Memories of Gavito
My contact with Carlos Gavito was in workshops hosted by Cristina Rey, milongas, or dinners after class. Personally, he was like an elder brother, or an uncle I could identify with- the one with the interesting stories, who had the courage to leave home at an early age to join the circus. Whenever the tango circus came to town, it had a profound impact. It was inspiring, fun, fascinating, allowing me the excitement only experienced as a child looking forward to a special event.
In December 1994, when I started, there may have been 100 people involved in tango in Toronto, with a hard-core group of 20 at most. Then, as today, the tango community was fractured, but Gavito was able to bring together even people who were antagonistic to one another. In those early days, Club Milonga was tango central. Everyone went there, including Gavito. There was the monthly Strictly Tango (hosted by Sandra & Ruben); then came El Rancho on Sunday nights (hosted by Luis Luna) and In Citta every second Friday (started by Bob Waugh, later hosted by Patricia Katz and Regina Salman). Myra and Ian hosted Sunday afternoon tango teas at the Moonlight. Finally, there was Xango (hosted by Cristina Rey and Keith Elshaw).
In those days, it was unaffordable for teachers to come “directly” from Buenos Aires except as performers in shows (Tango Argentino, A Rose for Mr. Tango, and Forever Tango), such as Mayoral, Pepito Avellaneda, and Gavito, both a stage star and a traditional milonguero. He was a fabulous ambassador, able to speak English and French, and a key element in the front line that has become a worldwide renaissance of Argentine tango. He had a profound impact on tango communities like Toronto’s. Many of his students in the early days were the first wave of Toronto dancers, such as Keith Elshaw, Barry Byrne, Bob Waugh, Joyce, Iva and Howard. He drew people to the tango from other studios- salsa teachers, such as Elizabeth Sadowska, actors, modern dancers, and ballroom teachers from Rita Ridaz Studio.
My first workshop with him was in the fall of 1995, nine months after I was introduced to the tango. Although I barely managed to get around the dance floor, he gave me enough attention to be relaxed and not overwhelmed by the material or the seasoned dancers at the workshop. His February 19, 2000 workshop, his last in Toronto, was particularly memorable because, for the first time, he taught with his stage partner, Marcela Duran.
He was unlike other teachers. For him, the tango was rooted in social dance, and he was always very clear on what he was teaching, admonishing people who danced “show steps” on the dance floor. In the first workshop I attended he said, “When I am on stage, I play the buffoon. Do not mimic me on the dance floor - unless of course you want to be considered a buffoon or a clown?” In the last workshop he said, “When I dance, I dance for enjoyment, not for exhibition. If you dance for others it becomes a stage. When people do that, I don’t know, am I supposed to clap?”
He was not a technician of the tango, not infatuated by the steps heavily influenced by Nuevo Tango. He taught movements that became part of you, with which you could endlessly improvise. He would say, “You know more steps than I do”, implying “Why do you not know how to dance”? He was able to create intuitive windows of awareness, evoking and teasing the next level out of you, drawing out understanding, seeding your mind with a principle, a fresh point of view you could never forget. He would say, “you only dance in one square metre” and then show you how. He was poetic, elegant, and simple.
“When you embrace your partner you dance holding your heart in front of you.”
“I take my lady for a walk. How do I walk? It is like walking with a lover in park. You will walk together in harmony and balance. I don’t know who adjusts to whom. All I know is that one does."
“There is nothing more beautiful than basic steps. In Argentina you won’t see people doing a lot of steps. In a dance, three steps is too much.”
His death was very sad for me but a reminder of what I really value. I do not think I would have had the tenacity to stay with such a difficult dance without his inspiration and depth of understanding of what it means to dance the tango. He had the greatest impact on me, opening a part of my soul long suppressed. He was a mentor, my bridge to the tango. Tango was his religion, the milonga his temple, the embrace his communion. Who can forget his demonstration with two broom sticks at In Citta; his milonga with Leeliana at Xango; his dancing at L’ Academie de Tango in Montreal; his interview with Paula Todd on TVO; or his appearance in the film, Tango in a Cold City? He is part of our tango history- a brilliant teacher, a charismatic performer, a man of deep feelings about life, fate, his country, and his tango, always forthcoming, with charm, insight, foible, wit, pain, courage, and sobriety about his own mortality. To the end, he was true to himself, heartening, inspiring.
Rocco Cornacchia www.argentinetango.ca