Saturday, 25 November 2017


I commented briefly on Gavito dancing Pugliese above, and found several links to statements he made about tango. I also found a link to a book, also available as a download and translated into English a few years ago, based on his recollections and on taped conversations in his final years. He died in 2005.

Of course the book is his recollections, his version, but it gave me something of a new perspective. I always thought he grew up with tango, but it seems clear that this was only partly true. Tango was something he grew into. Most of the ‘older generation’ were born around 1935, turning 13 in 1948 when the predominant dance was still tango, but Gavito was born in 1942, which means that he was 13 in 1955. Although tango was still everywhere, the predominant new culture was rock ‘n' roll, and jive was his first passion: his teenage dance was to Bill Haley and Chubby Checker, and to jazz. ‘Gavito was an impressive dancer: quick, agile, likeable, elegant.’ He grew up as a jazz dancer with a bit of tango and the tango slowly came to predominate after that.

But above all Gavito was a dancer. He danced everything he could, jive, tango, cumbia, folk, latin, flamenco, swing, tap, cumbia, zamba, all forms of social dance. Later he formed companies that travelled the world giving stage performances of a wide range of South American dance, but tango became the highlight. He could dance fast, but claims he never hurried. But as he got older he found himself drawn back to the social tango culture of Buenos Aires, the culture of his parents’ generation, and he slowed down until he became known as ‘the motionless dancer’. ‘Tango is what happens between steps’ he said. His dance and his views on tango expressed that older culture.

He claims to have had teachers of tango – Miguel Caló the musician and Julián Centeya the poet – rather than dance teachers, but he tells a great story about advice given him by ‘Old Márquez’ from Pompeya. ‘I never forgot it... At one point when he was sitting down and I danced past him, he pulled on my jacket and said, ‘Kid, with tango, you have to wait.’ I didn’t know what he meant or why he said it to me. Three years later, I met him when I went dancing in Almagro. I saw him and went up to him and said, ‘Maestro...’ He interrupted me and said, ‘Have you come to ask me what to wait for?’ I was taken aback. What was I supposed to wait for? ‘For the music to reach you and not for you to chase after the music.’

He had a lifetime experience of dance in general, spoke a number of languages from his travels, and was very articulate. As a result he became something of an ambassador for tango, and his teaching was greatly valued. A recollection of his classes in Toronto between 1995 and 2000 gives a good flavour of this. He says: ‘When I am on stage, I play the buffoon. Do not mimic me on the dance floor’ and adds: ‘In Argentina you won’t see people doing a lot of steps. In a dance, three steps is too much.’

There’s also an excellent interview with him from the same period, with a lot of insight into the dance, and an outline of his life.

‘Gavito: A good tango dancer is one who listens to the music. R: Is that the only criteria? Gavito: Yes. We dance the music, not the steps.’

He was a teacher who taught dancing, rather than dance steps. He spent some time in London (he was married to a ballerina from Scotland) and organised a milonga in the 1990s and taught regularly here. It amazes me to think there was a time when you could go to a milonga in London and be greeted by Gavito, while the ladies could expect a dance with him. The current worldwide popularity and spread of tango owes much to him. & he also raised the profile of the older generation of dancers - 'El Flaco' Dany, Osvaldo and Coca, 'El Nene' Masci, Tete, Puppy Castello - by inviting them to dance at his Buenos Aires milongas.

It’s unwise to try to summarise a whole life, particularly one as varied as that of Gavito, in a few paragraphs based on partial evidence. I hope I haven’t misrepresented him.

Many of the available videos are of Gavito 'playing the buffoon', but some of the more recent videos of classes, particularly with Maria Plazaola, are excellent, such as this one. Probably the best is the famous 'Nobody can teach you the feeling' video, a good flavour of the dancer and the teaching.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

One-metre Pugliese 2

I’ve edited the earlier post on Alberto Dassieu, changing the embedded video for another I preferred. And soon after I wrote it I discovered that several of the videos I linked to were unavailable in France. I hope some clips Alberto and Paulina are available there: it’s most likely a copyright issue with Pugliese’s music. Fortunately that’s not a problem here.

