“25 years of tango”, and one rare gem

Gavito was a magnanimous ambassador for tango. Beyond his inspirational stage performances and milonga presentations, he was always generous in his gratitude to the tango communities that invited him as a guest teacher, speaker and representative of his beloved culture. More than any other travelling tango professional that I ever encountered, Gavito voiced his appreciation, again and again, to those individuals and communities (beyond his homeland) that foster the growth of tango as social art. Gavito chose to see the BIG inclusive picture of tango. And when he spoke of his gratitude it seemed that he was speaking on behalf of all of his travelling tango contemporaries who enjoy a livelihood doing what they love. Professional gratitude voiced with grace and sincerity; Gavito was a rare gem.
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Next to Gavito, those people (Argentinian or otherwise) that seek to define for others what is “real”, “genuine” or “authentic” tango seem small indeed. Those people seem to want to reduce the growth of tango communities, by using exclusive definitions of “authenticity”. (Reality check: is Uruguay ever mentioned by these people?? I’m humming La Cumparsita at this moment for some reason. lol!)
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Daniel Saindon has convened a round table discussion on 25 years of dancing “ARGENTINIAN” tango in Montreal. He has also indicated on his Facebook page that one of the talking points he wishes to explore is ‘what are the elements that go into building a tango community’. Daniel is going to hold his event at Tango Libre’s premises. Apparently the discussion will be broadcast on Daniel’s radio program – Radio Tango de mi flor / Montréal Buenos Aires  Montevideo vice-versa . (https://www.facebook.com/events/544249758963382/)
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I was here in Montreal as tango was taking root. I was among people who could see the tango ‘bandwagon’ approaching by virtue of the travelling show “Tango Argentino” and the music of Astor Piazzolla. I was among people like Ramon Pelinski, Richard Hunt and Quartango, Denis Beauchamp, Pierre Monette, Mecha Gomez, Jose Maria Gianelli, Karen Simon, Paul DeStrooper, “El Bruga y la Susana”, to name some of the most earnest and honest tango fans of the era.
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I value honesty and truthfulness.
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Twenty-SEVEN years ago in 1986 in Vancouver I saw Argentinian tango danced by the Montreal performance couple Robert-Philippe Babin and Francine Riopel. They were dancing with the newly formed Montreal music quartet Quartango. It was an excellent presentation, in music and in dance. Robert-Philippe told me that he taught Argentinian tango in Montreal as part of his repertoire as a professional in dance at the time. This simple truth does not serve Daniel Saindon’s round table ‘hug-fest’ that Argentinian tango did not arrive here until Lily Palmer. The fact of the matter is that over the past 27+ years of tango here in Montreal the tangible contributions by Lily Palmer to the tango scene here amount to the same value as a fart in a wind-storm. But she’s got a piece of paper now, from a present-day politician, no less. Can we expect to see/hear any accolades from Montreal Argentinians from “25 years” ago, or even now? After all, she did it ALL FOR THEM, n’est-ce pas?!
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I don’t mind congratulating Lily for being a Montrealer for 25 years. It’s a great city! However, I take issue with her dismissive, mendacious position that she brought “authentic” “Argentinian in mind” tango to Montreal. Here’s a promise: the day that Lily Palmer admits in a public forum that Argentinian tango was alive and well in Montreal long before she arrived here, I’ll seriously redact this post.
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Let’s move on to another talking point: “community” building. I don’t remember the word “community” being used much until 1993 or ’94. And when I first heard it in the context used, I immediately likened the concept to ‘the community of the hamburger‘; meaning that MacDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, et al, have no sense of common purpose among them. They just happen to do the same thing. They make hamburgers. Those companies singularly go about their business as best they know how. And that’s the way I see it with the business of tango. Please realize that most people in tango are hobbyists. Very few make a living from it. Still, the rules of business apply to hobbyists.
