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What Does The Pandemic Have To Do With Tango?

by Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

Couple dancing tango with masks during the pandemic

Dancing tango during the pandemic

As everyone knows, we’re in the midst of a pandemic. But what many don’t know is Tango was affected by another plague that took place in Buenos Aires in the nineteenth century.

The mosquito, and the Yellow Fever that it brought to Buenos Aires, killed eight percent of the population of the city in 1871 and reduced the overall population by one-third as masses of people fled to safety.

This wasn’t the only such scourge to visit Buenos Aires. There had been other, smaller outbreaks of the Yellow Fever in 1852, 1858, and 1870. But 1871 was the worst year of the lot when, at its peak, five hundred porteños a day were dying from the disease.

A war on the part of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil versus Paraguay (known as The War of The Triple Alliance) had been fought between 1864 and 1870. It was a particularly difficult struggle. Paraguay was defeated entirely and suffered what some estimates put at two hundred thousand deaths. Bad as that certainly was for paraguayos, the aftermath of the war was also a singular disaster for citizens of Buenos Aires. Argentine soldiers returning from the war brought the Yellow Fever with them, and the rest is history. Polluted drinking water, untreated human waste, and the hot, wet summer climate so welcoming to mosquitos were singular elements in the spread of the disease. Another was the overcrowded conditions caused by the enormous influx of immigrants from everywhere in the world to Buenos Aires.

This immigration story is one of the most famous of this storied city.

As in New York City, Buenos Aires was the arrival point for hundreds of thousands of impoverished immigrants from across Europe and countries farther to the east. Mostly packed into the famous conventillos, which were large tenement blocks built both privately and by the government, these people suffered enormously from the Buenos Aires epidemic. They had nowhere to go and no money to get there even if they could escape.

The black population of former slaves, although small by comparison to most of the immigrant groups arriving in the port, lived south of the city in generally miserable, poverty-stricken, and overcrowded conditions. Better-to-do white citizens began building neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, in order to distance themselves from the black and immigrant peoples. A 2013 article in the International Business Times says:

It has been alleged that the president of Argentina from 1868 to 1874, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, sought to wipe out blacks from the country in a policy of covert genocide through extremely repressive policies (including possibly the forced recruitment of Africans into the army, and by forcing blacks [by military means] to remain in neighborhoods where disease would decimate them in the absence of adequate health care).”

That word “alleged” does little to reveal the truth of whether blacks were so treated, and I have not yet been able to determine the truth of what happened. What we do know is that the black population of Buenos Aires was reduced to almost nothing by the pandemic, whether or not they were surrounded by the army.

These losses account directly for the fact that one encounters so few black people today in Buenos Aires.

So…what does this have to do with tango?

The basic rhythms of tango came to southern South America with black slaves from Western Africa, beginning in the sixteenth century. As with jazz in the United States, tango derived from those rhythms. Despite the many considerable elements in tango that came with other nationalities during the times of immigration, the basis for the music and dance forms is black. (See my column from last month, titled Tango Negro for more details.)

We can only speculate about what tango music and dance would be like in our own time had the black population of Buenos Aires not been decimated in the nineteenth century. My guess is that it would be much different from what we see today, in many important ways.

Terence Clarke’s non-fiction book, An Arena of Truth: Conflict in Black and White is available online and in book stores everywhere.

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¡Dos chicos increibles! Two Incredible Tango-dancing Kids!

by Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma Del Tango board member

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

In 2006, my love Beatrice Bowles and I were in Buenos Aires to attend a week-long tango workshop with Gustavo Naveira and his wife Giselle Anne. It was mid-summer (i.e. Christmas-time in Buenos Aires, their seasons being precisely opposite to ours in the United States).  We had decided to participate in the workshop at the suggestion of Nora Olivera, who was also attending, with her husband Ed Neale.

The workshop was grueling and occasionally hilarious, depending on the moment and upon Bea and my abilities to keep up. I’ll write about it in a future column.

But there’s another story here.