In any case, that post was incomplete. I started writing about dancing to Pugliese and found myself writing about Alberto. But Alberto didn’t only dance Pugliese, and of course he wasn’t the only person of his generation to dance Pugliese. The orquesta continued to play as much as possible, despite government persecution of Pugliese himself through much of the lifetime of Alberto’s generation. Pugliese was a hero for many, he stood for freedom at a dark time, and was imprisoned for his political views. You couldn’t expect a quiet life, perhaps you couldn’t even expect a life if you were openly communist in South America in the 1970s – 80s. He was brave and he survived.

It was a great pleasure to find a few clips of Pugliese danced by Alberto’s contemporaries. I hope there are more, as dancing to Pugliese is an important topic! I’d really like to find more, but I think the few I’ve linked here give a good idea of how Pugliese is danced by the generation that once danced live to the orquesta.

First, Beba Pugliese with Jorge Firpo. Beba was Pugliese’s daughter, growing up with his music, with the orquesta rehearsing in the house. She still directs her own orquesta from the piano, like her father, and she also dances. Here are Beba Pugliese and Jorge Firpo. & here she is directing the Orquesta Beba Pugliese from the piano in La Yumba.

The late Enriqueta Kleinman with Nestor La Vitola dance to Pugliese's Don Augustin Bardi. There are several other good clips of Nestor La Vitola dancing Pugliese with other partners, all well worth checking out.

Gavito danced Pugliese a lot, but sadly most clips are of his show dance, although he came from much the same background as Ricardo Vidort and other tangueros of that generation. I think I once found a very indistinct clip of Gavito dancing in a milonga in Club Gricel, but mostly you’ll see Gavito and partner on stage in a near-horizontal line. This clip shows him dancing with a very young-looking Maria Plazaola, perhaps around 2002 when she started to dance with him and before he fell ill. It’s a class demo to Pugliese, showing class material, and probably the nearest to how they might have danced in a milonga.

But my favourite Pugliese clip is of Ismael Heljalil dancing in Lo de Celia. It’s particularly valuable as it shows Pugliese danced in a crowded milonga, Pugliese in the real world, if you regard the milonga as the real world of tango. It’s marvellous how they move in a limited space as a single unit, inseparable from the music, echoing in dance its sinuous line and energy, rising and falling back. There’s no ‘style’, no decoration, to get in the way of dance, there’s just music, a couple, and fluent, calm, energetic movement. It’s minimal, intense and beautiful. Dancing the music, not the steps! & certainly the closest I’ve found to one-metre Pugliese.

Isa Negra also uploaded a track of the same couple dancing Di Sarli. I was also delighted to find a clip of Ismael Heljalil dancing a whole tanda of great vals tracks in the much-missed Maipu 444 more than a decade ago. Jantango uploaded a 15-minute talk in Spanish by Ismael, introduced by a short section of dance. A pity there aren’t more clips like this, but we’re lucky to have these and a few more. A real inspiration.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Monica Paz in Europe

Monica Paz is one of a few Buenos Aires-based tango teachers whose aim is to teach people to dance tango - rather than to teach a lot of tango steps. It's not necessarily the same thing. In fact it's probably a whole lot easier to teach steps since that's mechanical learning, learning by rote.

Monica has spent much time in the milongas for many years, and has learned by dancing with a great many older-generation dancers, many of whom she's interviewed on her website. She also speaks good English! Not to be missed.

SEPTEMBER 2017: London, Bristol, Saarbrücken, Antwerp, Hamburg.

