LA Tango’s Gentle Founder: Orlando Paiva, Sr. - Tango in LA Part 3

Dear Holly,

The Tangomania in LA during the summer of 1986 was not to last; by September it was all over. "Tango Argentino" left Los Angeles to play in other cities and countries around the world. Without this show at the Pantages Theater, and the accompanying television publicity, interest in tango soon waned. We were all wondering if the initial enthusiasm for tango could be maintained, or whether it would all soon die out. I'm afraid it almost died out. By the end of the year, there were only about 6 or 7 of us left; but we all shared the goal of trying to keep tango alive in Los Angeles.

Then, in stepped a remarkable man who breathed new life into our tango: Orlando Paiva (senior). His real name was Orlando Martinez, and he was from Rosario (Argentina's second largest city). He had moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s with his wife and two children. He settled in El Monte, where he worked many years as a machinist, and was active in the Asociación Argentina. He had been a notable cabaret performer, together with his wife, in the late 1950s in Argentina. He had taught a little bit as a young man, and was friends with Virulazo.

Orlando Paiva, Sr. dancing with actress Miranda Garrison, giving a public tango exhibition, in 1987. As you can see, they looked extremely good together. They inspired a lot of people to take up tango. Photo by Michael Espinoza, the time we met him in 1986, in fact, Orlando was about ready to move back to Rosario; that's when Tangomania hit Los Angeles. Orlando decided to delay his return for two more years in order to do some performing and teaching in California. He was befriended by film star Robert Duvall, who many years later would have Orlando dance in his movie "Assassination Tango." Also helping him was actress & dancer Miranda Garrison, who soon appeared in the movie "Dirty Dancing," and who often partnered with Orlando in many inspiring tango demonstrations. When the two of them danced, the house went silent, and then erupted in wild applause.

Loreen Arbus, a Hollywood television producer and screenwriter (and a niece of famed art photographer Diane Arbus), took a big personal interest in both tango and Orlando's magical dance ability. She often went out of her way to promote him, and to promote tango in general, to the greater Hollywood entertainment establishment. Loreen would call upon her Hollywood contacts to bring attention to the nascent tango community in LA. She arranged for Orlando and Miranda to perform on the television show of comic Wil Shriner. She would often reserve a large table at Nora's Place, and then invite as many as twenty Hollywood producers, directors, actors, and screenwriters to a night of dinner, tango music, and tango dancing. The hope was, of course, that these guests would later remember tango as a beautiful experience, and something to discover and explore in their film work.

I would give Loreen Arbus a lot of credit for helping to keep tango alive in Los Angeles during those first difficult years. She really went out of her way to promote tango and help Orlando Paiva, Sr.

Orlando had a very charming personality, a quality that would serve him well in the late 1980s. He seemed to be the perfect man for the job of promoting tango in L. A. He was an extremely elegant tango dancer. He was always calm, cool, and collected. He was gentle and kind, and people sensed a serenity to his personality, and were greatly attracted to him for that reason alone. Orlando new how to handle people very well; he was particularly adept at keeping many difficult and problematic people, and their bloated egos, at bay. What was remarkable was that everyone seemed to be united, and cooperated in those years, and put the promotion of Orlando, and tango, first.

"What was remarkable was that everyone seemed to be united, and cooperated in those years, and put the promotion of Orlando, and tango, first."

Orlando in 1986 was teaching Friday nights at a dance studio in West Los Angeles called Dance Center West, owned by Carol Montez (former wife of famous Latin dance competitor and teacher Ron Montez). He also taught Sunday afternoons at Nora's Place in North Hollywood. The few of us left in tango at that time would follow Orlando around, wherever he went, in order to try to learn this dance. I, Paul Palmintere, who had lived in both Costa Rica and Spain, and who had an extremely big interest in tango, would soon start working as Orlando's assistant and translator. It became my job to find teaching & performing work for him, translate for him when needed, and make sure that he got paid. I had some early successes, as well as disappointments. Promoting tango in those years was very difficult, especially since the internet had not yet been invented.

