The renovator of stage dance
It is possible that during your tango life you will hear about a teacher, a great teacher who taught the art to someone who quite possibly at some point taught you to dance. This is how tango and culture are transmitted. I am referring specifically to Don Antonio Todaro, the man who changed the stage dance.
As we know, the life of a man cannot be covered in a few lines. But at least we can highlight a part of his career and his notable moments. On this occasion I decided to pay this tribute to Maestro Todaro, given the scattered and sometimes erroneous information that there is about him. Therefore, before starting, I want to clarify that everything said here comes from information gathered from interviews with Todaro himself and those closest to him.
It seems incredible that in a country whose most genuine cultural pillars are tango and soccer, the life and work of many players and very little of the dancers are known. But let’s not lose hope that at some point that group of men and women who renewed the consciousness of the movement and kept alive the Buenos Aires and Argentina cultural flame will be recognized.
Todaro, from work to practice
Antonio Todaro was born on September 12, 1929 in the Chacarita neighborhood. You are likely to find that many claim that he was born in Mataderos; But the truth is that according to an interview with Gabriela Hanna in Germany, Antonio Todaro himself declared that he was born in Chacarita, then moved to Parque Chacabuco and later, from the age of 13, settled in Mataderos.
We are talking about 1942, a country with 8 million inhabitants and a time when there were not many tango professionals; but in which it was danced and practiced in all the neighborhood clubs, social and sports clubs that were filled with young men who aspired to overcome the tango of previous decades. In fact, it could be said that there was nothing other than tango, at least in Mataderos.
And one of those clubs Antonio used to attend to watch practices. Then there were no teachers or anyone to take care of teaching. The boys practiced with each other and in that experience they trained as dancers.
But one fine day in 1948, Todaro entered the club as usual, sat down, and looked for a long time at those young people, until suddenly he heard a voice saying: “Come, come!”
Who was he? Who called him? We do not know. But there was something convincing in that tone, because immediately Todaro got up from his chair so that the boy began to teach him. And step by step, like all beginners, the process was launched.
At that time he worked as a bricklayer and, according to the teacher and dancer Antón Gazenbeek, from time to time he helped another dancer, known as “Virulazo”, to sell vegetables in wooden carts in the San Justo neighborhood.
But while he applied the cement to the wall or walked the cobblestones in search of clients, Todaro had the tango in his head. He just finished lunch he would go to practice and spend four or five hours at the club, even if there was no music. In fact, he practiced two hours with music that came from a gramophone that someone contributed – whatever music was put on – and then he stayed another three hours to practice without music.
The theme was learning, it didn’t matter with what music.
Those were the times when dancers took four or five years to learn and grow and then they became fans of an orchestra.
Todaro might like Juan D ’Arienzo’s orchestra, but he hated dancing with orchestras. Especially with the Pugliese orchestra. Not because of the orchestra itself, but because he couldn’t stand people coming up to the stage and stopping to see it, because no one was dancing. This was especially the case with the Osvaldo Pugliese orchestra. Surely not with others; but especially with that of maestro Pugliese, especially when the girls rushed to the stage to see Alberto Morán sing.
20 years is nothing … (“20 años no es nada”…)
However, in 1949, he felt that he already had enough courage to defy destiny and he enrolled in a dance tournament to participate in a contest in a club in Lanús, province of Buenos Aires, called “Marplatense”.
Here I must clarify that several dance competitions did not have judges. The dance couple won by the public vote. This means that the more people the dancer brought to the dance, the more chances of winning the couple had, and the more chances of winning with the value of the ticket the organizer had.
The point is that Antonio came to the contest accompanied by six or seven people. Very few friends, compared to others. Sometimes dancers won one contest after another, driving trucks with friends; but Antonio had faith. He saw around 700 spectators at the club and waited for them to call him to participate.
He entered the group, danced, showed his skill and by the vote of the people he won the contest. It was one of those hinge moments, because from then on he dedicated himself to teaching and dancing. The name of his partner was forgotten; but we know that he died shortly after that triumph.
By then she was already thinking:
“Tango as a dance is the most beautiful thing that exists. It must be approached with force, with a lot of affection and many hours of work.”
At that time Todaro danced in the fantasy style, a style that you can learn more about by reading the note on Fantasia Style Tango in this blog. He could walk three to four meters away from the couple and resume the hug.
This showy way of dancing allowed him to work for a year and a half as a dancer in various confectioneries: Armonía, (Calle Corrientes 1443); El Olmo (corner of Rivadavia and Pueyrredón, in Plaza Once or Plaza Miserere); The Munich, (Boedo street corner San Juan) in the city of Buenos Aires as well as in the city of Rosario, province of Santa Fe. He participated in varietés like those that were in the cinemas.
