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.