Knife street fights and their influence on the technique and culture of Tango dancing. Tango as a dance has very diverse and varied origins, it mixes the influence of popular dances such as …
The Candombe: Of which incorporates some positions such as the “Corte” and the “Quebrada”, as well as some rotary movements of the ankles and hips that can be observed in Tango dance styles such as the “Orillero” and the “Canyengue” .
Local Folklore: Like the “Chacarera”, the “Malambo” and the “Zamba”, which influence the development of the rhythm of the Tango passage, some decorative elements of Tango such as the “Taconeo”, the “Piques”, the “Castigadas” and “Boleos” come from reinvented techniques of Folklore “Zapateo”, as well as the upright and assertive position of Tango comes from Argentine Folklore.
Tango as a dance has very diverse and varied origins, it mixes the influence of popular dances …
However, one of the technical origins of this dance that is rarely mentioned and is at least quite peculiar is the street knife duelists. There are contemporary biographers at the same time where Tango as a dance originates (one of them Jorge L. Borges) who closely link the origins of dance with these confrontations between men of the underworld with knives. This seems like a completely implausible assertion until we begin to see the technical and cultural similarities and commonalities between the two expressions.
Knife confrontation in the vicinity and neighborhoods of the city of Buenos Aires were known by the name of “Riñas” and the fencing technique was known by the name of “Visteo”. These illegal fights and many times with fatal consequences were carried out by those known as “Compadritos”, marginal personalities many times, although not always, linked to crime and licentious life. The quarrels were the arena to settle their differences; an offense, a betrayal or a territorial dispute could be settled in these contests. The origins of the “Visteo” are very early and come from the traditional “Creole Fencing” that was practiced in rural areas by Gauchos and Indians since very remote times.
But in the city this form of dueling was common within the lower classes precisely those that hold the primitive and popular tradition of Tango, therefore there is their first point in common which is quite revealing. El Compadrito, el Malevo did their first practices in the art of “Visteo” with wooden sticks burned at the tip that left a mark in the area where the alleged knife made its cut or thrust. The weapon par excellence of the Visteo was the “Facón”, a knife measuring between 30 and 40 centimeters, the pistol and the saber were weapons of another social class and belonged to gentlemen and career soldiers. Some cutlers achieved great popularity and were feared, hated, admired and persecuted. The children used to play cutler as one plays at being a soldier, a policeman or a thief; they assiduously practiced street fencing techniques and tricks that they could collect from the adult environment.
As for the rigorously technical that Tango inherits from Visteo, this is nothing more and nothing less than the position of “Abraso”. In the Visteo a garment (typically a jacket or a poncho) is wrapped around one of the forearms to be used as a shield, to hit, distract the opponent and avoid the cuts of the Facón, the arm is placed in front of itself of horizontal shape at the level of the abdomen, chest or face; This same gesture in Tango is reflected in the arm that takes the couple from behind their back and serves to attract the couple towards our body and regulate the distance of the hug. In the Visteo, the other hand carries the knife and extends forward and upward, executing downward or parallel lunges and transverse cuts; In the Tango Embrace that hand takes the palm of the partner, effectively it extends at the same height, approximately in the line of the shoulders depending on the height of the partner and fulfills the function of exerting a connection of advance and attack through to exert a small tension that is transferred to the rest of the torso.
But that’s not all, one of the techniques in Visteo known as “Aiming” consists of supporting one of the feet in front, stretching it and pointing the tip of the foot towards our goal while the weight of the body is placed on the leg. rear which is flexed at different heights and the foot is supported diagonally, this position served to “score” (approach and evaluate the opponent) facilitating the possibility of a quick retreat or a jump to avoid the opponent’s blade. This technique is reflected in the progression of the step in the Tango forward and to the sides, where one first supports the sole of the foot parallel and flush with the floor, in front of him and without transferring the weight or moving the axis of the body forward. , This technique in tango serves to exercise greater balance, connection, facilitate movements, ornaments and changes of direction. The lateral steps in the Visteo and in the Tango are also almost identical following the same mechanics of the forward steps but in this case supporting the metatarsal first.
Then we have the “Cross Step” which is when the front foot rests on a diagonal that crosses or rests on the line of the other foot pointing forward and the rear foot pointing outwards, the hip is dissociated from the torso which follows the direction of the front foot and the torso follows the opposite direction. In both the Tango and Visteo this step is used to change direction and to obtain more rotational energy to turn through dissociation of the hip while maintaining balance. In Tango this position is crucial for the development of an incredible variety of figures and possibilities of interpretation, this technique as described is not present in any of the traditional and popular dances of the time, which means clear evidence of the technical origins of Tango in the Visteo.