In that same 1949, he was at the Sol de Mayo Club in Mataderos. He saw people who were not from there and who danced with twists. He could never claim who invented them. But he thought of Petróleo considering him a great dancer.
In each neighborhood there was a dancer who surpassed the others. It wasn’t because of competition, but because they liked it.
He came to consolidate a form of exhibition dance so his own, that it did not go unnoticed by anyone, to the point that he allowed him to show it with different couples, the last being his daughter, who some call Inés and others Titi.
Somehow the man showed that regardless of age, anyone could dance.
The great Todaro-Bravo meeting
But around 1964 another of those hinge moments occurred. The well-known teachers and dancers Antonio Todaro and Raúl Bravo met and in 1969 began a joint task in favor of teaching.
They set up tango academies in various parts of the city and developed an effective method for dancers. Little by little the classrooms were filling up.
So Todaro left the masonry job and began to live by teaching tango and running the academy.
He had many academies: on the corner of Misiones and Rivadavia, Rojas, Nazca and the last one on Jujuy and Carlos Calvo streets.
Let us remember that in the 1970s many thought that tango was dying and others wondered if tango had died. A time when many professional dancers found it difficult to work.
But be that as it may, the study by Todaro-Bravo began to gain prestige and to rank among the academies most requested by students.
It was also true that the milongas kept their doors open and continued their work in favor of tango.
So it was that at the beginning of the 80s, he entered a milonga at the Canning Hall, he met the young dancer Martha Antón, and after dancing with her he proposed that he be her assistant. It is not necessary to describe the feeling of pride felt by the young woman, for whom the future reserved to be a great master of modern canyengue. It is worth saying that Antón was with him at the academies on Belgrano Street (Belgrano 2259 and Potosí) and then at Sarmiento 2950.
Todaro, international Maestro
It seemed that everything was in order; But he discovered that there was still much more to do when, between 1983 in Paris and 1985 in New York, the Argentine Tango boom was unleashed.
So he started tours of Europe. He taught in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, and Paris.
But he never stopped teaching in Buenos Aires. He taught three times a week.
In 1986, together with his assistant, Antón, he received the first contingent of 22 Dutch from Amsterdam. Later Todaro moved to Carlos Calvo y Jujuy, first floor.
He taught to dance with an open and close embrace; He taught salon tango to Luis Grondona, who would become a modern canyengue teacher and began to transmit his knowledge to several students who would become great teachers.
Who is it? They were a brood of young people from whom he would extract all his virtuosity. Among them: Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs, Jorge Firpo and Aurora Lúbiz, Alejandra Mantiñán and Gustavo Russo, Roberto Herrera and Vanina Bilous, Gabriel Angió and Natalia Games, Roxana and Fabián Belmonte, Marcela Durán, Ricky Barrios, and an endless list.
It would seem that there is almost no exhibition dancer trained in the eighties who has not studied with the great teacher.
In fact, in the 90’s he was already settled in the academy of his friend Saverio Perré, in Belgrano 2259.
At that time he said about stage dancing:
“Today we dance with choreography, a lot of fantasy, a spectacular tango. Walking on stage would not be very successful.”
Todaro, renovator of stage dance
Antonio Todaro was a man who spoke little and did a lot, he had among his friends Jorge Ocaizaguirre “Virulazo”, José María Baña known as “El Pibe Palermo”, Carlos Estévez “Petróleo” and Raúl Bravo, with whom he shared the academy of tango.
For that trajectory, in 1993 the teacher and dancer Raúl Bravo presented him with a commemorative plaque for 15 years of joint teaching. They danced exchanging roles and enjoyed the milonga night.
In this video, you will see part of the teacher’s life and you will see him dance with his daughter and with the teacher Raúl Bravo in that tribute.
An unforgettable party that was also attended by a man focused on years to see him dance; but in whose features the teacher could recognize how that little boy who one fine day said to him “Come, come!” and he encouraged him to get up from the chair.
The following year, on February 28, 1994, Don Antonio, “el tano”, as some called him, left this life.
Todaro was a creator of figures, a great teacher; but above all the bridge that united the tango of the ’40s with the new generation of the’ 80s. He was the man who, beyond the milonga, delved into the choreography of fantasy salon tango, reinterpreted stage dance and gave the world a litter of dancers, today teachers, of indisputable dance quality. More than one called him “the tailor of tango”, for offering choreographies that fit the style or the possibilities of each dancer who required him.
“When someone says: ‘this is not tango’, he says it because he expects to see a tango from the 1940s. I can see him dance and say “I don’t like the way he dances,” but I won’t say “that’s not tango.” Who says that, will he really dance? “