United Kingdom from September 4th to 13th:

Date Location Venue Event Time

SEPT. 6 BRISTOL Tango West Technique Class 5:00 to 6:00 pm

SEPT. 6 BRISTOL Tango West Tango Workshop 6:30 to 8:00 pm

SEPT. 6 BRISTOL Tango West Milonga Workshop 8:15 to 9:45 pm

SEPT. 7 LONDON Embrace Tango Guided practica 9:00 to 10:00 pm

SEPT. 8 LONDON Technique Class 7:30 to 9:00 pm

SEPT. 9 LONDON Light Temple 5:30 to 7:00 pm

SEPT. 9 LONDON Light Temple Intermediate Class 7:30 to 8:30 pm

SEPT. 10 LONDON Pavadita Intermediate Class 7:30 to 8:30 pm

SEPT. 11 LONDON Technique Class 7:30 to 9:00 pm

Technique Classes: Pre-registration required, first come, first served.

Private Lessons in London: Contact to Brigitte: – 07818 808 711

Saarbrücken, Germany, Sept. 13th through 20th

Date Location Venue Event Time

SEPT. 14 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna PractiMilonguero 18:00 to 19:00 SEPT. 14 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna Tango is an Embrace Workshop 19:00 to 20:15

SEPT. 15 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna Performance

SEPT. 16 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna Technique of the Movement WS. 18:00 to 19:15

SEPT. 17 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna Interpreting the Music I WS. 13:00 to 14:15

SEPT. 17 SAARBRÜCKEN Tanzstudio Fortuna Interpreting the Music II WS. 14:30 to 15:45

Tanzstudio Fortuna: Ludwigstraße 58. Saarbrücken

To book private lessons, please email at

Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 20th through 26th

Date Location Venue Event Time

SEPT. 22 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 20:00 to 21:15

SEPT. 22 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 21:30 to 22:45

SEPT. 23 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 20:00 to 21:15

SEPT. 23 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 21:30 to 22:45

SEPT. 24 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 14:00 to 15:15

SEPT. 24 ANTWERP Tango Workshop 15:30 to 16:45

Pre-registration required, first come, first served.

To register to Workshops:

Hamburg, Germany, Sept. 26th through 30th

Private lessons available: to book private lessons contact Monica

Monday, 26 June 2017

Good news

It's so rare that something sounds too good to be true and is neverthless true.

From February 2018 the Norwegian budget airline is starting scheduled non-stop flights by Dreamliner from London to Buenos Aires. It will take about 13 hours, which is amazing. Even more amazing - outside peak holiday times the cost is under £600...  Just be aware it'll cost another £25 to put a bag in the hold, and you still won't get anything to eat, but it's still much faster and cheaper than anything else that flies.

Booking is already open.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

One-metre Pugliese

Pugliese isn’t easy. It's often more complex than other tango, and we don't hear it so much. One tanda a night if you’re lucky. Late Pugliese was composed and played more for listening than for dancing. He had a long career: he was just 19 when he had a hit with Recuerdo in 1925, and he was invited to perform at the Colon Opera House after the fall of the military in December 1985.

I was dancing Pugliese with a friend recently, and we started talking. ‘I remember a visit to one of the milongas in Buenos Aires’ she said, ‘and I danced to Pugliese with a local guy. It was incredible. We hardly seemed to move more than a metre or so, but it seemed that all the complexity and emotion of the music was in that one metre. At that time Pugliese was the opportunity for the wildest dancing in London, so this experience really stayed with me.’

I looked at YouTube for examples of one-metre Pugliese. There are plenty of teachers’ demos, exaggerated performances on empty dance floors. I also came across Pugliese’s milonga for Fidel Castro, which I’d never heard before, politically a dangerous composition given the time and place. And I came across some amazing dancing too. It was wonderful to remember again just how marvellous the late Alberto Dassieu was, and it’s so great to remember him with his partner, his wife Paulina, enjoying evenings in an over-crowded El Beso dancing one-metre Pugliese, lost in the music on a packed-out floor. Perhaps there wouldn't have been much point in filming it as there was nothing much to watch, it was a very crowded floor and the dances were quite minimal and private. In fact I don't think there are any clips of them dancing on the floor in milongas except for Marina2x4's clips of them dancing in Lujos, but sadly these are from Alberto's last years, and I don't find them easy to watch.

There are quite a few clips of them giving demos in milongas. Here they are performing at Centro Leonesa in 2008.

