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.