The International Day of Tango is celebrated annually on 11 December and started out as a joint birthday celebration for both Carlos Gardel, one the most famous and loved Argentine Tango singers of all time (“The Voice “, “The Creole Thrush”, “The Tango King”) and Julio De Caro, one of the most influential composers, violinists and orchestra conductors.
Carlos Gardel was born either in 1887, in Tacuarembó, Uruguay or in 1890 in Toulouse, France. By the age of 6 he was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Gardel was famous for the dramatic phrasing of his tango ballads and lyrics, which were played in nightclubs and in films in the 1920s and 1930s. Sadly, Gardel died in a plane crash in Medellín, Colombia in 1935 while on tour. Listen to Gardel and learn more about his life on TodoTango/Gardel.
Julio De Caro was born in 1899, the second of 12 children with Italian roots. In 1924, Julio made his first recordings of a new tango music style that he believed was at the same instrumental level as Carlos Gardel’s style at vocal level. De Caro’s music introduced a “softer” and more passionate violin, which forever replaced the somewhat “marching” tango-arrangements from earlier recording years. De Caro died on 11 March 1980. You can hear some fine examples of De Caro’s music on TodoTango/de-Caro.
The day of celebration was instigated by the composer, producer and talent scout, Ben Molar who was also a personal friend of Julio de Caro.
However, it wasn’t easy to make the day an official celebration of tango! Molar first presented the idea to Ricardo T. Freixá the Secretary of Culture of the Municipality of Buenos Aires City in 1965. Freixá then had get the approval from all the arts organisations of that time; Sadaic , Argentores , Sade , Casa del Teatro, Sindicato Argentino de Músicos, Unión Argentina de Artistas de Variedades, Academia Porteña del Lunfardo, Radio Rivadavia, Fundación Banco Mercantil, La Gardeliana, Asociación Argentina de Actores and Asociación Amigos de la Calle Corrientes. It took 11 years to pass and finally on 29 November 1977 the Decree No. 5830/77 was signed by the Municipality of Buenos Aires City.
Some 13 days later during a tango festival organised by Molar at Luna Park, Buenos Aries, it was announced to some 15,000 dancers, musicians, singers, bands, broadcasters and journalists. Then on 23 December that same year, a decree was put forward and approved by the Secretary of Culture of the Nation, DrRaúl Alberto Casa to make the 11 December a national day of tango in Argentina.
In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved a joint proposal by Argentina and Uruguay to include the tango in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Today, officially or not, this special day of celebration is recognised by tango enthusiasts and artists around the world. Happy birthday Carlos. Happy birthday Julio. Happy birthday Tango.
International Men’s Day was first established by Thomas Oaster on 7 February 1992, however, there have been initiatives to get this date in the diary since the 1960’s. In 1999, Dr Jerome Teelucksingh successfully reafirmed the annual day of celebration on 19 November. This marked the date of his father’s birthday and served to recognise how, on that date in 1989, the Trinidad and Tobago football team had united the country with their efforts to qualify for the World Cup.
The day gives focus to promoting gender equality, recognising the male role in society and celebrating men’s achievements and contributions to community, family, marriage and childcare. Ultimately, International Men’s day aims to address six themes:
To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but every day, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.
To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law
To improve gender relations and promote gender equality
To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential
You may ask yourself… Do we really need a day for men? Men have been dominating politics, business, religion, media, sport and even the family unit since forever… Well, yes, in fact we really do. Did you know that as of 2019, in the UK alone:
As many as 12 men commit suicide every single day and 90% of all homeless persons living on the street are men.
On average, 95% of the UK prison population are men and 7 out of 10 murder victims are also men.
At school, girls outdo the boys at every stage of their education and of all the students who leave school and become chronically unemployed, 70% are young men.
When it comes to money, recession and the pusuit of ‘success’, 84% of all suicides are men.
Dr Jerome Teelucksingh stated: “The observances of International Men’s Day are part of a global love revolution.” And he added that the day “is observed on an annual basis by persons from all walks of life, who support the ongoing effort to improve lives, heal scarred hearts, seek solutions to social problems, mend troubled minds, reform the social outcasts and uplift the dysfunctional,”.
Back in tango world, a culture known for its historical stereotypical gender norms and some might say ‘chauvanistic’ social graces, being a ‘modern man’ presents all kinds of pressures, responsibilities and conflictions. Traditionally, men must ask women to dance. Too bad if you are shy, inconfident or new to tango. Men must lead the dance itself, constantly coming up with ideas for steps and navigating the ‘ronda’ (the line of dance) amongst all the other moving dancers. Too bad if you rather dance the following role, are inexperienced or struggle to constantly think of all the right steps in the right order to please your partner. Too bad if you accidentally crash into another couple or lose your balance.