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But let’s not explore Lily Palmer’s tangible accomplishments as a hobbyist in tango; that might be too revealing for this ‘hug-fest’. I remember going to Lily Palmer’s evenings in restaurants, at Centro Gallego, at Angels nightclub, at the Argentinian banquet hall on St-Laurent near Beaubien, and at the flamenco studio on Mont-Royal. It may sound like a lot of activity, but I assure you, we used to joke about how often she had to move; plus these evenings (for the most part) were exceptionally un-attended, even though tango was quite popular and very much in the spotlight. I also remember never seeing Lily at anyone else’s evenings. Imagine this, actually you don’t have to imagine it, you can check it out yourself right now: to this very day her Tango Nuestro webpage on milonga.ca refuses to acknowledge that her evenings are at La Tangueria! She simply gives an address. (http://www.milonga.ca/tangonuestro/intro.html) That’s the kind of person Lily is; she acknowledges no one but herself. What a sad, forlorn creature she can be. If she had not gone out of her way for so many years to diminish the work and actual contributions of SO MANY people in the tango scene here, I could have been kinder to her. Such is not the case.
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At the beginning of tango in Montreal Lily never went to a Cercle Tango de Montréal evening or event, and Le Cercle was the first-ever registered tango entity in Montreal, with the first-ever milonga (dance evening)! Did she ever perform at the Argentinian Club? You tell me. She never came to Graffiti Tango events or milongas when we were in the basement of 4848 St-Laurent from 1991-95. And from 1995-99 I think she maybe came once (in 1998) when GT occupied the second floor ballroom at 4848.
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Moving on in the “builder” category… Gerardo Sanchez never stepped foot in a Graffiti Tango dance hall. Not ever. I believe that he never went to see any of Graffiti Tango theatrical productions either.
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For the record, I went to see several of Tango Libre’s productions and to dance in their dance halls, and to participate (to a lesser extent) later on in their festivals. I saw Denis Plante’s first-ever show at TL as a bandoneonist. Bravo! The Tango Libre theatrical productions I remember seeing were: a piece on the writings of Discepolo (yes Sylvie, I remember you on stage!), Amurado, Deux-ports-deux villes-un tango, and I went to see their show Sens. (In this age of YouTube, Vimeo, etc., one could expect posted videos of these productions… n’est-ce pas?!)
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In speaking with a friend of mine (and former Tango Libre client in the mid-90’s) about me going to see TL productions and how Gerardo never came to any Graffiti Tango events, she said to me: ‘You two are fundamentally different. Gerardo is a Chilean immigrant who struggled with a job at a CLSC and was looking for any kind of supplementary entrepreneurial outlet to help him survive in his newly adopted country. He thought tango might do it for him; and he guessed right. He’s a business-first person and is more akin to your ‘community of the hamburger’ descriptor. You on the other hand are an artist. It’s in your nature to explore, to seek out and appreciate what’s going on around you . You want to be involved, and to seek inspiration from a variety of sources.’
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This person left Tango Libre as a client years ago because Gerardo (then, and even now it seems) insists that his clients DO NOT go to other tango venues in Montreal. I have heard this same story from countless people over all these years. And (from my perspective) that is one big reason why TL’s numbers never seem to grow at the rate they should, in direct defiance of the (annual) Herculean marketing efforts of Sylvi Belleau. (btw, Lily used to say she would allow her adepts to frequent events that she sanctioned. Although I have never encountered a Lily Palmer tango ‘adept’ on any dance floor, ever.)
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I truly admire Gerardo that he never gave a shit about anyone else in the “community”. He simply did not want to know, or see first-hand, what was going on around him; and he certainly didn’t want his efforts compared with others, on stage, video or otherwise! I admire the fact that he just went about his business as best he could, putting aside the “politics” of the so-called “community”.
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Oddly enough, Graffiti Tango started out with a sense of community. GT’s first theatrical show in June of 1991 was in fact a community effort. And since we were dance professionals with specific aspirations, we invited the Canada Arts Council to adjudicate our first production . We knew that it took three adjudications (of three full productions) before a professional company could even apply for funding. The CAC representative who came to that show told us afterwards that (although she enjoyed the show) there were far too many non-professionals in the cast. She advised us to retract our request for adjudication of that show because the “community” aspect would not work in our favour. We did as she advised. And from that moment on the tango “community” deemed us as snobs. That ‘moniker’ (per se) persisted in certain circles for decades. Good grief.
