'To dance well' – a universe in perfect harmony, Interview with Fabian Peralta and Virginia Pandolfi

By Ute Neumaier (Buenos Aires), published in the German magazine Tangodanza 42, October 2012

Buenos Aires, Abasto. Where the city’s fruit and vegetable market once was, where Carlos Gardel hung out in his youth. At the Carlos Copello School there’s a lot of coming and going: a class for children is beginning, another for adults is ending; folk and rock ’n’ roll rhythms mix with the beat of a tango. None of this bothers Fabián Peralta and Virginia Pandolfi. Those who live in the world’s third loudest city don’t tend to be sensitive to noise. Fabián (36) and Virginia (25) have been dance partners since 2006. Fabián’s dry humor complements very well Virginia’s happy and energetic nature, which is accentuated by her charming Cordobes accent.

How long have you danced for?

Fabián: I started folk dancing when I was six years old. I was 23 when I started dancing salon tango. I learned a lot from Mingo Pugliese, from Miguel and Osvaldo Zotto, and from Carlos Pérez. This is the style I like most. It’s a sensual dance; it’s all about communication and the connection between the couple.

Virginia: When I was four, I began ballet classes. When I was 19 I started stage tango, until I met Fabián. He gave a 180º turn to my perception of the dance.

Fabián, you say you learned by watching. How did you do that?

Fabian: Night after night, I went to the milonga Sunderland and absorbed everything I saw: the codes, how the couples moved on the dance floor, the way they walked and turned. Yes, my eyes taught me; I learned in the same way as the old men. Technique-wise, the dance comprises different basic elements. If a man learns those elements, the true art of combining them in his own way comes through.

How did you come to tango and how have you developed, since then, as dancers, artists and teachers?

Fabián: When I was 23, I hurt my knee. That’s how I came to tango. It was a way of continuing to dance without so much physical effort. I couldn’t stop dancing, because it was how I earned my living. I lived from stage dancing for many years. But in my heart I continued to be a dancer of salon tango. After 10 years of shows, I began looking for new opportunities. I started performing in milongas and, after a while, to teach as an assistant of Osvaldo Zotto and Lorena Ermocida. Since 2004, I’ve been teaching at the Carlos Copello School. My dance partner of that time, Natacha Poberaj, and I won the salon tango category in the World Tango Championships in 2006, in Buenos Aires.

Virginia: I participated in the same championship in 2006, but with my partner in Córdoba. We won, and so we were able to participate in the final in Buenos Aires. It was wonderful! Immediately, we were offered a contract to dance in a show, but we had to return to Córdoba, although nothing held me there any longer. I soon came back on the pretext of undertaking the degree course in dance at the University of Buenos Aires. My parents couldn’t oppose that. Soon, I met Fabián, who since then has influenced enormously the path I’ve taken as a dancer and teacher. We’ve been teaching together since 2007. Twice a year we travel extensively and participate in festivals in Japan, Korea, Spain, England, and Holland.

How did you meet?

Virginia: In La Viruta. At the time, I wasn’t being asked to dance much in the milonga, because I was new. So I spent a lot of time sitting and smoking. I had to do something! One night Fabián came to my table, invited me to dance, and asked me if I had a dance partner. Of course I did, but I lied. I didn’t want to miss this chance!

Fabián: I liked the way she danced. I was looking for a partner who didn’t have vices, whose dancing wasn’t yet fully formed, and with whom I could create something new.

Virginia: We began to rehearse. I’d thought we would be equals. But no! It was Fabián who made the decisions. So we quickly came into conflict. But I’m a fighter, so I dried my tears and carried on.

In 2008 you participated together in the championships in the stage tango category. How was that experience?

Fabián: What was novel about it was that we put together a little comedy. We worked like dogs for eight months on a piece of theatre three minutes long. There was only one dancer you could have done that with, and it was Virginia, because there’s something comic about her (he laughs). We came fifth. But the most important was the experience in itself.

How would you describe yourselves as teachers.

Fabián: We’re salon tango dancers, we dance in a closed embrace, but we also bring in elements from milonguero.

Virginia: We want our students to learn to express the sensation and the energy of each moment in their own way. We’re meticulous. Someone said we’re the “attention-to-detail teachers”. It’s true, they’re little but vital things that make a dance beautiful and different.

