I wish to think Manuel Patino who acted as interpreter during this interview, and Alberto Paz who edited the transcription and provided additional translation - Joe Grohens
Joe: When did you first begin to dance tango?
Eduardo: Well... being as I am older than Gloria, I started dancing tango at the age of thirteen, in the decade of the 40s. And... after I began dancing tango (it was the first thing I did dance-wise) I fell in love with dancing and I began to study other dances. And when I started taking classes, that's when I met Gloria, not in a personal way, but because we were both studying with the same teachers.
J: What kinds of other dances?
E: Many dances. Modern, Spanish dances, folklore, tap, all the dances of that time.
J: And you were both teenagers?
E: I was thirteen... Gloria hadn't been born yet (laughter). I started at age thirteen. When I was sixteen or seventeen...
Gloria: I was seven.
E: ...we went to the same teachers of different dances. I was also doing tango on the side but she was too little to do tango. Later, when she was thirteen years old, we began to do a little bit of tango. And when she was fourteen, we were already dancing with (the orchestra of) Francisco Canaro.
G: We were already professionals.
J: And you were only fourteen?
G: That's right.
E: And when Gloria was fifteen, and I was twenty-four going on twenty-five, we went to Japan with the orchestra of Francisco Canaro. A trip in that epoch that was almost like going to the moon today.
G: In the year 1961.
E: I said farewell to my family because I didn't know if I would come back! (laughter)
G: From Argentina to Japan...
E: A complete turn around the world, complete. In that epoch; today, it is very common, but in those days it was very difficult.
J: Did you both feel that tango was special to you?
E: Yes, the tango was always with us; in the neighborhood where we were born (because we were neighbors and we've known each other all our life). The neighborhood in which we were born was tango, tango, tango. Right, it was like being born in the tango itself. The neighborhood of Pompeya. For example, her (Gloria's) father danced tango, our brothers and our friends danced tango. Everything was tango, tango.
J: But not everyone becomes a tango dancer for his or her career.
E: Oh, no, no, that's a miracle. Right, and much less in that epoch. It (a career) did not exist. Well, it just happened that in the decade of the 50s, television was introduced in Argentina. And we were some youngsters who could dance tango. We had studied other dances. We had knowledge of the space. We had good teachers, and then the television made popular figures out of us because we worked in the most famous programs of Argentine television. Also, we were part of the first color television program broadcast in the world. It was an experimental program in color, in 1961. It (color TV) didn't exist anywhere in the world. In Japan, it was only experimental. They produced a program of the opera Carmen, another one about a cancer lung operation, and the show of Francisco Canaro. And, there, we were. We were artists of the television era.
G: In that epoch there were not young couples.
E: No, neither young nor old ...
G: ... that danced on television having experience in other dances. That's almost like a miracle.
E: Later we were actors too. We worked as actors on television. We always worked like that. We worked in the most important programs of television. We danced with the majority of orchestras... twenty famous orchestras... we danced with the twenty most famous orchestras... with Troilo, with Pugliese, with Canaro, with Mariano Mores, with Sassone, with Jose Basso, with De Angelis, with Calo... except with Di Sarli, because Di Sarli, in that epoch got ill, and he later died. Otherwise we would have. Now, Laurenz had recordings from an earlier period. We danced with Laurenz later when he formed the original Quinteto Real, the old one, because now there is a new one. In the first one there was Francini, there was Laurenz, there was Salgan on piano... Right.
J: When you say it was a miracle does that mean that you became performers by accident, or was it something you wanted to do?
E: No, because there were no professionals of that (tango dance). One has to think that a tango couple that is dancing on one dance floor... how many years had to pass for them to become famous? We started with television. We were on two programs and the whole world knew us.
G: In all the homes there was only one channel to watch.... In all the homes they watched that channel....
E: It was a miracle. It was the right moment at the right place....
G: ... and they'd call us all the time from all the programs, which in those days there were many...
