History of Tango – Part 4: La Guardia Vieja – II: The first dancers
In the case of the dancers, in addition to the ones already mentioned, who were also musicians and we remember mainly because of their musical legacy, like Casimiro Alcorta (and his partner La Paulina), Lola Candales, Enrique Saborido, Ángel Villoldo, Alfredo Eusebio and Flora Gobbi, Ernesto Ponzio, or like Laurentina Monserrat (Laura), María Rangolla (La Vasca) or Concepción Amaya (Mamita), who are known after the places they managed, a special mention is deserved by:
Enrique Saborido, with the beautiful Lola Candales, Uruguayan as he and his muse, come tango dancers. In 1908, with the growing popularity of tango, he opens academia in Cerrito 1070, which they managed until 1912. In that year he decided to go to Paris with other tango personalities. There, he taught to dance tango to the European aristocracy and show off as a professional dancer at the Savoy and the Royal Theatre in London. He referred to other good dancers: Jorge Newbery (one of the first Latin American aircraft pilots. He was also an engineer, and is considered to be the architect and founder of the Argentine Air Force), his close friend Alberto J. Mascías, Alberto Lange, and Martin Edmund Hileret Anchorena.
Concepción Maya, known as “Mamita”. At her home, located in Lavalle 2177, Ernesto Ponzio composed his famous tango “Don Juan”. Domingo Greco, in his unpublished memoirs, quoted by Dr. Benarós, among other things, says: “In this house, the clientele was selected. Men from the upper class only. I met there the first professionals of tango: Angel Villoldo and Sergio Mendizabal, Rosendo’s brother. He played the tango ‘más compadrón’, and was strongest in the accompaniment, more ‘tempista’. He was one of the best tangueros of his time. Played, preferably, in Concepcion Amaya’s house. When this woman emigrated from Buenos Aires, she settled with a brothel in the village of 9 de Julio and brought “El Negro” Sergio with her. I was then told that he died sitting in a bar, with the guitar on his lap. He played guitar and sang so well, improvising. Instead, Rosendo produced better tangos … ”
Mamita, as Luis Teisseire told, “was tall, skinny, authoritarian. Of dark complexion, rather ‘achinada’, brave, black eyes. Always she wore a long, dark silk suit. She looked all covered with a high collar. At her house, among her women, she had la Ñata Rosaura, Herminia and Joaquina. After a glass door, it was a long courtyard with the rooms on the side and the classic dining room. ” There, played the piano Sergio Mendizabal, El Gordo Mauricio and Teisseire, our informant.
Other dancers from before 1910 whose names reached us are:
El Mulato Sinforoso, who played clarinet next to Casimiro Alcorta and a guitar player, forming a trio that according to Lino Galeano, in an article written in the newspaper “Crítica” in 1913, signing as “Viejo tanguero”, was the first tango band.
Carlos Kern ‘El Inglés’ was a man of “Maria La Vasca”. He mastered the ‘vals cruzado’. He was a strong man of clear eyes, always quiet, but effective in placing orders. He was recognized as a tough man, was heavy-handed and he alone was able to contain the aggressive ‘compadraje’. For a time he organized dances at Patria e Lavoro, in Chile 1567, a narrow hall, which was a difficult place to stop the excesses of pickpockets and rioters. According to César Viale, he finished serving as an ordinance in the law firm of Dr. Carlos Delcasse.
Carmen Gomez has been born around 1830 and began dancing at the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, located on Calle del Parque (current Lavalle). Around the 1854s she opened what became known as the “Academia de la Parda Gomez”, in the vicinity of the Plaza Lorea (part of the current Plaza del Congreso). After selling it, in 1864, she opened another in Corrientes 437.
By the help of an Afro-Argentine sorcerer, surrounded the house of her adversary, la Morena Agustina, in an effort to provoke misfortune.
“The Afro-Argentines of the second half of the nineteenth century were the owners of the ‘academias’, as the ‘peringundines’ where the ‘compadraje orillero’ used to attend, were called… The police report of the time recounts numerous incidents occurred there, where soldiers, Afro-Argentines from different neighborhoods and cart drivers were regulars” (R. Rodriguez Molas: Free Black River Plate Magazine Humanities, Ministry of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires, l year, September 1961, p. 114.).
About la Morena Agustina, we know that also had academia near Plaza Lorea.
