We can express our gratitude to a great number of exceptional dancers and teachers around the world who inspire us and keep Tango alive and thriving. We can say thanks any day of the year by paying them well for their work, by watching and sharing their videos, or by carrying their style forward. But there are many giants of Tango who have passed on, and can no longer be thanked in person or payed well for their work. So we have the other stuff. Watching and sharing videos of them, telling a little bit of their story and keeping their style and their essence alive. In this way we can continue to show our gratitude to these extraordinary dancers who came before us and taught us how to dance Tango.
Dizzied by the prospect of even writing tiny paragraphs about the dozens of amazing dancers and teachers who are no longer in the corporeal realm and for whom we feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, we have picked six dancers (just to start) about whom we think every tango aficionado should know. Some of these tango heroes died of old age, and others tragically way, way before their time, but each of them has left an indelible mark on the art of dancing Tango.
In true Tango fashion we dive into one of the most tragic losses of a dancer in Tango history. Andrea Missé passed away in a car accident in her mid-thirties, at the height of her tango career. Before this devastating heartbreak, however, she gave us something truly special. Born into tango and blessed with classical training, she turned her extraordinary skill to the floor and created an elegant, subtle and beautifully adorned Tango that will carry a higher standard for all of us deep into the future. Thank you Andrea, for giving us so much in such a short time, and for continuing to inspire us to be the best dancers we can be!
My first tango hero and icon and still a constant source of inspiration, Osvaldo Zotto remains one of the most beloved and respected dancers in all of Tango history. What made his dancing so special? It’s hard to say… really hard to say. I’ve spent more time watching footage of Osvaldo than perhaps any other dancer, and after two and a half decades I still can’t articulate exactly what made his dancing so beautiful and unique. I think it was just him, his personality and how he felt the music. His courage and commitment to dancing his own authenticity can remain a lesson and a standard for all of us. He passed away of a heart attack in his forties but danced Tango with the depth of a man who had lived many lifetimes. Thank you, Osvaldo! Tango will never be the same without you, and it will never be the same because of you.
When I first met Julio he was already a Tango super-star, and I was just a teenager and a baby in tango. But he didn’t try to sell me on classes, or put me in my place, or tease me with inside jokes I would never understand. He treated me with so much respect, dignity, and camaraderie that I felt like we had grown up together and guys like us could be beautiful dancers. Julio could do it. He could dance sacadas and enrosques just like walking down the street, and convince you that you could do the same. That’s a special magic that has nothing to do with being a great dancer or teacher, and everything to do with being a great person. A loving person. And that’s what he brought to the floor; a love for the dance, the music, and the people. Though I feel like he was taken decades too soon, I’m glad Julio missed this pandemic. No milongas for a couple of years would have been hell for him. When we all get back to it, let’s bring a little more Julio Balmaceda spirit back with us. Let’s lift each other up, bring the love and the joy to the floor and of course dance with great skill and dedication. Thank you, Julio.
I think the two greatest tango dancers of all time, one from the professional dancer background and one from the family/growing-up-in-the-milonga background, would be unequivocally Guillermina Quiroga and Geraldine Rojas. Both hail Puppy Castello as one of, if not the primary influence in their development as dancers. In fact a great many of the world’s brightest tango stars would do the same. With his long-time dance partner, the extraordinary Graciela Gonzales, Puppy helped usher in the Tango Renaissance and carry forward the intelligence and subtlety of the form. As a dancer of sophisticated phrasing, humor and character, Puppy has helped keep alive the mischief and flirtation of Tango, amidst a backdrop of profound artistry. Thanks, Puppy!
Gloria was born to perform. As a teenager she was already singing and dancing professionally and even went to Japan to perform with her lifelong partner Eduardo. She continued to perform with him in film, television and on stage, all around the world for decades. By the time of the Tango revival in the 1980’s, Gloria had become one of the key choreographers of the stage shows that would bring Tango back to life. Gloria’s own dancing was highly athletic and impressive, and she had a knack for relating to the audience with her stage charisma. How many people fell in love with Tango while watching Gloria dance? It’s impossible to say, but thousands and thousands at the very least. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Gloria Arquimbau!
When I was a teenager learning to dance Tango in the 1990’s, the experienced dancers would let me know that a visitor was very important in Tango by telling me that they “sat at the table”. That meant that, when in Buenos Aires at some famous Milonga, this person had sat at the table of Carmencita Calderon. A true legend. Carmencita became famous in the early 1930’s, breaking into film with her partner, “El Cachifaz”, befriending Carlos Gardel and touring with him. Though Cachifaz and Gardel were the most famous tango dancer and most famous tango singer respectively, their careers were tragically short. Carmencita, however, continued to be a superstar of tango for another sixty-three years! She worked with many other amazing artists throughout her life, outlived most of them, and continued to hit the club through her eighties and nineties. She performed with Jorge Dispari on her 100th birthday, to uproarious applause. Thanks Carmencita for so much: ushering in the Golden Era of Tango, keeping it alive during the Dormancy, helping bring it back to life in the Revival, and making sure it has the momentum to continue for generations to come!
Whatever your belief system may be, we like to imagine these amazing dancers and people hanging out at the Big Milonga in the Sky, sitting at Carmencita’s table, and enjoying fantastic tandas together. Imagine the musicians available to play at such an event! We obviously owe them a huge debt of gratitude as well… perhaps we can share some of their stories in the next “Thank you!” post. And be sure to share any of your great inspirations in the comments, as there are so many names not on this list that could easily be there… we’d love to hear from you! Take care, stay healthy, safe and grateful… big love, y’all!