E: In that epoch, we were on a program called "Yo te canto Buenos Aires" (I Sing to You Buenos Aires). We were the choreographers. We had a ballet in the program....
G: ...tango ballet.
E: Pugliese worked on it.... First, Catulo Castillo wrote the script. The producer was Julio Jorge Nelson, the famous.... And then, they had Troilo, they had Pugliese, they had Di Angelis, they had Jose Basso... all the orchestras, D'Arienzo.... We were dancing with Canaro in the theater, and each week with a different orchestra in the TV program. And we were the choreographers. We did everything. We moved the singers around, the dancers, everything. We brought Piazzolla so he could work. Piazzolla worked with our ballet! All the artists, the most famous of tango.... And this program was visited by the most famous personalities of Argentina. From Borges to Castellini, painters, writers, all appeared on the show.
Later we were also the choreographers of another show produced by Vergara Neuman where also the biggest artists and the biggest names were guests, and we were the choreographers.
We also did a program that lasted twenty-five years. It was called "Grandes valores del tango" (The Great Talents of Tango). And the greatest talents of tango passed through it. The tango ballet was ours.
It means that from 1960 until these days, we had done many television programs....
G: In Buenos Aires.
E: In Buenos Aires, and the whole world. We are teachers of the whole world. We worked here in the United States, before "Tango Argentino", from 1967. We had our own shows. We traveled with our own shows through the Soviet Union, Japan, Mexico, in all the Latin American countries. Later, it was a miracle that we were part of the show "Tango Argentino". Always the most successful shows are miraculous.
J: You were also in the show "Forever Tango", correct?
E: We are the choreographers.
E: We made Forever Tango. That was a show of our own. I have the (theater) programs where it shows we are. We did it in the year 1990, and we reprised it in the year 1994 for the "Mundial" (colloquial for World Cup). In Los Angeles. At the Wilshire Theater. And later, it went to San Francisco. There, in San Francisco, we won, with Forever Tango... we made the final three (nominations) for the best show. This was determined by the journalists of the Bay Area. We made the "terna" (an expression that describes a group of three things) with other shows. And we won the first prize as the best 1994 show in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was for 1994 but they gave us the award in 1995.
J: With all of the many productions that you have been a part of, is there one that was a turning point for you or special favorite?
E: I think that we have to have a lot of respect for Tango Argentino, because it is the one that revolutionized the dance in the entire world. Because of that show we are here now. After Tango Argentino, the whole world became interested in the dance of tango. We were on, after Tango Argentino, I think, seven or eight shows; four of them were ours, as directors and producers... four were ours... they are good and there are films about them going around the world. Perhaps, they received more applause in some places than Tango Argentino. But we always have that respect for Tango Argentino.
J: You are both known as experts of many different tango styles.
E: Yes. We are studious.
J: I am curious to know if there is a style that you prefer when you are dancing for yourselves.
E: It depends for what purpose. We introduce a show.... and we study the way to be able to build a balanced show.... and within this balance we have the possibilities of working with different things. And one falls in love with all those things. They are like children ("hijos") you give birth to. Right, jobs that you like. We have good luck, perhaps.... We pick a theme, and we work on it, we work on it, we make it deeper, and we make of it a worldwide success. And that, we never touch it again. We leave it like that. That one is that way. And it remains that way. We have a theme that we danced with Francisco Canaro in 1961, and we still dance it! It is like a painting. It is that way and it can't be touched. It is that way. And that way it happened in Tango Argentino. We danced Milongueando en el cuarenta... and that was a theme that now is popular worldwide. And the people always talk to us about that theme.
There is... in the last shows that we did... they are our shows... we made two or three creations, special creations for those shows. That's like a seal. It's not just the dancing... It's to act it out, to dress it, to introduce something before it so it can be special... There are many things that make something to have an impact.
