Miguel Nijensohn and Carlos Dante lent his vocals on occasion, doing 18 recordings with them. Other singers included Alberto Morel and Robert Calo.

It was in the 1940s that Calo showed his maturity as a great director. He assembled talented and professional young musicians, all of whom would later organise their own groups. His style during this era was highlighted by violins, a rhythmic bandoneon section and the piano. The latter was played in the first year by Osmar Maderna, who was then replaced with the return of Nijensohn.

Other notable musicians who became part of the line-up included Domingo Federico, Armando Pontier, Carlos Lazzari, Eduardo Rovira, Julián Plaza, José Cambareri (bandoneons), Enrique Francini, Antonio Rodio, Nito Farace (violins), Ariel Pedernera and Juan Fassio (double bass). He helped debut great singers like Raúl Berón, Alberto Podestá and Raúl Iriarte.

Although he’s a great orchestra leader, his compositions are considered as not entirely remarkable. However, some beautiful works of his are “Jamás retornarás” and “Qué te importa que te llore,” both sung by Raul Beron. Other popular songs of his are “Dos fracasos”, with lyrics by Homero Expósito and the milonga “Cobrate y dame el vuelto” whose lyrics were by Enrique Dizeo.

In 1961, Calo reunited with some members of his old line-up from the 1940s. These included the bandoneonists Armando Pontier and Domingo Federico, the violinists Enrique Francini and Hugo Baralis, on piano Orlando Trípodi, and the singers Raúl Berón and Alberto Podestá. The group was called Miguel Caló y su Orquesta de las Estrellas (Miguel Calo and his All-Stars Orchestra). They played on one of the most powerful radios in Argentina, Radio El Mundo.

Calo passed away on 24 may 1972. Still, his influence lingers. In 2016, nearly 45 years later, the record “Siguen Los Exitos de La Orquesta de Miguel Calo” placed in the Top Ten in the Latin Pop Albums, number 48 at Top Latin Albums, and 25 on the Jazz Albums charts.

History in the Making

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Tango is a dance to some and an art form to others. The exact origins of tango, both the word and the dance, are ambiguous and are lost in myth and unrecorded history. The generally accepted theory is that in the mid-1800s, the African slaves who had been brought to Argentina and Uruguay began to influence the local culture. In 1889, the Real Academia Espanola dictionary defined the word “tango” as a “popular celebration and dancing of black people in America.” The expression of “toca tango” or “tocatambo” in the Bozal dialect (Portuguese Spanish spoken by African slaves) means to play the drum, or to start the dance, or the meeting space.

It took almost 100 years for the dictionary to redefine tango as a “world-wide known Argentinian dance for two people who join in movement, based on a binary 2/4 beat”. Not only has the meaning of the word tango changed, but the music has transformed also from being played on portable instruments such as the flute, guitar and violin into a full concert with a big orchestra. The dance has also been transformed from being in a close embrace, almost fastened together to more open flowing styles of today.

On August 31, 2009, UNESCO approved a joint, proposal by Argentina and Uruguay to include the tango to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

MID 1800s:

In 1870-1880 both Argentina and Uruguay saw an influx of millions of European immigrants. Most immigrants were penniless single men hoping to make their fortunes working the land, but ended up in the cities. In Montevideo in Uruguay, public dances were held in warehouses for the lower class and prostitutes were paid to dance. They danced a range of music from habanera, polka, mazurka and waltzes but in the “corte and quebrada” way, i.e. a tight embrace where they would stop and pose for a beat or two and then continue. From this mixing pot of cultures and candombe rhythms the street dances of the Montevidean milonga developed into now-called Argentine Tango. Improvisation was a key element of the dance which still remains today, unlike the percussion instruments which were gradually lost and replaced by the bandoneon. The bandoneon being the most recognizable tango instrument, with its deep melancholic feeling, reflecting the profound sense of loss and longing for the people in destitute times with nothing to their name except macho pride and desperation.


THE GRANDEUR: May 25, 1908 the Colon Theater opened its doors and wowed the crowds becoming one of the world’s top opera venues. Buenos Aires, a multicultural city competed with major European capitals for grandeur and refinement as the public was eager for arts and culture. Tango began to raise its profile by entering theatres, cafés and the upper-class brothels. Opening of Academia’s (places where you could learn many dances including tango) contributed to tango’s popularity. The typical bandoneon, violin and piano, were replaced by a sextet two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass, as it provided richer and more sophisticated orchestrations.