The dancer Clotilde Lemos began in the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, in the second half of the 1850s.
Alejandro Vilela, was employed at the Academia de la Parda Gomez, where he played the piano.
Luciana Acosta,”La Moreyra”, was a popular dancer of the neighborhood of San Cristobal. She was a source of inspiration in the literary field: Jose Sebastian Tallón portrayed her in his book “Tango in the stages of forbidden music” (Buenos Aires, 1959); and Juan Carlos Ghiano makes her protagonist of his play “La Moreyra,” released by the company Tita Merello in 1962. There is a film version starring the same actress.
She was the daughter of Andalusian gypsies, and lived with her man, “El Cívico”, Bautista Salvini, at the room number 15 of the “conventillo” El Sarandi, located at 1356 of the street of the same name, and where some rooms were occupied by the Greco family.
Dancer of great fame in the early tango scene, she danced at the café La Pichona, at Pavón, between Rincón and Pasco (then district of brothels), where, as described by Jose Sebastian Tallón, “she was the business partner of her husband, a pimp, and skilled dancer. She was at night a woman of tango. In her veins bubbled the gypsy bravery, and being so feminine in appearance, and so beautiful, she was of great courage as dagger shooter, hence her nickname … Her figure: not very tall, perfectly shaped, sensual voice, like her face, as her walk; olive skin tone, black eyes and hair, smallmouth, optimum bust. She wore a blue or red silk robe with white poke dots. Sometimes with colorful squares, or flowery dress with long sleeves and lace cuff. She closed her robe from the neck to the start of her breast, with a silken cord zigzagging the embroidered eyelets, finishing in a bun with tassels. Her waist was belted up to hurting by a corset. The skirt was pleated, gray or light green. Perfumed with Rosa de Francia, Agua Florida or Jour de Gloire. Hairstyle bun at the nape, with hairpins and combs of tortoiseshell, big gold hoop earrings, and a locket. Portrayed inside the locket was El Cívico.”
El Cívico, Bautista Salvini, descended from Southern Italians. was a pimp, a good dancer and a respected compadrito.
Joaquina Marán, “La China Joaquina”, a wonderful tango dancer, was the favorite at “lo de Mamita”, and later herself the manager of dance houses in the first decade of the 19th century. Tall, not pretty but very interesting and seductive brunette, of very pleasant conversation, Juan Bergamino dedicated to her his tango “Joaquina” (listen) (originally “La China Joaquina” (listen). She was involved in the death of a young dancer called “Ramayón” by Ñato Posse, as both loved Joaquina Maran, who besides being a lover of the two, had been of Mariano “Maco” Milani, another renowned dancer, and of Pablo Podesta, actor, circus performer, and singer.
Fernando Ramayón was a young man of the Buenos Aires’ upper class, a Law student and a good tango dancer, who was killed at age 22, on January 31, 1898, by Juan B. Passo, el Ñato Pose, in the famous “Cuartos de Adela”, coffee, inn and dance place, in Alvear y Acevedo, Palermo. Homero Manzi wrote a tango inspired in this story, with music by Cristobal Herreros:
“Resuenan en baldosas los golpes de tu taco.
Desfilan tus corridas por patios de arrabal.
Se envuelve tu figura con humo de tabaco
y baila en el recuerdo tu bota militar.
Refleja nuevamente tu pelo renegrido
en salas alumbradas con lámparas de gas.
Se pliegan tus quebradas y vuelven del olvido
las notas ligeritas de Arolas y Bazán.
Ramayón, ya no estás con tu noche
tras el blanco calor del pernó.
Ya no pasa trotando tu coche,
ya no brilla tu bota charol.
Y no está con su traje de raso
la que entonces por buena y por leal,
afirmada en tu inmóvil abrazo
fue también tu pareja final.
Aplauden tu elegancia las palmas de otro tiempo.
Las cuerdas empolvadas resuenan otra vez.
Y en el fugaz milagro de un breve encantamiento
reviven las cenizas de todo lo que fue.
Un plomo de venganza te busca de repente.
Se aflojan los resortes violentos del compás.
Se pinta en tu pañuelo la rosa de la muerte
y el tango del destino te marca su final.”
Juan Bautista Passo, el Ñato Posse, had been imprisoned for his criminal adventures, but thanks to his contacts with a leader of the Conservative Party, who paid for his services, fast out of jail.
