Irene Amuchástegui

Confessions by Puppy Castello

e is one of those men who, when they step on the track dancing sharply, go on being so witty and funny just like five minutes before, when they were sprinkling the dancers with hilarious epithets from a nearby table. He possesses a devil’s laughter and a strong voice that he likes to thunder above the music for the joy of his friends and which means a shock for foreigners and unwary people. This, not precisely at all, discreet personality exacerbates a kind of gift for ubiquity which he has.

It is a challenge for any aficionado remembering an evening at any of the many milongas porteñas that are held in which Puppy Castello had not been present, with his porteño swagger, hands in his pockets, cigarette butt in his mouth and his reddened face.

A sort of amazing metamorphosis takes place in Puppy when he wakes up late at noon, in his home in the neighborhood of Balvanera and is dressed with T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and slippers, turned into a venerable father and grandfather. He sits beside the little table where the turned on tape recorder is waiting and says:

— Well. What do I have to say?

— How is your family?

— They tolerate me, they must be freaks: my wife, my children, boy and girl, and three grandchildren.

— Have you ever taught your wife to dance?

— No! Otherwise we would have broken up twenty times. This year we’ll be married for forty-six years. She stays here with Malevo (the dog), watches TV and knits for her grandchildren.

— Where did you begin to dance?

— In San Fernando. I danced the first tango with Margarita. She was in an all-black gang, the Negro Cadilla’s gang.

— How did you learn at that time?

— Like in the beginnings of tango. In practices, they were all men. Firstly, they taught you to dance as a woman, which is a great advantage because you experience how you are led, how they hint at you.

— Did that stage of the learning (dancing as a woman) last long?

— Oh, yes, in some cases you were almost falling in love —here he laughs for the witty remark—-. When I was a kid we lived for dancing. We used to meet at three in the afternoon at my place —my Mom made an infusion with maté (mate cocido)—, and we practiced. Later we went to the practice with a teacher and, in the evening, with suit and tie, to the dance hall.

— Was it difficult to become popular at balls?

— When I was eighteen nobody knew me in Urquiza. But in Boulogne, which was of a low level, I was a sort of little star. I danced a little but I wore good clothes and was very good looking, then I ‘hunted’. The girl that best danced in Boulogne was named Betty. Everybody wanted to take her dancing. But they all had been rejected until I arrived.

— Was it customary to hold your partner at a greater distance?

— Now they dance wide apart, at that time we didn’t. Now some dance by telephone. (He laughs again)

— Now you teach dancing and are about to travel to Paris with a show, but you always danced for the sake of dancing, didn’t you?

— Yes, Danza maligna is the name of the show. It’s only dancing. No plot with immigrants, French little whores, like many other proposals.

— Would you have liked to lead a whole life as professional dancer like Juan Carlos Copes or Miguel Ángel Zotto?

— No! Being onstage is a tough job for me. But yes, Copes is my idol as dancer. I know him from the time when he was not an artist: he was phenomenal. As artist he showed tango worldwide more than anybody else.

— And what about Virulazo?

— The producers were very cunning. They placed him who weighed a hundred and twenty kilos and soon became tired. They placed Los Bórquez who were like a screw on the stage. They showed all the facets. I didn’t like Virulazo onstage.

— How do you see heads of company like Miguel Ángel Zotto or Mora Godoy on the dancing track?

— Miguel, on the stage, steals the show. On the track he is like anyone else. Mora is bad on the track.

— Do you dance with foreign women?

— Just in order to later give them classes.

— What do you like most of the milonga?

— I like everything. I go from one table to another, as if I were working as a hostess in a cabaret. But now I’m half bored: for fifty years I’ve been going to the milonga and I always find the same players.

— How do you spend your days?

— I get up at half past one or two pm. If I have a class, I teach and if I don’t, I go to bed again.

Published in the Clarín journal, on February 27, 2003.