Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ask Helaine AND Videos of the Week: Who were the tango legends?

Today's question comes from a tanguera in Switzerland.

"Do you have any suggestions of videos I could watch of “older” tango dancers? 

I want to learn more about how tango started. Any legends you would recommend?" 

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Thanks for your question, tanguera!

For an overview of the origins of tango, you might start with Christine Denniston’s website:  "The History of Tango"

But today, to answer your question directly and show you some special videos, we can get started by looking at a few of the early legends who helped shape tango history.  

One can hardly talk about the history of tango dance without mentioning “El Cachafaz” ( Ovidio José  Bianquet, nickname Benito, 1885 - 1942) and his last and longtime partner Carmencita Calderon (1905 - 2005).  

“El Cachafaz” - talk about a legend!  I don’t know of any other “bailarin” from the first few decades of the 20th century who made history as Cachafaz did. 

El Cachafaz and Carmencita have been captured in very few films, but they star briefly in one scene in the 1933 film “Tango!” 

(The clip has a great cabeceo in it, but it's not about dancing. The frustrated lady "getting cabaceo'd" is the great singer, Tita Merello.)

You might be surprised by the "kick in the butt" that seems to occur at 0:19, coming from this calm and elegant man, while Carmencita doesn't batt an eye.  Carmencita spoke in interviews about how respectful Cachafaz had always been to her, referring to her as "usted" (the formal "you") rather than "vos" (informal), even though they danced together in close embrace for a decade. The kick seemed out of  place to me, until a friend referred to that move as a "gancho" by Cachafaz!  Very different from the ganchos of the last 50 years, isn't it?

According to one resource, the film “Tango!”, available in its entirety on Youtube, was Argentina’s first motion picture with sound.  It has an all-star cast of tango singers and orchestras

Back to Carmencita Calderon, notice the dates of her life.  She lived to be 100!   In fact, on her 100th birthday in 2005 there was a big party for her at the milonga “La Baldoza” in Buenos Aires.  My friend and teacher Jorge Dispari had the honor of dancing with her. 


At 100 years old, Carmencita had not lost her rhythm, nor her footwork!  Jorge told me that she felt so fragile, he was afraid to hurt her!  In this birthday tango, this master leader improvises very simply.  But if you watch carefully, you may notice that there were a few glitches between them.  Who cares, really?  However, I mention this just to underscore that tango has evolved over the decades; some of the elements Jorge leads and that we commonly use today surely go back to the time of Carmencita’s prime, but some seemed to be unknown to her.  (And perhaps vice versa! Carmencita does some deliberate movements that I don't recognize from our current tango language.)

To be fair to Carmencita as a legendary dancer, here is a video from 5 years earlier, where at 95, she performs a milonga.  Her partner is Juan Averna.  The piece is “Milonga Vieja Milonga” played by Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra. 

Her timing is impeccable!

And here she is again, much younger with her partner of that time wearing a white "compadrito" neck scarf, as she points out, in a segment from a 1970 documentary.  

They're dancing to a tango from "La Guardia Vieja" (the Old Guard), called "El Apache Argentino".  Can anyone identify the orchestra?  It sounds to me like Juan Maglio Pacho, who first recorded it in 1912, but this is clearly a later version!

How do you like those legs, tangueras? She's decisive, and she's creating this tango with her partner!

If you look for Carmencita Calderon on Youtube, you’ll find other performances, and some very informative and eloquent interviews and speeches.

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Today, by the way, May 31, is the 83rd birthday of legendary tango artist Juan Carlos Copes, whom I’ll feature in an upcoming article, together with his longtime partner Maria Nieves and two other important couples who played a big role in bringing tango to rest of the world!

I encourage everyone to leave your comments in the space below the article!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost program "Ask Helaine?" 

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