This is a series of interview with the pioneers of Argentine Tango. I asked simple questions: What makes a dance beautiful? How could we become good dancers? What was tango like in the old days? I have the answers here, and I would like to share with you. Kumi

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview Two: Raul Bravo

Raul Bravo started his career as an exhibition dancer in 1952.  He has been performing and teaching since then.  He had tango schools with Antonio Todaro for 17 years, and taught many important dancers as, Roberto Reis y Guillermina Quiroga,Gabriel Angio, Natalia Gamez, Carlos Copello, Alicia Monti, Julio Mendez, Ricardo Gallo, Pancho Martinez Pei, Pedro Calveira, Nora Robles, Alejandra Arruè y Sergio Natario, Gabriela Elias y Eduardo Perez, Stella Barba, Cristian Marquez y Virginia Gomez, Hernan Villegas y Gladis Colombo, Emiliano y Debra, German Cassano , Giraldo Diomar, Eduardo Sotelo, Miguel A. Plas, Rodolfo Ruiz, Pablo Villarraza , Lalo y Mirta, Holanda, Sandor y Miriam, EE.UU. Julio Mendez y Ana, Ruth Manonella y Andreas Erbsen, Gustavo Rosa.

1. How long have you been dancing tango?

I have danced professionally for 50 years and I continue to teach.  In total 55 years.

 2. What was tango scene like when you started?

When I started dancing Tango the scene was different compared to today.  You learned Tango for the love of it, today the majority of the youth get into Tango because it is a source of work, at least in Argentina.

3. How were the ratio of men and women back then?

The percentage of men to women, in that time, (the past) was very even, although there were always more women than men.

 4. To be able to dance in Milongas, did everybody take lessons at the beginning, like we do here in NY? In average how long did leaders take lessons and about how much money did they spend?  What is the value in this time?  What about yourself?  Did you go take lessons? 

There were always schools, but you would teach in the clubs, between friends, practice between men, in academies, which were many.  The capacity depended on each individual.

To learn to dance was from the heart and not about business.  It was more for fun than a profession.   It was not about making money.

I took my first Tango steps with teachers who taught me the basic, their artistic name Los Hermanos Gianelly (the Gianellly Brothers) and they were from Galvez, ( Santa Fe).

I learned what my friends taught me, and my training was too short, in one year I was dancing professionally.

 5. We hear leaders used to sit and watch a lot.  (Unfortunately this does not happen in NY)  How long did they watch in average?  Days? Weeks? Months?   And you? What did you watch, what movement did you pay attention and for how long? 

Yes it is true, you would observe to learn, and to respect your colleagues, the necessary time needed for each individual, everyone was not the same.

To know the ambiance of a Milonga,  it was necessary to know those whom were very respected, those who danced  the most, those who thought the most, because the ambiance of the Milonga today  is not the same as the past, it is completely different.

The man is different he is not the same, the woman neither, the codes were very important, there were rules that you had to respect, the man the role of macho, and the woman her femininity.  My observation was that of a common Milonguero, respect and be respected, I was very respected for my conduct, everyone in their place.

 6. Do you remember when you first asked a lady to dance?  How did it go?

NO, no I don't remember. Too many years have past in my life and many dancers that I can not say.  Of Course that when one dances for the first time, you feel nervous and things turn out more wrong than right.

7. I heard that in old days men practiced with men.  Did you practice with men too?  Or is that something happened way back in the past?  If so which decade was that?    

Yes, I learned with men and I would go to practicas between men.  One of the places that I practiced was "Deportivo de Barraca" it was on Velez Sarfield street at 300.  And other places I don't remember the locations, in Pompeya in the club "Flecha de Oro" (Golden Arrow).  The Tango and the practica craze were in the 50's and 60's.

8. In Facundo’s interview, he said Milonguero made his students walk for months.  Was the walking done alone or with a partner?  Were there more men in practicas?  

Let’s see in parts, in the practicas there were no women, the ability to try to walk well in Tango was fundamental.  The ones who knew the most would insist that you practice your base and then your sequences.  The practicas were only for men, and then what you learned you would use in the milongas with women.

 9. I heard that people used to go to practicas more, and it was not popular to take workshops.  Why is that?

No, the people would go to the Milongas in the local clubs, the mothers would bring the girls, the dances were very nice in those times, "very family oriented".

You would dance in the families’ houses, one week in each place, you would unite all the nearing neighborhoods, it was another time and respect was fundamental.

Workshops were referred as "academies”, but in the 40’s until the 80’s it was looked bad upon to be a tango teacher and to have academies.

I suffered many years the rejection for being a Tango teacher, primarily the society, the municipal and political authorities condemned you.  The police would treat you like a Gigolo for being a teacher and the women as prostitutes.  Thanks to the explosion of Tango in the 70’s abroad, things changed and it was recognized more as a dance.

10. Even practicas were more popular, you have started the tango school with Antonio Todaro.  Why is that? Was the school for professionals?  Please tell me about the school.

No, practicas were different from tango schools.  There were no teachers in the practicas, only the ones in love of the dance and this was the best tribute that one could toast.  Dancing and transmitting what one knew to the ones that knew less.

The schools were something different, they charged a monthly fee to learn with teachers, and you paid the dancers that worked in the studio to practice.

I started with maestros in 1960 in the ACADEMIA DOPAZO located in Avenida Rivadavia 2669 Capital.  There I met A.Todaro and we worked different schedules for 3 years.  Then we opened our own tango academies, our partnership lasted 17 years.  The first academy was TODARO-BRAVO in Rivadavia and Misiones street, the second was located Rivadavia and Rojas.  We closed them in 1980 and we continued working separately.