Indeed, it’s not all single malts and montecristos…
Fear not. Tango men are moving with the times! What it means to be a ‘man’ in tango is changing. Much is being accomplished socially to dissuade chauvanistic behaviours and free men of traditional role-driven responsibilities. There is more and more social recognition and discussion on these subjects within local tango communities with more and more direction and advice given via classes and mentorships to educate, encourage and set good examples.
Equally, the Queer Tango movement, founded in the 90’s, is taking our tango world by storm, making a significant and vital impact on these staunch, age-old traditions about who should lead and who should follow, who should ask and who should be asked to dance. Who is responsible for the ronda and all kinds of knock-on social traditions.
So yes, on the 19th November each year, we tip our hats to the ‘Tango Men’ among us!
International Dance Day celebrates dance in all its genre’s and art forms, and, in every way that dance can possibly be, as a social expression. Dance is truly a language that is free of borders and cultures.
Each year, on 29 April, dancers, choreographers, teachers and any other dance-related professionals and amateurs alike, get together to celebrate. And dance.
The date was chosen by the Dance Committee of the International Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute because it represents the date in 1727 when Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of the modern ballet, was born.
The world has been celebrating International Dance Day since 1982.
International Women’s Day, held on the 8 March each year, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
Gloria Steinem, feminist, journalist and activist once explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
The world has been been celebrating International Women’s Day since the early 1900’s. The very first day was organised by the Socialist Party of America in 1909. Then, after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, the 8 March was confirmed. In 1967, the feminist movement took up the mantle and in 1975 the United Nations began to celebrate the day.
Since then, many countries and societies have made the day their own. In some countries it is a public holiday, in others it is known for its protests and marches in the street and yet for others it continues to be, at least, a social acknowledgement.
Today, there are numerous social groups around the world supporting women in tango. The World Tango Championship in Buenos Aries includes a women’s leading pista competition as part of the programme. There are more and more debates, conferences and articles offered by women from all walks of tango life; dancers, singers, teachers and musicians.
The ever-increasing Queer Tango movement challenges the age-old traditional tango boundaries for who should lead and who should follow and insists on open and changing dance roles or same-sex tango. This presents enourmous and exciting possibilities for all tango dancers; Women and men learning and dancing both lead and follow roles.
Indeed, International Women’s Day is held in high regard as an industrious and necessary social movement that meaningfully contributes to the ongoing evolution of Argentine Tango.
Hugging Day is celebrated each year on 21 January and it was Kevin Zaborney, from Clio, Michigan, USA, who came up with this marvellous initiative in 1986.
The idea is to encourage folks to hug each other and remember that absolutely everyone, no matter who they are, needs hugs.
We humans do actually ‘need’ hugs. Scientific studies reveal the many benefits regular hugs have on our physical health and mental well-being from maintaining our immune system to lowering our blood pressure and releasing useful hormones.
OXYTOCIN – THE HAPPY DRUG
Hugging releases the hormone ‘oxytocin’ which makes us feel happy. When we feel happy we are always more successful as individuals and as a group. Studies show that teams who hug each other more often win more often.
A study conducted in 2007 showed that woman who regularly hug during pregnancy form a better bond with their born baby and are less likely to suffer from post-natal depression.
In 1999, a study published in the journal, Progress in Brain Research, revealed that oxytocin inhibits our tolerance to addictive drugs and reduces withdrawal symptoms.
For those of us who suffer from shyness, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published research in 2010 showing that hugs significantly improved the ability of people with autism to interact with others. Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties in creating relationships.
Finally, according to a 2003 study in the journal Regulatory Peptides, oxytocin released in the brain naturally promotes sleep.
CORTISOL – STRESS DEFENSE
Hugging releases the hormone ‘cortisol’ which lowers our heart rates and reduces any feelings of stress.
Babies need hugs as much as they need food and water. According to research conducted at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development.
THYMUS GLAND – IMMUNE SYSTEM DEFENSE
Hugging also stimulates the ‘thymus gland’, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that form part of our immune system’s defense. Research shows that patients who are sick and receive regular hugs display fewer symptons and recover faster.
THE TANGO EMBRACE
We are reminded once again on this ‘Hugging Day’, that dancing tango is all about the embrace and our connection with our partner.
Just imagine to what extent we really give to each other in the tango embrace! At the end of an evening of dancing, do you feel that wholesome, filled to the brim, long happy sigh escaping from within? Ahhhh yes, that’s your oxytocin saturating you with good vibes.
