Four years ago I wrote something about this video. A number of videos of this show, Marisa Galindo's La Milonga in 1991, had been released, and this was one of many videos. Recently I re-discovered it.
When I first watched it I was struck by the complete seriousness of Portalea's attitude to his young partner. There's nothing in the least bit patronising in it: he takes her as seriously as his wife or any other partner he dances with. I found that level of respect very beautiful, and I believe it's typical of Argentine tango culture. Watching it again, I'm struck by how clearly this clip shows that basic, simple tango technique, done well, is very beautiful in itself. I watch the way they both move, change weight, step; the emphatic way they have of stepping and the energy that results, and the energy that comes from the swift act of 'collecting': moreover, it reassures your partner, it says 'this is where I am, my centre'. In a way it's a very simple dance, very basic, but the energy put into it makes it very striking. It's slow and unhurried, there's nothing at all elaborate, but it's not lacking in energy. There's a lot to be learned from this.
I showed it to a friend who saw Portalea many times over the years, and the reply came: '...he didn’t change one bit – either in his look or his dancing. Muy elegante!' As for Geraldine: 'However did she manage to 'get it' at 8 years of age, when so many don’t at many times that? I think this should be required viewing. How about when someone signs on for a beginners class, they have to sit in a corner and watch it first before they are taught anything at all? I met Gustavo Naveira at about that time, and Portalea, the dancer who hardly seemed to dance more than four steps, amazed him.'
As to how Geraldine 'got it' at eight, well, perhaps not surprising, considering her background. & considering that children can learn fast, and that you can drill them: they can't escape! They can't go off to another parent who gives them an easier time. If teachers start drilling adults and pulling them up every time they get careless, their students might seek out more compliant teachers, and never develop good habits. Adults will be impatient to dance something more elaborate – and consequently may never dance with this kind of intensity. Besides, 'Dance? It's about having fun, isn't it?' 'Playing at tango' is fun for many people, but there's more to it. Dance always seems the most relaxed art, but it has to be the most disciplined, too. We tend to be impatient of discipline, but the dance of Geraldine and Portalea is very disciplined. It's simple, beautiful to watch, and I'm sure it was beautiful for them too.
As to this video being required viewing... of course! What a great suggestion! Not just once, but many many times. Our bodies learn movement by watching, which is how we can mimic, whether it's Chaplin's walk, or a Madonna strut. We hardly need to practice or learn these things: we just watch and absorb. Who better to mimic than Geraldine and Portalea? I must put it on a loop! Once you can move like this you are already dancing great tango.
(HELP! I can no longer embed video. The embed code simply prints out in the blog, it doesn't link to the video. If anyone knows how to deal with this I'd be glad of help!)