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Category: Tango History

Interview with Juan Topalian

Interesting interview with Juan Topalian. He plays a live radio recording from 1947 of Di Sarli playing a version of "Nido Gaucho" where the first part is sung in Spanish and the second part in English.

He also discusses an outdoor milonga where the dance floor was the size of 20 basketball courts and where 10,000 people danced.



Songs with Multiple Titles

Great version of this tango by Osvaldo Pugliese with Roberto Chanel. The title is "The men are forming the circle (la ronda)." La ronda refers to the dance floor or line of dance.

The original title was "Muchachos se armó la milonga," which uses lunfardo (street slang of Buenos Aires), but the title was changed along with many other tangos in 1943, because of "le ley seca (the dry law)" a policy by the ruling military and the Catholic church to "purify" the language of Argentina. They also wanted to protect the youth from the corrupting influence of tango.

Other examples of famous tangos with name changes are:

Old Title Revised Title
Muchachos se armó la milonga Muchachos Comienza La Ronda
Shusheta El Aristocrata
Chique El Elegante
La Maleva La Mala
Milonguero Viejo Balarín Antiguo
Concha Sucia Cara Sucia
La concha de la lora La cara de la luna
El Once A Divertirse
Raza Criolla El Taita
Mí Pebeta Mé Nena
Con Los Amigos A Mí Madre
Rique Olvídame
Rosa Morena Abuelita Dominga
Marquita Marcheta
Condena S.O.S.
Metido Enamorado
Comparsa Criolla* Comme il faut
El Morocho y El Oriental**

* This tango was composed by Rafael Iriarte and Eduardo Arolas. They both registered the song separately under different names, Iriarte "Comparsa Criolla" and Arolas "Comme il Faut."

** It is hard to tell if "Gardel-Razzano" is a true second title or just a subtitle or there for clarification. Carlos Gardel’s nickname was “El Morocho del Albasto (The dark haired boy of the Albasto district)” and José Razzano’s nickname was “El Oriental (person from the Eastern bank of the Rio de la Plata or Uruguayan)” The nicknames could have been considered inapproriate slang and so the song could have been renamed in the 1940s.

"Shusheta" which was changed to "El Aristocrata" and "Chique" was changed to "El Elegante." The best translation that I found for chique is that in lunfardo it meant to be fake. Susheta was similar in that it meant to be a backstabber or someone who would rat you out. "La Maleva (The Bad Girl)", meant bad as in evil or criminal, but was simplified to "La Mala", which was just bad. "Milonguero Viejo" was changed to "Balarín Antiguo."

I think most went back to their original names after 1947 or 1948.

Words in the lyrics were also changed, "vieja" meant "old lady" but was often changed to madre or madrecita, which were less disrespectful. Pibeta became muchacha.

I have also read that there was some censorship and name changes after the coup of General Uriburu in 1930.

Some song titles and lyrics were changed because the originals were so vulgar. "Concha Sucia" was a traditional song believed to have been composed by 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta, a black violin player from the earliest days of tango. The title literally translates to "Dirty Shell," but concha (shell) was a common, obscene term for vagina. Canaro registered this tango, under his own name, and changed the song title to "Cara Sucia" in 1916.  Canaro is believed to have done this with several of the old tangos. The name change was probably to conform to the changing audience of tango, which was including more women and the middle class.

"La cara de la luna" was originally "La concha de la lora." Lora was lunfardo for parrot, which meant a prostitute from Europe.

Listen to some of the songs mentioned above:



A Brief Definition of a Milonguero by Cacho Dante

Oscar (“Cacho”) Dante
17 September 1996

Chatting the night away in a cafe in Amsterdam with some friends, I was asked to describe what a milonguero is.

As it happens, it is something very difficult for me to explain. It’s one thing to be one — to feel it — and another, very different, is to be able to express its meaning in words that are clear for others, and give a real idea of what I think. But I will attempt to do it, trying not to hurt anybody’s feelings.

A milonguero is a slave of the music, the tempo, and the space. When he dances, music invades his body and is translated into his steps and his movements. He never misses a tempo. Such blending with the music is what produces a sensation that their bodies are actually speaking (chamuyan).