Nora had told us about Gustavo’s two kids, Ariadna and Federico, who at the time were in school. Their mother, Olga Besio, was herself a noted tango maestra (and still is.) The two children were already masters of a kind, teaching tango together to children in a small studio in the San Juan y Boedo neighborhood, named for its most important intersection. This part of Buenos Aires has a rich tango history. (For an example, listen to the opening lines of Sur, written by Anibal Troilo and Homero Manzi [both of celestial importance to the history of tango], and sung here by Roberto Goyeneche. (“Old San Juan y Boedo…/The memory of your girlfriend’s unruly locks/and your own name floating from her goodbye.”)

Nora had put us in touch with Olga, who invited us to join her at one of her children’s class sessions. This neighborhood is filled with classic big-city noise…tremendous traffic on both boulevards, street vendors, cafes, small stores of every sort and bustling foot traffic on all sides. It was a very warm afternoon, and Bea and I were simply dragging along, hoping for some shade. After lemonades at The Esquina Homero Manzi, which is an elegant tango supper club on the corner where the two boulevards meet, we crossed the street and found the address Olga had given us. A simple door opened to a stairway leading to the second floor. We had not yet met Olga face-to-face, and we ascended the stairs, following the sounds of a recorded tango from up above.

Meeting Ariadna and Federico

Tango dancer Federico Naveira

Federico Naveira

The second floor contained three or four poorly painted rooms, including a large kitchen, windows wide-open for the air. It appeared to have once been a café of some kind, and now was quite run down. But the music was insistent, one of those tangos that commands your attention with its slow sensuous flow and possibilities for embrace.

We encountered such an embrace right away because Ariadna and Federico were dancing in the largest of the rooms. Bea and I stood watching in the doorway and, if it is possible to be transfixed, we were. They were just kids themselves, dressed in Levis, an over-sized T-shirt for him, a flower-printed blouse for her, and the de rigueur elegant dance shoes. But they both had all the authority that the finest tangueros have in the command of their dance.

Federico, with large dark eyes, like those of his mother, moved with slow, unquestioned intensity. His footwork, complicated and simple in the same moment, moved precisely with what the music wished to say. Ariadna is renowned for the spectacular grace with which she dances and her insistence on her own importance to the embrace and the movement of the couple together. That was evident even then, when she was in her teens. (You can see here a video of the two dancing together in 2006, the same year we met them. (Apologies for the poor video quality. The dancing is another story altogether.)

We also met Olga in person that day. She arrived later, and clearly wished to know who these two Americans were and how they had heard of her two kids. We admired her careful shepherding of her children and thanked her many times for allowing us to see them.

Argentine tango dancer Ariadna Naveira

Ariadna Naveira

Ariadna and Federico Naveira have gone on separately to international fame. If you have the opportunity to study with either of them, please do. You won’t regret it.

 

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve was published on April 15.

 

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Tears for Orlando Paiva

Argentine tango Dancer Orlando Paivaby Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

In 1995, Orlando Paiva was visiting the United States and stopped at Nora Olivera’s Sunday afternoon class and practica in Berkeley. These were very special sessions. Nora is noted for her exceptional teaching, especially in the way that she never molly-coddles the students. She tells you the truth about how you’re doing, and if you’re having trouble, she always offers a way to resolve the problem.

I had been studying tango for about a year, so I got quite a few justified suggestions from Nora, and I can still recall almost the exact words she used for many of them. Precision, exactitude and follow-through are the prime elements in Nora’s advice, and those who understand that her deep love of tango is what drives her realize how valuable those elements are.

She introduced Orlando to the class. At the time he was about sixty years old. He was very slim and gray-haired, and dressed in tan slacks, a navy-blue blazer, white shirt and tie. Not a demonstrative man in conversation, yet he exuded a kind of kindness that won over the students immediately. Nora later told me that he had a serious heart condition at the time yet he persisted with his tango no matter what.

She asked him to perform for us. I don’t remember to which tango he danced, but it was slow and extremely elegant, with the nonetheless acerb bite that makes tango music often so revealing of deep emotion. He took his partner into his arms and began dancing.