Indeed, what better excuse can their possibly be to go dancing!
Photographer – Image captured at the Bergen Tango Marathon 2018 by okkephoto.com
The 11th July marks the birth of the revered teacher and composer Annibal Troilo, born Annibal Pichuco, in 1914.
In 2005, the city of Buenos Aires, marked the day as a national celebration of the “Bandoneón Mayor of Buenos Aires’ to celebrate Troilo’s birthday.
Happy birthday Troilo!
Alberto Podestá was born, Washington Alejandro Ale, in San Juan, Argentina, on 22 September 1924.
Alberto’s father died when he was very young. To help support his mother and five younger siblings, he left school, at about 12 years of age, to earn a living selling chocolates at the local theatre. Before he left school, though, he participated in a local radio program for children. Alberto sang a selection of songs by Carlos Gardel. His natural talent shone through even then.
Nicknamed “Gardelito”, Alberto continued singing for the local radio station until one day, the comic duo “Buono-Striano” invited him to travel with them around the country. Finally, in 1939, he moved to Buenos Aires and began working in a dance club alongside the musician, Roberto Caló.
Roberto and Alberto put together some castings of a selection of tangos; “Butterfly”, “Things Forgotten”, “Martyrdom” and “Who Died in Paris”.
Meanwhile, Roberto’s brother, Miguel Caló, urgently needed a vocalist to replace Mario Pomar in his tango orchestra. On Roberto’s recommendation, Alberto joined the orchestra at the Singapur Cabaret (and tango academy), located on Corrientes and Montevideo.
During this time, he met and collaborated with many prominent figures in the tango scene and eventually, through his friendship with Homero Exposito, recorded his first tango with the Domingo Federico orchestra.
One day, he was invited by Carlos di Sarli’s agent to visit Di Sarli’s home and audition. Carlos de Sarli hired him immediately, giving him the stage name: Alberto Podestá.
In a later interview, Alberto remarked on that night:
“When I was working at that place, one evening somebody brought me a card, it had been handed to the waiter by a gentleman named Vázquez, that was Carlos Di Sarli’s agent. He wanted me to meet him at a nearby barroom after my show was over. At the beginning I held it in my hands. As I realized I was creasing it, I put it into my pocket. Since the time the card was handed to me until the end of my performance my body was shivering. But I swear that I sang as never before. Imagine, to have the chance of singing with Di Sarli before I were 18. It was like a dream come true!”
From left: Osca Serpa, Alberto Podesta, Carlos Di Sarli, Mario Pomar, Roberto Rufino, Jorge Duran
By 1945, Alberto’s career was in full swing.
While singing at the Buenos Aires Sans Souci club for Di Sarli, alongside the orchestras of Osvaldo Pugliese and the Tibidabo, Podestá also made several tours to perform and record in Columbia, Uraguay and Chile. Alberto also stood in for Aníbal Troilo, who had temporarily taken a leave of absence. Later, in 1951 he was recognised as an Honorary Member of the National Academy of Tango in Argentina.
Relocating to Chile in 1967, Podestá spent the next 3 years touring America. He performed in Colombia , Chile , Peru , Venezuela , Ecuador , Mexico , Dominican Republic and United States (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia). He recorded about 500 songs during this time, including “Caño 14” and “The Old Warehouse” by Edmundo Rivero . He even turned his hand to ballet, performing with the dancer Juan Carlos Copes.
In 2007, Podestá was declared an “Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires”. Then, in 2008, he performed in the film “Café de los Maestros”, directed by Miguel Kohan. The film won a Clarín Award for Best Documentary.
Albert Podestá sang for the orchestras; Carlos Di Sarli, Miguel Calo, Pedro Laurenz and Francini-Pontier. He has never left his career, and continues to sing and perform. He is now 90 years old and from humble roots has spent a whole lifetime singing the music we love and continue to dance to even today.
Alberto Podesta, The Tango Singer
Argentine Tango was born in the streets of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and nearby Montevideo (Uruguay) somewhere in the very late 19th Century. Tango was influenced by many cultures; the African candombe, Cuban habanera, the Austrian waltz and many other folk dances. Here is a short account of how all these cultures influenced tango and how tango has since evolved and spread to every corner of the world.
Where did it all begin?
In the dance halls of that bygone time of economical severity, young and old sought respite from the hardships of daily life, an escape through music and to be occupied meaningfully. Because there weren’t many options – from the 20s right through to the 40s – the dance halls became quite the social occasion, indeed, an irreplaceable rite. Tango had all the connotations of an epidemic. A new movement had begun.
