(September 6 1938)
Full name: María Nieves Rego
|The Legs of Tango
María Nieves Rego, daughter of humble Galician emigrants is another tango fruit of those tenement houses with their laziness of backyard and small rooms where poverty was sheltered and where dreams collided with the struggle that daily life demanded. Her father died at a young age and because of that she had to leave the small room where she lived with her two brothers, her two sisters and her mom to work as a maid in the neighborhood of La Boca despite she was almost a child. So far away from her home in Saavedra she had to take three buses and to stay working the whole week until Saturday afternoon when she came back home. She had to quit grammar school in the 4th grade.
Her older sister, "La Ñata" -an outstanding dancer-, would make her discover soon that fascinating world of tango and its contents of mysteries. She, together with another friend, Alicia, would make her get used to the dancehalls early.
She was 15, longing for suffering and loving, for a desire to be successful downtown... Then a inexperienced and daring young dancer, that she later would know that his name was Juan Carlos Copes, discovered her at the Estrella of Maldonado and was captivated by her beautiful body of teen-ager.
"Gals danced with him because he was good-looking, he did not even know how to walk..." she said. He invited her with a head movement but she looked downwards: "If I dared to dance with a guy my sister would kill me. I just went there to accompany her and Alicia".
Curiously, the first and only time that they danced at that club was on an evening that Francini-Pontier played with Rufino and Podestá as vocalists. "La Ñata" taught her her art, she was then 15, she was coming back from her exile in La Boca, she ironed the same clothes she wore as maid and got on her super sport illusion to comply with the rite of codifying cortes and quebradas accompanied by her sister and her loyal group of friends.
That good-looking dark-haired man had begun his pursuit and would join the Saavedra gang, even though he was from Villa Pueyrredón, in order to achieve his purpose of conquering the little girl of beautiful figure and long legs. The story would derive into a impetuous romance that "La Ñata" would finally approved of. Copes foresaw he had found her definitive muse and tango had met the great dancing team of its history.
The dancing fever would unite them and the wide story of their embellished twisting and turning that had a respect for the spirit of the cadence would reach downtown after gigs at clubs and cheap saloons and a contest at the Luna Park that they won. Juan D'Arienzo and Fangio were members of the board at that contest that attracted renowned milongueros. Years later the former would tell the already famous María Nieves: "It was incredible how you danced that evening. We had previously arranged to vote for a couple, but you danced like two mother-fuckers and were acclaimed by the whole audience... It was great!"
Copes had improved and his tough ambition had no limits. He put together the Conjunto Juvenil, with ten pairs of milongueros that appeared in amateur exhibitions and drew the attention of Carlos Petit, a Chilean impresario who run the mythical Nacional, the theater of variety shows. There the Conjunto would make their debut alongside characters such as Stray, Severo Fernández, Margarita Padín or Alfredo Barbieri. "We were such brazen people" -remembers María-, "We didn't even know how to stand up and I was quite embarrassed when I looked around to salute..." By then I used to wear a flared skirt, a wide belt squeezing my waist -Divito's girls fashion-, a small neckerchief and a haircut copied from Gina Lollobrigida who had shortly visited Buenos Aires.
Soon later they started to also gig across the street, at the luxurious cabaret Ta-Ba-Ris, where even cover girls appeared elegant and with jewels. Then the vedette Juanita Martínez -wife of the comic actor José Marrone-, told her about the convenience of wearing high-heeled satin shoes to highlight her figure, because she still wore low-heeled shoes and even bristol board eyelashes that she made and attached with glue on her eyelids. And at daybreak, after the luminescence of applause, she had to walk up Corrientes to wait for the 60 bus, on her way back home to Saavedra, while he enamored liberal vedettes.
Success would awake them up: Copes looked up to Gene Kelly and María decided to be the Cyd Charisse of Buenos Aires, despite their goals did not mean leaving their neighborhood. The dancer's desires, his dreams, would come true achieving much more than what he had imagined. The artistry of the dancing partners would reach beyond the corral of frontiers, and opening the gates for the drowsy tango, they went up north along America up to Broadway in 1959.
At the beginning they underwent many deprivations, but success would award the beautiful, sensual designs that they displayed on the United States venues, accompanied by an Astor Piazzolla that was still looking for his destiny. Copes would turn out into the "latin lover" of the American "high society" and his love affairs continued endlessly. They were starred at the Ed Sullivan Show, the U.S. TV welcomed them, as well as Las Vegas and even Ronald Reagan invited them to the White House to dance for his birthday.
A wonderful world clouded by the frequent tears of María Nieves because of his infidelities and because her mother was far from her. "She fled from poverty in Spain and she was never able to return to her hometown in Galicia. I was afraid that the same would happen to me because my tours lasted 2 or 3 years... Instead of enjoying my success, I suffered madly..." - María confessed. The crazy compass of her heart tied her to this man. They were the greatest rhythmical cell of dancing tango. They were sweethearts, lovers, couple, spouses, divorced ones... "We married in Las Vegas, especially because of my mother... He also loved her very much, but soon we broke up and for good..."
The show Tango Argentino, that they joined, showed to the world that the seed they had sown, at last had sprouted, behind the blurred hole of the past. Peeled off by the passing of time, the couple broke up. Copes now dances with Johanna, a daughter that he does not feel as his own, fruit of, probably, a brief affair. He married again and has two other daughters.
Wrapped up in the mist of legend, the marquees bring back María Nieves framed like a sparkling star in the show "Tanguera". "I'll not show my little legs as before...", she whispers with a hint of nostalgia in the sack of her soul.
Fifty years later she appeared on the stage of the Nacional theater, just like when she was an inexperienced girl with humble ambitions raised in a tenement house.
Memories are the stokers of imagination that drove me to descend the stairs of the tango venue Caño 14, on 975 Talcahuano Street, in the 70s. There I drunk a pair of whiskies, was touched by Troilo's bandoneon, shaken by the numbers that "Polaco" Goyeneche sang -the latter was neighbor and friend of María's brothers in Saavedra-, or by Francini's violin and "danced" with Copes and María Nieves.
I admit that some evening I envied the "Negro" Copes because he had such a dancing partner and the swinging dance of her skirt sprang up lustful dreams on all of us.
She was and shall be an idol. When she is asked about Copes, the woman and the dancer open their hearts and undress their souls forever: "If I have to say something about him, is that he was a son of a bitch with me, but there will never be a male dancer like Juan Carlos Copes". Nor one like you. I say. I affirm.
Note published in the Madrid magazine "Gilda. Mujeres en el tango", of March 2003.