An interview with tango teachers Nati Rodriguez & Bruno Vandenabeele

Photo of Tanguito owners, Nathalie and Bruno Rodruiguez
Nati & Bruno Image © Tanguito

From their award-winning tango school in North London, Tanguito, Nathalie (Nati) and Bruno teach, perform, host milongas and visiting maestros and organise the annual Che London festival. Known for their charm, expertise and structured teaching style that equips students to bridge the gap between lessons and embrace the cultural experience of tango, they have built a loyal following. I caught up with Nati and Bruno in the run-up to this year’s Che London.

Bruno, let’s start with a little background. You both discovered tango in Japan. How was that experience, and the tango scene there?

Yes, we started to learn tango in Japan, nearly two decades ago. Nati learnt contemporary and classical dance as a child and I did social dances as a teenager such as rock ‘n’ roll. We chose tango for our wedding dance and got completely hooked.

It might be a surprise for some readers but Japan has a very established tango scene. The only non-south American dancers who won the world championship were a Japanese couple – this shows the level of tango there. We started learning with a very traditional tango instructor from Buenos Aires who taught in central Tokyo. We immediately loved the dance and the connection between the dancers.

The role of tango in Japan was interesting. Personal space there is culturally very important. There is an emphasis on distance, for example when greeting someone. Partner dance, and particularly tango, allows a place for an acceptable embrace, for it to be fine to embrace someone without fear of invasion of personal space. Tango is slightly different all over the world; some countries have very particular ways of dancing it. I think Japan stands out for the role of the embrace and the high standard of dancers it produces.

You know, Japan is one of the reasons tango is still around today. When tango went underground in the 1970’s during the dictatorship in Argentina, it kept going in Japan and maestros visited to teach and do workshops. The prevalence of tango in Japan was one of the contributing factors to its survival when Argentina reclaimed it in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Was your next step to go to Buenos Aires?

Yes, we moved from Japan to London in 2004 and after dancing a few more years here decided to go to Buenos Aires to complete our training. We immediately fell in love with the way tango is taught and danced in Argentina. What particularly caught our imagination is the social dancing, the milongas in the Argentine capital. This experience reinforced our belief that tango is much more than a dance – our impression was that it is a culture, a way of life, a fascinating look into the history of European migration and the birth of a country, and a deep heritage composed of beautiful music, a gentlemanly attitude and the generous sharing of emotions between dancers. It was that part of tango – beyond the dance and its sophisticated technique – that we wanted to bring back with us to London and start sharing with our fellow dancers. And so, several years ago, we founded our tango school in North London, Tanguito.

You were struck deeply by the culture of tango. As dancers, what do you love about it?

Bruno: We feel that dancing tango is like sharing a dream together. There is a profound connectedness that happens when dancing. One needs to be completely open to the other dancer – it is a bit like being in an active meditation with someone.
Nati: Tango is not just about steps or counts. It is more than a dance, it is a philosophy – to respect yourself, your partner, the music, the space. I find it interesting when we teach someone who has come from ballroom dancing, where the emphasis is often on dancing for the view of others, for competition. In tango you are dancing for your partner and yourself. The world should vanish around this epicentre.

Nati and Bruno dancing at the Royal Festival Hall milonga on 25th March (look out for the clever footwork at 2 mins 16):

Has anything surprised you about teaching?

N: I find it interesting to observe students taking something from tango into their personal lives. It can bring out the best in them and help them tap into something they have been missing or have forgotten they had. It’s a pleasure to observe the little success stories around us and makes the experience very rewarding.

Where can we find you teaching?

B: Every week we run classes and Milongas, both on Wednesdays and Sundays. Our milonga, Los Angelitos, has developed a reputation for being one of the friendliest in London. Dancers come to Los Angelitos to find a place where dancers change partners and invite new people all the time. We also make sure the music is to the same caliber you would expect from a milonga in Buenos Aires. We also teach privately to individuals and couples, and have a very busy schedule.

Your milongas often have a theme which I find really fun. Have you ever regretted your choice of theme?

B: Last year we had a Prohibition Era themed milonga. My costume got a little out of hand. I wore spats and braces and danced with an inflatable tommy gun over my shoulder.

I have no words!

I’m excited about the Che London festival that is coming up at the end of this month. You must be very busy with all the preparations. Tell us a little about it.

B: Che is a yearly festival that brings together amazing couples from Argentina and local London schools. Our goal in setting it up was to make it not a festival of one school only but many, to make it truly the London festival. This is why we invite several couples from London and Oxford to come and teach, as well as couples from Buenos Aires such as Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa, Roberto Zuccarino and Magdalena Valdez and others. We also work with local milongas, including Negracha and Corrientes.
N: It’s really important to us that we get this opportunity to bring maestros to London as it gives an experience for students that they will never forget. Teachers show you how to do something and the good ones do it very well; maestros embody it in their whole way of life. Being around someone who is like that can be a profound experience.

