Cover Photo by Pablo Scavino
Her grandfather was a pianist and run his tango orchestra, his dad was a singer but Carolina Bonaventura discovered her passion for tango as a teenager, while studying classical ballet. These days her school Mariposita de San Telmo located in the heart of Buenos Aires, has become a landmark for tangueros and celebrates its tenth anniversary. I met this relentless Argentinian Tango ambassador on last October, when she featured as guest star at Bucharest Days, the second edition festival organised by Giorgio Panico and Mariela Roșu who in Bucharest run Scoala Urquiza according to Carolina’s Efecto Mariposita©.
Carolina, can you give us an idea of what Argentinian Tango has become today?
There is a before and after in Argentinian Tango. Until the Forties you learned tango at home: your dad, your uncle would teach it to you, your neighbours, anyone… There used to be a tango culture, those songs were your everyday musical background: the tunes broadcast on the radio, listened to in the streets, from the live orchestras in the milongas. Our lives flowed along with tango. Political events in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, gradually led tango to a sort of social oblivion: it became less and less fashionable, inappropriate, not elegant enough, finally the political regime discouraged social events and meetings in public places. Tango disappeared from the public scene and from Buenos Aires life, along with opportunities to meet up to dance. We reached a point when, even when people did reunite, they did not know those codes anymore and just danced rock & roll or pop music like that of the Beatles: the scene had completely changed and for good! Even when some tango was still being played, no more than two or three pieces were played per night, while our passing on tango from generation to generation had come to a stop and youth felt like belonging to a whole different society. Then, soon after the regime collapsed, an unexpected event occurred in the Eighties, which would contribute to open up a whole different scene. After many years spent researching across the whole country, Claudio Segovia, a theatre producer, and Héctor Orezzoli, succeeded in reuniting milongueros and tango professionals to create a major show. Tango Argentino made its debut in Paris in 1983, soon proving a worldwide success, in fact the very event that triggered a real tango mania almost everywhere. So it was through these milongueros that tango began to be taught again in a range of different schools. By then, though, the scene had deeply changed: tango culture was no more handed down from father to son/daughter inside families and local communities, but in more formal ways through schools and academias. In the process each school started teaching according to their limited knowledge in a sort of copying-and-pasting process: the original codes went almost lost and so did a shared pedagogy and methodology.
The way tango is being handed down today has deeply changed: before it was “from body to body”, i.e. from generation to generation, now it is through formal tango schools and academias
And what about you, when do you reckon you got involved in tango?
My grandfather was a pianist running his tango orchestra, my dad was a singer, I may say that even before being born, I had been listening to tango. I started very early to study classical ballet and one day, when I was already in my teens, my teacher proposed me some tango steps. I had no special interest nor prejudices against it. So was it that when I started to listen to that music and began to move my first steps, I said to myself: “Hey, I do know this music!” I was drawn back to my childhood musical background, and it actually was for that call that I started to dance tango.
Which is your personal approach to tango?
For my generation it proved very hard, as we had to start almost from scrap: to begin with, which were the basic steps of tango? A pedagogy was badly needed. For me, a key way to proceed was to disassociate movements in order to understand each single part in them. The point is that affirming that tango is connection or that you have to keep your contact to the soil is not enough: you first have to understand and then be able to explain how all this is made possible! So, my very first step was to disassociate each movement and become able to reassemble them again in a mindful and philological way. This is the kind of research at the core of Efecto Mariposita© at Mariposita de San Telmo, the tango school I opened in Buenos Aires almost ten years ago [celebrating its official 10th anniversary in April 2017, ed.] I decided to locate it in one of the oldest quarters in a hundred-year-old house which I completely renovated. That choice came after having danced almost everywhere and finally having realised that tango deserved a place all of its own. Tango is definitely part of my cultural heritage and as an artistic expression it required a place to suit its needs. To pursue my project properly, I looked after every single aspect – from the best location, to the choice of colours, materials, light inside the spaces, as I said to myself: “I want to create the best place for tango!”
Nowadays we are less and less body aware while more and more mind-oriented
Which are the basic elements characterising Efecto Mariposita© that also Giorgio and Mirela teach in Bucharest at their Tango Urquiza?
