Interview with Jorge Torres
An Interview with Jorge Torres
The refined talent and style of Jorge Torres place him among the most outstanding and renowned Argentine tango choreographers and dancers of all time. Few know that Jorge might have lived his life as a ballet dancer or that if he could not dance, he would choose to be a martial artist or work with dangerous and beautiful animals like panthers or tigers. Jorge’s life changed forever when tango singer Libertad Lamarque invited him to dance as a professional dancer with her company when he was 20 years old. Now Dance Captain of Forever Tango, Jorge has been dancing tango for 38 years and teaching for 20.
While teaching in San Francisco this June, Jorge graciously agreed to be interviewed. He shared his experience, views on the essence of tango, and approach to teaching. More than just telling his approach, Jorge shared a bit of his heart and humanity as an artist.
How did you start in tango?
Jorge: My parents lived in the country. My father worked at pressing grapes and chopping wood. My mother discovered I liked to dance. Whenever dancers came on TV, I would jump. She found Norberto Guichanduc, a famous dancer, for me. I started with him when I was three years old. He’s like my second father, my teacher, and my mentor in life. He taught me, trained me to be a dancer in life… not tango or flamenco in particular… but a dancer in life. He introduced me to Argentine folk dancing, ballet, and tango. He wanted me to have a lot of knowledge of all the main dances. He was a famous dancer in Argentina and all over the world. He introduced me to the Colon Theater in Argentina. He forced me in a way to do a career as a ballet dancer. I started ballet when I was 10 years old and danced until I was 20 years old. Our point of view in life was to get new knowledge from ballet to learn to turn, to jump, and to partner girls for Argentine folk dancing. The main idea was not to be a ballet dancer but to learn skills for Argentine folk dance. But I became part of the main ballet company in Argentina. When I was 20 years old, a famous singer, Libertad Lamarque, who was the same level as Carlos Gardel as a singer, asked me to be part of her company as a professional tango dancer. I was planning to stay the rest of my life as a ballet dancer even though I was also still doing Argentine folk, flamenco, tango, everything. My teacher taught us to respect every dance and do it in the right way. When this opportunity came to me, I said let’s go, and I completely changed my life. The moment comes when you have to make a decision. That happened to me, but I’m not sure why. Another door opened.
What is your process in developing a class?
Jorge: Preparing is a personal process. I start by going inside myself. My main thing is to understand who I am, what I know, what I am missing, what I really want to do, and I need to control my body. When I set up classes, I try to make people think. People need to go through frustration. For me frustration is not bad; it helps you understand where you really are. In Argentine tango, people believe they are a much higher level than they really are. They wish to be a higher level. You have to work to reach the top of the line, and you have to work to stay at the top. I make people do things to understand how much they cannot control their own body by themselves. I make people do balance exercises, and they start falling. They don’t like that. They don’t want to show their weak parts. If I just see somebody standing, I’ve danced for 38 years, and I know if they have their axis. People try to jump levels, and you can’t do that. People want to learn steps and need to learn to control their own body first. If you can’t control your own body, how can you expect to lead someone else?
How do you get the concept of connection across?
Jorge: The connection for me starts from me. If I don’t connect myself with me, I can’t share anything. That’s what I try to do with the couples. I try to make each understand who they are. Once you control your own axis, you unify. For connection, you need to manage the convex and concave parts of the movements. Then, you have to teach them how to breathe, how to use the movement in the right way. They have to develop the feeling. I tell my dance partners if we go to Hell or to victory, we go together, but we go together. We are a couple. If there’s any mistake, forget about the choreography. The couple comes first. In order to be with the couple first, you have to be with yourself. Most people use their partner to practice or show the people sitting and watching at the tables how much they know; their real point is not to make their partner happy or dance with you. They just want to do the steps. I encourage my students to put the couple first. If you put a mistake or steps as more important than your partner, you are done.
What exercises do you use?
Jorge: The main exercise is to show the students what level they are. They hate it because they don’t want to know or show the other people they are falling – until they laugh. They have to learn to laugh at themselves. If you cannot hold your axis, learn, practice, and get better. I’ll give you the tools. But people need to practice to improve. You have to do your part.
How do you tailor your class to non-Argentine students?
Jorge: To an Argentine, I can talk to him in my language and give him examples from our life. Most of us Argentines grew up with nothing. We were poor people. We had to create things. We had to fix things on our own – the electricity, the car. If we didn’t know how to do it, we didn’t have money, we had to find out. The situation forced us to improvise. That’s why Argentine tango is like that. The main thing is to improvise. Argentine tango is an improvising dance. It’s like our people. Argentines are a little more like Europeans than other Latin Americans. Without knowing them, I can identify Argentines on the street just by seeing the way they walk. Argentines have a special way of walking. People from Denmark came from a totally different life. I communicate with them in a different way. The difference in the class is the means of communication. My wife is from Japan. We both speak English. We start mixing languages, and we find our own language. Wherever you are from, I have to make you happy and make you fly. You don’t need to be Argentine to dance.
What is your definition of Argentine Tango versus other styles of dance?
