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Rubén Juárez: The Voice. The Instrument.

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

It is almost unheard of that a fine bandoneon player will sing, or that a passion-driven singer will play the bandoneon. The incomparable Rubén Juárez was celebrated for doing both.Ruben Juarez, sings and plays bandoneon

Starting out as a sometime rock and folk singer, Juaréz became a friend of Julio Sosa, a major star on the Buenos Aires tango scene who died in 1964, only thirty-eight years old, in an automobile accident. Juárez went on to devote himself exclusively to tango.

Argentine writer and poet Héctor Negro wrote about him in the magazine Los Grandes del Tango:

When he appeared on the great tango stage, there was something of a celebration on the part of old and new devotees alike, writers from various generations and different perspectives…commentators, musicians, and regular people in general. It was one of those rare cases in which someone young and new was accepted without resistance of any kind, almost unanimously recognized as a figure with a very promising future.

There was no doubt about his singing: his interpretive force, his presence, and his personality were overwhelming. He played with new themes and demonstrated that he could light up the classics as well. He was truly a figure of popular song and the stage.”

Star of stage, screen and television

Juárez made many recordings and had full careers on television and in film as well. My personal favorite recording of his is almost not tanguero, although the song itself is Malena, one of the most famous tangos ever written. At first it sounds almost like a blues tune. But as soon as his bandoneon enters in, it begins a gradual change to something more tango, and the conclusion is entirely, clearly and vibrantly tanguero.

Juárez was known for his stage appearances, and you can see an excerpt from one of them in a 2008 performance of the tango Pasional. Here Juárez showcases his rough, insistent voice (rougher and more insistent as he got older), and accompanies himself on bandoneon. I love this performance because Juárez is alone  for almost the entire song, without any other instrumental accompaniment than his bandoneon. Yet his singing is filled with anger and sadness, and he uses repeated chords, extensively, to emphasize the troubled betrayal of love about which he is singing.

“No sabras, nunca sabras
lo que es morir mil veces de ansiedad.
No podrás nunca entender
lo que es amar y enloquecer.”

(“You won’t know, will never know,
what it is to die a thousand times from worry.
You’ll never understand
What it is to love and go mad.”)

My love, Beatrice Bowles, and I had the good fortune to see Juárez in concert the year before he died, at Torquato Tasso, a small club devoted to contemporary tango that still is in operation. It is well worth a visit the next time you’re in Buenos Aires.

Rubén Juárez died in Buenos Aires in 2010. For a fine late recording of his, I recommend El Album Blanco, which is available on Apple iTunes.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published in March, 2020.

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Adriana Varela – From rock star to tango singer

Tango singer Adriana VarelaBy Terence Clarke,  author,  journalist and Alma del Tango board member

Adriana Varela may not be for everyone. Her voice is not pretty. It seldom floats and will not ease you into dreamland. But I became a fan of her voice the moment I first heard it. I feel that, if you want to hear how Buenos Aires can sound when portrayed in song, you should go to Adriana Varela and listen closely.

Varela has been a best-selling recording artist of tango since the early 1990s. Starting out as a rock singer, she paid little attention to the at-that-time accepted notion, of traditional tangos of the 1930s through 50s being those most worth listening to. So…large string and bandoneón sections playing lyrical, even romantic, versions of tangos ad nauseum. They’re all very pretty, but we dance to them over and over at the milongas, no matter where the particular milonga may be held…in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, London, Istanbul, or wherever.

The voice of Buenos Aires

Varela’s voice, however, is pure porteño, which is to say, Buenos Aires!…rough, direct, and filled with irony, often humorous, often angry. When you walk down almost any street in that city, you hear this voice and that language. It is recognizable to anyone who has enough Spanish to understand what is being said, and especially how it is being said. There is no other accent in the Spanish language quite like it.

Early in her singing career, Varela made the acquaintance of the great Roberto Goyeneche. By now internationally famous, his voice was anything but soft and pleasing. When you hear it, you know that this man, too, knows the streets of Buenos Aires’s massive urban landscape and the difficulties it can present.

