Eva Garlez and Pablo Rodríguez: Tango Milonguero – one name, many ways to dance it

By Ute Neumaier (Buenos Aires), published in the German magazine Tangodanza 55, July 2013.

Eva (31) and Pablo (38) are at the frontline of Milonguero Style – that style of tango danced in a completely closed embrace. Eva has taught for more than a decade: until 2010 as part of the Academy of Susana Miller and María Plazaola, and since 2012 with Pablo in the historic neighbourhood of San Telmo, at Bien Milonguero. Those who have seen them dance will doubtless recall Eva’s delicate footwork and her absorbed and intimate embrace. In class, Pablo very naturally combines Argentine humor, an uncomplicated manner, and an eye for detail. They’ve become known internationally after their participation in festivals in New Zealand, Ferrara and Chicago. Before taking part, for the first time, as guest teachers in the Darmstädter Tangotage they met with Ute Neumaier for a chat.

In Buenos Aires there are few couples teaching milonguero style. It seems like young dancers often come to tango through this style, but later move on to different ones. Have you never wanted to try a different dance style?

Eva and Pablo (with conviction): Never!

Eva: Because dancing with milongueros, I realized how much diversity there is within this style. Each one of those men dances in a different way, and that’s what makes it interesting to me. Just as absolute truth doesn’t exist, nor does a “right” way or a “wrong” way. Everyone has his own style and his own way of dancing. The milongueros were and are extraordinary to me. That’s why other styles never appealed to me.

Pablo: Each milonguero has his favourite orchestras and interprets that music in his own way – that is, each has his own distinct cadencia1.

How do you two define milonguero?

Pablo: A tango in which the man leads with his chest and in which the A-frame lean creates space between the feet and legs of those dancing. The embrace is closed – not rigid but flexible. An embrace in which you feel alive and, above all, in which both dancers are comfortable.

Eva: It’s a simple and intimate form of tango that is very much grounded, and that has its base in a rich rhythm danced in harmony with and with respect for those around. That’s why it’s referred to as social tango. It’s a tango without many figures, but with a strong connection between the couple. It’s essential to be able to dance relaxed, as that’s the only way in which the two bodies can communicate.

Pablo: It’s also referred to as the “city centre style”, because it was only in the anonymity of central Buenos Aires that it was possible to dance so close. My grandfather, who attended milongas outside of the city centre, told me they had dance floor monitors there, who separated couples who were dancing too close together.

Who were your teachers?

Pablo: Susana Miller taught me the energy of the dance; Maria Plazaola the technique. Alberto Dassieu, the great milonguero who is now, sadly, very unwell, conveyed to me the feeling for the dance in the milonga and his experience as a man on the dance floor. Each milonguero gave me something different: from Alberto I learned to dance the pauses of Osvaldo Pugliese and the fluid valses; Rubén Harymbat, also known as Rubén de Pompeya2, taught me to dance the playful tango rhythms. Osvaldo and Coca Cartery gave me their love for the tango, and Roberto “Pocho” Carreras, now passed away, taught me how to dance without using too many steps, and how to develop my own style.

Eva: My teachers were also Susana, Maria, and all the milongueros with whom I’ve danced and taught: Alberto, Claudio Strang, Pedro Sánchez, Tete Rusconi, Pocho, and Rubén Harymbat.

What led you to tango?

Eva: I was 19 years old and the tango, for me, was for old people. My mother was of the opinion that if one day I travelled beyond Argentina, it would be shameful, as an Argentinean, not to know how to dance tango. Susana Miller, who at the time taught with Ana Maria Schapira, offered a class for free and my mother suggested I try it. After the first class I was offered a concession and of course I couldn’t say no. I was a student for a year, then an assistant, and after the third year I began to teach. All told, nine years!

Pablo: In my family there was always music: one grandfather played the bandoneon, the other composed folk music and my father played the guitar. But I was in IT and had nothing to do with the artistic world. You heard tangos from the 70s and 80s on the radio and I didn’t like them at all. But in 2006 a friend took me to the Academy and a week later to my first milonga. And when I saw the close embrace I was hooked. Within two months I spent all my savings because I went dancing every night.

Did you fall in love dancing?