You could see immediately the care with which he pursued the dance. He walked very slowly, and I remember how he would let his trailing foot follow along, pointed back, the toe at an outward angle that underscored the grace with which he was moving. Straight-backed, immersed in the music, and very formal, he made his partner look beautiful because she too was so involved in the way he was dancing. You could feel her intensity, and part of that, I’m sure, was enabled by Orlando’s caring escort of her around the floor.

He performed none of the gymnastic irrelevancies that so often appear in the work of today’s show dancers. No kicks. No lifts. No impossibly fast tripping about. This man was a tanguero, and you could tell that by how respectful he was of his partner and of the music. He moved very slowly, and every step was a marvel.

The students loved it and responded with much shouting applause. I turned to Nora, my own noisy clapping appreciative of what I had just seen. But what I saw now astonished me. Nora, who knew Orlando well, was awash in tears. I cannot recall another occasion when I have seen her so taken by what she has witnessed. Later, I asked Nora if Orlando’s heart condition were one of the reasons for his dancing so carefully and slowly. She responded that, no, this is the way Orlando has always danced. “He is a great master, you see,” she said. That was all the explanation I needed.

This video gives you a good sense of what Orlando Paiva could do. The quality of the video is not good, for which, apologies. But please note how beautifully his partner Cristina Benavidez follows him. She is wonderful herself, of course. But Orlando gives her the opportunity to dance in so contemplative a way that her performance reveals her very heart. Watch with what attention the audience watches them. The response of the audience at the end will give you a good idea of what you’ve just seen.

Orlando Paiva died on November 28, 2006.

Read about Debbie and John’s friendship with Orlando

Terence Clarke’s latest non-fiction book An Arena of Truth was recently featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

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Dancing with Orlando

Debbie Goodwin with tango master Orlando PaivaHow Debbie & John came to know, study and dance with the Maestro

by Lanny Udell, writer, content strategist and Alma del Tango board member

While Orlando Paiva may not be a household name, to the tango cognoscenti he is highly revered for his elegant and graceful, and very personal style of tango 

Debbie and John had the pleasure of studying and dancing with him going back to the late ’90s when Debbie also assisted in his classes and served as his translator. In fact, she partnered him when he was training Robert Duvall and his wife, Luciana Pedraza, for the movie Assassination Tango.

Here’s how it all began:

Back in the day, Fairfax residents Al and Barbara Garvey were passionate about tango and wanted to build the Bay Area tango community, which was small at the time. They started a newsletter for tangueros so everyone could know where and when the milongas were being held, and when visiting professores were coming to town. Their effort grew into the Bay Area Tango Association.

Orlando was living in Los Angeles at the time, and when he arrived in San Francisco needing a partner, the Garveys called Debbie, who also speaks Spanish.
But even before that, Debbie and John had taken workshops and studied with Orlando privately.

“What impressed me about Orlando,” says John, “was that he was very deliberate in his movements, he did everything with precision. By profession he was a machinist, and that translated into his dancing. His movements were precise…always the same…the embrace, posture, foot placements.”

And he was a stickler about followers’ feet, says Debbie who learned her beautiful foot technique from him.

You can see other influences of Orlando’s style in their dancing, such as going to the cross in cross system, with the elegant way the leader holds his left leg back. And the level changes during the Basic.

Orlando’s Signature figures

Orlando taught tango for more than 45 years, creating at least 160 exclusive figures, and he gave each one a name.

Tango dancers Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell in El Puente, the bridge pose

John & Debbie in El Puente, it only looks like a volcada

El Puente, or bridge pose…“It looks like a volcada, but the way you get into it is the opposite,” says John. “You enter it from a left turn. The leader invites the follower to step around him until, gradually, you get the lean.”
Salida del Gato … “His version of walking to the cross which also took the couple from a close embrace into an open embrace,” explains Debbie. “he moved like a panther, so his name, Salida de Gato, Entrance of the Cat, was fitting.”
Giro Común translated it means “common turn” … but it wasn’t so common the way he did it, says Debbie, “it was so beautiful!”

When Orlando was coaching Debbie and John on how to teach tango his advice was, “you can’t fix everything…find the thing they need the most help with.” Sound advice from the maestro.

