Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a team, community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

June 26, 2010

I'm a Milonguero Again - A Conversation between Milena Plebs and Mariano 'Chicho' Frumboli

Milena Plebs (M): I would like to talk to you about the contribution that we dancers and teachers can make from our experience to those who are learning.

Mariano 'Chicho' Frumboli (CH): Each day that we go to a milonga, do an exhibition or a show, we are writing tango history, and this is a contribution. Many young people have gotten involved with tango; we are living the beginning of a powerful era. The genre is here to stay, there is no way that it will become hidden or marginalized again. It is constantly evolving.

M: But sometimes those who are starting lose themselves in all the multiple options.

CH: They are completely lost! I learned with the last great milongueros, I took the information directly from them. Those who are starting to dance don't have this experience, they learn instead from an intermediate generation that I am a part of; we are a nexus between these old dancers and those who are younger. The problem is that we missed something in the teaching. I take total responsibility, and other colleagues should do so as well. I can't pass on what I have learned. I was crazy about creating, because I saw a new vein in the evolution of the movement. I threw myself into that, and I lost the way to be able to pass on the tango essence that I have very much inside. Because of this I feel that lately there are a lot of people who don't understand or know what the real essence of this dance is.

M: You have been dancing for fifteen years. What changes have you noticed in the dance?

CH: Before, people worked with precision and a particular aesthetic, in a functional and mechanical way that gave it a form, and a style. Making a movement or taking a step implied an expression of the entire body. Currently, not only has the essence been lost but the weight of the dance as well, its density and importance. To me, this new tango lost a bit of the respect for what tango is.

M: The knowledge that the milongueros passed on to us intuitively, the indescribable flavor in the way they moved is lost.

CH: Yes, it took me five months to get on the dance floor of the milonga of Almagro, I didn't dare to, and I went every Sunday only to watch. One breathed an air of respect that cannot be found now. Maybe I still feel it in some milongas like Glorias Argentinas, La Baldosa or in places that are further from the circuit of younger tango. I also took that essence from you and the dancers of your generation. I feel that the people of today are not motivated, they don't want to work or research. They don't want to go to the bottom of the situation; they stay on the surface. This also has to do with the new movements and dynamics that are used, if they are not performed with some power they turn out cold.

M: The internal discourse of the movement is as important as the external form.

CH: Ten years ago, when I went to milongas, I could stay watching a couple go once around the entire dance floor because there was something that attracted me, made me keep my eyes on them. Today I don't watch for more than twenty seconds because they are all the same. You see a couple circling and the next one behind them is doing the same thing, and the rest as well. There isn't anything that attracts me, which excites me. Except if I go to the few traditional places that are left.

M: Do you think that the people who dance automatically or repeating formulas could do it in a more internal way?

CH: This demands a lot of things! You know it, because you are a teacher as well, that currently the available tango pedagogy is much more decoded than ten years ago and so it is easier to learn. Today you do a volcada and a colgada and it is the same because they are there, commercially speaking, in the same package. Then, between doing a sandwichito or a volcada, people do a volcada, because it's more eye-catching. In tango people are self-centered; there is much individuality. They are not going to make a sandwichito to enjoy that moment, but whatever shows them more and better. In the musical field Astor Piazzolla broke with everything but you listen to it and it is tango. And today in the dance many think that they are Piazzolla and they aren't. I see men and women that only worry about how they are seen from the outside. It is a pretty complicated situation because it has to do with a very porteño personality and identity.

M: But the milongueros from other times were also porteños.

CH: Yes, but those milongueros had respect, delicacy and sensibility. It was totally different. I know my role is contradictory, because I also collaborated in generating this young movement. In its moment I got tired of the strict milonguero codes that didn't correspond with my time and to rebel I tried to make my way. Today I'm a milonguero again (laughter). I'm against the people who do not cabecear (nod), who don't have codes or respect. The value of tango has been diluted. That is why I say that many dancers are lost, they barely hold on to each other to dance and for two hours like zombies, it is very sad.

M: Sometimes I notice a competition between new currents that allow more ample movements, where the dancers use more space, and those who defend traditional tango with a closed embrace.

CH: There's something surprising about that. There are the traditionalists who defend roots to the death and then there are those modern or alternative dancers, in other words, new tango. But if you think about it there is nothing in the middle. The traditionalists complain about the modern ones contending that they don't dance tango, instead they do gymnastics, and the modern dancers complain that the others got stuck in time. There is no fusion, it is one group against the other, and it makes me sad because in reality we are all together.

M: Do you have any wish in relation to tango? Any pending undertaking?

CH: I'm going to tell you a story. I was into rock-and-roll; I had long hair and played the drums. I hated tango, I didn't like it one bit, I couldn't even listen to it. But when I went to take a class with Ricardo Barrios and Victoria Vieyra, I embraced my dance partner for the first time and I got goose bumps. I said, "there's something going on here..." and I never stopped. That magical moment was my beginning. On the other hand, a few years ago I went to the "La Trastienda" milonga organized by Horacio Godoy. I walked in and I saw you. I wanted to dance with you but second-guessed myself. I went back and forth until I asked you. I remember we were talking, then we embraced each other and in that moment I felt 40 years of tango. In the embrace, do you understand? We hadn't taken a single step! It was simply from the way in which you held me. For me that was the most powerful moment of the tanda. Then we danced for a long time. It was great, we did all sort of things, I enjoyed myself. But the moment of that embrace, like the one of my first class and some others, have marked me in regards to my relationship with the dance. I'm talking about the intimacy of the embrace. With very few people have I been able to feel the same way, much has been lost.

