Pepito Avellaneda and his dance: an exploration

Being an anthropologist and a dancer, I like to find out about as many cultural facets of an idea as I can. When one of my students asked me to help him learn Pepito Avellaneda's dance style and steps, I began to search for as much information as I could find about him, as well as his dance.

Short biographies of him are on the web. Interviews with him give you an idea of his personality, as well as of his personal journey through the tango world. Videos show his steps; his performances; how he danced with different women, such as his wife; and how he taught. Several of my teachers studied with him, although I missed him: I started dancing tango in December 1995, and he died four months later. It took me until 1999 to get to Buenos Aires.

I am trying something that, as a teacher, I have never done: I am teaching from a combination of my experience with Pepito's students and his videos. Never before have I attempted to teach someone's moves and technique without studying with them personally. I don't think it would be possible to do this without the training from Omar Vega (one of his premier students), from Oscar Mandagaran (also Pepito's student), and from the various milongueros I have danced with in Bs As who studied with Pepito.

One experience has helped the most in learning and teaching these steps. In 2000, I spent a few months in Argentina, and took Omar Vega's milonga classes. He used me as an assistant, so I got to feel the movement consistently led, over and over, in each class. Because I was actually taking the class as a leader, I then got to lead the step immediately after experiencing it as a follower. Those moves are hard-wired into my body even now, almost 15 years later. In my "Pepito" class, almost every leader has been trained by me, and can lead and follow. I have used the "feel this as a follower from me, now go lead it" more in this class than I usually do. It works.

I have been surprised at the level of enthusiasm in the community for this class. It turns out that a bunch of the guys have tried to learn Pepito's step on their own from the video, but had difficulty. We are having a lot of fun in class working on these steps that are never seen danced here in Portland, but are part of tango's cultural history.