Later, Orlando returned to his hometown of Rosario, Argentina where he had a home, studio and workshop. He continued to teach there for the rest of his days. One of his sons followed in his footsteps and later in life changed his name to Orlando Jr.

Read Terry Clarke’s article, Tears for Orlando

More from Debbie & John’s photo album:

Alma del Tango daner Debbie Goodwin practices with Maestro Orlando Paiva

Debbie & Orlando

Tangueros John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

L to R: John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

Debbie Goodwin teaches with Orlando Paiva

Debbie assists Orlando in class

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Los Filippini: Style, Elegance, Kindness.

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

Beatrice Bowles and I were visiting Buenos Aires in 2006, and were told about the club Viejo correo at Avenida Díaz Vélez 4820. Diaz Vélez is an interminably long thoroughfare, and on this particular night, we worried as very heavy rain coursed from above. Our taxi driver had to lean well forward over the steering wheel in order to be sure that his view of the road was clear. What was not obscured by the downpour on his windshield was blurred by the hurrying of his old, ragged wipers across the glass.

We got to the club, though, and were greeted by a couple of men at the door, armed with large umbrellas. They escorted us in, and we immediately noted the black and white tiled dance floor, gleaming smooth, that was surrounded by tables-for-four at which many dancers were sitting. What made the place immediately special for us was that the dancers were well-dressed. This is not something you normally see in Buenos Aires milongas. That city is infected with the same nuevo-homeless style of fashion, most prominently among men, that you see in almost every other American or European city these days. Levis, T-shirts, no verve, etc. At the Viejo correo, every man had on a suit and a tie. The women were all dressed with a preference for real elegance.

The Viejo correo is a local place, visited mostly by neighborhood dancers who seem to know each other well and, we found, are exceedingly friendly. They were surprised that a couple such as we could even find the place, and they watched carefully as we danced. They seemed equally surprised that we could essay the tango with at least some panache. Many of the other dancers wished to talk with us, and when they found we also had Spanish, our evening filled with conversation.

Many of the men offered the cabeceo to Beatrice, and always thanked me when they escorted her back to our table, for not being offended by their taking her from me. It was clear to them that she could dance, and I was not about to intervene with her opportunity to be on the floor with authentic milongueros porteños. The entire experience, for both of us, was unique.

There was a further surprise
One of the renowned couples in tango at the time were Lito and Lidia Filippini, and we learned that they were going to arrive at the Viejo correo, to dance that evening. “Not to perform,” one of the men assured us. “They come here all the time, just to dance, like the rest of us.”

When the Filippinis arrived, they were greeted by almost everybody as they passed through the tables to their own, which had been reserved for them. They were an older couple, dressed just so, as were all the others in the room. And indeed they did not perform. Beatrice and I watched as they joined others on the floor. Their dancing was in no way flashy or overtly gymnastic. They too were real milongueros and danced with care and elegance spiced by the usual Argentine porteño intensity.

Beatrice and I danced a tanda, and we sensed we were being watched by the Filippinis. This can be an unnerving experience for dancers who are not professionals themselves. After dancing, we sat down at our table and, heads held in reserved silence, calmed our nerves with a few sips of malbec. After more tandas, we saw that the Filippinis were leaving, and as they approached our table, I nodded to Lito. To our astonishment, he and Lidia struck up a conversation with us. Where were we from? Were we enjoying Buenos Aires? Where else were we dancing? And then they told us that they thought we were dancing well. It had been a pleasure for them to watch, they said. I reached out a hand to Lito, which he shook with enthusiasm, and we both thanked them. It was then that I noticed that the others in the club were watching the conversation. It was clear that they approved, too.

The evening, of course, astonished both Bea and me.

As you’ll see from this video the Filippinis dance in an older style free of the balletic macho fireworks that so often mar contemporary tango.

Compás. Elegancia. Verdaderos milongueros.

For another adventure from that evening at the Viejo correo, see my piece “Big Nose in Buenos Aires.” 

 

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Student of the Month ~ Fred Anlyan

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Fred Anlyanby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: When speaking with Fred about tango, it’s important to specify Argentine Tango, as he has danced other genres…i.e., International Tango and American Rhythm. He started dancing Argentine Tango just last August.