11. You are known as a master of exhibition tango dancer.  Historically, when did exhibitions in Milongas start?  Were there any exhibitions back then when all the orchestras (Di Sarli, D’Arienzo and all others) were playing in the dance halls?  Who were performing then? 

I started, but I don’t know when.   All of the sudden I was working and performing, little by little.  My first performance was with Juan Drienzo’s Orchestra in Colombia (1960).  Between 1955 and 1960 I had won 3 tango competitions some which lasted 4 months. The 1st organized by la Confiteria(café) “Domino” in Suipacha and Lavalle street.  The 2nd competition was in Confiteria (café) Siglo XX, in Corrientes y Uruguay, and the 3rd witch lasted 3 months “La Casa Del Tango”. 

Of course all the orchestras played in cafes and clubs , the dancers in he 40’ and after , including “Tim” one of the best dancers in history, Jorge Marques y Lilian, Los Mendez, El Mixto, Lalo Bello,  El tarila, Lavandina, Arturito and then later came , Juan Carlos Copes, Eduardo Aquimbau, Virulazo, Todaro,  Kalisay.  The last ones are from my generation. 

It was common to dance with a live orchestra. Some of the places still exist.  The clubs that were hired for carnivals, live orchestras were able to hold a larger capacity of people.

12. I heard that those orchestras played around in many neighborhoods.  Did they play on weekends only, or weekdays too?

The orchestras played generally on the weekends, in the neighborhoods or provinces close to Buenos Aires.  During the week, they played in the Confiterias (cafés) or performed on radio stations.

13. To have a full orchestra in the dance hall, I guess the hall had to be very big.  Do those dance halls still exist today?

The Salons of that era, where people danced, were relatively big for the amount of dancers, who visited, let’s not forget that the population quadrupled.  There are still Salons that are places to dance, for example:  Salon Augusteo, Salon Reduccci, Centro Italiano, Salon San Jose, Centro de Almacenero, Centro Gallego and many more that do not come to my mind.

14. When were Canning, Almagro, Sunderland, and all the famous Milonga started?  Did they invite the orchestras too? 

15. When did milongas start to have DJs, using recorded music?  Were they playing records?   Were there tandas and cortinas, too?

14. – 15. Lets go by parts, Salon Canning and Almagro Club were products after the 70s,  not like Sunderland that was a neighborhood institution of Urquiza with many years of Tango life.

Of Course, all the Salons brought orchestras, some brought orchestras that were less popular, but with very good musicians, that later became famous and very popular.

The recorded music started after the crisis in our blessed Argentina, the budgets started shrinking for the orchestras and the orchestras started cutting down on musicians.

The dances were overtaken by mainstream and Jazz or tropical music, and in between the sets recorded tango music would be played (a span of 30 minutes).

16. In the 70’s, tango was not danced much.  Were you sill going to Milongas?  How often?  What kind of places did people go to dance?  What was Milongas like then? 

In the 70’s the tango for the milongueros never stopped, there were always milongas, aside from all the obstacles the military implemented, the tango cantinas opened up, I’ll name a few:  “El Plumerillo”, Cantina “La Amistad”, “La Payanca” “El Farolito”, “El Ricon De Los Artistas”, “Vostango” which we can not forget if you claim to know the history of Tango.

In the 70s you would go dance tango and you didn’t know if you would end up in the precinct or central booking.

17. How did tango and people come back to milongas in the 80’s?

People began dancing Tango after the 80s because the dictatorship ended and we discovered our identity, and bye to the prohibition, enthusiastically tango places reopened and the Department of Culture recognized the music and dance.

18. What do you like about milongas now and what do you miss from the past?

I don’t miss the pass. I lived the past and enjoyed it.  I can not give my opinion now because I don’t frequent milongas.  Maybe once in a while I’ll go because I’m invited. But not that often.


19. How did tango changed thought out today? What do you feel about the changes?

 What changed the tango?? The tango is still tango. There are always crazy and revolutionary people in every aspect of life, but it is what it should be ….. Tango.  If you want to jump …jump.  If you want to show that this dance is machismo, sweetness, passion, “show it”.  It’s not about who does more tricks or the one who jumps the highest, it is about embracing the body in front of you, and to feel that you are dancing.

20. What do you enjoy the most when you dance tango?

 In my years of youth I enjoyed a lot, because I danced a little, but I felt a lot through the music of my preferred orchestras. And the tango lyrics reflected my state of being(Love), which is what one lives in there youth. 


21. Why tango is beautiful for you?

 Everything that concerns my world is in tango, it is inexplicable, love, pain, friends, dreams, dance, want etc…


22. What is the most important thing when you dance?

 Enjoy the music and respect the times


23. What makes the dance beautiful?

 Simplicity and respect everyone else on the dance floor


24. How could we become “Good Mironguero”?

 You are born with that, you can not teach something you are not.  It does not matter how much you study, the impertinences, education, the importance is the values and codes.


25. Is there anything else that you would like to mention to us?

 No… the tango has already been invented, we have to try to preserve it. 


26. What is your wish for the future of Argentine Tango?

 To have rational critics, musicians and dancers to represent us worldwide.


27. Do you have any message to us?

I don’t give advice.  I can only thank-you from my heart, for being a person whom reflects through our dance from New York, many hours away by plane from our lovely Argentina and whom worries about preserving the magic of Tango.  Thanks. Thanks. My respect and a lovely hand shake.

Raul Bravo

(Interviewed in May 2009)


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