The milonguero dances level with the floor, managing space is essential for him, he follows the “ronda”. His steps, turns, and walks are always aimed forwards, he never overtakes another couple, he takes care not to cross other people’s path. He will do his thing (milonguea) in whatever space is left. He dances for himself and his partner, not for the spectators. He does not exhibit.

A milonguero stands out by the subtle way in which he manages space, his sense of rhythm and the intensity — or lightness — of the feelings he conveys. The pleasure he feels, he transfers with elegance to the woman’s body. She, in turn, follows him, generally with eyes closed. She follows like the perfume he is wearing, she sticks together in this joyful journey. She dances apilada to him — but not like “cannonball necklace.” Apilarse doesn’t mean hang — this is not always visible for others, but he can certainly feel it.

A milonguero is inspired by the orchestra, the piece, or the woman. He also allows his emotional states to influence the dance. Before beginning a dance, he will take the woman in his arms, listen to the music, feel their respiration, their heartbeats, and only then will he take the first step.

Fortunately, each milonguero dances distinctively. Their personality, style, and cadence are unique to each one. There is plenty of variety among them, with a rich diversity of steps and dance experience. Although they sometimes give in to admiration, their priority is always the woman and the sentimiento (feelings — the main motivation for the dance). They are anonymous. Sometimes timid, and very concentrated. They do not dance much, they are demanding when choosing the music and the partner. One or two tandas well danced will make the evening.

A milonguero will dress very smart, he will be very careful with the shining of his shoes, the crease of his trousers and [his] perfume. You’ll see them sitting at the table checking out the floor and the minas ; they only ask for a dance with a head movement (“de cabeceo”) or an eye movement (“de ojito”). Meanwhile, there are also the milongueras — many, and very good. They are ageless. Their posture, the charm of their footstep, and the subtleties of their movements make for the man’s inspiration, and it’s them who make the man shine. They are simply chiche bombon!!!

I believe it makes no sense to claim that someone is number one or the best, or that one owns a step, or to say that others have stolen somebody’s step. We’ve all learned from the rest and adapted what we learned to our personality. And we will continue to learn from each other in a never-ending process. That is how we enrich our dance, the tango. The tango, like feelings, doesn’t have and never had an owner.

Dancing (milonguear) as well as learning to dance, should be a joy, not an exigency, competition, or hard work; there is enough of that already in our every day life. Our duty and responsibility as teachers does not consist in overwhelming our students with our skills and knowledge, but to be able to communicate these with sentimiento (feelings) and simplicity. We must therefore avoid mistaking our dancing or performing abilities with our teaching abilities. It’s essential, not only [to] count the number of students we have — which is certainly important financially speaking — but also to make an honest balance and observe how many of our students are milongueando in the salons. We must be sincere with ourselves if we wish to see the tango grow.

I wish to express my humble gratitude for entrusting me, for all the students in all the places I have visited as a teacher. Also to their teachers (including all styles and nationalities), for their passion in promoting Tango, and who have not permitted that I feel alone anywhere I go, even if I do not speak their language or ignore their customs. The Tango in all the tango corners of the world I have visited makes me feel at home wherever I go. Bailando tangos uno nunca esta sólo.

This article was originally published in “La Cadena”, a tango magazine in Holland; “El Once” in London and “Tandoneon” in Madrid.

Clint's Notes:

"She dances apilada to him — but not like “cannonball necklace.” Apilarse doesn’t mean hang — this is not always visible for others, but he can certainly feel it." I would love to ask him more about this in person, because I think it is one of the biggest misunderstandings in Tango, especially in close embrace.

I have asked many top teachers including Osvaldo and Coca about this and without fail the answer is always this. The man and woman are leaning in towards one another (not down), sharing contact in their torsos. BUT they are both responsible for their own balance, you should not lean so far forward that you compromise your balance. It is just a matter of moving your weight off of your heel to the forward part of your foot (metatarsal), don't keep going until you loose balance.

One more comment on this article, "Fortunately, each milonguero dances distinctively. Their personality, style, and cadence are unique to each one. There is plenty of variety among them, with a rich diversity of steps and dance experience."