As we deal with a physical experience involving our bodies, my method is first of all meant to allow people to re-connect themselves with their bodies. The focus is on technic, musicality, body awareness and couple communication within the tango frame. In order to develop my method, I have had to study in depth a number of elements. For four years I have been researching with the help of an olympian athlete which and how many muscles were involved in tango dancing. Athletic training is not only necessary but essential, at the very core of tango. It’s true that anyone can dance tango but to know which muscles and body parts you need to activate and control is quite crucial too. To achieve that knowledge, I delved into biomechanics, holistic methods like Feldenkrais, Pilates and Antigymnastics, so to help people to retrieve their correct posture, which we instinctively own at birth and lose later on, due to wrong habits like, for instance, spending too much time sitting in front of screens. In fact, we do not draw too much attention to our physical dimension, as biased as we are by a culture that considers mind more important than the body. A first step is then to help ourselves to re-establish a contact with our physical selves: should that be missing, how could we get in touch with anyone else? Not only: to learn our body language, we have to go through a self-awareness process. Another crucial aspect in our methodology is to develop our musicality, that is our capacity to match movement to the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music being played.
Nowadays tango runs the risk of losing part of its original energy, i.e. its capacity to make very different kinds of people share the same dancing floor. That still happens in Romania
What kind of apprentices come to your school?
It is a very heterogeneous audience: we have young, middle-age, local and foreign people coming from any corner of the world. They do all share the same passion and respect for tango. That is because while the origins of tango are quite humble, it has grown to become a universal and classical artistic form. At its very core we find communication between two human beings who look for something deeper which goes beyond the act of dancing: a form of emotional involvement, a very vision of the world. That explains why in 2009 Argentinian Tango was included in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Talking about our learners, I believe that while coming from quite different backgrounds, they all share a keen interest in an approach meant to teach them the hidden mechanisms of tango, beyond any fashion or fad of the moment.
Tango on the other side of the ocean: Europe and the rest of the world…
We Argentinians have always been strongly connected to our European roots, our intelligentsia attracted by France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Indeed, approval by the Old Continent has always proved a recurring element in any of our artistic fields and that has also played a major role in the process of rediscovering tango and its bringing it back to centre stage. In fact, it is not by any chance that the very debut of the show Tango Argentino by Claudio Segovia and Héctor Orezzoli – which so much contributed to the current worldwide interest in tango -, took place in Paris.
Tango in Romania: can you perceive any specific element here?
A first observation is that dancers here appear more passionate and responsive to the music – a trait which I also find in Russia and – generally speaking – in all of Eastern Europe, where they have a higher musical education. That is not all. Here in Romania I can also see that young and less young people still tend to mix and dance together, which alas is proving less and less true in many countries today. In most countries today you find a growing generational gap, with young dancers dancing only with young ones and old with old: a major changeover from the original tango landscape. Dance floors have always been cross-generational with everybody in the family used to dancing with everybody else: young and old with no age barriers! These days Milongas feature more and more different-age venues: those for seventy-year old, those for third/forty-year old… In fact, nowadays tango is running the risk of losing part of its original energy, i.e. its capacity to make very different kinds of people meet to share the same dancing experience – a real pity for a dance with such a democratic DNA! In the universe of tango a twenty-year old follower may dance with an eighty-year old leader and viceversa, sharing as they do a mood and a spiritual experience. I really miss that approach: you and your tango going to the dance floor to meet whoever he/she is, as long as you both share the same codes.
When alone, we perfectly keep our self-centred balances but only when sharing our centres of gravity with someone else new things and new personal discoveries can happen
We end up with improvisation: a key word in tango…
Musicality, communication and improvisation are the three crucial elements which must be combined without any specific order: all of them must be there at the same time. In other types of dances like salsa, rock & roll and waltz, you have basic steps for the leader and the follower to go along but in tango there does not exist any basic step nor beat to start with and your movements are built together from the very beginning: and with the music, there comes improvisation. This makes communication and capacity to react key elements. In fact, to improvise you need to know the technique, i.e. how to keep your balance so to be able to shift your centre of gravity at the right time. We may say that Tango is built through basic bricks which you have to know how to combine as you better like. The total freedom you are allowed in tango is proved by the fact that you can dance the very same piece with the same partner without ever producing the very same steps. More, at the centre of it all you find two dancers with all their potential expressiveness and that is immensely challenging. In fact, when alone, we perfectly keep our self-centred balances but it is only when we share our centres of gravity with someone else that new things and new personal discoveries can happen. That is why tango is like life itself, that is why I insist on stressing the deep humanity of tango.
This post is also available in: Italian