Saturday, March 24, 2018

Villa Urquiza

There was a time around 2006 when the label "Villa Urquiza" became the latest trendy thing in Tango.  Tango videos had recently started to become widely available on Youtube and a few clever Tango entrepreneurs used the label on themselves and on a certain "look" and style of dancing in those videos as an indication of the highest quality of authentic Tango.

Tangueros and Tangueras all over the world just lapped it up and soon everybody and their mother said they were dancing "Villa Urquiza" style.

I am not an expert on Villa Urquiza tango and I am not going to go into great detailed analysis of it.  I am also not going to tell you what it is or what it isn't.  How tiresome that would be and anyway, I'm sure someone must have done it already in a much more eloquent and poetic and even novelistic manner than I could possibly do because I write these posts on the fly and don't give a damn.  

However I think it was a great marketing tactic and made people who thought they were dancing Villa Urquiza tango feel great about themselves and more superior to a lot of people who were dancing whatever it was that was not "Villa Urquiza".

Unfortunately it also led to people starting to want to dance "the same" and now pretty much all the people who are dancing "the same" and who enter into competitions and win them these days for following strict rules that have put Tango into a neat little ballroom box would probably say "Yeah, I think I'm dancing Villa Urquiza", although I believe all those people dancing the "same" may have moved on to the next trendy "authenticating" label which appears to be "Tango Salon" or "Tango de la Pista".  

That being said, on our first trip to Buenos Aires, we had just met Alberto Dassieu and his lovely wife Paulina (on the first night of our trip and at the first milonga we went to in Buenos Aires) and they were gracious enough to accept our invitation to dinner the following week.

During our conversation over asado and limoncello, I asked Alberto, what is "Villa Urquiza"?

"That is MY tango," he said.  

Which shocked us because we had been watching Youtube and what we had seen with the label had (in our inexperienced and ignorant eyes) little to do with what Alberto was dancing.

But Alberto was indeed "Villa Urquiza", and more authentic than all those people dancing "the same", because his style came from a time and a place and from people he knew and the way he thought and felt the tango and therefore was his and his alone.  Unique.

When Alberto was young, he hung out with El Chino Perico and they would go together to dance in the milongas.  He said that the very very best follower he had danced with ever was actually El Chino's sister.  

They'd go to the renowned milongas of Villa Urquiza.  Gerardo Portalea was king.  Alberto told us there was a competition once at one of the milongas.  When he knew that Portalea was in the competition, he knew that there was no way that anyone could beat him.  And as he had said - Portalea won the tango competition.  And Alberto - I think he said he won the one for Rock n' Roll?

Anyway, Alberto would go to those milongas with his buddies to watch Portalea dance and try and steal Portalea's steps.  Alberto said that after watching and watching and watching, he managed to get it.

We thought he meant he got Portalea's steps the way Man Yung would "get" them which would be like, regurgitating 75% of all the sequences he was dancing which was garnered from replaying Youtube vids again and again in slow motion.

Alberto demonstrated Portalea's salida to us.  A simple step to the side, followed by a step forward.

And he beamed with satisfaction and pride, because in that salida was the entire Villa Urquiza universe.  

If you understand what I just said, you just do - but if you need to ask, you aren't there yet.

It was almost impossible for me to follow Alberto at first.  Even after dancing for three years and becoming quite a good follower by Toronto standards, the first time I danced with Alberto at Glorias Argentinas (on the first night we were in Buenos Aires) I had no idea how to follow him because his style was so different from what I had experienced so far in Tango.

However, it only took a couple of private classes with Alberto and a few tips from him and my following was changed forever.  Yes, it did not take very long, and no, I didn't have to do hours of technical drills or listen to hours of philosophical musings.  I've heard that a lot of teachers these days would milk the hell out of nothing and charge you $150 an hour for it for years and at the end of it, you will suck at Tango more than when you began.

Alberto's precise and concise teaching was like the salida showed us - so deceptively simple, but in it contained all.  And it worked.

We enthusiastically recommended Alberto to everybody who asked us about teachers in Buenos Aires.  He was especially fantastic with followers.  I wish that Man Yung could have learned to follow from Alberto, but back then he was concentrating only on learning to lead.

With Alberto, you do not break the embrace.  It is always close.  The follower could not look down to see what her feet or doing, have her mind elsewhere or practice fancy but meaningless adornments because it would mean she would miss what came next.  

Giros have to be tight around the leader's axis and to the music.  No leaning your weight on the leader despite the unbreakable embrace.  And the follower MUST be slower than the leader.  MUST NOT ANTICIPATE, EVER.  There are Alberto's elegant paradas to contend with.  Any iota of anticipation, any movement even just a little ahead, will result in a trip, a fall - in all, disaster.  

Man Yung's style is different.  When he leads he says it doesn't matter what the follower does.  Rabid adornistas, total beginners, gals who auto-gancho and auto-enganche - he can and will adapt to them all.  Totally laissez-faire, completely "whatever".  Leader has to deal with it, he says.

In Alberto's Tango, if the follower does not follow and become absolutely one with the the lead and the leader, there is no Tango.  Following Alberto was difficult, but correct.  Because everything that Alberto demanded of the follower was correct, and because the way Alberto danced was correct. 

I remember watching a documentary in which a milonguera discussed about how it was dancing with Portalea.  She was a veteran, a skilled and desired follower.

But dancing with Portalea -  the first time she danced with him, she was shaking, she said.  

She had to hold herself, comport herself in a different way.  Even when she was dancing with someone who is a good dancer, it was crucial for her to mould herself to her partner, to adapt to his style. 

And when they interviewed Portalea in the same documentary, he said that for a leader, the main thing was to be able to have a partner who can dance.

Alberto said a similar thing.  We asked him when he goes to a milonga alone, how does he decide with who he would like to dance?

His answer was, "With the best dancer."


"Because I know she is going to know how to interpret everything that I feel."

Simple enough as an answer - but it meant everything.

Once again, if you need to ask what that meant - you aren't there yet.

Alberto would go to the milongas with he best floors, the best DJs, the best dancers.  He would sit and wait patiently for the perfect music, so he could cabeceo the perfect partner, and create the perfect Tango moment.

This was Alberto's Villa Urquiza.  It took decades of dancing and experience to create.  And it was difficult because he demanded so much.  Who said perfection was easy?

Alberto said that he had one wish, that there'd be someone dancing his style.

Are there any leaders who are?  I'm not sure.  In any case, maybe Alberto's style is not something that can - or should - be duplicated, in all its perfection and difficulty and uniqueness.  A copy would not do Alberto justice.

I wonder about the followers who learned from Alberto.  How would it be like to dance with her?  Will she still retain the perfection he imparted to her?  Will she interpret everything that I feel when I lead her?  Will dancing with her reveal to me the sentiment of Tango from the quiet leafy suburban streets of Villa Urquiza from times gone by?

More posts about our great friend and teacher Alberto could be found here.


tangogeoff said...

Thankyou, Irene, for this post and your others about Alberto.
I really like your Call It How You See It style of writing, and I absolutely agree with your comments about Style of the Week trends.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangogeoff,

Thank you very much!

Irene and Man Yung

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