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


  1. Classics survive. Trends just fade away. Thanks for posting this wonderful interview.

  2. > CH: ... I learned with the last great milongueros

    How quickly Chicho forgets his Emperor ... upon discovering him to have no clothes.