Any open space good enough for dancing was used for dancing tango. Any house with a back yard or patio, big enough to accommodate the milongueros was taken up. Any small club in a suburban neighborhood, or even a smart candy store became fit for Tango. Milongas were everywhere. In the more deprived quarters, the music was mostly played on vinyl records. Some could afford to hire small ‘orquestas tipicas’, of which some, over time, reached a respectful level of skill and popularity.
Tango was perhaps the purest and most intimate form of dance the world had ever known at that time. Its premises were based on escapism and because it satisfied an innate need for human connection. The daring act of embracing another and giving oneself over completely to instinct, movement and music was irresistible. Indeed, Tango became embedded in Argentinian society.
To waltz or vals?
There are 3 musical genres, Tango, Vals and Milonga, which are collectively known as Tango. In general terms, Tango’s ancestry is a blend of the Vals, the grandmother, and the Milonga, the grandfather, from which grew the Tango. One of the earliest references to the Waltz was made by the French philosopher Montaigne, who wrote of a dance he saw in 1580 in Augsburg, “the dancers held each other so closely that their faces touched”. Waltz, a country dance in 3/4 time, was the first dance which broke the distance barrier between men and women in the ballroom.
Shocking as it may have been at that time, it slowly made its way into the higher social classes of Vienna at around 1780, and subsequently, its popularity spread into other European countries and eventually throughout the whole world, diversifying in styles and fashions as it evolved.
But what about Tango? The Argentinians referred to their own version of the Waltz as the Vals Criollo. The Vals was a new beat, a diversion from the known Waltz. Later, people would call it Tango-Waltz because of its orchestration and the Tango aggregations. Prior to this, however, the Milonga scene was developing in its own right and especially in the popular quarters of Buenos Aires. To understand how the Milonga and Vals combined gave birth to Tango we first need to acknowledge what was taking place in Argentina toward the middle of the nineteenth century.
The tango mixing pot
Argentina was becoming the crucible for an unprecedented mix of ethnics and cultures. An influx of merging immigrants poured into Argentina unlike any movement the world had seen before. The governors of this country, very rich in natural resources but lacking in population, were actively encouraging the arrival of pioneers from every corner of the globe. They attracted masses of immigrants – mostly single men from Europe and especially from Italy – with promises of land and wealth.
Enchanted by the promise of good fortune, hundreds of thousands of immigrants poured across the borders. They eventually outnumbered the local population of Buenos Aires, which, up to that point, was a city of two parts, the larger “far-west” and the sad remainder of a Spanish colonial town. It was this multi-ethnic, uprooted, wistful and lone male population who frequented the “bailongos” or social dance floors – not just the brothels as some of the Borges writings seem to indicate – but also the backyards and patios in family homes, or small suburban social clubs, at the end of the nineteenth century.
The fusion of this enormous cultural-genetic overflow; this great mixing of music-dance elements brought by the many small immigrant communities, with their violins, flutes, accordions, and a full bag of traditions and dance styles, forged the Porteños identity, and gave birth to Tango.
The milonga drum
The Milonga, as a dance form, takes a part in this story all of its own. To appreciate how the Milonga materialised we need to first talk about the Camdombe, a dance style from Africa. Centuries before the birth of Tango, millions of African slaves were brought to South America by the new Spanish colonizers. It’s particularly fascinating that although Tango ‘orquestas tipicas’ do not use percussion instruments, the African Candombe, and finally the Milonga dance, are drum-based.
In fact, the African slaves called their drums and the places where they danced the Candombe: Tanbos, of which the Spanish word for drum comes from, Tambor. Later the name Tanbo became Tango. When slavery was thankfully abolished in 1853, the large African population in Buenos Aires, of course, remained. As these new liberates gradually integrated into society, the Candombe began to flourish in the suburbs. The former slave generation eventually passed away, but their descendants continued dancing Tanbo. Influenced by the local Gauchos, they tweaked their dancing style, adding the abrazo, the embrace, and therein giving rise to what is now known as the Milonga.
The gaucho’s ride
Yet another key element remains. Argentina’s prodigious Pampas or, “large grassy plains”, used primarily for livestock, were divided up and given away to high society property owners and wealthy European immigrants. The new government provision of fencing the land into individual properties forced the Gauchos – similar to the American cowboy or Australian stockman – who drove their cattle throughout the Pampas – to move closer to the city of Buenos Aires and settle around the poorest residential outskirts.