Ah... interesting. I thought in the other article that milongueros only danced 5 steps. A "rich diversity of steps" sounds like more than 5 to me. This is another major misunderstanding. This is my opinion of what I think he is saying: Learn the basics first and learn to do the primary steps of tango (such as ochos, ocho cortado, cruzada, molinete, arrepentida) very very well and with musicality and on crowded dance floors. Be able to do those steps with any woman, even beginners. Then you can branch out, but always be able to simplify your dance down to those few steps as the need or want arises.

The Tango and Trapeze Acts by Cacho Dante

The Tango and Trapeze Acts

by Cacho Dante, Milonguero de Buenos Aires

Thirty years ago, the tango wasn't a trapeze act. It didn't have choreographies, and the woman was not just a follower, she was to whom the tango was dedicated.

Around that time, under the pressure of the dictatorship in Argentina, many milongueros stopped dancing. They were tired of getting picked up by the authorities every weekend to see if they had a police record.

Some milongueros went back to the neighborhood clubs where they had to dance with their neighbors, their cousins, the sisters of friends—all under the watchful eyes of mothers. It was an enormous bore.

The guys at that time had already surpassed the stage of steps. They had already passed through the filter: When they didn't really know how to dance, they did 20 steps; when the knew a bit more, they did 10; and when they really knew what they were doing, they danced five….but with real quality.

The rest they learned from the orchestras at the time: how to navigate the dance floor; how to lead the rhythm. They danced then to some of the best orchestras live every day, Osvaldo Pugliese, Anibal Troilo, Juan D'Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, Alfredo Gobbi, etc.

Later, everything changed. The tango climbed onto the trapeze and became choreographed. And it became a dance of the deaf. The dance floor today also sometimes seems like a war zone. Women don't even get the chance to choose their partners. Men snatch them from the tables as if they were fruit in a supermarket bin.

When some of the milongueros returned to dance, myself included, we wanted to be in style, to learn choreographies. But it was late for that because for us it was more important to be appreciated by the woman than to be admired by those who liked to be seen. Women chose the tango milonguero. They embraced the old guys and then later embraced the young ones as well. Even if we milongueros are fat and bald, we still carry our heads high and have plenty of women to dance with.

Sometimes you hear that tango milonguero will die with the last milonguero. But those who say that don't seem to be aware that the last one is only 17 years old and is already teaching the dance.

Nowadays, we dance to orchestras and singers that are long gone. The sons of the great orchestra leaders, as children do, did not listen to their parents. Today, unfortunately, there isn't really any new music to dance to. The orchestras now knock themselves out to follow the singers, whereas in the old days the singer was just another instrument.

The tango, some say, is growing. Others say it is getting fat. I believe it is swollen, like someone who has eaten too much. Luckily, the example of the milonguero exists and it is not by chance nor just because it is something in vogue that some young people here and other people abroad dance in a close embrace and fly. To fly, you must have your feet firmly on the earth. We Pugliese fans plant our feet on the dance floor and we fly with our torsos. There is no other way to dance the silences and the pauses. With D'Arienzo, you dance in fourth gear, with Pugliese, in first. For Pugliese, you must lower the turns and with D'Arienzo, lift them.

The tango is a feeling that is danced. That's why it is not choreographed, though it can have sequences, like all feelings. You can dance love, rage, happiness, pleasure, every mood. The tango is not a dance to demonstrate ability but rather an interpretation of feeling. It is not just moving your feet and posturing. The tango is Argentine, but it belongs to all those who understand its feelings and its codes.


Guys, to dance tango, you must listen to the heart of the woman.

written in November 1998 by Cacho Dante, milonguero de Buenos Aires


Clint's Notes:

I often say that I dislike the word "follower" it is not an accurate description of the woman's role in tango. Women have just as many responsibilities in the dance as men.

I also like his comment about the 17 year old milonguero. The true definition of milonguero/a is not based on age. It is an accomplished dancer who lives their lives mostly around the tango and the milongas. It is not based on style or age. It is based on quality.

And of course I love that the first two orchestras he mentioned were Pugliese and Troilo, two of my favorites.