The proper style of tango is born from the dance... and one can raise to any height... to the most modern place... respecting the root. It's like a tree... when one cuts it... what's on top has no value. It's going to dry up. For what's above to have any value, it has to be born from below. And like that, that is the real tango... It has to have the roots. Otherwise, it's another thing. It may be good, or regular, but it's not the tango.
To be tango, it needs to have...
G: ... to respect...
E: ... to respect the roots.
G: ...the roots.
G: One must respect the roots of tango.
E: Then, there are temporary successes.... fashions that go out of style. Five months later and nobody remembers them anymore. But when the thing has roots, it stays, it lasts.
J: What advice would you give to developing dancers, such as to a person you teach at workshops like these, on how to find the roots of tango?
E: Well, he arrives to the roots when he falls in love.... First, it is like, shall we say, like a tourist within the tango... he goes around, and asks one thing, he likes something else. But (the passage of) time makes the person capable of distinguishing what thing is the root. Which it is that's useful to him. And, he is going to be satisfied only when he can assert himself his personality. That's going to be the tango within him.
Right... else, it is like a person that's going around, and today he changes one thing, and tomorrow he dances in a different way, and the day after.... Sure, he is investigating. Those are stages, but when is he going to rendezvous with the tango? It's when he will be able to put inside the tango his own personality.
And it is logical that for that, there will be teachers who will help him. And he is going to be able to recognize them... right, because when someone begins, somehow he can be dazzled by things that are external.... but the things of the tango are internal (points to his chest). When he can receive those things from the inside -- not just him, anybody who can receive the things that are inside -- he is going to run into the tango.
The external, the visual, the athletic are things that can trap you (atrapar). But that is not... that is not the tango. That's what I believe (points to himself and laughs). I also went through those stages. Everybody passes through those stages.
J: That makes me feel better. (Laughter.) In this country at least, we sometimes make distinctions between club/confiteria/milonguero style and the style of salon. I don't know if these are valid distinctions, but I wondered if you could say something about the place of "club style" in tango dancing.
E: The tango is only one. It accommodates itself to every place and every epoch. The tango was taking shape, it was growing, it was changing from location to location. For instance, when it first reached the outskirts of the city, it was danced in a certain way. In the clubs they danced it in a different way. In the city salons it was forbidden to dance the way they danced it in other places. For me, the salon style is an, elegant, walked style, done on the floor, without doing figures. Everything on the floor. That's the salon style. That's how they called that style in the competitions in the old days.
Then, there is the canyengue style, which belongs to a much earlier primitive time. Then you have the tango cruzado, which is from 1935 to the 1940s. Then there is the tango fantasia, which people don't understand very well. Tango fantasia is from the floor. It is not from the stage. The only thing that was allowed was the separation of the man and the woman to do some figures separated, but tango figures of course. This was born in the practicas among the men. The exhibitions were done by the guys. It was not with women. Later with time, the woman was incorporated, but when this style was born it was done among men. Let's say that they were the most advanced dancers of a practica.
J: What years are we talking about?
E: In the 40s. We are always talking about the 40s and the 50s. In the 40s appeared a style with boleos and ganchos. Like a novelty. It was an opening to a tendency of wanting to attract attention. And, later, in the 50s, is when they began to dance closer, with the faces looking in the opposite direction. A more intimate dance, more for the couple, and with some of the figures reminiscent of the primitive tango. With contratiempos (double stepping). Playing with time and countertime. That is more from the old, primitive tango and the orchestras started to play rhythmically. First, Juan D'Arienzo. We could say that Juan D'Arienzo was in those days what Tango Argentino was later for these days. Juan D'Arienzo's was the orchestra that got the whole country dancing.
J: And that was in the 50s?
E: Thirty five. From 1935. Before then the orchestras were "heavy," slow. They still had the tango, that was somewhat forbidden, danced in the salons. When the tango entered in the society, not the high society but the middle class, it was forbidden to do strange figures. They were other times. But, at the same time, in the outskirts of the town, they danced with everything. That's why I say, that the tango is according to where they put it.
