The Tango Family
We always like to film social tango dancing more than performances. But surprisingly, several of the most moving tango videos we have ever taken were of couples performing. One is of Javier and his little sister Malena dancing at Sunderland on her 12th birthday. Javier and his partner Geraldine were probably the best couple performing tango in the world over the past few years (Javier and Geraldine are both in the Assassination Tango movie—but not dancing together). Although both dance on the stage, they are children of the milongas (there is film of Geraldine as a child dancing with Portalea, and Javier’s dad is a milonguero in Villa Urquiza). In our video, you can feel the connection between Javier and his little sister (we made a copy of the tape and gave it to her later), but the faces of the crowd in the background are what makes the video special. The milongueros and milongueras in Sunderland are, to use a trite expression, glowing. It’s as if they are watching their own children, and the atmosphere is charged with energy and good feeling.
Geraldine y Portalea
Malena with Orlando Paiva after she performed on her 12th birthday at Sunderland.
Her brother Javier is on the right, with proud milongueros looking on.
While Malena is one of the youngest dancers we’ve filmed, another great performance we have on video is of one of the oldest couples, Carlitos y Porota. On a cold night in May last year we went to a milonga at Glorias Argentinas to celebrate the Cumpleaños de la Patria (Argentina’s birthday). The place was filled with long time tango dancers from all over the city, including lots of known performers. It was the largest crowd we’ve ever seen there, and like Malena’s night at Sunderland, there was a strong feeling of family… from the beginning when we stood together to sing the Himno Nacional Argentino, to the end when Carlitos and Porota danced for the crowd. (Okay, I admit I just hummed along with the national anthem because I didn’t know the words.) I think Carlitos is the uncle of Facundo (the well known black milonguero). While there are a lot of similarities to Petroleo’s dancing (quick side stepping, toe walking, and the more side-to-side connection of the partners), there are some different things like slow leg raises and other figures that I can’t even categorize. I don’t want to over analyze it… let’s just look at some of the pictures:
The performance begins.
He gets up on his toes, and bends his knees like Petroleo.
Also note that Porota sometimes stays his right side like Petroleo’s partner.
But they also do things I’ve never seen before like kicks and hopping on one leg.
Could this be a window back into the African roots of tango and conbombe?
The crowd is really into it, and people run out to hug them afterwards.
Unfortunately my view is blocked—what could it do? The guy had a bigger camera.
Carlitos and Porota’s dancing is certainly rooted in the oldest styles of the Mataderos barrio—and the people say that’s where tango began. He does unusual kicks and knee raises, and sometimes he uses the quick toe sidestepping of Petroleo (although he and Porota do it slower because of their age). And although Porota stays to Carlitos right much of the time, they move forward so slowly that Carlitos doesn’t run past his partner the way Petroleo often does. Is it possible that we are seeing some hints of the black roots of tango in his dancing as well? It’s only speculation, but his dancing is different than anything Alej and I have ever seen (and we have seen and filmed a lot in the clubs). Ironically, as we watched this couple dancing in the oldest of ways, I felt that we were seeing something very new as well. At Malena’s performance the people sat quietly, beaming like proud parents, and then erupted in applause at the finish. But this crowd was different. From the moment Carlitos and Porota walked on the floor, people went crazy. And as Carlitos danced, he tried wilder and wilder things. He was improvising in every way possible to the old time Orquesta Victor music, and the crowd, cheered, laughed, teased, and yelled comments the entire time. And this was no ordinary crowd. The three or four hundred people at Glorias Argentinas that night included many of best milongueros and performers in BsAs, and the combined tango experience and knowledge in the room was staggering. There is always speculation about the way tango changes and develops, and I think we were witnessing one of those ways. The crowd spurred Carlitos on to try more and more new things, and if it worked they went crazy. If not, he tried something else. This is certainly one way tango evolved—with the most knowledgeable dancers judging a popular and respected couple in places just like this. Cheering them on and encouraging new things, rejecting what they didn’t like, and copying what they did.
Normally we aren’t big tango performance fans, and we don’t perform ourselves. I want to be like the great Milonguita. He refused to perform because he said it would damage his tango soul. Actually, I have performed tango twice in Argentina. Once it was at the wedding of Alejandra’s son (no way I could get out of that one). The other time was strange. We were actually tricked into performing a vals in front of a large crowd. And it happened in the same place these pictures were taken—Glorias Argentinas. But I don’t think I’m ready to tell that story right now. Over a drink maybe, but not here.