Daniel’s Story 1980s

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Once upon a time I was an American dancer, North American that is. After beginnings, 1975, in West African with Percy Borde, and Modern with Bill T. Jones (six of us in class at the old American Dance Asylum in Binghamton NY) I found my way in Jazz and Tap with Brenda Bufalino and later with Leon Collins. While working for Brenda as an administrator and grants writer for her company, I also discovered Contact Improvisation, and later the co-operative dance movement. Many of these experiences involved dancing with, and learning from elders in dance, something which was, unknown to me at the time, preparing me for my experience of the Tango’s Milongueros. Especially my experience with the Jazz Hoofers, principally Leon, Honi Coles, Carnell Lyons, Buster Brown, and Chuck Green. Learning from seniors requires a special kind of attitude, humble and patient. The pay off is the learning that is so multilayered, dance and life experiences woven together in the fabric of the teaching.

In 1985, having finished my Masters in Dance at Lesley, I left for Europe touring my tap and jazz song and dance solo, and teaching Jazz and Improvisation in community and institutional settings. I was in Berlin teaching at the Tanzfabrik when I met two lovely Argentine women who had convinced me that they understood my English in class, but whom I later discovered had bluffed their way though my class. Zoraida and I flirted in our mutual minimal Italian, and discovered that we would both be in Barcelona a few weeks later. Indeed we met again there, but only after the most cosmic of “accidents”. We proceeded to have an amazing love affair that led us to meet again and again in various cities. Eventually it led to her invitation to come to Buenos Aires, which I did in the winter of 86-87. Zoraida Fontclara had graduated from the State School of Modern Dance at the San Martin Theatre, and she convinced the director of the school, Ana Itelman, one of the principal movers of modern dance in Argentina, to invite me to teach at the school, a relationship with the dance world that lasted even beyond Ana’s death in 1989.

During my first visits there, I asked what the vernacular dances of Argentina were. I was taken to the State Theatre of Folk Dance, where I saw the rather elaborate way in which Folk Dance is integrated into the fabric of Argentine life, especially on the stage and in school curriculum. Santiago Ayala, “El Chúcaro”, (see El Chúcaro) was the genius who helped revive Argentine Folk Dance as an Art, got the funding for a state theater, and assured that folk dancing would become a regular part of school curriculum throughout the country. He was a gracious host, and I got to meet members of the company, visit rehearsals, and trade steps with the “tap dancers”, Zapateo, Argentine style, being a big part of folk stage performance. Tango is too, and I got to experience tango through the eyes of the folk dancers.

Fortunately I also got to experience tango through the Milongueros, the older Argentine social dancers, because the Folk dancers, and the Tango dancers in the tourist shows, are two threads of Tango’s “mythology” that create powerful, but essentially misleading imagery about the tango’s style and history. It was the Milongueros, unheralded and unappreciated, convinced that the real tango would die with them that became my real teachers. While I was first intruduced by friends through Zoraida’s friends in the modern dance world, principally Anahi Zlotnik and Carolina Lotti, I might never had had the time or opportunity to really get to know any Milongueros or their social style of dancing if it had not been for another “accident”, this time in an automobile, that moved me to Buenos Aires full time in 1989, where, recovering from serious injuries, and forced to stop dancing all but this “walking” dance, social tango became both my physical recuperation, and my anthropological immersion experience.

My history with Jazz and Improvisational dance, my experience with the ‘Hoofers’, and my participation in the emerging American alternative social dance community made me uniquely qualified for my experience with tango at the very beginning of its modern revival. The fact that I was partnered with an Argentine woman, living in her family home in Villa Luro, a working class neighborhood, was poor and recovering from serious injuries all conspired to having the Argentines, in an exception to their usual suspicion of being taken advantage of by foreigners, embrace me as friend, if not family. Their generosity and openness to me was gratifying, illuminating, and healing. I have since always tried to do my best to transmit what i have learned from them with as much fidelity as has been possible. I know that, in many ways, i have been able to accomplish this better than the young Argentines that were my contemporaries, as they were forced to resist and rebel in order to develop their own identities in the dance.

My experience of social tango was both broad and personal. While I know that i never reached all of the corners of tango’s re-emergence, i did reach many if not most of the major influences of this period, late 1980s through 2000.

I will be back with more of my story next week.

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