Sergio Criscolo

Petróleo - Interview to a dancer

t the time of this interview, Petróleo was nearly 80 years old, born in 1912 he started to dance in 1928. He was a bank clerk for 36 years, and lived in the neighborhood of Villa Devoto. In 1988, he gave up dancing because of an ailment in his knees, since then he is living of dreams.

«I was called Petróleo because I used to drink too much wine. I was a drunkard. It´s been a time I´m having fizzy drinks, but it is worse, it rusts.

«I was always fond of uncomplicated tango. I changed tango dancing. I invented the turn, the contrafrente, the change of postures, the boleos.

«Furthermore, I separated sex from dancing. Some time before, a man was after a leg not a female dancer, to squeeze not to dance. I was after dancing.

«Getting to know your dancing partner through rehearsals is very important, in such a way one knows the handling.

«I met my best partner, with whom I later lived, at a ballroom, it was in 1930, her name was Esperanza Díaz. We rehearsed a lot. We danced together until 1949 and one year later she was gone. Congratulations! I didn´t want any other.

«When there was some show I got on together with la negra Martita who used to dance at the Agusteo, on Sarmiento and Uruguay streets, also at Unione e Benevolenza, which was round the corner and the owner was the same person.

«In Villa Devoto I danced at the Club Rosa de Abril and in Villa Urquiza, at many ones: Pinocho, Sin Rumbo, etc.

«At the club Atlanta I met Juan Carlos Copes who then was around twenty.

«In the dancing parlors dancing with corte was forbidden, if we did somebody would come near and tell us: "Go to the ticket office" and there we were recommended or dismissed. We were called compadritos.

«There were times when we, the dancers, organized balls for prisoners when they were released. In reality, those who danced tango were all thieves or would-be thieves. If one had been imprisoned for a year, each one put ten or twenty pesos until collecting five hundred and handed them to him so he could start walking again. When the police began to appear at those parties we stopped organizing them.

«Around 1930, there were made parties which lasted a week. For la Parda Lucia´s birthday, Nicolás' partner (El Buchón, because of his breast shape like that of a pigeon) a milonga was held in Parque Petricios. As usual, there they went cirujas (tramps), pickpockets, cart drivers and milongueros. The dancing ground was made with a canvas stolen from the railroad company, one of those used to cover the train cars. We stretched it on the floor and scrubbed it with a candle to wax it and to achieve a better sliding. Everybody helped with some peso for the wine and meat for the barbecue. The women were cabaret covergirls, whores, shop thieves. When somebody was sleepy, he lay down on a mattress of those we placed there and slept a couple of hours. The seventh day we held a tango tournament.

«Among us there was too much competition, we did not talk to each other. The dancer is selfish, he thinks he´s the best. I thought I was the best.

«I liked one called Mendieta, he was phenomenal. El vasco Orradre was the best to interpret Juan D'Arienzo´s orchestra. A guy called Méndez stood out with the figures, he was very fast with his feet. El Cachafaz was good, but there were better ones. Virulazo was also good, he danced in Antonio Todaro´s way, who is the same teacher who taught Miguel Ángel Zotto, the one I like most among the new because he has a handsome posture.

«I met Carlos Gardel at the 25 de Mayo theater of Villa Urquiza, undoubtedly, the best singer. He was good because he told you what he felt. But he didn´t know dancing, he made a few steps, he was maleta (clumsy), besides being somewhat fat.

«One can learn to dance, but there is a lot of work to be done and also one has to feel the music. Tango does not come all of a sudden. I was taught by a professional, Navarro, he gave me his steps, later I made up mine.

«Tango is a refrained emotion which later bursts. It can´t be said tango is danced this way or the other, one dances it as one feels it, it´s a creation.

«Tango is a sad feeling, it´s true, but at times it depends on how the orchestra takes it. My preferred orchestra was Carlos Di Sarli´s and, when Anselmo Aieta had his, he was a terrific musician.

«I never went out on tour because I had my work at the bank, but even though I made about two thousand exhibitions.

«My dream always was to dance better than anyone. I invented many figures, I transformed tango, but I ought to have made more. I lacked inspiration to create true tango. Today I would do it differently. As each tango lasts three minutes, I would divide it into a prologue, a development and an epilogue.

«Besides tango I had a craze for playing the horses, I was going to the races everyday, I won a lot and lost a lot.

«When I retired from the bank I sold my house and with that money I went on betting on horses. What did I want it for? Tangos, races and some woman. You don't have to take life seriously. I lived as I wanted to. You can live seriously with work and honesty, but it's not so funny.

«One has to live his dreams, there´s the truth».

Published in the magazine La Maga, on 6 May 1992.