Néstor Pinsón

About dancers and teachers

ith something from habanera, a bit from fandango, a little from milonga and candombe, so tango was being born. Somebody said that tango is «guacho» (orphan), and it is true, it has no father.

The phenomenon takes place nearly at the same time on both margins of the River Plate. Either Montevideo or Buenos Aires saw it grow and develop, and it began to be danced at sordid “peringundines”, very poor locals near the ports.

As time went by, these dancing places were becoming polished and arrived at the neighborhoods as Academies of Tango, public salons, small rooms in the neighborhood and courtyards of neighboring houses, some warehouse ready for the event and even some wasteland where the surface was cleared of undergrowth and the ground was smoothed.

Other ones appeared trying to be different from the former, a very low cost admission was charged, with professional pretentiousness. One of these had Enrique Saborido —composer of “La morocha” and “Felicia”— as owner, a good dancer and pianist, who taught to dance tango on 1070 Cerrito street, an area of aristocratic mansions and near the place where another expert used to teach: Juan Carlos Herrera.

There were dancers of different rank and qualities. The shows of that one known by the nickname La Lora are remembered. He was like a circus acrobat because of his style plenty of queer contortions.

One of the early outstanding dancing partners were El Mocho and La Brasilera, whose artistic name was Los Undarz, it was said that all the physical display was on her part, while his partner El Mocho led her soberly for her spotlighting, all which drove the audience to be highly enthusiastic.

Among the theater stages, the first renowned names were, among others, Los Lento (The slow ones), who due to their facility, had nothing in connection with their name. Also the partners Los Silva, who danced a more stylized tango, in passages of many national works. The same happened with the above mentioned Juan Carlos Herrera who was hired by the luxurious Bristol Hotel of Mar del Plata (the principal seaside resort city) for the summer seasons, and among the stylized tangos he interspersed gavottes and other similar dances, but he soon realized that they bore the audience, so he made his steps move in a more agile beat, closer to the dance from the outskirts.

Another stylized and very peculiar dancer, who died in Buenos Aires on December 28, 1988, was the Count Juan Eugenio Chikoff. He belonged to the Russian nobility and was exiled in Paris; he came to Argentina in the twenties. He was very close to the high society, and his presence was frequent at the luxurious salons in Mar del Plata at the summer season.

The Catalonian pianist Manuel Jovés —composer of “Patotero sentimental” and “Nubes de humo”— dedicated a tango titled Chikoff to him.

Another of the interesting teachers of our urban dance was Manuel Crespo, he mastered, as few others, the tango for salon and tango from the outskirts. He was elegant, precise in his displacements, a creator of original figures that neither made mistakes nor had doubts, but the perfection of his labor turned out cold for the audience.

Other memorable instructors, now forgotten, were: Vicente Garyuli, devoted to fantasy and outskirts tango; Guillermo Campos, who outstood dancing tango for salon; Pepito Avellaneda, who played outskirts tango dancing and was one of the few professionals in milonga porteña.

Another outstanding figure was Manuel Silva, of elegant style, a dance instructor for the high society in the twenties at the Club Mar del Plata, he joined the theater companies headed by Blanca Podestá, Muiño-Alippi, Arata-Simari-Franco, that were the most important of his time. He also teamed up with the actress and singer Tita Merello at the premiere of Francisco Canaro's “Milongón”. He had a distinguished figure and was perfect in the performance of his cortes and quebradas.

Other important dancers were Juan José Magnasco, a specialist in all the beats in vogue and Roberto Osvaldo Grassi, El Pibe del Abasto, who was devoted to teaching for nearly fifty years and who was Hugo del Carril's advisor for the film La Cumparsita (premiered on August 20, 1947 in Buenos Aires).

On other movie, Mi noche triste (premiered on January 3, 1952), he played the part for the actor Jacinto Herrera's legs and feet.

Since the late seventies Grassi was in charge of teaching tango dancing at the Club Alemán (German Club), was instructor at the Liceo Francés (French Lyceum) and also gave lessons to various of the members of the diplomatic staff until 1986.

This brief enumeration of dancers and tango instructors, very modestly, aims at expressing the importance that those special characters had on the creation, teaching and widespreading of tango which, either at its beginnings or nowadays, based great part of its success in the dance, the only one in which the partners embrace each other to perform it.