Watching him in this clip you could almost sense invisible couples around him, denying and then opening spaces as he dances among them.

Incidentally, I see Marina2x4 uploaded a 30-minute interview with Pedro Sanchez a while ago, and more recently posted interviews with Miguel Angel Balbi and 'Chiche' Ruberto, but all in Spanish.

According to Tango and Chaos Alberto was the teenage protege of the Villa Urquiza maestro Luis Lemos in the late 1940s. More than any other dancer of his generation I find his dance looks taught, even ‘drilled’, unlike the more casual-looking dance of his peer group. I get a sense of an entire system, a social code that includes posture, movement and sensibility, feeling for the music as well as attitude to a partner and to everyone else in the milonga, to society. His dance itself is mannered and still instinctive, intuitive and absolutely precise, full of deep respect, and equally full of enjoyment. Granted he’d danced to Pugliese all his life, which helps! But the movements he and his partners, whether his wife or a student, make, whether on a crowded floor or an otherwise empty studio, are precise, relaxed and at the same time quite formal, and always inextricably part of the music. There's a brief biography of Alberto in Todotango.

From watching Alberto’s dances I get the sense of how significant and how wide, culturally, the tango tradition was. He was a great teacher too, and I think there’s everything to be learned from watching and enjoying these few clips we’re so lucky to have. & perhaps the most hospitable, open-hearted and encouraging person I’ve had the good fortune to meet.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Dancing in small spaces

’It’s so crowded tonight’ said my partner. I glanced around. At a guess there was room for twice as many couples. ‘Not really crowded’ I replied. ‘It’s just that many people use a lot of space.’ I remembered dancing – trying to dance – on a heaving floor at Cachirulo in El Beso, when it was underground-like and really hard to move at all. Likewise at Salon Canning, a larger floor that could be very densely packed with dancers. Then I remembered the garage photo, a milonga in someone’s garage in Buenos Aires! I don’t know how many couples, shoulder to shoulder, happily moving to the music. But where did I see it?

Miraculously it turned up a few days later in the Practicaelbeso blog. I think 15 couples are visible, but that’s only part of the floor. In a garage. It’s hard to tell just how big or small the garage is, but in any case the couples are very close together, and they all look happy!

In turn, this reminded me of a wonderful London milonga, Tango al Fresco, ‘tango in the park’, and how, very sadly, it’s ceased to be run. To cut a long story short it relied on a wooden floor that could be packed away when not in use, and a group of volunteers who worked to set it up in Regent’s Park in June and July. It was very popular, an al fresco tango picnic twice yearly, and non-profit-making as the money taken went to planting trees in the park. The floor was a bit bigger than most garage floors (it had to be stored in a garage when not in use) but it could get tightly packed. & because there was often so little room, dancing had to be close and tidy. It was a pleasure to dance alfresco under the trees with such a crowd, and many of us miss it a lot. I briefly checked out photos of bandstands in the London parks to see if they could serve as milongas , but they don't look big enough. Dancing in small spaces isn’t entirely unknown to London tango.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Good ordinary tango

It’s taken me a while to write about this video. It was filmed late in the evening in a well-lit milonga and lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. There aren’t many couples left on the floor, so it’s easy to watch the people and see how they dance. There are two tandas, the second a lively vals, starts around 10:10.

It’s a typical evening in a typical milonga, perhaps not one frequented by visiting dancers. The feeling is calm, relaxed, unhurried, but still slightly formal. They’ve been there all evening, eaten (many milongas serve meals), enjoyed a glass or two of wine, chatted with each other and friends, danced whenever they felt like it. It’s great to get such a clear view of ordinary people at the end of a regular night out dancing in Buenos Aires. I think none of the better-known tangueros are among them. The casual ordinariness of this milonga makes me nostalgic! It's a wonderful great room to spend an evening in.

Each dancer is different, but it’s what they have in common that I notice. It’s a pleasure to notice how they embrace, often with attention, carefully, tenderly. It’s never casual: it’s an important part of the dance. I remember classes with the late Tete Rusconi and Silvia: even when they demonstrated a step, even a simple side step, they took a moment to settle comfortably into the embrace.

