Masterful Performances, Great Tangos

by Derrick del Pilar

Social tango is an intimate, personal experience that puts you in direct contact with another body—the most sublime dances make you forget that you are on a crowded pista, surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of other couples: for a moment, you slip between the walls of the worlds, you are alone with your partner and the music.

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Songs of Return: Tangos for the Journey Home

Songs of Return: Tangos for the Journey Home

by Derrick Del Pilar, Craftsman of Return

From the plane I watch the city unroll its carpet of tiny light points beneath me as the dusk shadows fall. The downtown core stands tall, concrete pillars blazing near the water’s edge. From there the neighborhoods of low houses spread out, flat and interminable, melting into the endless plains beyond.

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Tangazos: The YouTube Connection (Part 1 of 2)

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.

Poema (1935)
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


Derrick Del Pilar

Tango found Derrick Del Pilar in 2006, when he was living (and studying) in Buenos Aires, in a small apartment a few blocks from Evaristo Carriego’s house. In Buenos Aires, he studied the social dance with Lidia Ferrari, and despite the vociferous dissatisfaction expressed by the first lady he managed to cabecear in Salón Canning, he has immersed himself in tango ever since. From 2006–2008 he was a regular on the social dance scene in the up-and-coming tango community of Tucson, Arizona. From 2008-2009, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Derrick studied extensively with many of the world-renowned tango teachers who spend time in Northern California. He has also lived, danced, DJed, and lectured in the communities of Eugene and Portland, OR. Derrick is a thoughtful tango DJ who has shared tandas of music by the Golden Age maestros at festivals and venues in Chicago, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Southern California, and the Bay Area, including the Portland Tango Festival and the San Francisco Tango Marathon. In May 2008 Derrick received a B.A. from the University of Arizona with a double major in Spanish & Portuguese and Creative Writing, and in December 2009 he received an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley—with a focus on the history and literature of Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th century. He also lectures on tango lyrics and history at festivals around the U.S.

Tangazos: A Tribute to Alberto Podestá

by Derrick del Pilar

There are dancers’ singers, whose voices cause eyes to dart around the milonga, feet to tap restlessly, and fingers to drum on tabletops. There are singers’ singers, whose voices are best enjoyed at home, ensconced in a wing chair, perhaps with a snifter of good brandy in hand. And then there are the truly great singers, whose voices simultaneously pluck our heartstrings and impel our bodies to dance.

One of these rare titans of tango is still singing Buenos Aires—and he will soon grace our shining seacoasts with his presence, backed up by Alex Krebs’s orchestra, a bridge connecting us to the Golden Age. I am speaking, of course, of the inimitable Alberto Podestá. Before he was even twenty years old, he had recorded classics with Caló, Di Sarli, and Laurenz, timeless pieces that we tirelessly dance to this day.

This list includes but a few of the myriad excellent songs that Podestá recorded in the Golden Age—there are many more that are equally worthy, like “No está,” which was on my first list of tangazos.

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Heroes & Anti-Heroes of Tango: Ten Classic Tangazos

by Derrick Del Pilar

Scottish statesman Andrew Fletcher famously wrote, “...if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation,” or, as I like to put it, I don’t give a damn who makes the rules as long as I get to write the songs. Or at least translate some of them and present them to you.

Many popular songs and ballads have heroes, (and anti-heroes) whose trials, tribulations, antics, and exploits reflect either the community’s real experiences, or the ideal lives they construct for themselves. Here are just a few from the porteño realm of tango, for your listening and dancing pleasure.


La maleva

There are so many powerful and amazing women out on the dance floors of the world—but often the way women are portrayed in tango lyrics is not exactly inspiring. As you’ll see below, when they are not jilting their men, women in tango lyrics are often victims either of his caprices or destiny and disease.

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