Pablo: Actually, no. We met in the world of tango, but it wasn’t tango that brought us together in the first place. Eva was looking for someone to teach her self-defence and at the time I was deeply into the martial art form Wing Tsun.

Eva: My mother was worried that every night after teaching at El Beso3 I returned home walking, and she told me I should learn how to protect myself. So, again, my mother decided my destiny.

Pablo: So we started an exchange: tango for self-defence. She taught me tango and I taught her Wing Tsun. (He smiles) I have to admit that Eva didn’t get far with martial arts, but in that short space of time something happened between us.

So, Eva, you taught Pablo to dance?

Eva: In part. At first he took classes at the Academy, then with me, then we were a couple and danced together socially, and finally Pablo ended up being one of the group of assistants. But he has his own style and musicality.

Pablo: After we’d been together for three years we were invited to teach at a festival in New Zealand, and we stayed six months teaching there and in Australia. That’s how we started teaching together.

Wasn’t it quite a big step to participate so quickly in an international festival?

Pablo: Yes, it was, but we were so enthusiastic and so happy that there was no room for any other emotion. It was our first time overseas! Obviously there were big names, and dancers and teachers with much more experience than we had. We weren’t afraid of the comparison. But yes, performing was a big thing for me, because it makes me nervous. I bought something for my nerves and with that I was fine.

Eva: It was a festival in which there were teachers of all styles – salon, stage, etc. We were representing milonguero style and it’s a style that feels more dramatic on the inside than what you see from the outside. That’s why we love it so much! Dancing in public never bothered me because I feel secure in my tango and with Pablo.

Since then, you’ve been teaching your own concept of milonguero tango. What is it?

Eva: We don’t teach sequences of steps; rather loose elements that students can put together as they like. What’s important to us above all is the connection between the couple, the game of leading and following, which we think is more important than figures. There’s also an emphasis on what we teach being able to be danced in the milonga.

Pablo: We give our students different options for dancing to the music, but we don’t give them a musical pattern. Each person feels the music in a different way and if teachers impose too much with their own interpretation it’s possible for students to lose their innate musical sensitivity.

What do you teach to men and women?

Pablo: The man should be very clear in his lead and dance for the woman, rather than for himself. A good dancer should be capable of generating an internal explosion in his partner – through his energy and musicality. He shouldn’t ask a woman to dance without any criteria, but consciously choose which orchestra to dance with which dancer; it’s something all the milongueros do. In the classes my role is to transmit to the men how to lead and to teach them how they can navigate a full dance floor. I also make them laugh – and I do it very intentionally. That way they relax and learn more easily. Eva is quieter, but she has more experience.

Eva: The man leads and the woman follows; even so, each of the two has 50% of the responsibility. A good dancer allows herself to be led with ease, is attentive, and adapts to the way her partner interprets the music. If a woman doesn’t do that she is continually cutting off the man’s energy. That feels terrible for him. In classes, I have an excellent eye for the mistakes made by the students; I can realign them and correct them very precisely. Posture and elegance are particularly important to me.

Today in Buenos Aires it’s not easy to make a living as a tango teacher. What’s your source of inspiration?

Pablo: We love teaching, with body and soul, and we do it full of enthusiasm. There is nothing more wonderful than to be able to dedicate yourself to something you love.

Eva: Our inspiration is all the milongueros we know from the milonga, whether they’re famous or not. They’re in our hearts and they inspire us time and time again. And it’s always an infinite loss when one of them passes away, be it Gavito, El Tete, or Pocho. They don’t just leave a space in our hearts, but also in the milonga. Ensuring that the memory of them stays present in the dancing of our students is our greatest happiness and satisfaction.

Photography: Fuentes & Fernández

More information: www.evaypablo.com.ar, www.bienmilonguero.com.ar

1 Unlike the direct translation of cadencia, which is the musical term cadence, cadencia in relation to dance refers to a dancer’s capability to reflect in his or her dancing the energy, the ‘up and down’, of the music.
2 Pompeya is a southeast Buenos Aires neighborhood considered, like San Telmo and La Boca, the cradle of tango.
3 A milonga venue and also the venue of the classes taught by the Academia de Tango Milonguero Susana Miller y María Plazaola.