This weekend we took a 4 hour canyengue workshop with Marta & Manolo. We had taken a dozen classes with them in years past, but of course we forgot most of it. Tango teachers count on people’s almost complete lack of recall; it keeps them in business!
Marta Antón & El Gallego Manolo have been dancing tango all their lives. They specialize in canyengue, a dance which preceded tango. Canyengue was danced by prostitutes and other riff-raff like sailors and stevedores in dockside cabarets and in the arrabales (sketchy areas on the edge of town) in the early 1900s. In the old days it was considered sinfully provocative and sensual; in other words, body contact. The word canyengue is of African descent, with the ye pronounced porteño style; blacks in Buenos Aires pronounced it caniengue. The term caminar canyengue (canyengue walk) comes from the way the tough guys of the era walked. Like, the ultra cool arrogant strut. If you got it, flaunt it! This type of walking is also called caminar arrabalero (the arrabales, as I mentioned, being the old neighborhoods, the fringes of BsAs back in the day, like Tita Merello in the movie Arrabalera ). You have to understand that, in tango, walking is not just walking. A good tango walk is worth its weight in gold. Everything else is built upon the walk. I’m talking about a grounded, fluid walk. It shouldn’t be any different from your normal walk, so long as you’re not a penguin.
Marta & Manolo have their own style of teaching. They never line you up and have you do exercises, and they hardly ever put guys on one side & girls on the other, practicing the respective footwork until it’s time to try it out together. No, they just tell you to start dancing and they come around and help you out more or less randomly. It’s not a teaching style that works really well for everybody, but it does provide some 1-1 teacher time, which is of course extremely useful.
We have also had the opportunity to study with Facundo Posadas whom, as you tangueros know, also dances canyengue and talks about its history.
Facundo is about the same age as Manolo who is in his 70s and has been dancing canyengue (and tango) since he was a slick kid from the barrio (gallego means Spaniard). If you listen to canyengue you will recognize it as older versions of tangos that you already know from the 1930s, 40s & 50s. In Buenos Aires you can go to milongas where people dance canyengue. MOCCA is the acronym of their community: Movimiento Cultural Canyengue Argentino, and Marta & Manolo are its founders.
Marta & Manolo spent 11 years touring all over the world, from 2000 to 2011. They lived and taught in Hanover, Germany for 4 of those years, where Marta learned to speak German. She also speaks Italian, a little English, and even less French. Despite being in their 70s Marta & Manolo still teach several days a week, like our friends back home, Norm & Anne Tiber. Before they taught at EAT (the Escuela Argentina de Tango) they were teaching at another dance studio (there’s lots in Buenos Aires. More dance studios per capita than any other city in the world! I think). Octavio, the jefe of the tango school, was telling me the other day that he happened to walk into their class when it was just ending, in the midst of fervent applause and tears from the 25 or 30 students. “Qué pasa?” he asked. The students explained that Marta & Manolo were dancing the way they remembered their parents and grandparents dancing, The kids were overwhelmed with a sweet mix of appreciation, nostalgia and full hearts.
I had the same feeling today. Ben and I, and another student (a Brit on her way home from the Middle East), were listening to Manolo talk about how it was in his day, growing up with tango in the 1950s. He said they really dressed up in those days. They wore jackets and ties; they were really dapper and fastidious. Their toughest critics were older brothers and cousins. When Manolo would get dressed to go to a milonga, his older brother’s friends would look him over. “Nene,” (kid, baby) they would say, poking him in the shoulder, “you better look sharp!” Before looking around to ask a girl to dance, he would straighten his tie, check his cuffs, trousers, hair; then he would give the cabeceo, the “dance with me?” nod to the girl. He always kept a folded handkerchief sprinkled with cologne in his left palm, between his hand and the girl’s. When the dance was over, he would escort her off the dance floor back to her seat. And if he danced more than 4 or 5 dances with the same girl, the older brothers’ friends would come up to him, poke him in the shoulder: “You better watch out, nene, her cousins saw you dancing with her!” But before he began going to milongas, his older brothers and cousins made him pass his “exams.” They invited one of their girlfriends, a seasoned milonguera (tango dancer) over to the house. Manolo had to dance with her. He was terrified! He was so frozen up he could hardly dance! She was a good sport, though, and he finally loosened up enough to dance her adequately around the pista (dance floor). Finally, he could tag along to the milongas, and not embarrass himself or his family.
Manolo said that the first time he ever danced with Marta, almost 40 years ago, he was really intimidated. But when the dance was over, she looked at him and said, “Eres el mejor!” (“You’re the best!”) His heart melted! But she apparently played it cool, because it took him another 16 years to win her over. Once, after one of her tango performances, he presented her with six (6!) dozen roses. Evidently, she wasn’t too impressed with him at that moment; she tossed the roses in the trash! Years later, during an interview in Spain, the incident of the six dozen roses came up. How did Manolo feel when she deconstructed his offering? “La muy hija de puta!” he said. No need to translate that, my readers know their bad words in Spanish. The Spanish paper wrote: “when Manolo says ‘hijo de puta!’ it’s a term of endearment!”
When Marta heard him telling the story today, she walked over and joined us. Manolo was positively radiating from the telling. His outburst of feeling was contagious, and my eyes filled with tears. “Porque lloras?” he asked me. (“Why are you crying?”) Marta asked me if I was okay; they were really concerned for a few seconds. I told them it was just tears of joy feeling their happiness! Everyone laughed and Manolo said that a person who allows themself to express their genuine feelings is very fortunate. And now I feel like part of the family… we have laughed and cried together.
The last advice Manolo offered, (and this is not just for you guys out there, the same goes for us girls, I think…) is that a man has to marry twice. The first time is to practice, and the second time to enjoy. Practice being a good partner, and hopefully you’ll get it right the second time around (or the 3rd or 4th . time?). And speaking of practice, when Ben & I get decent enough at canyengue, I’ll post a photo! I promise! We are also taking a really fun Chacarera and Zamba class on Thursday nights: stay tuned for more! (note: Zamba is not Zumba!)
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Over and Out from Tangolandia! Ciao!