TANGO FOR EXPORT: Tango was then exported around the world by traveling poets, dancers and musicians. There were no recording studios in South America, so many orchestras traveled to Paris to record their music. Over a third of the 1,000 gramophone records released were of tango music and tango sheet music was also sold in large quantities. The sons of South American society families such as Ricardo Guiralde (major Argentine writer) had made their way to Paris. They introduced the tango into a society eager for innovation, which was not entirely averse to the risque nature of this import, especially taught by the dashing, rich South American men. Tango became a craze in Paris: tango music, tango lessons, tango dance, tango teas, tango train excursions, tango everything. In 1913 Tango had spread from St Petersburg to New York, and become an international phenomenon. The South American upper classes who had shunned the tango were now forced into embracing it, because it was fashionable in Europe.


TANGO IN MOVIES: Dancing had always been recorded in films, such as the highly dramatic Apache dance associated with Parisian street culture (1903), or the glamourised Hollywood tango of Rudolph Valentino, as the most famous if not completely inauthentic tangoing gaucho in the movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”(1921). There are recordings of tango as an everyday socialisation, a romantic dance to seduce or a competition to show off and to be watched compared to being danced. These examples highlight the conflict that “Art” which represents a non-authentic portrayal of the dance, has over time influenced or created a stereotype for tango: tango being the dance of thugs and prostitutes; or you must dance it with a rose in your mouth. Although movies have helped make tango popular, they have also created false impression of the dance and many tanguero’s would argue that the tango in the movies or even on stage, is not tango at all.


THE VOICE: Carlos Gardel became the champion of the authentic tango with his beautiful voice and macho looks as a popular singer and movie star. His fame spread worldwide with the help of the invention and wide use of radio, records and film.


THE CRASH OF TANGO: Tango was now out of fashion in Europe, a military coup in Argentina led by the pro-fascist general suppressed and censored it for 10 years, and Gardel had died in a plane crash in 1935. South America was also devastated by the Great Depression after the Wall Street Crash, which also changed the character of tango again, where the lyrics reflected the renewed poverty and social divisions.


THE GOLDEN AGE OF TANGO: Argentina and Uruguay were able to stay neutral for the majority of WW2 and became very wealthy due to trade. Music, poetry and culture flourished and by the mid to late 1940s, tango was at its height. There were more than 50 orchestras and ensembles playing around the city at salons, cafés, cabarets and social clubs. The demand of producing so much live music, created the competition between musicians to strive thus creating so many legendary tango musicians, conductors and composers. The best tango orchestras would be booked for more than a year in advance. Those were the years of the great dance balls, with countless tango radio shows and hundreds of big bands with popular singers. The dancers created a style that was elegant, sleek, choreographically complex, and mysterious. Tango became a matter of national pride under the government of Argentina’s President Juan Peron, in his first term (1946-1955).


THE REPRESSION ERA: Tango has always reflected the economic condition of the time. You can hear it in the music in poorer times — orchestras were smaller, and lyrics ranged from poetic, subversive or ‘corrupt’ language of the lunfardo slang or politically censored. The dance and its music went underground as large dance venues were closed as public gatherings in general were prohibited. The tango was repressed by post-Peronist nationalist government and only survived in smaller, unpublicised venues and in the hearts of the people. At the end of the 1950s tango eventually went out of fashion, crushed like many other dances, by the arrival of American swing and rock-n-roll, and from the 1960s to the 1980s, was only danced and played by a few of the older generation enthusiasts.


ASTOR PIAZZOLIA had the vision of tango “for the ear rather than the feet”. He created numerous operas, concertos, theatre and film scores. In 1975 he set up his Electronic Octet an octet made up of bandoneon, electric piano and/or acoustic piano, organ, guitar, electric bass, drums, synthesizer and violin, which was later replaced by a Flute or saxophone. Piazzolla produced innovative works and interpretations which broke away from the original mold of an “orquesta tipica” and created chamber music instead, music without a singer or any dancers. He achieved world acclaim by combining a wide range of styles from Jazz, Rock, Electronic and Tango, however, he generated hatred and criticism among the orthodox tanguero’s.


CULTURAL REVIVAL. With the return of Argentina to democracy in 1983, a new generation launched themselves on a cultural revival – recovering the almost forgotten tango. Luckily, the elder tanguero’s and musicians of the 1940’s were still alive and were a great source of knowledge. This revival spurred the worldwide touring of tango troupes starring dancers such as iconic Juan Carlos Copes. They created a dazzling romanticisation of tango of the golden age. One of the most influential teachers of the 90’s was Antonio Todaro. He transformed tango beyond simple steps into an intellectual challenge that encouraged new dancers. In Todaro’s tango, instead of just walking, both the man and the woman have important roles to play using figurers and styling to showcase tango to its best. This development of new figurers, was stimulated by the creation of new orchestras, as Todaro felt the need to invent new movement to match the music instead of just dancing how it was. He also taught many of the professional stage dancers, and toured frequently in Europe —Todaro’s protégé, Miguel Zotto, become one of the greatest stage performer of this generation.