In the 20s, when the tango went to Europe, they danced it before the Pope. I can imagine what it was like (laughs). Canaro wrote a tango called "Ave Maria". I imagine how the woman, who danced it, was dressed. Like a nun... (Laughter.) Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires they were dancing another tango (gesturing with arms and upper body to illustrate the movements).
It means that the tango is only one, and it presents itself according to the needs... right?
Nobody is the owner of the tango. The maximum thing one can do for the tango, is to love it. When one believes that he is the owner of the tango, he is very lost. (Laughing with an "I know what I'm talking about" smile.)
Ok, ok, each one dances... that's why in life we have moments... we have moments because you like a tango.... Because one day you like La cumparsita, and you say "There is no better tango than La cumparsita, and I kill myself with it...." And two months later the tango you like is another one. That is how you feel. Right.... it is a state of the soul.
That's why if you ask me what is the best orchestra, I can't tell you because it depends on the mood. If you ask what is the best tango we think we dance: it is according to the way we feel. At that moment when we are dancing it, that is the best one. But in a year, or one year before, it may be another one.
J: In your life were there other tango dancers who you admired?
E: Oh, many, many. Because we were born in a tango neighborhood. The ones who couldn't dance couldn't live there (laughter). Her father (Gloria's) was a phenomenal tango dancer. He gave exhibitions! Our friends gave exhibitions. I was a kid ("nene") but I liked tango so much that they would let me in their conversations (if I didn't talk, just listened). Then, hanging around at two or three in the morning on a street corner, the conversation would turn into dance. And the dancers were dancing on the corner, teaching. It was not like now. They did it quickly. They said, "Here, dig this", rapidly, and you had to grab it and take it just like that. That was a way of life, and it was imperative to learn to dance. For example, when a maestro came to teach me in a club, two hundred people came to see how he would teach. It was a very big thing. There was a passion for tango. It was marvelous. And these were popular people with big names.
J: Like whom?
E: There was one named Jorge Marquez. In the 50s. He was a big name. He would come to teach me in the practica. People would come to watch. And he was very popular. And there was another one, named Eltin, and Sarita was his partner, and they were the first dancers of the Troilo orchestra in one of the theaters. And they were also tremendously popular, very popular and from our neighborhood.
J: I would like to ask Gloria, how did the women learn to dance?
G: The women learned within my family. From their mothers, fathers, sisters, friends and brothers. It was a family affair. Then we would all go out together to dance, on Saturdays and Sundays.
E: The men learned in the clubs, among men. That's why we mark (gestures with his right arm). First we learned the part of the woman, and that's how the man feels la marca (putting his hand on his back). Today, in a technique class I danced with all the women, and Gloria danced with the men, explaining las marcas. This is rarely done anymore. Therefore, the woman now helps the man doing those things for him, and the man never really learns, never finishes learning how to use las marcas. They're in a rush.
In my days, I was in no rush (laughs). I was only thirteen years old, how could I be in a rush? Besides, I didn't learn with a business purpose in mind. I learned to have fun. I wanted to get ready to go out dancing with a woman. I wanted to have a good time. I had all the time in the world. Everybody would teach us. It was a family thing where everyone would show you (something). One day we'd go to one club, the next day we'd go to another club to see how they danced in the other neighborhoods. Because it was a different style. Because we could see, watching somebody dance, whether he was from Valentin Alsina, Pompeya or Villa Urquiza. We'd see someone dancing a little bit strange. We'd say, "Oh, he's from a different neighborhood."
Tango has something very personal about it. One always thinks that one is the best. Because it's personal. But it is the others who must say that, not oneself. If one dances well, the women must say it. And if the woman dances well, the men must say it. If the woman dances with different guys, and she can keep up with them all, she dances well. When the man dances with all the women, and they all say, "Oh, look how he dances, how well he marks, and I feel good." There is no other standard. (Laughter.) To say, "I'm the best", means nothing. It has no value.