Back story: Fred didn’t discover dancing until he was in his 40’s. His then-wife wanted to dance so he agreed to a few lessons, thinking that would be the end of it. But he got hooked! At that time, he was dancing International Ballroom and International Latin. He became a Pro/Am competitor, dancing with one of his teachers.  He later took up West Coast Swing.

Why Argentine Tango: It so happened that the studio where he first went for ballroom classes in the 1990’s was located in the same building as Alma del Tango, so that piqued his curiosity. “Argentine Tango was starting to get popular,” says Fred, and he became interested in pursuing it without giving up his other forms of dance. When he did venture in to Alma del Tango last August, Eduardo Saucedo was Artist-in-Residence so Fred had his first month of tango training with Eduardo.

Fred describes Argentine Tango as very complex and technical. “Some things can carry over from other kinds of dance, but the application is different,” he says. “I consider myself a pretty good ballroom dancer and decent West Coast Swing dancer…but I wasn’t very good at Argentine Tango.”

Favorite part: Fred took a few minutes to think about this one. His answer: “My vision for what I could do if I continue to practice. I have my mind set on things I want to do, but I’m not there yet.” (Ed note: Are any of us?)

About Debbie & John: “I think they’re terrific, he says, “so warm and supportive. They greet everyone with a smile and a hug. They’ll support you in stretching a bit beyond where you are. After I’d been in class for 1 ½ months I asked if I could try Level 2. They looked at each other, talked briefly, and said, sure, go ahead.” Now Fred takes Level 1, 2 and 2/3 on Friday night.

Anything else? “Whenever you do something challenging you have to put in a certain amount of time to get good. I’m not there yet with Argentine Tango.” But with his determination and skill, there’s no doubt he will be.

Student of the Month Fred Andlyan dancing a Fox Trot

Fred and his partner Christine Rinne danced a Fox Trot in a showcase at Stars Ballroom

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Noche de Tango…An intimate, Buenos Aires-style evening at Alma del Tango

 

by Lanny Udell

Tango vocalist/dance teacher Mira Barakat and guitarist Scott O'Day at Noche de Tango

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing” – Douglas

When Debbie Goodwin approached Mira Barakat with the idea of presenting a “tango cabaret” at Alma del Tango, Mira was intrigued. “I had been working with guitarist Scott O’Day for several years, and the idea of teaching musicality came out of our partnership,” she says. Thus, the concept for a musicality workshop followed by dancing to live music was born.

Mira and Scott wanted it to be an intimate evening, where dancers would feel relaxed and comfortable. In the workshop guests learned about musicality from the point of view of a musician and a vocalist/dance teacher.

“Most classes are technical, about structures and steps,” says Mira. “Musicality can be more subtle. We wanted to inspire dancers to listen to the music and feel how it affects our bodies. Dancers can move intuitively when they know what to listen for.”

“I enjoyed learning about tango music “models” and their names. Mira and Scott concisely demonstrated how to embody these models in our dancing. I look forward to seeing how I can incorporate this aspect of musicality in my tango!”  -Kyra

The Salon

In Argentina, Mira explains, there are many restaurants with a small dance floor where you can eat, drink, socialize and dance. That’s the feeling she wanted to convey on this special evening. “A tango Saturday night out, slightly different from a milonga.”

Scott and Mira played for dancing, with DJ’d music between sets. Guests chatted at cabaret-style tables, munched on delicious empanadas from The Wooden Table Cafe, along with other snacks and sampled a variety of wines.

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing and Scott’s fluid accompaniment on guitar.  Good food and wine to boot.  I look forward to another such splendid affair.” – Douglas

 

The event was wonderful in a number of respects.  First, the workshop topic, namely, musicality.  This is something that even though it is right in our faces, or rather, our ears, tends to slip under the radar.  It is important, and the event helped address it.  Second, live music.  This is always nice, and in this case, was particularly touching.  Third, the opportunity to dance, in the workshop, during the live performance, and with the recorded music.  And the dance seemed in a more intimate, cafe-type setting.  And hey, the food was good!” Matt

Mira’s Album Release

The party was also a celebration of Mira’s first album release, “Mira Barakat Tangos.” It was recorded in Buenos Aires, with “two amazing guitarists,” Juan Villarreal and Patricio Crom, assisted by the well-known singer and artistic coach, Ariel Varnerin. Rather than produce a physical CD, they decided to offer it as an online release only. The collection of 11 songs is available for streaming and purchase at mirabarakat.bandcamp.com.