Fabian: We also feel it’s important to have a good atmosphere in the classes. You learn more easily in a good atmosphere. We’re famous in the world of tango, but we’re cut from the same cloth as our students.

You’ve developed your own technique. How did that come to pass, and what differentiates it?

Fabián: For a very long time, I studied the movements of other dancers, above all the particular walk of the great elderly dancers, and I watched an infinite number of videos in slow motion. All of this came together to form our technique.

Virginia: It’s based on a particular way of dissociating the body, an intense connection between the couple, and a constant change in dynamic. The fundamental element is the walk. The intention in every movement is always forwards; it begins with the chest and extends from there. While they’re dancing, there’s not a single moment in which the couple is not connected.

As dancers, both of you have incredible speed and musicality. When Virginia’s feet fly, and each movement is perfectly in time with the music, it leaves me dumbstruck.

Fabián: The music has always been the most important thing to me. The more you study it, the more you realize that every instrument is a universe in itself, and that it gives you different signals that communicate with different parts of the body. If you pay attention to that, you dance differently. For example, when the music first goes “tiiiiiing” and then, “titititiiing”, you need to express that with your body. That’s art. It’s not so much about the movements, but about the energy of the music. It’s from there that our concept has developed.

How would you describe your concept?

Virginia: It’s a way of ordering the music. You classify the phrases in basic elements, what we call “bases”, and in unifying elements, what we call “connectors”. They’re names we allocated ourselves, so as not to contradict the concepts of musicians.

Fabián: First, it’s about learning to listen in a different way. If you can capture the beginning and end of a phrase, it’s very easy to synchronize a sequence of steps with it.

Virginia: The character and energy of a phrase determine the type of movements. That is, you move differently if it’s a melodic phrase than you do if it’s a rhythmic phrase.

Differentiating the elements of music doesn’t seem straightforward to me.

Fabián: That’s true, you’re right, but it’s worth learning. It makes you more sensitive and it makes your dance more expressive. Tell me, which are the dancers you can’t stop watching? They’re the ones whose dance is in harmony and accord with the music.

What does this bring to your students?

Virginia: Through this new way of listening to the music, our students can rediscover tango, even if they’ve been dancing it for years.

Fabián: They find the movement that best fits to the music, and this very much increases the pleasure of dancing.

Virginia, in Germany, will you also give women’s technique classes? Your way of walking is amazing, it’s as though your legs begin at your neck.

Virginia: Yes, I’ll also teach women’s technique. We’ll work both on that and on women’s musicality. We’ll look at how to adorn correctly, at what moment; the different types of adornment – melodic, rhythmic, etc; how to be elegant and have fast and rhythmic use of the feet; how to let the music flow in every part of the body.

Fabian, when Virginia is not in Buenos Aires, you give the women’s class in her place. This was a surprise to me. What is essential in women’s technique?

Fabian: I developed this technique, so I should be able to use it. The woman’s walk should give the sensation that it will never end, as though it had no beginning and no end, there should never be a standstill. The feeling that a woman’s legs are much longer than they are comes from the rotation that begins each of the body’s movements. According to the principle of rotation, the legs don’t start at the hips, but much further up.

Virginia: It’s also distinctive in that, as a consequence of how the feet are placed, each step ends up being an adornment.

After so much time, how do you feel when you dance together?

Virginia: I feel secure. In the dance Fabián is a gentleman, he’s attentive, and he makes me feel protected. Sometimes, we lose the connection because we’ve fought beforehand and the anger is still present. Then we re-find each other in the dance. The most sublime is when we become one. That’s why we dance! It’s the absolute togetherness – without saying a word! It’s magic! Afterwards you ask yourself how it was possible.

Fabián: I can’t describe it. It’s like an absence of me.

Would you say that for the two of you, to dance means, in the first place, to be connected with the music?

Fabián: It’s much more than that. It’s everything. If you watch Osvaldo and Coca dancing Poema, you see exactly that. Or Gloria and Eduardo Arquimbau when they dance Ataniche. Nobody else does it the same; it’s unique. You feel that they are what they are and there’s an incomparable connection. It’s the connection between man and woman, the music, the space, and the movement. If you combine all of that, you create a universe in perfect harmony. That, to me, is what it means to dance well.

Translation: Antoinette Wilson