Sunday, February 10, 2008
Article credited to Victor Hernandez...posted by Oleh Kovalchuke (www.tangospring.com) to Tango-L...
The "estilo Villa Urquiza" (the "Villa Urquiza"
To understand what it follows, it will help to
visualize Buenos Aires for what it is: a gigantic
metropolis of mind-bogling proportions and daunting
distances. A puzzle of immigrants, cultures, languages
and communities. When Alberto Castillo sings his
trademark vals hit "Cien barrios" (one hundred
neighborhoods) he is describing exactly "that Buenos
Aires": one hundred "cities", one hundred faces, one
hundred accents, one hundred personalities.
Even in today's world of cars, subways and technology,
it is not infrequent for thousands of portenos to be
born, live, work and die within the borders of his or
her "barrio" and greet each other - immediately after
their names - with their "barrio" co-ordinates. That
information is good enough for the speakers to "set"
and "clarify" with whom they are interacting.
If this is true today, imagine, one hundred years ago,
or even fifty, the "adventure" - and often the risks -
associated with moving from one barrio to another
(from Matadero to Avellaneda, from San Telmo to
Devoto) to live, work, very often to support your
local soccer team, or, to hear a particular tango
orchestra recital or to see first-hand how "good" were
the footwork of legendary and rival "milongueros"
Tango is a culture. In its deep ethnological sense is
the ultimate culture: from the people, by the people,
to the people. It is the real story, in music, lyrics,
movements and emotions, of those arriving by boat (and
by the scores) to La Boca and then moving, with fists
and knives, fast and painfully, to the "barrios" and
"villas" of the metropolis'periphery. Only "el
centro", the rich downtown, was (for a long while,
anyways) off-limits. This is the background to
understand why and how the many different "styles"
Without risking much, for the debate rages since the
beginning of time, it is safe to group the basic Tango
styles into six families (no, the so-called Tango
"Nuevo", does not qualify for the seventh one under
the parameters of this commentary. Sorry), each easily
sub-divided, to the trained eye, in more categories
depending again on when, where and by whom, they were
Thus, "Canyengue", "Liso", "Orillero", "Salon (or the
family clubs)", "Apilado" and "Escenario (or show)"
came to see the light at different times - and often
co-existing with each other. Of course all were Tango,
all embracing, all silent conversation, all emotional
confession, and yet, all different. Each had a reason,
a story, a logic of its own and - very importantly - a
few names of legendary proportions, names pronounced
in whispers and quasi-religious awe.
At the end of the day, as with everything touching
mankind, it was the convergence of necessity and
serendipity plus the magic touch of individual genius
which gave birth to those styles.
The "Canyengue" in times of tight dresses, tight skirts
and other complicated fashion "diktats" forced a style
of small steps, bent knees and side close body contact.
Eventually, fashion relented, allowing with the
"Liso" style a more "easy", more "open" and "walking"
style. One must always keep contact with the floor
("Liso" means "ironed", "straight", often "closing"
and with little fantasy). It was an acceptable and
The "orilleros" (inhabitants of the "orillas", the
edges) had other ideas. Not only space was not a
problem in the big warehouses ("almacenes") where they
danced, but neither were the fixed "rules" of
downtown. The feet started to move away from the floor
in all kind of new tricks and steps, at times in a
rain of pyrotechnics. Some of those improvised
movements, eventually refined, will compose the basis
for many of the circus-like stuff of today's
"Escenario" or "Show" style.
However, none of the above, was allowed or tolerated
in the "family clubs" (small all-purpose venues kept
by the barrios' associations, each with a respectable
dance floor) and where a combination of tango-loving
and rigid social and moral codes imposed a "distance"
between dancers - usually closely watched by family
members - in retrospective, a blessing in disguise,
for that "distance", that "space" is going to allow,
when practiced by the individual genius of the moment,
a whole new array of possibilities. One can safely say
that the Tango moves and rules that we admire in
today's Masters were all taken from the "Salon" style
of those "barrios": Devoto, Avellaneda, Matadero,
There was, though, one very particular "barrio" among
so many, which concerns our story today for the "salon
style" it developed was something incredibly unique.
This barrio is situated north of Buenos Aires
(actually northwest), very far from El Puerto, San
Telmo or La Boca. It extends itself on both sides of
General Urquiza. During the last fifty years, the
finest tango dancers and milongueros that Buenos Aires
has ever produced, were trained in this area.
Historic family clubs like "Sunderland" or "Sin Rumbo"
had their addresses there and benefited from the
genius of "Milonguita", the legendary dancer who never
went up on a stage ("It is not worthy of a real
milonguero") but left his legacy to names like Gerardo
Portalea, EL Turco Jose, "Finito" Ramon Rivera,
"Lampazo" Jose Vazquez, Miguel Balmaceda and of course
"Virulazo", the one and only, who came to New York
with Tango Argentino. Many of them are now gone but
the "Milonguita'style", today known as "Villa Urquiza"
remains with its firm, straight, elegant way of
delivering the foot in long steps, caressing "el piso"
simply and continuously but explosing suddenly, if
need be, in a display of complex figures that the
"open" space between dancers allows. Never losing
embrace, never losing contact.
>From now on, when you hear the expression "los viejos
milongueros" you know now what they are talking about!
Not long ago, the very respectable Buenos Aires
newspaper "El Clarin" published an interview with
somebody named Ricardo Ponce. Not many "milongueros"
know Mr. Ponce by his real name nor by his day job (as
a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance). But just say
his "night" nickname ("El Chino Perico") and I can
guarantee you that you will get some reaction, respect
For El Chino Perico - a legend in his own - is one of
the last masters milongueros. This living bridge
connects today through the Villa Urquiza style
("Milonguita" was his idol and teacher) a whole new
generation of contemporary names perhaps more
"familiar" nowdays. Names like Miguel Angel and
Osvaldo Zotto, Ricardo Herera or Sebastian Misse.
Oh!. We forgot. "Apilado"?. That is the "close, close"
embrace, small steps, conveniently developed in the
crowded "Cafes del Centro" (the downtown cafes and
restaurants with usually an upper floor to dance)
which, thanks to an unfortunate misconception
attributed to Susana Miller has come to be known as
"Milonguero" style. But as Maria Cieri says "you
should not call that style "milonguero" because the
real milongueros avoided until very recently those
places - like Almagro - filled with rich Daddy's sons
looking for easy pick ups. Call it "apilado", call it
"confiteria", call it whatever, but, please, do not
call it "milonguero"!
Viva Villa Urquiza!
End of article...