What’s Next?

If you missed the February 1st Noche de Tango, no worries. Another such evening will take place on June 6, at Alma del Tango.  Watch for the announcement.

Mira will soon be heading to Buenos Aires for her tango immersion program, BA. Tango Evolution, where students learn and train with professional dancers as partners. Learn more at batangoevolution.com.

 

 

 

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My Love, Let Us Stay Here

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

One of my very favorite tangos is “Quedémonos aquí,” with music by Héctor Stamponi and lyrics by Homero Espósito. It has been recorded by most of the major singers of tango since it was first written.

The lyrics form a single suggestion from one lover to another, that they remain where they are at the moment…presumably in bed…rather than getting up and returning to the irresolute tango life of forgetfulness, alcohol’s hopelessness, and all those things that have drained them of blood itself in the fruitless lives they’ve been living.

 

“Amor, la vida se nos va,
quedémonos aquí, ya es hora de llegar!
¡Amor, quedémonos aquí!
¿Por qué sin compasión rodar?
¡Amor, la flor se ha vuelto a abrir
y hay gusto a soledad, quedémonos aquí!
Nuestro cansancio es un poema sin final
que aquí podemos terminar.
¡Abre tu vida sin ventanas!
¡Mira lo linda que está el rio!
Se despierta la mañana y tengo gana
De juntarte un ramillete de rocio.”

“My love, life is passing us by.
Let us stay here. Right now has the hour arrived.
Love, let us stay here!
Why fall pitilessly to pieces?
Love, the flowers are just now blooming
and there is such pleasure in solitude. Let us stay here!
Our weariness is an endless poem
to which here we can bring an end.
Open a life that has no windows!
Look how beautiful the river is!
The morning awakes and I would
bring you a bouquet of morning dew.”

The lovers are caught in a debate with themselves over the state of their souls. Do we continue this irresolute tango life (the bars, the boliches, the lies we tell each other, and the foolish search of the bottom of the glass) or do we turn to the soothing beauties of nature, the soul-healing qualities of sunlight and clear, rippling waters, of flowers and the delicacy of the morning dew? The choice is clear. But in the midst of the exhaustion that our wasted life has brought to us, can we make that choice?

As you can see, this tango is not light reading. Big questions are at its core, and the music that carries these lyrics is some of the saddest I’ve ever heard. The irony for me is that this entire tango and its plea for freedom from self-doubt is made up of the tango life itself that the lovers are questioning.

As such, it is eminently danceable. A remarkable example is a recent performance by Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez, to “Quedémonos aquí.” Often these days the videos of tango are filled with excessive hurry, big-time gymnastics, and way over-dramatic gesture. Not in this one. When Fernando and Ariadna are finished dancing, there is a demonstrable silence before the applause comes. I believe this is so because the audience is stunned by the beauty of what they’ve just seen. 

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be available in bookstores and on Amazon after April 15.

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Cacho Castaña ~ Superstar of Argentine popular music and film

Portrait of Cacho Castana, Argenine singer and film starby Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

A porteño named Humberto Vicente Castagna died on October 15, at the age of seventy-seven. Better known as Cacho Castaña, he was a superstar of Argentine popular music and film. During his long career he recorded five hundred of his own songs (among others) on forty-four albums, and appeared in thirteen films; for two of them he wrote the musical scores.

His beginnings were of the humblest. In 1958, at the age of sixteen, Cacho was working in his father’s shoe repair shop in Buenos Aires. But he had musical aspirations and had been studying piano. He auditioned one day for the tango orquesta tipica of Oscar Espósito, who hired the boy. With his father’s blessing, Cacho left shoe repair behind, and began what was to be a glorious career in show business.