It’s a pleasure to notice how the women step. With many there’s what looks like an almost obsessive ‘collecting’. Why is this practised so emphatically? The energy in the dance often doesn’t come from dancing fast, it comes from the way of dancing and it’s there even in slow tango. When you collect you add a complication, an extra distance for your feet to travel, which means you have to move your feet a little faster and with more determination, and that creates more energy. And, truth to tell, if women don’t collect, they might waddle! & guys too! Collecting brings the feet together at the mid-point of balance. Without it, your partner starts to lose sense of where your feet are. & of course, collecting makes a dance look good, which is important. Tango, whether fast or slow, shouldn’t look inelegant. Taking too many short cuts won’t make you look better. Collecting is the most basic, essential 'ornament'. We learn collecting early on, and it tends to get forgotten early too. If your teachers don’t insist on it, you might need to look for different teachers! It's basic tango technique.

I immediately notice how, almost without exception the men step onto a straight leg. The leg you step from is flexed, pushing the weight onto a straight leg. Watch the clip and try to find anyone who doesn’t step onto a straight leg! Again, this is practical – and it looks good. It’s practical because it makes for a firm and clear lead: a bent knee absorbs the impact of the foot coming down, so the lead is less distinct and energetic. Stepping onto a straight leg also keeps the body upright. If you step onto a bent knee, to some extent you’ll slouch around the floor. That means your upper body contact with your partner isn’t so effective, and your lead isn’t firm. & slouching doesn’t look good! I remember Cacho Dante insisting on remedying the bent knee in his classes, but it can take a long time to change bad habits.

Women are taught to reach back with a straight leg and it looks great when they do, but it’s problematic, especially if they have lower back issues. The main thing is to avoid an ordinary stepping back because it’s often not far enough for your feet to be out of the way of your partner stepping forwards. Also, if you simply step back your torso jerks backwards and down, pulling the lead forwards. The mechanics of dancing in close embrace!

& I notice how the guys stand upright, even when dancing with much shorter women. As Tete used to say, keep your head upright or you’ll get dizzy when turning. More basic technique.

We can learn and practise the basics of how these people stand, embrace and walk, and with care we can dance with the same calm, simple elegance that leaves room for intimacy. By and large it’s a calm, assured and graceful dance. Even when they dance fast in the vals tanda they never look hurried. Of course you can dance some kind of tango without getting these basics completely right, but it’ll look better, work better and feel better if you do.

The general feel of the floor is relaxed but slightly formal. Maybe Buenos Aires milongas are no longer as formal as they used to be, but there’s still a degree of formality, a kind of basic courtesy, which visitors need to take stock of. We’ve forgotten social dance as a formal occasion, and the kind of courtesy that went with it, even though in the UK it died out as recently as the 1960s. Dance to us now tends to be celebration, jumping up and down, release. Compared to Buenos Aires we have plenty to celebrate. But if the music resonates with us and if we listen to it and want to dance to it, we should make an effort to be aware of the feel of it. You don’t get tired of of the music, however many times you dance to it, do you? It’s a great expression of love, joy and sorrow, of feelings of togetherness and loss which are common to us all. It’s worth making an effort to hold on to and practise the basics of, standing, embracing and walking, as whatever your tango is it will work better, look better and feel better if you do. Getting used to a social dance that has room for a level of intimacy and a depth of shared feeling can only be a good thing.

The video is from the latitudobuenosaires channel. There are a lot of videos there, but most of the recent ones are of teachers giving demos. Helpfully there’s a playlist called Milongas de Buenos Aires. Most of the 184 videos you’ll find on that playlist are over 15 minutes long. It’s a huge archive. I spent time on this one clip because it’s so clear, but there’s a similar one from the Circulo Apollo. There’s more to be discovered, maybe even with better dancing. But what can ‘better dancing’ be? The tango in this clip is full of feeling, attention to the music, and graceful movement. Can we ever ask for more than that?