The Gauchos, unsettled and forced into an urban environment, often turned to lives of crime and by their reputably aggressive nature, were called ‘Compadritos’. This nickname, conveyed by the Italian immigrants, held a similar meaning to what they called the mafia bosses back in Italy.
The Gauchos organised Payadas (song competitions) in open spaces. Several African slaves, who worked in the estancias or rural farms attended but without understanding what was being said. The Africans began calling these competitions Milongas, which comes from the African-Brazilian term Mulonga, essentially interpreted as “word”. So, gradually, those Payadas events came to be known as Milongas and were far more popular than the Payadas.
The cuban influence
We wouldn’t have the whole story without mention of the Cuban Habanera. The distinct dance pattern of the Milonga and later on, the Tango, must pay some due to the influence of Habanera. The Habanera infiltrated Argentinian music via the sailors who worked in the Argentine merchant fleets sailing between the Rio de la Plata, the Antilles and especially to Cuba. As they went up and down these sea routes, past Uruguay, the villagers on the River banks became acquainted with their beautiful Cuban-Spanish dance.
The Habanera upheld strict figures of dance, by which the dancers had to perform specific movements according to the directions of the ‘bastonero’ – who decided the number and location of the dancers. This ‘bastonero’ would dance whichever movements or figures desired, and the remaining dancers would, in turn, attempt to imitate. This dance, with its defined choreography, along with the African Candombe and other influences, by trial-and-error, adaptation and experimentation all finally became the Milonga dance as we know it today. In turn, the Milonga became the real forerunner of the Tango genres.
The merging of these societies, the Argentinian Gauchos, the African population of Buenos Aires and the Cuban sailors created the extraordinary magic vital for the development of Tango. The African’s open embrace, the Compadrito’s closed embrace and the Cubans defined dance figures and sequences integrated to form just one dance; Tango.
The humble tango
The earliest form of Tango, which began as a humble social dance of the suburbs of Buenos Aires, was, in fact, the Milonga. Later on, Tango established itself as a real musical genre all on its own.
The Milonga survived, independent of the Tango, which remains to this day a typical Argentinian musical sophistication. Then there is also the Tango-Milonga, also called Milonga Urbana, which has a faster pace and is harder to control.
For those who know a little about music, both Tango and Milonga are generally in a four-four musical pattern, however, Milonga is played at a faster tempo. Tim Sharp (Tango Musician and Pianist) explains:
Both milonga and tango are typically written in two-four, ie they both have 2 crotchet beats to a bar and should both be ‘felt’ in 2. Four-four is rarely found in pre-1955 tango, but can be found from then on. The differences between tango and milonga are not to do with time signature. Milongas are faster but that doesn’t mean you don’t count fewer beats in a bar. It is easy to confuse two-four and (ie to count 4 rather than 2 beats per bar). You can quite easily count 4 beats to classic tangos – it just means you are probably counting 2 bars worth of two-four, which isn’t really going to effect your dancing that much. On the other hand if you are counting double time (meaning the pulse is twice as fast) that is more worrying but very unlikely as you wouldn’t be able to do a walking step at that speed. You can find wonderful old sheet music of tangos, valses and milongas on todotango.com. You will see that most is written in two-four and as a consequence the music has lots of semi-quavers. This is a bit tricky for beginners to read and modern publishers realise that this puts a lot of potential customers off. They therefore often prefer to write in what is known as ‘cut’ time. This is written with 4 crotchets to a bar (ie semi-quavers now become written as quavers) but although it has the appearance of four-four (common time), the ‘C’ for common has a vertical line through it, meaning it is ‘felt’ with 2 beats (effectively two-two or 2 minims) per bar. Sometimes in modern compilations you will also see classic tangos written in four-four. This isn’t how the music was originally written and is misleading.
The challenge in Milonga is to keep pace with the tempo. This means that the Milonga struggles for spare time and by the nature of the sound, even the inclination, to incorporate the wide variety of embellishments and figures that over time became available to Tango.
Loosely speaking that is. Tango is a social dance and also open to the musical interpretation, environment, ability and strength of partnership between the dancers. “There are no mistakes in Tango”. The fundamental characteristic of the Tango-Milonga is the presence of the basic pattern of the old Rural Milonga, but the technical details are more complicated and beyond the scope of this article.
Each dance, the Milonga, Vals and Tango, are distinctly different in musicality and choreography. And yet.. they are born of the same spirit. For the Argentinians, and now for many communities and cultures around the world, Tango is an expression of life, freedom, joy, hope, loss, love… It is so many different things to so many different people.
Some might say Tango is simply an eclectic, cultural mix of music and dance reflective of a poignant and historical time of great change in Argentina…?