Francisco García Jiménez

Challenge for Dancers

he beginning of Firpo, Bazán and Postiglione at Hansen´s coincided with an event which shocked the tango environment. They had the responsibility of adding the basic musical ingredient when there El Pardo Santillán, from Palermo, and El Cachafaz, from el Abasto, put the best of each other at a famous challenge in dancing abilities. Santillán was the choreographic credit of tango at Hansen’s. And, virtually, of all the huge Palermo area which even reached the borders with La Recoleta, encompassing the real state which belonged to the today-demolished National Penitenciary. These were turbid places, where "badmen" were proud of their famous dancer, and they said that «as soon as Santillán made a corte around North, the news were spread around South»…

El Cachafaz (Benito Bianquet, on his papers) arrived at Palermo from the A.B.C. salon, in the neighborhood of el Abasto, center of his prowesses, which already expanded towards all the directions of «la milonga». His erect slim figure was not completely ugly in spite of his pock-marked face. The natural elegance of his dancing movements was interrupted in raptures of the devilish sparkling of his feet, gaiter-shaped in varnished black kidskin with gray suede leg and military heel.

El Cachafaz appeared in Palermo without partner. As usual, a brave loyal friend was behind him, he was known as El Paisanito. Santillán, who was at a table surrounded by friends, saw them coming in as intruders. Some time elapsed. Tangos followed one after another. All of a sudden, el pardo stood up and stepped out to dance with his partner. El Cachafaz, motionless and quiet until then, glanced around and saw a lonesome woman. He made a nod to her. The woman said yes with her head and walked towards him. Embraced to dance a tango they stepped out to follow the dancers’ path. There was among them something like an ordering voice, unheard, which made them exclude themselves out of the dancing floor, until leaving only those two at issue.

On the field roosters can be tried. Troy was burnt on Hansen’s wooden floor. To an embellished «corrida» by El Pardo, El Cachafaz answered with imagined figures and solved them «on the spur of the moment» and transmitted them to the spontaneous understanding of the unknown partner. Defeated once and again, el pardo Santillán lost space. In reality, El Cachafaz more than a dancer, was a sorcerer! About his dancing «cortes» a legendary fame has spread, similar to the fighting «visteo» of Juan Moreira.

There was intention of quarrel, on the side of Santillán's people . El Paisanito jumped into the dancing floor pulling out the «fiyingo», that knife with thin blade and very sharp edge which those «guapos» (tough men) wore under the left armpit, in the opening of the waistcoat. It was not the vain intent to be courageous against so many. El Paisanito finished his daring deed with another no less spectacular. He threw the «fiyingo» with its sharp end directed to the floor, tensely nailing it, and shouted to his friend:

—Give them the sweet!

El Cachafaz gave it to them. If the Montevidean milonguero negro —according to Rossi— seemed to dance «on the deck of a ship sailing in a stormy sea», let us imagine El Cachafaz as the very metaphoric ship amongst whirling waves, swaying to and fro his partner postures. A funnel of the fantastic whirlwind was the knife nailed into the floor and, close to it, El Cachafaz's feet multiplying a hundred electrifying ornaments, «shaving» the trousers bottom in the sharp steel.

This happening drew to the top El Cachafaz's fame and darkened that of Pardo's. Because on that occasion the news spread from north to south —and vice versa!— showed four convincing reasons:

—El Cacha defeated them with tango, with knife, without partner… and without gang.

So the Abasto dancer was eponym of a tango which as a tribute Aróztegui composed, that of “El apache argentino”.

Excerpt from the book El Tango, historia de medio siglo, 1880/1930, by Francisco García Jiménez, Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1964. Excerpted by Guillermo Bosovsky.