The movie “Historia de 900” (1949 -watch), written, directed, and performed by Hugo Del Carril, portrays the relationship between the upper class and the marginal “orilleros” of Buenos Aires in the framework of tango: they accepted the same ideals of virile manhood, courage, true to their words, and a vision that sees life and love as a game to be played with your whole self.
Mariano “Maco” Milani was another handsome and very elegant young man of the Argentine high society, of straight hair and very white skin. When he began drinking too much, lost his shape and got a red nose. Tall, impeccable, he lived a truly pompous life.
Margarita Verdier, or Verdiet, whom some called “La Oriental “and “La Rubia Mireya”, resident of the neighborhood of Almagro, Castro Barros 433. Daughter of French parents born in Uruguay, had a reputation for “night owl”, given to the “dance of the compadritos”, as tango was stigmatized by then. She was immortalized by Manuel Romero and Francisco Canaro in the tango “Tiempos viejos” (listen). There a few movies in which she is portrayed:
“Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Manuel Romero 1937 – watch), “La Rubia Mireya” (Manuel Romero 1948 – watch), and “Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Enrique Carreras 1969 – watch).
Elías Alippi, tango dancer, actor, and theater and film director, playwright of comedies and sainetes (1883-1942). He debuted on the scene in 1904 dancing a tango with Anita Posed in “Justicia criolla”, zarzuela by Ezequiel Soria, music of Antonio Reynoso, who that season replied the company of Jerónimo Podestá. He was also one of the best dancers of the local “María la Vasca” and other nightspots of that time, as well as on stage. He danced for the last time in the film ”Así es la vida” (1939 – watch), with the actress and singer Sabina Olmos. As a playwright, he included tangos in many of his works. The troupe Muiño-Alippi played a decisive role in the advent of the tango-canción: on April 26, 1918, in the sainete of José González Castillo and Alberto T. Weisbach, “Los dientes del perro”, which premiered in Theatre Buenos Aires, appeared, in a cabaret scene, Manolita Poli accompanied by the orchestra of Roberto Firpo, singing the tango by Samuel Castriota and Pascual Contursi, “Mi noche triste” (listen).
La Parda Deolinda shined in the Academias de Montevideo, milonguera and owner of a dancing place. Pintín Castellanos tells us that she was “gifted with a gorgeous body and a hell of a character, and an extraordinary ability to dance with ‘cortes y quebradas’ (…) the men, despite their proven courage, did not risk much with her. “Between 1880 and 1886, Police Chief Apolinario Gayoso deported her because of the many squabbles in which was protagonist, to Buenos Aires. Here, he continued with her dancing and bravery … She died in a duelo criollo!”.
La Parda Loreto, also known for her willingness to get into fights, was born in 1860 and danced in the 80s, in the “peringundines” of Suipacha and El Temple (Viamonte), in the “Milonga de la Calle Chile” (actually called Patria e Lavoro, located in Chile 1567), in the Teatro Politeama (Corrientes 1490, demolished in 1950, today parking), and already older, in the Salón San Martin, popularly known as “Rodríguez Peña”. When her charms were dissipated, worked -always faithful to her environment- as manager of a brothel.
La Parda Refucilo danced in the early 80s in the academia located in Independencia and Combate de los Pozos, famous for “la gente de bronce” that frequented it and the prestige of the dancers, and was a partner in the milongas and in life, of a famous milonguero of that time nicknamed el Biundín.
Francisco Ducasse, one of his dancing partners was named Mimí Pinsonette. He was married to the actress Angelina Pagano. He used to frequent «lo de Hansen». Francisco García Jiménez says that the very charming princess de Murat was intertwined with the tango skill of the fine handsome young man of Buenos Aires, on tour in Paris, in a tango competition organized by the journal Excelsior at the Fémina theater on the avenue of the Champs-Elysées. Obviously, they were awarded the first prize. He was born and died in Buenos Aires.
María La Tero: In the article about tango published in Crítica newspaper on September 22, 1913, “Viejo Tanguero” included her in a list of prestigious female dancers that went to the well-known dancehall on Independencia and Pozos. Julián Centeya, in his book “El misterio del tango”, describes her as tall and skinny.