The circumstances of their first meeting have become famous. Varela was singing in a Buenos Aires club one evening, and she spotted Goyeneche sitting at the bar. It was known that he did not care for female tango singers, and he spent her entire set silently nursing the whiskey before him, his back turned to the stage. At the end of her set, beset by nerves, Varela stepped down from the bandstand and approached the great man. When Goyeneche realized that the young woman was trying to get his attention, he turned to her and, without provocation, said, “Che piba, (Hey, girl) you’ve got it!” From then on, they were fast friends.

For an example of Varela’s work, watch her studio performance of Mano a Mano (“Hand in Hand.”) It’s a tough-minded tango, one of Carlos Gardel’s greatest. The lyrics tell of the crazy love the speaker has for a very high-spirited young woman he knows, although one with questionable morals. She is sought after by the worst of the local two-bit gangsters…and she often gives into them. But the speaker loves her no matter what. As the singer puts it in the last verse:

“Y mañana, cuando seas descolado mueble viejo

y no tengas esperanzas en el pobre corazón,

si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo,

acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo

p’ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la occasion.”

Sadly, I can’t translate the lyrics to include the rhymes they contain, which are terrific. But here’s the essence of what they say:

“And tomorrow, when you’re broken down, an old piece of furniture,

and there is no hope in your poor heart,

if you need a hand, if you need some advice,

remember this friend here who would risk his skin

to help you any way he can, whenever you need it.”

 

The Spanish translation of Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is currently seeking publication in South America.

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Navigation & Etiquette Guidelines for Milongas

(These great suggestions taken from Clay Nelson’s Burning Tango Festival)
 
1. Always move forward in line of dance.
2. Stay in your lane.
3. Move up and fill gap in front of you.
4. Use cabeceo and accept refusals.
5. Dance small figures.
6. Eyes up and avoid collisions.
7. Seek permission to enter the floor.
8. No teaching, criticizing or loud talking.
9. Clear the floor during the cortina.
10. Apologize regardless of who’s at fault.
11. Center is for beginners–good dancers stay in outside lanes.
12. Dress appropriately and have good hygiene. 
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Paquita Bernardo… “La Flor de Villa Crespo”

Paquita Bernardo, first professional woman bandoneonistaBy Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

These days, women who play the bandoneón abound in Buenos Aires and around the world. This was not so in the 1920s. But one who did so was Paquita Bernardo. By some accounts she was indeed the very first professional bandoneonista.

The daughter of Spanish immigrants to Argentina, she was famous for playing tango with verve and true porteño style while often wearing a man’s suit and tie.

In 1915, as a teenager, Paquita entered the music conservatory of a woman named Catalina Torres in Buenos Aires, as a pianist. There she met a young bandoneonista named José Servidio, who so impressed her with his ability and the instrument’s sonorous soulfulness, that she switched to the bandoneón. She never looked back. (Servidio, incidentally, went on to a distinguished career as a tango musician on the Buenos Aires scene.)

Problem – she was a girl

Initially the trouble for Paquita was that she was a girl, which could have made her professional advancement an impossibility. (For an interesting novel about just such a situation in turn-of-the-20th-century Buenos Aires, see The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis.)

At the time, women appearing on stage in tango boliches and clubs were thought to be of questionable morals. Playing bandoneón requires the instrumentalist to open and shut the legs, which was deemed entirely inappropriate for women. Paquita persisted, however, and persuaded her father to allow her to pursue her study of the instrument. He acceded to her request, and Paquita, whose talent was so obvious, went on to play with various bands on the Buenos Aires club scene throughout her teen-age years.

A meteoric rise…and fall

In 1921, Paquita founded her own band, Orquesta Paquita, with her brother Arturo on drums and a very young pianist named Osvaldo Pugliese. They got a steady gig at the Bar Dominguez on Corrientes Street, and soon the traffic on Corrientes had to be diverted because of the sizable crowd waiting outside the club to see Paquita and her mates. To be sure, it was not just the novelty of seeing a woman playing the bandoneón that brought them to the club. By now Paquita was a master on the instrument and a star. In 1923, she appeared at a Grand Fiesta of Tango in the Coliseo Theater, a major Buenos Aires venue. It was a monumental event in which hundreds of noted musicians played, and Paquita was the only woman on the bill.   

Her fame rose meteorically. She played constantly through the next few years at most of the principal tango venues in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, clubs and ballrooms alike. She also became a regular in appearances on the newly established radio stations in both capitals.

