Ricardo Vidort
The Last Compadrito
.(Part 2 )


The man who put on the music for me in the club that night was Miguel Balbi, and the man who walked onto the floor to give me tango advice was Ricardo Vidort... and of course, the woman was Alejandra. Miguel Balbi is a brilliant dancer, a tango singer, and a loyal friend. Miguel Zotto calls Balbi one of tango's last dinosaurs, because he's like the old-time people from the arrabal who were involved in all aspects of tango—from organizing events, to performing, to staying up all night with his mejores compañeros, los muchachos milongueros. For me, Miguel Balbi is certainly a milonguero puro whose life revolves around tango, but he's also a well-rounded man with experiences, interests, and work outside of the milongas. Ricardo Vidort, however, was something else. I think he was almost certainly the last of the old-time milongueros—a compadrito really, whose entire life was dedicated to tango and nothing else. He lived like one of the old compadritos, and he saw the world through their eyes. His attitudes about work, women, tango, and life were their attitudes. It was really Ricardo who was the dinosaur. In fact, he was the last dinosaur... and it was a cross he had to bear.

Ricardo was always full of stories about old-time tango, but after awhile I began to take them with a grain of salt. The problem was, you could never really be sure about what he said. It was hard to tell how much embellishment had been added to his tales of street corner tango practices and knife fights in the early milongas. Later, when he got really sick, he would always tell me he had quit smoking—often while holding a lit cigarette below the table where he thought I couldn't see it. And the stories about his past kept changing. I do know that he got into trouble when he was younger, and although he was more than seventy at the time he told me the story, he said that whenever he went out (which was every night), the 97 year old aunt he lived with would still always say "Ricky, be careful! Try to stay out of trouble!"

His stories used to drive Alej crazy, but I didn't mind them. There was no meanness to them—he just liked to tell people what they wanted to hear. Although he died last year, I had known he was sick almost from the beginning. One time Alej came to me and said, "Ricardo says he needs some tests, but he doesn't have any money. And he doesn't want to ask you. Do you think we should help him?" I said of course we need to help—but the problem was finding an excuse to give money to him. At that time I knew he was so broke that he was walking all over BsAs just to save the 70 centavos it cost to take a bus, so we worked out a plan. I told him I wanted some paintings, and I would buy some that were left over from an antique business he said he used to have. They were supposed to be stored somewhere, and I would pick them up in the future when I got a house. The story worked, and I "paid" him for the paintings so he could get his tests. A couple of weeks later, Alej came over and said, "That Ricardo! I found out he was out last night at ------, and he was buying champagne for those milongueros from ------ ! That's what he did with the money!"

Well... I wasn't too upset. Actually, I thought it was great. I knew he was sick, I knew what his medical tests had cost, and I also knew the test results. The fact that he'd been clever enough to squirrel away a little extra didn't bother me at all. I knew he was getting a little more than he needed when I gave him the money, and he may have been able to negotiate the bill from the clinic down a little also... either way, he had some left over! Here he was, an older man with no money, health problems, and an uncertain future, and what did he do when he came across a few pesos? He went out dancing and bought champagne for his muchachos milongueros! I was proud of him. ¡Que Compadrito! I'd rather have my money go to champagne and tango than medical tests any day. Several years later when we did buy a house, it became a standing joke between Alej and I: "That wall looks bare. We need to hang those valuable paintings we bought from Ricardo."

(It was around this time that I introduced Ricardo to Malena. She was a young, crazy, anarchist, whose father had been a prominent psychiatrist. Malena was at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum of Argentine society from Ricardo... but that didn’t stop him from immediately putting moves on her! I was impressed. He was in poor health, and old enough to be her grandfather—but he tried to seduce her within five minutes of meeting her! There was no quit in that guy.)


Ricardo couldn't keep from smiling when he saw he was being filmed. (Celia's, 2001)



The problem is that the milongas aren't the same without him. When he walked into the room with his jaunty stride and sharp suit, there was a subtle change. Everybody, no matter what they thought of him, perked up. You instantly knew you were in the right place. You knew you were in a real milonga. He always had a smile, and he was always happy and full of endless tango enthusiasm. He needed the milongas, and the milongas needed him. And I think above all else, he needed people and he wanted to be liked. There were times when Ricardo may have tried a little too hard—trying to make you like him a little more, or to impress you a little more. When I began filming in the clubs, he'd get upset if I filmed other dancers. He was like a little kid who wanted me to film him, and only him. Sometimes if he saw me filming someone else, he'd actually dance over to get into the shot. And then, when I’d finally give up and turn the camera on him, he'd start to smile, and look at the camera while he danced—which looked a little unusual. Back when I was looking for video captures to put on the site, I picked out a couple with Ricardo smiling, but Alej rejected them. She said, "I don’t think we want to show people dancing around with big smiles on their faces. It looks strange." But if you knew Ricardo, it wasn't really strange. Like most of the milongueros, he took a child-like joy in his dancing. He loved it, and he was proud of it. Like a kid with a new toy, he thought it was the best, and he wanted to show it off. This genuine love of tango and of their own dancing is very common among the milongueros. They love what they do, and they're proud of it. I find it very attractive. It's a completely different thing than the kind of arrogance we sometimes see in tango outside of Argentina. The opposite, really.

Although he was often hard on me, I'm sure he loved me. If we hadn't seen each other for awhile, he'd always run over and begin to tell me everything that was going on, and he was so happy to see me he'd keep hugging me and pinching my cheeks as he talked—a gesture that seemed like something people used to do to children in the barrios a hundred years ago. But he was very hard about tango. Other than his remark the first night I met him, he never said anything complimentary to me. I specifically remember one night in Celia's. Alej and I had just flown back from the U.S. I was tired, I was dancing like crap, and I knew it. I didn't need to have it pointed out—but Ricardo walked up, and the first thing he said was, "What happened to you? You spend 3 months in the U.S. and you lose the compás?"

He was critical and tough with me, but like all the milongueros, he was always right. His eye was perfect, and I remember every piece of advice he ever gave me about my dancing. I remember it all, and I use it every day. In fact, I literally remember everything every milonguero has said to me about tango technique. There are more than a dozen who have helped me a lot, and I’ll write about them in the next chapter. For now, I'll just say that I have never ever gotten a bad piece of advice from any of them. It's always simple, direct, practical, and correct. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months to realize it, but it's always right on. That's why it's so easy to remember everything they've said.


Ricardo dancing his music. (Celia's, 2002)
Natucci called him the "Grand Architect" of tango.


(continued on the next page)