La Parda Flora was very well known by 1880, so much that she is mentioned in “Milonga de Tancredi” (“The other night at Tancredi / I danced with Boladora / was the Brown and Flora; / what he saw me, he estriló”). She showed up her art in La Pandora of La Boca, in peringundines of Corrientes, and had its own academia in 25 de Mayo and Viamonte, to spend her final years in Flores. It is also remembered in the milonga “En lo de Laura” (listen), of Enrique Cadícamo and Antonio Polito:
“Milonga de aquel entonces
que trae un pasado envuelto…
De aquel 911
ya no te queda ni un vuelto…
Milonga que en lo de Laura
bailé con la parda Flora…
que me dio cartel de taura…
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Milonga de mil recuerdos
milonga del tiempo viejo.
Qué triste cuando me acuerdo
si todo ha quedado lejos…
Milonga vieja y sentida
¿quién sabe qué se ha hecho de todo?
En la pista de la vida
ya estamos doblando el codo.
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Amigos de antes, cuando chiquilín,
fui bailarín compadrito…
Saco negro, trensillao, y bien afrancesao
el pantalón a cuadritos…
¡Que baile solo el Morocho! -me solía gritar
la barra ‘e los Balmaceda…
Viejos tangos que empezó a cantar
la Pepita Avellaneda…
¡Eso ya no vuelve más!”
Sisters Balbina (Rosa and Maria) acted in the Stella di Roma, in Corrientes and Uruguay, known as El baile de Pepin. It was the first dance house which was established in the center and the most famous due to the attraction exerted by the Balbina sisters. This house was one of those that adopted the system of covering the organito with a mattress so that the sound couldn’t be heard in the street and reach the ears of the police authority.
La Gaucha Manuela, referred by Roberto Firpo in an interview with Dr. Benarós: “I started playing the piano at the Velodrome, in 1907, with Bevilacqua. Then I was twenty years old and came from the Corrales, of Rioja and Caseros. The owner of The Velodrome was Pesce, I believe the father of who was later the owner of Luna Park. The place occupied an area of about four blocks. In the center was a mound of dirt. Inside, a track, used by cyclists. To get there you needed to go through a dirt road, which sometimes became mud. It was two blocks from Hansen. Drinks were served on tables placed under the trees. It had rooms, also. From The Velodrome, you could see when music was playing in lo de Hansen. The Gaucha Manuela was a regular there and was the kept woman of a rich young man called Del Carril, which I believe expended on her four or five million. She was brunette, very pretty, and very ‘criolla’ when speaking. She was a wonderful dancer, capable of grabbing a knife and start with the blows. I dedicated a tango “La Gaucha Manuela”(listen) to her. We were asked for these dedications, and sometimes the person asking for it paid us a hundred pesos. I dedicated the tango “To the distinguished Miss Manuela Lopez.” I earned one peso a day and some tips. There were no women. Each man had to bring his own.”
Juana Rebenque, referred by Juan Santa Cruz -brother of the author of “Unión Cívica” (listen) – (quote from Dr. Benarós): “She lived in small tin roof house, like all the houses at ‘El Pueblo de las Ranas’. You get inside you had to bend down. She did not even have a rate. She charged whatever you gave her. She never came downtown. She was tall, thin, with a big nose, and beautiful. She lived with a man called Fernandez. She was mentioned in some famous verses of the time: ‘Hará cosa ‘e una semana / que un canfinflero mistongo / me convidó pa’ un bailongo / en el Pueblo de las Ranas. / Las principales bacanas / de la ranil población / cayeron a la función / lindamente enfaroladas, / porque habían sido invitadas / con tarjetas de cartón.’”
El Flaco Saúl: A landowner who stands out among the first tango dancers. According to “Viejo Tanguero”: “he was able to interpret tango in two styles: the original, vivid, complex, full of figures and ‘quebradas’, of great agility, with strength and character, and the smooth tango, which developed at the time called the ‘Guardia Vieja’, as a necessity to adapt to female dancers who would not follow the primitive style, which later was defined as the characteristic style to dance the tango of the so-called ‘Guardia Nueva’, or ‘cabaret tango.'”