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It ended up that Graffiti Tango did lots of shows that involved our studio clients over the years. However in 1996 Graffiti Tango once again reached out to the “community” at large. The first was a Milonga Kings show that involved Paul Montpetit from La Tangueria and Antoine Latte from SCQAC. (I have the program but not the video of this show.) The second effort was “La soirée de la Cumparsita” where we invited every tango entity in Montreal to present an improvisation or a choreography on a version of that famous tune. Neither Gerardo or Lily responded to our invitation.
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I should mention that Tango Libre has participated in a few “community” evenings in the past; although (in my time) Gerardo sent others to represent his studio. Lily of course is still a beginner dancer (even after her “25 years”) and I have never seen her in any kind of demonstration at a “community” event. (Hey, here’s an idea! Wouldn’t it be perfect for this “25-years community” hug-fest if Lily Palmer and Victor Hernandez performed at a Tango Libre festival evening? It would be like “two peas in a pod”. Man, the place would be packed!! LMAO!!!).
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So what does it take to build a tango community Daniel Saindon? Well Mr. Moderator of this auspicious event, let me (first) congratulate you on your past and present contributions to the “community”. And allow me to say how impressed I am that you state on your Facebook page that you seek to find value in everyone in tango here, and to avoid confrontations, in direct contrast to your stated ‘economics’ personality type.
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Daniel Saindon launched a Montreal tango “community” website in 1996. When he was preparing to launch, Daniel generously invited me and Danielle Sturk into his home to present his concept: he wanted to collate by popular vote the ten most favoured tangos in Montreal. So he proposed that each Montreal tango entity render him a list of their ten favourite tangos. Upon leaving his place, Danielle and I said to each other ‘it sounds like a high-school project’. As it turned out, if you did not submit a list to Daniel, then your Montreal tango entity DID NOT EXIST on his site. I didn’t and don’t have a problem with that; it’s just business. The only problem I see is pretending (now, or then) that it was “community” building. After all, by taking on the all-inclusive Internet call-sign “tango.Montreal”, one could argue that there’s some sort of community, commercial or social responsibility with that type of expansive advertising. Apparently not. It was just false, or at the very least mis-leading marketing on his part.
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In July 1996 I was put in a tenuous position with Graffiti Tango. Subsequently I never got around to submitting to Daniel a list of Graffiti Tango’s ‘ten most-ever favourite tangos’. So from 1996 to 1999, even though he came to my milonga most Sunday nights, Graffiti Tango had no value and did not exist… according to Daniel Saindon and his website ‘www.tango.montreal.qc.ca’.
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In the new century Daniel chose radio broadcasts as his contribution to his “community”. I don’t know when he took on the current host, but I have a problem with her. First of all, her voice IS NOT suited for this medium. But that’s just me. Secondly Daniel, you allowed this host to bring on Victor Hernandez for a show to speak about tango dance-floor etiquette… are you freaking kidding me!!! Well Daniel, I’m here to tell you that you lost MAXIMUM credibility with that directorial oversight. Hernandez is the ORIGINAL CREEP of the entire Montreal tango scene. This is the guy who ‘devised’ punching men in the back on the dance floor while he hides behind a skirt. And in case you missed it, he passed on his creepy trait to the necessarily-medicated Pierre Charbonneau. (Thank you Pancho and Joseph Vignalou for putting FREAKING CREEP #2 in his place!!!) In any event Daniel, that particular show notification completely turned me off your radio initiatives FOREVER… with one exception. My friend Manuel Soto asked me to listen to his interview with your host and I obliged. During that show I couldn’t help but notice how Manuel’s second language (French) was FAR SUPERIOR to your host’s first language (also French). Go figure. Manuel sounded polite and educated, your host sounded clownish.
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Good luck with your hug-fest, one and all!
And rest in peace Gavito. You set a fine example in your time.

2 thoughts on ““25 years of tango”, and one rare gem

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