Such constant appearances can take a toll on performers, and Paquita was no exception. In the fall of 1925, she contracted a difficult cold that turned quickly into pneumonia with other complications. It is thought that the treatment she received was not up to the seriousness of her affliction, and she died on April 14 of that year. She was just short of her twenty-fifth birthday.

Sadly, there are no recordings of Paquita’s playing. She also had talent, though, as a composer of tango, and none other than Carlos Gardel recorded two of her pieces: La enmascarada (“The Masked Woman”) and Soñando (“Dreaming”).

Terence Clarke’s novel about the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, The Splendid City, was published in March.

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Have We Lost the Confiteria Ideal?

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

Dancing tango at Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires

Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires

Tango is a child of the great immigrations to Argentina and Uruguay from everywhere in the world, from the very beginnings of the Spanish conquest to the present day. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano writes in his Memory of Fire histories:

 “tango had been born in the corrals at the city’s edge and in tenement courtyards.  It came from gaucho tunes of the interior and came from the sea, the chanteys of sailors.  It came from the slaves of Africa and the gypsies of Andalusia.  Spain contributed its guitar, Germany its bandoneon, Italy its mandolin.  The driver of the horse-drawn streetcar contributed his trumpet, the immigrant worker his harmonica, comrade of lonely moments. With hesitant step, tango spanned barracks and dives, the midways of traveling circuses and the patios of slum brothels.” 

All those people who went to – or, in the case of black people, were taken to — Argentina brought their various kinds of music with them, and the result of all those rhythms and chords, instruments, ethnicities, cultures and sounds was a fine musical madness, from the moil of which tango came bubbling to the surface.

It was that most wonderful of cultural events, a bastardization from innumerable parents, a burst of musical languages and unusual couplings from which sprung a single, yet endlessly complicated, gorgeous flower: Tango.

The Confitería Ideal, at Suipacha 384 in Buenos Aires, is now closed for renovation. It was a grand barn of a place: musty, quite run-down, and world-famous for its tango.

There was a time, in 1912, when it was considered the cutting edge of Parisian style. Founded by don Manuel Rosendo Fernandez on the suggestion of his wife, who was French, it was a tea-room originally, and its clientele were among the most favored that Buenos Aires had to offer.  On two floors, it was one of the largest such establishments in the city and was famous for the airy aristocratic beauty of its high ceilings, marble columns, and grand chandeliers. If you were anybody in Buenos Aires in those years, you’d slide right off the social register if you didn’t pay a regular visit to the Ideal.

With time, it lost its luster for the well-to-do, and ultimately became the venue for, of all things, tango.  The dance that came from the poor and the immigrants, that is still disdained by the moneyed sort in Buenos Aires, became the very reason for going to this place.

For many years, almost every day of the week, tangueros gathered at the Ideal, starting in the afternoon and going on into the early morning.  The music was usually recorded and often memorable, although some of the disk jockeys, like many of their colleagues around the world, were stuck in the 1930s and 40s.  That aside, the opportunity to dance here – or, if you didn’t know tango, to watch here — was not to be missed.

I write in the past tense, as though the Ideal no longer exists. But that is not true.

“The Ideal never was intended to be a space specific to dancing tango,” says Alejandro Pereiro, architect of the current re-do. “It will come about as circumstances dictate, as the undertaking develops.”

This sounds like corporate architect-speak intended to prepare longtime tangueros for the Ideal’s disappearance as the singular most memorable space for tango in the world.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, is being translated to Spanish by noted Chilean novelist Jaime Collyer.

 

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Edmundo Rivero: The Ugly Man Who Sings So Pretty

Tango singer Edmundo Rivera

“El Feo Que Canta Tan Lindo”

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

To understand at least part of Edmundo Rivero’s unusual appeal, one must know that he suffered from acromegaly, which results from excess growth hormone after the growth plates themselves have closed. (The growth plate is the area of growing tissue near the end of the long bones in children and adolescents.) Among the symptoms of acromegaly are the enlargement of the hands and feet, and sometimes of the forehead, jaw and nose.

It is for this reason that Rivero was known by his fellow musicians, affectionately, as “El Feo” (“The Ugly Man”). His fans more accurately referred to him as “El Feo Que Canta Tan Lindo” (“The Ugly Man Who Sings So Pretty”).

