by Derrick del Pilar
According to the oral traditions and legends of tango, back in old time Buenos Aires when work days and commutes were longer, and people still held local “turf” loyalties, each neighborhood had its own distinctive style of dancing. Back then, so some say, tango contests or tournaments were as important to the egos of local men as fútbol matches and knife fights. An especially good dancer from one place, it is said, would jealously guard his most inventive and spectacular figures, waiting for the chance to show up at a milonga in another ‘hood and show those guys how you really dance tango.
Today, of course, in this era of instant Internet media exchange, all that has changed. Through the miracle of YouTube, we can access videos of today’s most renowned tango performers and social dancers, right alongside the pioneers of bygone days, like Carmencita Calderón, Virulazo, and Antonio Todaro. Dissolved partnerships and dearly departed dancers live on forever in their recorded performances. We can see how various talented tangueros interpret the same piece of music in different, original ways.
And today YouTube can start or fuel musical trends. If a couple performs beautifully to a more obscure piece, another may be inspired to use that same song for their performance, and its popularity can explode from there. Then DJs start incorporating it into their sets, and it becomes a chart-topper and crowd-pleaser at festivals around the country.
For your listening and viewing pleasure, I present these videos of timeless performances to timeless tango songs, so you can see how they do things “over there” in different parts of our tango world. Then you can download the songs, put them on, dance around the room, and see how your own body responds to the same music.
Orq. Francisco Canaro, singer Roberto Maida
“Of that intoxicating poem, now nothing remains between you and me...”
Here I present to you the first great hit of the Festival Age of tango. From L.A. to Istanbul to Taipei to Perth, this song has been played in countless performances, classes, and milongas—some might say, to the point of exhaustion. But like any true classic, its beauty and charm still have a place in the hearts and minds of the tango public.
For this iconic song, I have chosen performances by two iconic couples. First are Javier & Geraldine dancing to “Poema.” Watch how delicately they highlight different elements in the rhythm, melody, and phrasing, playing delicately with their feet while keeping their upper bodies connected.
Next are the late great Tete and his lovely partner Silvia. They are perhaps less polished than the younger couple, but they radiate energy and vivaciousness.
Watch what both couples do as Maida holds sings out one long note (“maaaaaal....”) around 1:31-1:33 in both videos.
iTunes album: Poema
Pensalo bien (Think It Through) (1938)
Orq. Juan D’Arienzo, singer Alberto Echagüe
“Think it through, before you follow that track—perhaps tomorrow you can’t turn back.”
This tango is quite famous, in part because it plays a part in a very tense scene (beginning here around 1:36) in Sally Potter’s film “The Tango Lesson.” Echagüe’s nasal voice, D’Arienzo’s driving rhythm...this tango combines the subject matter of lost love with a faster, older style of music.
Here, Aoniken Quiroga & Luna Palacios interpret this music in a way that harks back to the earliest days of strutting, posing tango. Just look at their jump and corte (pose) from 1:10-1:11. They are having loads of fun, doing their very best to hit every little nuance and fill in the music. At 1:42 you can see Luna singing along and wagging an admonishing finger just as Echagüe sings, “Think it through!”
Showing a smoother, more “modern” or “salón” style, we have two young couples, Sebastian & Roxana and María Ines & another Sebastian. Holy smokes, these kids are smooth! Watch how they interpret the end of the same phrase where Aoniken & Luna do their jump (in this video, it’s around 00:51-00:53 in the music). Totally different!
And yet, near the end, when the bandoneón is going crazy with its long run of notes (the variación) watch how both leaders do similar twisty adornments in the center of the couples’ turns.
iTunes album: The Tango Lesson (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Corazón (Heart) (1939)
Orq. Carlos Di Sarli, singer Roberto Rufino
“Give me your strong beating, so I can uproot this bloom of amnesia she has tried to plant over my pain.”
Di Sarli is the master of the piano fill, those little runs of notes that come at the end of musical phrases in so many tangos. Rufino is a smooth vocalist who accompanied D’Arienzo in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, right at the heart of the Golden Age.
Here we have our first non-Argentine couples, Dominic & Jenna from the U.S. and Patricia & Matteo from Italy. In this song, pay particular attention to how both couples treat those lovely little piano fills. From about 00:47-00:49, Patricia & Matteo take a few small, nimble steps to match the energy of Di Sarli’s nimble fingers on the piano keys. At that same point, though, Dominic & Jenna echo the fill with a long, smooth motion, just as the notes smoothly run up the scale. Both movements, though totally different, match the music. There are many fills in this song, so you can watch how both couples do different things to interpret each one.
iTunes album: Corazón
Golgota (Place of the Skull) (1938)
Orq. Rodolfo Biagi, singer Teófilo Ibáñez
“On this cruel Golgotha, where the most wicked serve as Judge...”
Biagi was D’Arienzo’s pianist from 1935-1938 before forming his own orchestra. This tango was recorded only a few months after “Pensalo bien” (which still featured Biagi’s wizard hands tickling the ivories). His orchestra’s trademark is a surprising use of emphasis on the upbeat, which can sound like little hiccups in the music. His piano fills are not usually as long as Di Sarli’s—whereas Di Sarli is long and smooth, Biagi is sharp and crisp.
For this tango, I have chosen videos by Ney & Jennifer of the U.S. and Detlef & Melina of Germany. Detlef & Melina show us how to beautifully interpret a piece of tango music, with a dance that is composed of 90% walking. They vary the length and quality of their steps to emphasize rhythm, melody, and different instruments at different points of the music. Ney & Jennifer put their own elegant walk on display (especially from 00:50 to 1:00), but incorporate a few more turns and figures. Note how both women keep their feet close to the floor, except when expressing things in the music (watch in particular Melina at 1:14 and Jennifer at 00:43).
iTunes album: Cruz Diablo