Living and breathing tango
Legendary dancer María Nieves on a life
“If I die and then I get to be born again, I would do exactly the same things. A tango dancer, above all things,” says renowned tango dancer María Nieves Riego — better known as just María Nieves — in the 2015 documentary Un tango más, written and directed by Germán Kral.
That commitment to tango, from such an intense and atractive personality, were the elements that caught the attention of journalist María Oliva, who wrote Nieves’ biography I am Tango some years ago. That book has gone global — it has been translated into English and was released by a small but rising publishing house called Abrazos Books, which since 1999 has published books about tango and Argentine literature in English, German, Italian, French and Spanish.
“María Nieves is a renowned artist around the world. She has danced tango in many countries. She is an astonishing artist. She is a key element of tango’s history,” Oliva told the Herald.
The journalist recalls today her original intention was to write a book about a group of female tango dancers. She started interviewing many of them. Then she met María Nieves. After that meeting, Oliva realised she had to write another book, one only and exclusively about Nieves.
“I felt I had to write her biography for she has a very impressive and unique life. She comes from a very poor family and she turned out to be an artist who travelled around the world. She even won a famous contest on Ed Sullivan’s TV show in the US. She danced for Ronald Reagan and Lady Diana, among many other famous people. She has had such an amazing life,” Oliva continued.
Born in Buenos Aires, María Nieves is the daughter of modest Galician emigrants. After her father died, she left school in the fourth grade to work as a maid in the neighbourhood of La Boca.
At the end of the 1940s the artist met dancer Juan Carlos Copes at a milonga (a tango dance hall). They remained together for decades, taking their tango shows to many countries of the world. After years of a very passionate and tense relationship, they are no longer together, neither artistically nor romantically, as the documentary Un tango más shows.
“The dance of tango has something very special: the communication within the couple. That is why when we dance it, we feel an endless number of emotions, such as love and hate. I was born to dance tango and I will die for my tango,” Nieves told Oliva in one of the several interviews they shared, shaping a biography in which the dancer is led by the author to reveal everything about her life — her darkest and her happiest moments.
Now, with the book translated into English, Oliva feels many more people will get to know the artist.
“Today she’s retired, but she has a great vitality. She is very kind and pleasant and talks about tango with great devotion. And up until now, she keeps attracting people and is a reference for people of all ages. In fact young dancers admire her very much,” Oliva said.
Daniel Canuti, the editor and owner of the Abrazos publishing house, as well as tango expert and teacher, discovered during a trip to Germany in 1998 that there was global interest in the artform. He found that there was a big community of people abroad who are interested in tango. So he decided to start releasing books on the subject.
“With the ‘tango boom,’ around 2001, many authors started releasing books about tango, especially about the dancing. That’s how our publishing house started growing and now we have around 50 books. Most of them are about the dance itself, but some of the others have to do with the music, with the history, even with literature and lyrics,” Canuti explained to the Herald.
With more than 15 years experience behind it, Abrazos Books — originally based in Düsseldorf, Germany, now with a set-up in Córdoba — has firmly established itself on the market. Canuti says what people find amazing about tango dancing is that it’s a discipline that mixes both the intellect and the body.
“You can’t learn to dance tango without your intellect being part of that process. And that’s attractive for many people. They are not only dancing but also involving their brain while practising it,” he said, adding that there is also “a social role in all this”.
“People go and take tango lessons to meet other people. You go to a milonga and you are, in a way, having a leading role. You’re no longer just in the audience. In a way, for many people across the world, tango gives them an idea of belonging to a certain group, just as for some others soccer does. That’s what attracts people the most I think,” he speculated.
The expert also points out that there is an emotional side that impacts upon people.
“When you dance tango there is almost zero distance between you and the person you dance with. There are no other dances that involve people being so close,” Canuti explained.
Regarding María Nieves’ biography, Canuti said that it was the author’s idea to translate it into English. He agreed because of the dancer’s international profile and influence.
Visit www.abrazosbooks.com to find out more about the range of releases. The biography of María Nieves can also be found at the Canning milonga, in Parakultural, a renowned tango venue located in the neighbourhood of Palermo.
— Herald staff