From itinerant singer to tango star

Born in 1911, young Edmundo Rivero worked as an itinerant singer in the Buenos Aires dance hall circuit. He came to the notice of Julio de Caro, whose orchestra was getting significant attention for its live gigs as well as for its rising fame on records. From then on, Rivero’s career flourished until his death in 1986.

Rivero’s singing and playing were in every way extraordinary. He had a very fine, resonant bass-baritone voice, and was noted as well for the high-level accompaniment of his principal guitarist, who happened to be Rivero himself. Trained classically on guitar, as a youth he also mastered the rhythms of pampas gaucho music and was present for the rise of Buenos Aires urban tango, begun by the great Carlos Gardel and nurtured by countless other fine musicians.

Rivero was one of them.

In 1947, after many years with different bands and with frequent appearances in tango-based movies, Rivero was hired by orchestra leader Aníbal Troilo. Troilo was a superb bandoneonista who had a clear-eyed vision of the kind of musicianship he expected from his players and singers. A few years later, after all, he would feature the legendary Roberto Goyeneche as his lead singer (see my previous article titled “El Colectivero Polaco Goyeneche”) and had already hired another bandoneonista with an unusual interpretive style named Astor Piazzolla. With Troilo, Rivero recorded just twenty-two songs; one of them was titled Sur. A huge hit, it is a nostalgic remembrance of an old working-class Buenos Aires neighborhood for whose residents tango had deep emotional sway. Sur became a kind of anthem to tango itself. It is one of the most famous tangos ever recorded.

Successful solo career

Having found fame and fortune, Rivero left Troilo in 1950 and started a solo career. During this decade, a full orchestra, including a bank of violins, was seen as necessary to any successful musical career in Buenos Aires. Rivero made a bold gesture. Tired of all the heavy orchestrations, he took up his guitar and started doing tango with just his voice and his instrument (with, occasionally, a fellow guitarist or two.) These are some of my favorite recordings by Edmundo Rivero. Significant soul flows from them, especially because they are so contemplative and lonely.

Click here for a rich selection of Rivero’s music.

Terence Clarke’s new non-fiction book An Arena of Truth, on the topic of race relations, is now in bookstores and on Amazon

 

 

 

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Argentine Tango – The Line of Dance

Argentine tango, dancers following the line of dance

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, it’s the first rule of tango.

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

 

The line of dance seems a reasonable enough idea. A number of couples dancing tango are asked, by custom, to dance in a more or less circular line that borders the edges of the dance floor, all in the same direction. This is done in order to keep collisions between couples at a minimum and to further the promise of dancing gracefully while at the same time cheek by jowl with numbers of other tangueros.

You would be surprised, however, at how often this custom is not observed. As a leader, you’re attempting to circle the floor in the line of dance, and some other leader in front of you is coming the other way. You take evasive action, ruining the moment that you and your partner have set up, and sometimes a bad stumble results, or a graceless, sudden stop, or an actual run-in with either that other leader and his partner, or with the poor people following behind you.

It’s even worse if you are a follower. (I’m speaking here of the traditional female role of the follower. But the same scenario exists no matter what the gender of the leader and follower may be.) If your leader knows what’s happening and is trying to follow custom despite the guy up ahead, or if your leader is a dolt and is taking you in the wrong direction, you may be stepped upon, angered, bruised, or worse. And if the collision includes the sharp heel of a woman’s shoe landing on the side of your foot and bruising or puncturing it, things are even worse.

The injured person is escorted, weeping, to a chair and ministered to. I wouldn’t be surprised if a hospital visit has occasionally been the result.

Why dancing in the middle of the circle is a no-no

As a less experienced dancer than I am now, I thought that the simple solution was to get out of the line of dance and head for the less crowded space in the middle of the circle. Two events relieved me of that opinion.

Bea, my partner, and I were once dancing at the Club Español in Buenos Aires. It was a very crowded night, and anything out of the ordinary or too showy in the dance was next to impossible. There was, however, one person who seemed oblivious of all this. About sixty, with a gut, he was dressed in a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and running shoes. His partner was similarly poorly frocked and porcine. He danced up and down in the middle of the floor, all the while instructing his partner on how to do tango. At least, I think that’s what he was saying, although I don’t have enough German to have understood entirely what he was ordering her to do. The search for escape on his partner’s face, however, gave me a direct clue to what she thought of his advice.