A tanguero at heart

Tango was just one of the styles of music that Cacho pursued, as can be seen in any of the videos that were made of his full concerts. There is often a kind of Hollywood schmaltziness in his work: over-arranged and over-orquestrated. But I believe Cacho was a tanguero at heart, and it is in his tangos that the real depth of his talent can be seen. If you can find a copy of his album Espalda con espalda (“Shoulder to Shoulder”), in which he sings only tangos, and which won the prestigious 2005 Gardel Prize, you’ll find his true soulfulness.

His recording Garganta con arena (“Throat Filled With Sand”) is one of the most famous tunes Cacho ever wrote. It is a tribute to his friend and mentor Robert Goyeneche. In it, Cacho sings this:

“Cantor de un tango algo insolente
Hiciste que a la gente le duela tu dolor.
Cantor de un tango equilibrista
Más que cantor, artista con vicios de cantor.”

“Singer of a tango somehow insolent,
You made the people feel your pain.
Singer of a tango on a tightrope,
More than a singer: a real artist
with all the vices a singer may have.”

With these lines, Cacho Castaña could have been writing about himself and his own gravel-filled, deep-feeling voice. It would have been a fitting tribute to his tanguero heart.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published next year.

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Student of the Month ~ Edith Kaplan

Tango dancer Edith Kaplanby Lanny Udell

Editor’s note: Edith was our Student of the Month in December 2013.  She performed in several Alma del Tango student productions, and then took a hiatus when she left the Bay Area. We’re delighted to have her back on the dance floor.

Going off the grid

Edith left the Bay Area in 2015 to live off the grid on an organic farm in Oregon. While there, she meditated and volunteered at an organic bakery where she learned to prepare vegan gluten free foods. “I really enjoyed it,” she says.

She hadn’t danced for quite some time, but during the last year-and-a-half of her stay in Oregon she felt the call and put on her dancing shoes again.

After returning to the Bay Area in June 2019, Edith headed straight to Alma del Tango!

What’s different

“What is new for me is connecting more with the music than ever before. I think my private classes with John have sparked that feeling. They are shaping me on that, stepping on the beat at the correct moment.”

Edith feels that her dancing has improved from where she was five years ago. “What I imagined then is now physical,” she says. “I don’t compete with myself any longer. I feel free and relaxed.”

Edith is a jewel! She comes to lessons with “beginners mind,” hungry for growth. Her joy lights the room. I welcome, too, her frustrations, because I know she will persevere. She takes a moment, stands tall and with a determined smile she says, “I’m ready now! Lets try it again!” Then comes the “I did it! I didn’t think I could ever get it!” For me, this is the joy of teaching.” – John Campbell

She attends classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and she is “courageously trying to learn to lead, but it’s really in the baby steps,” Edith says.

Edith the artist

A talented graphic designer, Edith has designed most of the posters and marketing pieces for Alma del Tango student and professional productions.

Collage of postcards designed by Edith Kaplan

Examples of Edith’s design work for Alma del Tango productions.

“I like to design for art projects, whether it’s dance, writing or mixed media,” she explains. “It’s different from being an entrepreneur. When the dance is done, it’s done. So the artwork is something tangible that remains.”

I love ‘partnering’ with Edith creatively. As Alma del Tango’s graphic designer she is able to take the movement ideas swirling around in my head for a project and transform them into something beautiful I can hold in my hands. It not only helps my projects become a reality but spreads the word about what is happening at ADT. We are so happy she is back.” -Debbie Goodwin

You can see all of Edith’s posters on display in the studio.

Tango around the world

A world traveler, Edith finds tango wherever she goes. She’s danced in Istanbul, Vienna and London. “Istanbul was best, there were milongas every night –- sometimes 3 or 4 a night! And the leaders were amazing – and also tall,” she says with a smile.  “It was intimidating how good they were.”

In Vienna she danced in beautiful open air milongas, in front of palaces, like the one pictured here. What’s next for the dancer/designer? We’re hoping she’ll stick around for a while.

Student of the Month Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Tango under the stars at Karlsplatz in Vienna

Alma del Tango student Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Edith in Istanbul

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