In 1987 a lady named Peri Rogovin, who owned a major dance studio serving the entertainment industry, took some big steps to make tango a priority. Her studio in those years was called "Studio of the Performing Arts," today called "Third Street Dance." Peri was instrumental in giving tango a big boost. She was a professional dancer, and studio owner, who loved tango personally, danced it herself, and wanted others in Hollywood's entertainment community to do the same.

Most dance studio owners ignored tango; their attitude was, "Well, maybe if we ignore tango it will all go away." I'm afraid this attitude persists today. Studio owners and dance teachers, of course, did not want to spend the time, hard work, and money to learn a "new dance." What is notable about Peri is that she took the opposite view: here was a beautiful dance that should be learned, should be studied, should be practiced, should be promoted, and should be danced. Being a studio owner, she was in the rare position of being able to do something about it; and, she did.

Peri had Orlando move his teaching to her studio, and set about promoting him, and tango in general, in a very professional manner. It was not uncommon to arrive at class and find yourself dancing with film stars, screenwriters, directors, and producers. Everyone was there, ranging from the average person to the professional dancer. And all of us were enchanted by Orlando's magical ability.

And all of this came about because one lone studio owner, Peri Rogovin, had the insight to promote tango professionally when almost no one else in the dance business had the courage to do so. And it payed off. Tango once again began to take off, slowly but surely, and Peri Rogovin deserved a lot of credit in those early years for helping to make it happen.

It makes all the difference in the world when the owner of a dance studio decides to make tango the high priority that it should be. Usually, tango is relegated to 4th class status, to be taught on an "off night," with the owners taking no personal interest in it. This doesn't do any good to anyone. In today's world, what tango really needs, is a separate academy or school of tango, where tango can be priority number one, and this is the trend you see today in many large cities.

"...what tango really needs, is a separate academy or school of tango, where tango can be priority number one..."

Orlando Paiva Sr., in the summer of 1987, went to Japan to teach tango. It was a great opportunity for him, made possible by a lady from Japan who was also a ballroom dancer herself. Orlando soon found himself teaching classes with 300 people in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe, within sight of bullet trains speeding by!

Orlando is remembered today as arguably the best-loved and best-remembered of all tango instructors who taught in Los Angeles. He was the right person, with the right ability, and the right personality, at the right time. Talk with any oldtimer from the late 1980s, and he or she will likely remember Orlando with great fondness.

But it was not to last. At the end of 1988, Orlando returned to his wife & family in Rosario. We did not see him again for 8 years. When he returned, he clearly was an ill man, definitely not the same as when he was at his peak. He had suffered two heart attacks and was under constant medication and medical supervision. He toured and taught throughout the USA in order to take advantage of tango's growing popularity in the 1990s, and filmed an instructional video series.

Orlando was always a favorite of actor Robert Duvall, who went out of his way in 2002 to feature him in his movie "Assassination Tango." Orlando passed away a few years later. He was someone who had changed all our lives.

When Orlando left at the end of 1988, tango could very well have gone into decline. Instead, within a couple of years, it took off in a big way, and much of this had to do with a remarkable dancing and teaching couple, Michael Walker and Luren Bellucci. Peri Rogovin had professional dancers Michael & Luren take over Orlando's classes, and literally a new era for tango began in Los Angeles.

In my next letter, I will describe what happened with tango in Los Angeles between 1989 and 1996, and it is a remarkable story indeed; and much of it has to do with the extraordinary accomplishments of Michael Walker & Luren Bellucci, a truly outstanding professional tango couple.

More to come.

Warm Regards,

Paul Palmintere

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Paul Palmintere

Paul Palmintere, who currently lives and teaches in Las Vegas, is a long-time tango veteran, and was a founder of the big Los Angeles Tango Community in 1986. Over the years, he has trained extensively with a great many of the famous instructors of Buenos Aires. A highly experienced and respected teacher, Paul is well-remembered for his pioneering classes throughout Southern California: Hollywood, Burbank, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands, and Palm Springs.