Everyone in the line of dance found this fellow foolish and invasive, and there’s nothing to equal the sound of a bunch of Argentines agreeing that someone else is a…well, as they say in Buenos Aires, a boludo.

A few weeks later, when I mentioned to Nora Olivera what I had seen, she nodded and then shook her head. “The worst dancers are always in the middle of the floor,” she said. Since then, I’ve looked out for this, and found it to be true.

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, I think it’s the first rule of tango. Leave the line of dance, and you will be, so to speak, up a creek and, if she has her head on straight, without a partner.

Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is available in book stores and on Amazon

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The sweet voice of tango: Ignacio Corsini

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Argentine Tango singer Ignacio CorsiniYou may never have heard of Ignacio Corsini. But in his day, he was one of the most popular singers of tango in Buenos Aires. Noted for his sweet, high falsetto voice, he recorded for RCA Victor and other labels over a career that lasted from 1912 to 1961.

Known as “el caballero cantor” (“The gentleman singer”), Corsini also had the pleasure of being a close friend of Carlos Gardel during Gardel’s great years of world stardom. Indeed, they frequently played cards together in Gardel’s home at Jean Jaurès 735 in Buenos Aires. (If you visit this humble abode, which I hope you will, you’ll easily imagine the two maestros, sitting in shirt sleeves at a table on a warm day in the sunlit center patio of the house, trumping one another with humorous back and forth, laughter, and enjoyment of the game.)

It happens that the two men shared the experience of how they arrived in Buenos Aires. Born in Toulouse, France in December 1890, Charles Gardès was brought to Argentina at the age of three by his mother Berthe. She raised her boy on the wages she got from pressing clothes. He grew up speaking Spanish, his friends referring to him as Carlitos, and eventually was to become a street singer, Carlos Gardel, a calling that led finally to his amazing career as a stage and recording artist and film star. Throughout his adulthood, Gardel lived in the Jean Jaurès house with his mother.

Corsini: from Sicily to Argentina

Ignacio Corsini was named Andrea as a small child. Born in Agira, a Sicilian village, in 1891, he was brought by his mother to Buenos Aires in 1901, part of the enormous Italian immigration to Argentina during that time. When the boy came of age, he got jobs as a herdsman and an ox-cart driver.

These rugged occupations were not to last, though, because Ignacio could sing, and his high voice was sought after by porteños who valued folkloric music and the songs of the pampas and the gauchos. Asked once why his voice was so high, he replied,

birds taught me the spontaneity of their singing, without witnesses, and in the great scenery of nature.”

Living in Buenos Aires, you could not escape tango, however, and Corsini eventually became interested. His recorded tangos of the 1920s were instantly popular, and his recording career lasted for many years thereafter. He may have suffered from the great overshadowing fame of Carlos Gardel. But you’d never know it, listening to his voice. Corsini’s singing is a marvel, and his popularity was justified.

My personal favorite Corsini recording is the one he made of La pulpera de Santa Lucía, a kind of folkloric waltz, eminently danceable as tango. The song has been recorded many times by countless others, and it remains a signature element in the history of tango and song in Argentina.

“Era rubia y sus ojos celestes
reflejaban la gloria del día
y cantaba como una calandria
la pulpera de Santa Lucía.

Era flor de la vieja parroquia.
¿Quien fue el gaucho que no la quería?
Los soldados de cuatro cuarteles
suspiraban en la pulpería.”

“She was light-haired, and her heavenly eyes
Reflected the glory of the day,
And she sang like a lark,
The grocery-girl of Santa Lucía.

She was the flower of the old parish.
Who was the gaucho who didn’t love her?
The soldiers from four barracks
Sighed in her grocery store.”

Visit Terence Clarke’s website at www.terenceclarke.org

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Student of the Month ~ Kelli Lightfoot

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Kelli Lightfootby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Kelli started dancing tango about a year ago and loved it, but when a friend became ill, she took a break to help him. After he passed, she decided to go back to what she loved—Argentine tango.

Why tango: As a child, Kelli used to listen to Gardel and other tango musicians with her grandmother. When she questioned grandma’s choice in music she was told it’s part of her heritage — Kelli is part Argentine.