Filiberto, Juan “Mascarilla”, father musician and composer Juan de Dios Filiberto. Eminent tango dancer of the first period; natural and spontaneous creator. Owner or administrator “Bailetín El Palomar”, then the “Tancredi” (c. 1882), nearby recreational Suarez and Necochea, in the heart of La Boca. We quote from an interview by ‘La Canción Porteña’ (Buenos Aires, 1963) in which his son tells us: “‘My father was cheerful, a bit careless of all things, but simple and good, had an easy laugh and good sense of humor in his eyes and always good jokes escaping from his mouth. He sang in a nice tenor voice, which I liked to listen to. Dancer by nature, of the best tango dancers of La Boca; his reputation was well recognized. According to his character, he worked on the most different and contradictory jobs, from the owner of dance halls to sailor, wrestler, or construction worker. He was a friend and often also the bodyguard of Pepe Fernandez, strongman, and leader of La Boca, which was the first supporter of Mitre and then of General Roca. He possessed extraordinary power, often acting in the circus Rafetto wrestling and weight lifter.”
Mariano, mentioned by “Viejo Tanguero” (1913) as a regular of “Scudo de Italia”. He was one of those which popularity was earned thanks to the correctness of his dance. The tango lovers stopped dancing and made a circle to watch hind dancing, to admire and applaud the difficult execution of figures invented by him and that no one else could imitate. He owned a large commercial establishment that was located on the street Sarmiento and Carlos Pellegrini.
Arturo De Nava, composer, singer pre-gradeliano. Was born apparently in Paysandú in 1876 and died in Buenos Aires, where he had settled since his youth, on October 22, 1932 …. Initially, a natural dancer with great style, he was the first one to earn fame on the stage, prior to Ain and Alippi, dancing tangos in plays since 1903 in the Podestá troupe. He was very handsome. Because of his appearance, unmistakable, his photographs appear illustrating several editions of the popular magazine Caras y Caretas of Buenos Aires, in 1903. ”
Pancho Panelo belongs to the category of rich dancers. Domingo Greco told that this man had so much serenity to dance, and did it with a glass of champagne in his head without spilling a single drop of liquid.
Pedrín “La Vieja”. Domingo Greco says in his memoirs: “Then came a certain Pedrín, that was my classmate: we nicknamed him ‘La Vieja (The Old Lady)”. He used to live at Chile street, between Tacuarí and Piedras. He brought tango to its maximum refinement. Even before 1900, he was the best dancer known. He had a lot of initiative. He was elegant, very musical, and with an amazing speed in his legs. In a word, he was the best of all time. Benito Bianquet “El Cachafaz” emerged as his only imitator.”
I have been asking myself why dancers often have a reputation for being sexual, feisty, rebellious, irreverent, marginal, indifferent to what people say about them, but also elegant, tough, self-reliant, respectable, admired…?
On one hand, I believe that a real dancer is a person for whom life is a dance (“La vida es una milonga”). This approach is not as easy to take as we may suppose. It requires strength and discipline beyond the majority of people’s possibilities and/or willingness. If not, why would a skill not make you rich, an approach to life that is not of great value from a utilitarian perspective on life, would be embraced with the passion, perseverance, and stamina that to be a GOOD DANCER requires?
On the other hand, all negative qualifications attached to dancers come not from other GOOD DANCERS, but from those who are not. It is perhaps a form of revenge from the ones whose value resides in being useful to society -a laudable situation- against those whose major contribution is an uninterested and useless beauty that can’t be sold in the markets.
In my own experience, all the GREAT MILONGUEROS that I have met in my life, many of whom I had the fortune and the honor to have as my teachers, are (or were -in the case of those that have passed away-) GREAT PEOPLE, incredibly wise and have great sensitivity and common sense, reliable people, generous, respectable, and among many other wonderful qualities, the best at their day jobs and professions.
And the bottom line is that for me, everything that I have achieved in my dance has made me a better person.
And I still have room to improve.
- History of Tango – Part 1
- History of Tango – Part 2
- History of Tango – Part 3
- History of Tango – Part 5
- History of Tango – Part 6
- History of Tango – Part 7
- “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
- “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
- “Historia del tango – La Guardia Vieja”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Silvestre Byron, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
- “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
- Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. By Donna J. Guy
- José María Otero https://tangosalbardo.blogspot.com/2014/10/ramayon.html
- Guillermo Brizuela https://miescueladetango.blogspot.com/2009/10/los-malevos-parte-i.html
- Reseña de mujeres bailarinas. Por Luis Alposta and Oscar Himschoot: https://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/326/Resena-de-mujeres-bailarinas-Segunda-parte/
- Images https://www.tangology101.com/main.cfm/title/Tango-History-in-Pictures/id/1165