As soon as the festival is over you’ll be preparing for your trip to Argentina, right?

B: Yes! We are excited about it. Every August we go with a group of students to Buenos Aires. We tour the Milongas, organise daily workshops, visit the different parts of the capital, try the local ‘Penas’ (folkloric restaurants), and participate in the most amazing tango event worldwide: the world championship and festivals which consists of more than 150 tango events in the span of two weeks, from concerts to open air Milongas and more. It is an amazing trip that we would warmly recommend to every tango dancer: more than a holiday, it is an experience that will change the way you dance forever.

One of the previous group trips to Buenos Aires, at Milonga Confiteria Ideal

Do you enjoy the London tango scene?

B: We love it. There are many great dancers and there are really nice places for dancing. What is amazing in London is that there is a constant flow of maestros visiting from Argentina and beyond, which makes the scene truly connected to the birthplace of tango. As such the level of dancing has been improving dramatically over the last 10 years.

Where are your favourite places to dance?

B: In London, we are usually teaching in the evenings but on the occasion that we get to dance socially we enjoy going to Negracha, Carablanca, Corrientes, The Light and Tango Terra. In Buenos Aires we love Salon Canning when there is live music. We also love going to Milonga Los Zucca (formerly Niño Bien). I also like Fruto Dulce, a Wednesday night milonga in a small space with adjoining restaurant. It has a great atmosphere and very high standard of dancer.

N: I’d agree. There are such great places to dance in both London and Buenos Aires. On one of our trips there I was invited by a friend of a friend to a birthday party. It was in a beautiful old building with a lot of character. As the evening went on it turned out there were a few musicians in the crowd and they started playing. We started dancing and no-one had their shoes with them so it was just socks. It was spontaneous and wonderful.

Do you have a wind down ritual at the end of a long night dancing?

B: Not really but there is something in Buenos Aires I really love. At La Viruta late on Saturdays, which is sort of the after-milonga milonga, they serve hot croissants and very strong coffee at 6am.

Let’s talk about tango shoes. Naturally over the years you have formed a strong preference. What would you say to anyone looking for shoes?

N: I get asked this a lot and always say go with something supportive and not too high, 7 or 8cm is perfect. But over the years I’ve come to realise that the best advice for beginners is to buy the pair you fall in love with! That way you will take care of them and enjoy wearing them.
B: I recommend men starting to learn begin with a shoe with hard soles as they give better support and help your balance. Later when you are much more experienced you can switch to a flexible sole with much less support, when you need total floor contact.

Tell me about the Tanguito collection of tango clothes.

B: We started the collection because we could not find clothes which were both optimised for tango but not showy. We started the first models with a talented young designer who helped us choose the right fabrics and play with shapes. She also helped us assess the seamstresses that are still working with us now, five years later. We have sent dresses, skirts and trousers to customers in no less than 27 countries; not only Europe and South America but all the way to Japan, China, and New Zealand! It has been an incredible adventure.

Ok, my last question. Let’s play my Fantasy Milonga game. This is where you choose your tango dream team! Pick a venue and invite whomever you like, living or past – dancers, bandleaders, musicians, singers. Whom would you choose and where would it be?

N: You know, I’d really love a venue in London that is like the beautiful salons in Buenos Aires without the London price tag! It is so hard to find venues here that capture that grandeur at a sensible price. For the orchestra, I’d like half and half old and new. Some Golden Age, and for new Sexteto Milonguero. I would love to see the late Osvaldo Cartery and Coca dancing. I saw Osvaldo perform many years ago before I really appreciated who he was. It would be amazing to see him dance again.
B: The venue would be in Buenos Aires, probably Niño Bien. I’d love the orchestra to be Tanturi with Alberto Castillo singing. Or Di Sarli’s orchestra with Podesta singing. For dancers, I would love to mix cinema and dance, so Greta Garbo please!

Nati and Bruno, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Find out more about group classes and milongas at Tanguito here, and private classes here. Che London is 29th April until 2nd May at various locations in London. This year’s Tanguito group trip to Buenos Aires is 13 to 25 August. Discover the clothing collection for women and men here.

Shoes for beginners and experienced dancers are available for women and men at Amy’s, exclusive UK stockist of Turquoise, Mr Tango Shoes and Very Fine. Amy’s specialises in half sizes, custom orders and made-to-measure.

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