As an adult she wanted to learn tango but living in L.A. she found it intimidating. So when she moved to the Bay Area, she Googled: Tango in Marin and Alma del Tango popped up.  “I had no more excuses,” says Kelli.

Favorite part: When Kelli is dancing tango, she tunes everything else out. “I’m so intent on focusing with my partner, I lose all concept of time. I become fully immersed in the music.” She loves the music of Francisco Canaro, “I listen as much as I can.”

Student of the Month Kelli Lightfoot dances at Alternative Milonga

Kelli dances with Chris Allis at Milonga Valentina

About Debbie & John. “They are lovely…the perfect teachers for me, not intimidating at all,” says the tanguera. “They are warm and welcoming, I feel like part of their tango family. I hope they can dance forever!”  The first time Kelli danced with Debbie she thought, “Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be like.”

Anything else?  Kelli’s goal is to learn to lead and follow, “it’s the best way to understand the whole dance,” she explains.

Last word: A visit to Buenos Aires to trace her roots and get into the tango culture is on her bucket list. Her grandmother told her where to look for relatives. “I hope they all dance tango!”

Kelli and her nieces volunteered at the Tango Con*Fusion gala fundraiser

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What I Learned from Gavito

By Terry Clarke, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Carlos Gavito, world famous tango dancerI believe it was in the Russian Samovar, a restaurant on West Fifty-second Street in New York City, that Carlos Gavito  placed a hand to his forehead, stared down into his drink (some sort of whisky concoction that was colored red and pink, and perhaps even had a little paper umbrella in it), and offered his opinion.

At first, I thought it was a sad observation, an effort at covering over the comedy of what he had just seen. As it turned out, though, Gavito was in the first moment of an offer to me that changed my understanding of tango and milonga. I would leave New York a year later with knowledge that has stayed with me ever since.

Gavito was one of the best-known tango dancers of his generation. Born in 1942 in Buenos Aires, he was noted for perhaps the most svelte dancing style anyone had ever seen. When he moved, you watched him. He had many wonderful partners throughout his stellar career…extraordinary women all of them. But really, you watched him. He was world famous, the lead dancer among that group of performers who toured the world with Forever Tango in the 1990s.

That evening, we had been sitting together at the bar. It was 1998, and I had been studying tango for four years. I had only a meager understanding of how tango is an expression of the national consciousness of Argentina. As such, if you really want to understand the dance, you have to know the history of that country (and particularly of Buenos Aires.) You must be able to speak Spanish and understand at least to some degree the unusual manner in which the language is spoken in that city.

I had not at that time visited Buenos Aires, although I had a good command of the kind of generic Spanish that is taught in schools. But I knew little of the slang spoken in Buenos Aires and the very unusual accents you hear everywhere on the streets. You should know those things if you wish to understand the color that makes tango lyrics so earthy, humorous and often desperately sad. Also, at the time I did not know the history of tango’s many rhythms and how they had arrived in Buenos Aires. A study of that requires an understanding of the enormous immigration to the port city of peoples from almost everywhere in the world during the nineteenth century. I can think only of New York City for a similar example.

In any case, I was dancing tango at the Russian Samovar (a weekly milonga hosted by the inimitable couple, Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco, with whom I was studying at the time.) All was well, as far as I could tell, especially in view of the fact that Gavito was at the bar, conversing with a woman companion, and occasionally turning away to watch me. I was studying with him, too. So, his opinion of what I was doing was important to me.

The tanda came to an end, and in a moment, a fast milonga came on. I asked the person I was dancing with whether she would like to do some milongas with me. Her answer was “Yes,” and off we went.

After that tanda, I joined Gavito and asked his opinion of what he had observed. He laid his forehead onto the palm of his right hand. Slowly, with kindness and not a little chagrin, he said “Che, the tango was all right. But…” He sighed with despondency. “My God!” he whispered, shaking his head. “My God, the milonga was bad.”

I now know that what I had been dancing was simply a very fast version of the tango that I knew. I did not realize then that the milonga is a different creature altogether and requires way different talents than does tango itself.

But Gavito allowed me to recover from my own unhappiness with his pronouncement:

“Listen, Terry. You give me two hours, and I will give you milonga.”

I took him up on his offer a few weeks later and have never forgotten what he taught me.

Terence Clarke’s story collection, New York, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

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