Monday, 7 December 2009

Martha Antón and El Gallego Manolo

I heard about Martha Antón and 'El Gallego' Manolo quite a while ago. Manolo learned from some of the older dancers when he was growing up, so there's a connection there that goes right back to the early decades of the 20th century, while Martha came to tango after a childhood in ballet. It's wonderful that they still teach regular public classes in this city of sweet breezes, and it's been wonderful to meet them. They speak very little English, but are effortlessly encouraging. 'Very easy! No problem!' Their patience seems inexhaustible. The classes are small, so you spend most of the time dancing, and they 'visit' you every now and again to see how you are doing, and to add a few steps. They are like your favourite grandparents who still happen to be amazing dancers and teachers: if Argentina gave 'living treasure' status to dancers they should be at the top of the list. Irene and Man Yung, who got to know them better than I'm likely to, wrote a long and very interesting post about them (and a few other things!) recently.

I took a few candombe classes about three years ago in London, and enjoyed the dance and the music, without learning enough to be able to dance much: in any case, the music isn't often played. The rhythm and movements seem relatively straightforward after tango. Some of the steps turn up in tango and milonga, but the big difference is that in candombe the leader's left arm is used to change the follower's position. The right arm plays a part in this too, but the left is used in a way that isn't acceptable in tango. As my partner commented, it's a bit like steering a motorbike. There are some very good recent videos of their candombe here.

At the end of the class they treated us to a display of their tango salon: 'their' because it's different to the salon style current in milongas. This video seems to be identical to the dance they showed us at the class.

The current salon style is danced to a music which is much more lyrical than the straightforward 'marching' beat of canyengue: the music they dance to here is tango, but still has something of the slow, rhythmic pulse of canyengue. Compare this to the video of Ismael and his partner dancing to, is it De Angelis, or Fresedo? Ismael's dance uses turning movements to follow the cadences of the music, the phrases of violins and bandoneon. & it's danced close, torso to torso, which means that those smooth rhythmic turns can be led from the waist and feet, and followed effortlessly, which would be difficult in open embrace. Another difference is that Manolo dances with fairly bent knees. Knees are usually 'soft', but are a lot straighter than this in current styles. Martha and Manolo's dance resembles more the old film of El Cachafaz dancing, although they dance closer. (I notice that the film was made in 1933, when Ismael was just three.) When I watch Martha and 'El Gallego' I think I'm watching an earlier tango which would have grown up with an earlier music, of which there are now relatively few recordings.

When I say the 'current' salon style I mean the style common in most milongas now, a style that I think goes back at least to the 1940s. I assume it was a response to the more lyrical music of De Caro and musicians such as Pedro Laurenz and Miguel Calo, who followed in his footsteps (and in his orquesta). This dance uses a lot of rotation, it's less linear, which gives big advantages in social dancing. A dance that rotates a lot can be complex and interesting in a very confined space and, because of the frequent turning, couples remain aware of the space around them: big advantages on a crowded floor.

After two gentle and very happy two hours with Martha and Manolo, there's a sudden change of tempo. A new class rushes in, about 30 of them. Electrotango is suddenly blasting out, the new students rush in. I get pushed out of the way as I try to leave. Why? Why this lack of courtesy?


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post. What is the name of the song in the clip?

Anonymous said...

I figured it out -- El Adios. But what orchestra? It seems slower than Canaro's version.

Thank you!

Andreas said...

@Anyonymous: It's Donato.

Anonymous said...

You have discovered there are two tango realms in Buenos Aires: one for those who danced in the downtown confiterias where dancing simply without touching was vital, and one for those who danced in the clubes de barrio where figures were praised. The two have existed for decades. Dancers from each group turn up noses at the other.

I prefer those who dance simply in the embrace. Ismael is at the top of that category.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Andreas.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangocommuter,

Thank you very much for writing this post about our teachers Martha and Manolo! You are right, they are just like sweet old grandparents - sweet old "tango" grandparents, that is. They are part of an amazing tango generation that is disappearing - if you have seen any of the Bridge to the Tango videos, Solo Tango videos or the documentary "Tango Baile Nuestro", you may catch a glimpse of tango from a time where, as Osvaldo Cartery has once stated, "Everyone danced like Gods": Miguel and Nelly Balmaceda, Rodolfo and Maria Cieri, Juan Bruno, Pupi Castello, Mingo and Ester Pugliese, Antonio Todaro, Raul Bravo, Fino Rivera and Marie-Theresa, Petaca, Pepito and Suzuki Avellaneda, etc. They each had their own style, they were spectacularly inventive and they were never constricted by any superficial notions of what tango should be.

Martha and Manolo really opened our eyes with their teaching and their attitude towards life and tango.

Thanks for your post!

Irene and Man Yung