My wish for the dance of tango, then, is that the shared intensity returns, in the soul. Not to stay in the surface, but to feel it inside. That the genre evolves from that intimacy. The essence of tango is in the embrace and the person you are dancing with.

M: What else can I say? Thank you!

* From El Tangauta, a monthly tango magazine from Buenos Aires, December 2009

June 17, 2010

The Alienation of Tango

There is no other dance that is as self-destructive as tango. Unlike other dances, tango music allows free interpretations, so dancers may treat it at their will. Also unlike other dances, the steps of tango do not have fixed configurations so dancers are free to improvise and create. This rather untrammeled nature of tango induces dramatic changes to the dance at time like now when free-spirited foreigners pour in, bringing in too many foreign influences to the dance.

Whatever things people do, there are always some who tend to cross the line. Tango is without exception. We humans seek freedom, yet unrestrained freedom defeats itself. Our forefathers understood the danger of this human tendency, which is why they created a political system of checks and balance and the rule of law. Tango outside of Argentina, however, is still an uncharted water where people can do whatever they please at their free will. They replace tango embrace with an open dance hold, supersede tango music with alternative tunes, reassign gender roles, and bring in non-tango elements such as underarm turns, high kicks and body lifts into the dance. Now you go to the milongas in the US, you often hear exotic music of foreign lands and see rogues of all kinds dancing wildly. It is still called tango, but the essence of the dance has been changed. There is nothing resemble the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

Tango is a free dance, but it is not a "do whatever you want" dance. It has its characteristics. For example, it is a close-embrace dance. Breaking the embrace and drifting the partner apart is not tango. (See The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.) Tango is an intimate dance. It lies in the feelings stirred by the music. In fact, tango is more about feelings than steps. No matter how many new steps people try to create, without feelings it is not tango. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) Tango is a heterosexual dance. It is danced by a man and a woman to allow his masculinity and her femininity to glitter in each other's company. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.) The man is the leader who plots the dance and shines the woman. The woman is the follower who surrenders to the man, synchronizes her movements to his and beautifies the dance. Refusing to surrender, switching gender roles and forming same-sex partnership are against tango. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Tango is danced to the sentimental music specifically created for the dance. Foreigners often don't know that the magic of tango lies in its music, which connects the dancers, stirs up their nostalgic feelings, comforts them, synchronizes their movements and inspires their creativity. Changing tango music to outlandish tunes, the dance ceases to be tango. (See The Signature of Tango.)

Nobody can stop the reform of a dance that invites free expressions, I suppose. Only time will tell which reforms have a lasting value. Tango has been through this trial for one hundred and fifty years. Whatever changes people attempt to bring in today must have been tried by others before. Most of those changes did not stay. The current form of tango, including its music, embrace, steps and protocols as being practiced in Buenos Aires today, is the survivor of the fitness among zillions of attempts to alter the dance along its history. Tango will continue to evolve, of course, but it will evolve in the same direction that made it tango. Any attempt to change tango to a non-tango dance or hybrid will fail. If not so, tango would have stopped being the tango danced in Buenos Aires today long ago.

March 15, 2010


I don’t know her name. She looked like in her early 30s, sitting with her girl friend who was about the same age. They sat across the floor in the women’s section, chatting and not dancing. I had an impression that they came not for dancing but watching other people dance and spending some time together, which is not uncommon in Buenos Aires.

While they were talking, she looked at me. But I didn’t pay enough attention because I didn’t think she wanted to dance. It was more like that she happened to look at my direction while chatting with her girl friend. I ignored her and searched for other prospective partners. Occasionally, her girl friend went to dance, but she never took any invitation, just sat there watching. When her girl friend returned they resumed their conversation.

I danced a lot that night. Every time I returned to my table, I saw the two girls were still talking, and she was still looking at my direction. But I chose to disregard her. I didn’t think she wanted to dance, or even could dance. However, I kept my eyes on her girl friend whose dance impressed me. The girl must have noticed that, for at one point I saw she talked to her girl friend while looking at me as if telling her I was watching her. But her girl friend only gave me a brief look and quickly turned her eyes away. Only she still gazed at me.

At that moment it suddenly dawned on me that maybe she wanted to dance with me. She might not be a good dancer but I was willing to give a try since she had being looking at me for so long. I nodded at her, and she nodded back. To make sure she was responding to my cabeceo, I turned my head around to see if someone else was communicating with her, but I saw no one was doing that. So I stood up and walked towards her. She stared at me all the way until I reached her table. “A very patient girl, confident, brave and persistent.” I thought. That was one thing I learned that night from this girl.

I was wrong. She was a very good dancer, even better than her impressive girl friend. Her beautiful and stylish footwork showed solid techniques that could only result from years of training. In fact, only a professional could dance the way she did with such control, elegance and precision. In our brief conversation she told me she was a stage dancer. I was curious why a stage dancer like her would come to a social milonga to dance tango milonguero. “This is not your style. Why do you come here to dance?” I asked. She looked at me for a moment and said, “There are too many young dancers on stage. I can’t compete with them any more. I am old.”