Starting next May 10th and until the 24th of this month, the Tango Championship organized by the Municipality will take place in the city of Buenos Aires. It covers three ballroom dance categories: tango, milonga and vals porteño. And there is a fourth category, Milongueros of the worldfor those who do not live in the city of Buenos Aires.
Occasion to remember the scandal that occurred more than 70 years agowith an unknown couple at the time, but very popular later: Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves.
For 19 years, a huge number of non-professional dancers have participated in these Tango Festival competitions, which show the breadth and richness of two by four -along with its close relatives, the vals porteño and the milonga- as a form of popular expression.
A friendly and festive meeting?
What could be more festive and friendly than this kind of meeting, people who surely have no ambitions to shine on the professional scene? Yet, more than seventy years ago, a tango competition in the legendary Luna Park aroused the passionate passions of the public after a performance by a couple of then only amateur dancers.
Although perhaps not that simple: their names were Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves Rego, names simplified over time into “Copes y Nieves”, which legendary pair of scenic tango.
And to evoke that episode, nothing better than turning to the most direct source: María Nieves herself, who continues to live, as she has for many years, in her simple apartment in Buenos Aires.
-What do you remember most vividly of that 1951 episode at the Luna Park, when you and Juan Carlos Copes won the first prize?
-We didn’t win. Well, we won: it was a moral triumph. We weren’t professionals yet. At that time there were thousands of milongas everywhere, and these neighborhood clubs started calling us to perform. They paid us nothing, but we had many followers: people from Villa Urquiza, Devoto, Saavedra, Núñez. I used to live four blocks from El pañuelito (a tango club), but I never went.
-Because he was from Atlanta; That’s where I became and that’s where we started with Copes. I was very young and I went to accompany my sister, an amazing milonguera.
The Atlanta rink was over half a block long and there were no tables; nothing but chairs for mothers. Everyone else stayed up all night. There wasn’t even a bar, only the club’s pastry shop; but we didn’t go because we were lazy. I think I’m walking around the bush.
A jury without dancers
-How was the jury composed for that championship at the Luna Park?
-There were several front-line actors, I don’t remember who they were; and was also a jury Irenaeus Leguize, the famous jockey. Dancers, none. At that time there was no talk of professional tango; We were all milongueros and danced because we felt it in our souls.
-Did you bring music?
-Nooo. It was all a bit impromptu. They weren’t even that many couples, why It took courage to step onto such a stage. We made it to the finals and they announced the winners. Despite the wild applause, quite an ovation, it wasn’t us. That’s when we started hearing a uuuuh! terrible coming from the public.
They give the winning couple a gold plaque with their names already engraved on it. They had prepared it in advance.
-There was no comparison between you and them?
It’s like today, at 88, I’m going to race some asshole who dances like the gods. I would never. They didn’t even reach our toes. They left the stage and so did we; I felt bad because of the anger I had. Because apart from how we danced, we were young and very attractive: Copes was very handsome and I was a pretty girl.
What happened to the public?
The announcer was encouraged by the fact that there were a large number of people approaching the stage little by little; many were followers of ours who had come by truck. Then the boy calls us: “Come on guys, dance another tango!”.
But everyone who approached began to take the stage; and after having danced the second tango they lowered us onto a litter and so, especially those people, we crossed the audience.
Didn’t they give you any prizes?
-NO. But for us, we were the moral winners. I think that if it was today, it would have ended in a shootout with someone dead.
Do you think this story inspired you to turn pro?
Yes of course. We tried, we came up with steps; many “Copes-Nieves” steps still used by young people.
The rounds of the Tango Festival can be seen for free at Usina del Arte (by reservation) and at the Centeya Cultural Space, the Carlos Gardel Cultural Space and the headquarters of the Huracán Club. In the milongas of the circuit of the City hosting the Championship the entrance fee is paid.
Read more at buenosaires.gob.ar/culture.
Charles Hurd is an entertainment journalist for News Rebeat. He brings a fresh and engaging voice to the world of pop culture, covering the latest developments in film, television, music, and more.