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The Influence of Argentinean Folkloric Dance on Tango Ballet and "Tango de Escenario" (Stage Tango)

by Anton Gazenbeek
April 8, 2005
Buenos Aires, OT (Argentina)

The Influence of Argentinean Folkloric Dance on Tango Ballet and "Tango de Escenario" (Stage Tango)

Antón Gazenbeek
April 8, 2005

Argentinean Folkloric dance (such as Malambo, Chueca, etc.) has had a marked influence on Tango Ballet and Tango de Escenario (or Stage Tango). There are many steps from folklore, especially adornments and turns that have been adapted to tango.

As we have said before, Tango Ballet was a style of tango invented in the 1950s and popularized throughout the 1970s and 1980s by many couples like Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves, Nélida and Nelson, Gloria and Rodolfo Dinzel, Monica and Luciano. All of these mentioned dancers were folkloric dancers, with the exception of Copes and Nieves. There are films that document a clear connection between folkloric steps and the choreographies of Juan Carlos Copes. There was a common step from folkloric dance in which the woman placed her back to the man, lifted her right leg into "retire" position, placed her arms in fifth position and pushed off the man to execute 3 or more pirouettes. The woman often ended in a dip, drop, suppleé, or gancho. This step can also be executed with the woman traveling in a line. This step was repeated constantly throughout the years by many couples including Marta y Alfredo and Victor and Monica Ayos who were two couples who worked for many years outside of Argentina performing on cruise ships and in the Middle East as far away as Saudi Arabia and Persia (present day Iran). It is not a well know fact that Juan Carlos Copes had a tango show that stayed over six months in Tehran (the capital of Iran) in the early 1960s. Nélida and Nelson also presented shows in Egypt as did Carlos Gavito when he was a folkloric and boleadoras dancer. Although the locals did not dance the tango, it was considered very exciting and exotic for them to see.

If we analyze this "pirueta", there is also a clear influence from classical ballet, where this turn is referred to as a "finger turn". So there is a connection from classical ballet to Argentine folkloric dance to Stage Tango. Tango has traveled a long way!

Another example of a folkloric movement in tango is what was called "the baptism of the chicken". This was a step performed by Nélida and Nelson in the 1970s and 1980s. The woman executed a spin to place her back to the man, he grasped her waist with both arms, her hands on his wrist, they both executed a deep plie, and the woman was lifted to a sitting position on the man's shoulder. The man then flipped the woman lowering her so far to the floor that her head came centimeters from the floor!! Nélida once commented to me that in a certain époque she used to style her hair with a very wet and greasy type of gel and one day when she and Nelson finished there performance and were taking their bows, she looked down to the floor and there was a grease spot where her head had struck the floor! Those were the days! There is also a film of this movement being performed by dancers from the Ballet Salta from the northern province of Salta in Argentina.

Mayoral and Elsa Maria, even though they were not folkloric dancers performed some very "non-traditional" steps in tango. Elsa Maria is very famous for her multiple pirouettes with the leg in passé that she always performed in their routines. She was a classical dance teacher before she met Mayoral in the 1960s. When Mayoral and Elsa Maria were youngsters and danced with the Mariano Mores Orchestra in the 1960s, they ended their routine to "Taquíto Militar" with a very surprising ending. They separated and Elsa Maria ran across the stage and "flew" up to land on Mayoral's right shoulder where she remained seated until they exited the stage. Not exactly something you see in a milongas these days!

For our last example, I will cite a not-so-well know step performed by Norma and Luís Pereyra. The man and woman both did a double gancho with their right leg, jumped up, turned in the air and landed on their right knee on the floor. They then jumped up, turned, and repeated the step three times. This jump and landing on the knees is a very common step performed by men in Malambo dancing. Luís Pereyra was an excellent malambo dancer who danced for many years in the Ballet Folklorico Nacional of Argentina and the Ballet of Marío Machaco. It was a spectacular step to see in tango, but boy, did it hurt the knees!


Nelida flips
Photo courtesy of Antón Gazenbeek



Nelida flips
Photo courtesy of Antón Gazenbeek



Nelida on shoulder
Photo courtesy of Antón Gazenbeek

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