Juan Manuel Peña

A crowded tango ball at the La Rural (1932)

n January 2, 1932 a great tango ball was held in the facilities of the Sociedad Rural Argentina located in front of Plaza Italia in the neighborhood of Palermo which was attended by around forty thousand people. On Wednesday December 30, 1931 La Nación newspaper announced it this way: «Tango will be played in the open air... There will be a great show on January 2 at the La Rural», and the article closed as follows: «Tangos of the earlier periods shall be included together with the newest ones». The show was staged within the frame of the 31th Room of the Automobile (XIII Salón del Automóvil).

And the La Prensa journal on January 1 also spread the news by mentioning the tango numbers and players that would appear at the event. And the note was finished with the following sentence: «The party will have an entirely popular character». The admission fee was one peso.

In fact, after the initiative of the author and poet Enrique Santos Discépolo the show entitled La Historia del Tango en dos horas (The history of tango in two hours) opened. As it is rightly defined by Sergio Pujol, «…one of the first attempts in our country of building a coherent and synthetic account of the evolution of popular music in Buenos Aires».

In an interview made by La Nación, Discépolo said, among other concepts: «The show to which I devote my best efforts and most of my time has for objective, within an adequate framework and with the reasonable fee of one peso per seat, to bring entertainment but at the same time recall, in the most faithful and chronological way as possible, the evolution that tango, our national dance, has experienced from its beginnings…» and adds «Tango is a dance in which faces are almost touching, hands are tightly held, glances are restless… Tango means, as a whole, an ardent fervor and manly enthusiasm…».

Discépolo worked to raise the prestige of the music of the city that, born in the outskirts, had risen in its career and had ended up conquering the aristocratic salons of Paris and Buenos Aires. With no doubts and not at all far from reality, the poet stated that any subject in life could be expressed in a tango lyric, a romance with lyrics and tango music.

Furthermore, and he defined it at the end of the interview, by thinking that in that way «…the foundations of the true criollo show of the future were built: tango theater».

The show at the Sociedad Rural was divided into four periods in an attempt to identify the different stages of the evolution of tango, until that time, with a kind of music. For the first one Discépolo chose “El choclo” by Ángel Villoldo, “El entrerriano” by Rosendo Mendizábal, “Don Juan” by Ernesto Ponzio and “Felicia”(by Enrique Saborido, «…as faithful expression of music without lyrics».

The tangos chosen for the second period «tangos still without lyrics but which made café people weep» were: “El apache argentino” by Manuel Aróztegui, “El chamuyo” by Francisco Canaro, “Rodríguez Peña” by Vicente Greco, “La guitarrita” by Eduardo Arolas, “Argañaraz” by Roberto Firpo and “La payanca” by Augusto Berto.

For the third period, and when tango-song begins to appear, he chose “La cumparsita” by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, “Lorenzo” by Agustín Bardi, “Nueve de Julio” by José Luis Padula, “Milonguita” by Enrique Delfino —to which Discépolo qualified as «tango-axis»—, “El pañuelito” by Juan de Dios Filiberto, “A pan y agua” by Juan Carlos Cobián and “Nunca más” by Francisco Lomuto.

For the fourth, in 1932 it meant the present time, the following were included: “Cenizas” by José María Rizzuti, “Sentimiento gaucho” by Canaro, “Buen amigo” by Julio De Caro, “Cuando llora la milonga” by Filiberto and “Esta noche me emborracho” by Discépolo himself.

The renowned Canaro, De Caro, Filiberto, Lomuto, Donato and Delfino conducted the big orchestra put together for that occasion. Tania sang “Tango mío”, “Madreselva”, “Taconeando” and “Confesión”. La Razón mentioned these four tangos as «tangos of this quarter of an hour».

The Trío Irusta-Fugazot-Demare also appeared with compositions of the present times, that is to say, of the thirties. There is an old and recent memory for each one of those songs.

For the old tango dancing style Casimiro Aín and his partner Odette Boiss were chosen and for modern tango, miss Arcino and the male dancer Miguel Bucino. The scenography of the setting was in charge of López Naguil who had worked before for other tango shows.

La Razón, an evening paper, wrote a long article entitled: «Before thirty thousand people a history of criollo tango was presented last night», in which there was a difference in the number of attendants. And as a subtitle it said: «From Villoldo’s “El choclo” to Discépolo “Confesión”». The article included three big photos: one with the Trío Irusta-Fugazot-Demare, in gaucho costume; other with Francisco Canaro conducting the orchestra and the vocalist Ernesto Famá before the microphone. And a third photo with Casimiro Aín and his dancing partner, Odette Boiss, dancing “El entrerriano”, according to the corresponding epigraphs.

When the curtain was drawn the big orchestra led by maestro Francisco Canaro appeared and the unstable scenography designed by López Naguil collapsed due to a burst of wind.

La Razón said: «Tango is going to parade. For the very short span of two hours it has been necessary to butcher a thousand pieces and a thousand memories. But in no way the numbers included in the program fail to establish the authentic career of its prestigious figure. Tango is going to parade with its cradle of horror and blood… with its flowers of light and its weeping…»

In another section of the chronicle it is mentioned that Discépolo «has promised a history of tango in two hours. A good historian, Enrique Santos Discépolo has limited himself to presenting the documents… In fact, this is the history of tango that Discépolo is planning to write in his dreams». Discépolo was the narrator and master of ceremonies in front of the big orchestra.

And it concludes when the dancing comes to an end with: «…People are sliding towards the exit door. It is a human sea. Flow and ebb tide. The human sea had taken two hours between arriving and leaving».

In this way, and before a large number of people, the validity of tango was expressed once more in the city of its birth in that complex Argentine decade.

La Nación Newspaper. Editions of 30/12/1931, 1/1/1932 and 2/1/1932. Buenos Aires.
La Razón Newspaper. Edition of 1/1/ 1932. Buenos Aires.
Pujol, Sergio: Discépolo. Una biografía argentina. Emecé Editores, Buenos Aires: 1997.
Canaro, Francisco: Mis bodas de hora con el tango. Buenos Aires.