J: Do the two of you have any plans for another show or any other projects?
E: Oh, many, many (laughs). Each day there are new things. Since I was young I always had many things to do. And I have many things written down, that I have not yet done. Works, books, things that are already written down that have never been carried out. And the ones that we have done in the 1990s, I conceived them in the 1960s. And I couldn't do them. Sometimes I tried them with few people, in small places.
J: Like Super Tango?
E: Yes. Before Super Tango, we did Tango Tango, Corazon of Tango, Tanguisimo. All of those things were ideated in the 60s. In the 70s and 80s we made a few tries in smaller places, with fewer people. And once we had the possibility to do them on a large scale in a theater, we did them.
G: Then we went to Japan.
E: We premiered in Japan many things that we already had thought about much earlier. But there are things now.... We have a really strange country. We don't have any support. After doing so much for the tango, we don't have a cultural or governmental support. We are not teaching the Argentine youths so they can be incorporated to tango. We should have a theater where all the students can have an education, and do research.... We need cultural support. In this manner we can do the things that we already have in our minds, but also instruct the young people, so that they have the knowledge of how to work in the theater, how to work on the dance floor, the clothing, how to dance different periods.... all of those things that we studied.
Sometimes we do it in a class. And we are just as happy. But we'd be happier if we could give it to the youths, so people would understand and learn, and later they'd come up with their own things with their own creative minds.
G: It is the culture of our music.
E: That is what should happen. But we are used to doing everything drawing from our own blood. It's not bad. This way one works harder. It's just a way of life (laughs). It doesn't harm us; we're used to working hard. We know that when the government sends somebody to represent the tango in Europe or other parts of the world, it's always happens to be a "friend" (laughter at the obvious reference to political favoritism). It has nothing to do with qualifications or prestige. It's always been like that, and we understand it.
At the 2000 New Year celebration they had a big show and Julio Boca danced the tango. He has nothing to do with tango (laughing at the irony). How could they choose Julio Boca when there are so many other qualified tango dancers?
G: He is a great dancer, of course, but not a tango dancer. Tango has to be danced by tango dancers.
E: This is exactly what I'm saying. We're not bad-mouthing anybody. It's never in the right place. But we're used to this; this is what happens. It's a way of life (smiling and shrugging his shoulders).
J: I want to thank you for your time, and wish you good luck with all your projects. It will be good for us. I personally will be very interested in your book.
E: Yes, yes. We are working on this book from the point of view of the dancer. There are many books that have been written by people who don't know how to dance tango. Thinking of ourselves, we know that when we did not know how to dance, we thought differently. When one learns to dance, there are other values, and we pay attention to other things. People who don't know how to dance, don't know and they don't pay attention to them. They confuse the values; they transpose things. They aggrandize some one, and they minimize others. What is so great for them, it is not so great for us.
So I think that musically speaking, in any form, the tango belongs on the dance floor. And the more popular artists must be the ones who are on the dance floor. Also, the music played to keep us on the dance floor must be the most respected music. In another instance, we may respect the music for a concert, but tango was not born as a concert. There may be good musicians, with an excellent orchestra, but they don't do anything to move a dancer's hair on the dance floor (laughs). Now, if I go to a concert, it can be beautiful, phenomenal, no problem, but the tango is for dancing. It has another way to be measured. There's another measure that we have. We want to give an explication of our viewpoint from the dancer's perspective, what we value, what the tango means to us. We are not going to be the owners of the truth; it's just a viewpoint. "Others are the owners of the truth." (Laughter) It's no good to pretend to be the owner of the truth. It's just good to recognize things, things that those who don't know how to dance don't recognize, that's all.
This interview is from ToTANGO archives of 2001, courtesy then and now
Joe Grohens, Illinois
with thanks to Manuel Patino, Atlanta
and - what can one say? - our passed amigo tango, Alberto Paz, New Orleans
Special thanks - Gloria and Eduardo and their manager/son in Buenos Aires