NOT SO NUEVO: In the late 1990’s, the Tango Nuevo movement emerged in Buenos Aires. It was spear-headed by Gustavo Naveira & Fabian Salas, who applied the principles of dance kinesiology from modern dance to analyze the physics of movement in Argentine tango. Taking what they learned from this analysis, they began to explore all the possibilities of movement within the framework of Argentine Tango. As a result, the work of these Founders of the Tango Nuevo movement brought about a shift from teaching what to dance toward teaching how to dance.


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FUSION: Contemporary Tango (electronic) – Paris-based group Gotan (Lunfardo wordplay on ‘Tango’) Project was one of the first to renew the sound of tango (again) by adding electronic elements to tango dance music around the year 2000, and since then many other groups have followed suit by making both subtle or prominent changes to traditional tango. This evolved into the fusion with contemporary non-tango music and other dance genres. Although more young and adventurous people are attracted to the world of tango by the prospect of dancing to modern music, such as the electronic beats of Carlos Libedinsky’s Narcotango, or complete non-tangos, such as jazz and pop, it is still not as popular as traditional tango.


Today, tango is danced around the world: from Montevideo to Berlin to almost every city in the world. This is reflected not only by the number of annual international tango festivals which are supported by professional instructors on a global circuit, but by the quality of dancers throughout the world.


Like any art form, no-one knows what is next in the evolution of tango. We will just have to wait and see…

Lucio Demare

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Composer, orchestra director and musician Lucio Demare was born on 9 August 1906 in Buenos Aires to a family of entertainers. His father, Domingo Demare, was a violinist and brother Lucas, would become a prolific film director. Young Lucio first devoted himself to the bandoneon and then to the piano. He studied the latter with Italian pianist and music teacher Vicente Scaramuzza.

As early as eight years old, Demare was playing the piano in movie theaters, accompanying silent films. By eleven years old, he was hired to play for the singer María Magdalena Nile del Río or better known was “Imperio Argentina.” He joined an orchestra fronted by bandoneonist Nicolas Verona and together, they debuted his pasados “Flores de mi tierra” and “Banderillas al cabre” and foxtrots “Potencia” and “Mister Bohr.”

In 1926, Demare joined the jazz orchestra of Eleuterio Iribarren and it was around this time that he began to study the aspects of tango, composing the songs, “La comadrona” and “Rio de oro.” He categorised these as “tango romanza.” That same year, Francisco Canaro summoned Demare to join his group in Paris. There, Demare premiered the tangos “Dandy” and “Mañanitas de Montmartre” with lyrics by Agustín Irusta and Roberto Fugazot in the cabaret Les Ambassadeurs.

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Demare split from Canaro in 1927 to form his own group with singers Agustin Irusta and Roberto Fugazo. The trio made their debut at Teatro Maravillas in Madrid. The three of them went to star in some Spanish films. In the 1933 film “Boliche,” Demare played a blind musician. According to Demare himself, the three of them “never saw a dime” for their work as the movie distributor took it all. They had two long and successful tours across Central and South America, then had a second European season. In 1936, Demare finally returned to Buenos Aires.

He continued to do musical work in the movies, though, and was repeatedly awarded by Argentina’s Academia de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) Municipalidad de Buenos Aires. His brother Lucas directed the 1942 film “El viejo Hucha,” which Lucio made musical, premiering the tango “Malena.” The brothers worked together again that same year, when Lucas directed “La guerra gaucha,” which won first prize from the Municipalidad de Buenos Aires and distinction from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina.

His trio act with Irusta and Fugazo made a brief reappearance, performing with Canaro in the comedy film “Mal de amores” and playing the piano for Canaro’s orchestra when he had two pianists at the same time.

By 1938, Demare put together his own orchestra, teaming up with Elvino Vardaro. The following year, he and Varadaro parted, but Demare continued his career as bandleader. He recorded 62 numbers with singers Juan Carlos Miranda, Raúl Berón and Horacio Quintana.

Demare’s final years as a professional saw him as a soloist at the nightclub Cambalache with the singer Tania. His final venture was the Angiería Malena al Sur that he founded in the Giuffra passage in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of San Telmo. On 6 March 1974, Demare passed away in the sanatorium where he had been admitted to two weeks before. He had been ill for months, but in his obituary, he was described as “sick, weak, but not yet beaten.”