Jorge: Argentine tango is, for me, the best way to express myself. The dance where I feel at home is Argentine tango. Any insecurity I have in the rest of my life, when I dance tango, there’s no more insecurity. Tango is where I feel comfortable. The difference in Argentine tango is to be able to show yourself. So many people put masks in front of themselves, too afraid to show who they really are. The point is to be human. I’m in a show called We Are the Champions including the best of the best ballroom dancers in the world. The ballroom dancers project their energy outward. We tango dancers go onstage, and we go inside ourselves. Tango energy is more inside. It’s more, come and see inside us to see who we are. It’s completely different power. At home I have 3 dogs, Rottweilers. I love the power of the dogs and how deeply they look at you. You don’t know if they are going to attack you or not. I love that power. It’s like the power of a woman, the female power. You don’t know if she’s trying to seduce you. The seduction is tricky. If I could have panthers or tigers at home, I would love them. They are so beautiful, but you can see their power. If you have light over here and darkness over there, you can be afraid because you cannot see. I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m not afraid to cry when I dance or afraid to say I’m sorry. I have confidence.
How do you get people interested in Tango?
Jorge: Most people get into tango because of the shows. They are in town working or doing something else. When they see the shows, they get the feeling. After the show, the audience gets up and starts dancing in their seats. We look, and we are responsible for them. Our work on stage is to make people happy to make them interested. Then, the main responsible people are the local teachers. The people who were in the audience are searching. They have to show what Argentine tango means, not just the steps. It’s about the quality of life, the quality of sharing, being human. Most people are so fake all over the world. You are not talking to them, you are talking to the Manager of the person, because they are so afraid to show who they are.
How do you get people into the class?
Jorge: When we are in a town for a show, the local tango organizers put out the name of the show and the company, and let people know that someone important is coming. Some people come out of curiosity – just to say they studied with Jorge Torres. Once people come to the class, we try to show them what tango really is. If you can support it, you stay. If you cannot, you run away. We don’t do this for the money. We do this because it is our life. If you go to an expensive restaurant and don’t like the food, you don’t feel well. If you go to another place where the food is great, and whether it’s expensive or not, you feel great.
What sets your class apart from other people's classes?
Jorge: The biggest difference is the humanity. I focus a lot on the humanity. I try to make you feel. I try to break your heart because it’s the only way to make you open something. Frustration will break you. My father used to tell me, if everything in your life is going great, and something goes wrong, you go down. If you are in the middle of this problem, don’t fight. Try to go all the way down. If you are in the sea, don’t try to fight in the middle. Go all the way down. Why? Because you will find the floor, and when you find the floor, you will have the power to push yourself up again. If you fight in the middle, you get tired, and you die. I try to show people what level they are. Even professional dancers have the same problems.
A few days ago, I was at a tango festival. They said it was an advanced class. I watched them dance two dances to see their level. I said to them, you think you are advanced? You don’t know what advanced means. I was tough with them. I said I’m going to show you movement for advanced people. If you can do it, you are advanced. So I showed them. The people didn’t like that at all, but I love it. Somebody has to do it. I prefer to show them the truth. Then, they love it, and they come in every day. I do martial arts. My sensei said, don’t allow yourself to stop learning. Be like a white belt.
What is your teaching style? Steps, fundamentals, body mechanics, etc.
Jorge: My style in teaching is not to make you be a copy of me. I try to make you see the best of you. My teacher told me not to make students a copy of you because that way they would not have their own personality. If I force you to be exactly like me, in one moment, you will be me. I have to show you how to do it your way. I will teach you all these secrets, but make them yours. They are not mine any more. I give them to you. Make them yours.
What is your favorite music to dance to? Type: Milonga, Tango, Vals, composer
Jorge: I love the slow music. It’s the most difficult to dance. That’s why I love it. It’s difficult because to dance in slow motion, you have to control your body a lot. Also, I like it because I have more time to express. If everything is too fast, you cannot express. When it’s slow, you can seduce more, you can manage things. I like to smell my partner. I like to go around my partner. It’s a communication. I try to improve my slow motion and be present in every moment. People go through life or people live life. You need to live in between point a and point b. And I like to dance vals a lot. The vals makes me fly. I like to dance tango to DiSarli, music that’s breathing and going around you and around you.
How important is it for you to know the song / music?
Jorge: It gives you a lot of freedom to know the song. The different orchestras change the songs. Even if you know the song and the orchestra, you also have to know the orchestra’s version. The same song by the same orchestra, can be different in different recordings. They changed it because they got different knowledge or for other reasons. If you don’t know, it can kill you. When I have to do choreography, I spend one week, 24-hours a day with the music, listening, listening, until the music tells me what to do. It’s not just to take a piece of music and whatever steps I learned before. I put the music in myself. I don’t have to hear the music. I feel the music. The music talks to me, tells me where to go. It’s a relationship, your partner, the music, and you.
What do you like about teaching?
Jorge: To be able to touch people. On stage, we touch people with our energy. When I’m teaching, my wife says, Jorge, be careful, these women are going to punch you. Why? You touch too much. I’m not thinking in a sexual way. I try to make my students, men and women, understand. Students are here to learn, and that’s what it’s about.
Are you a demanding teacher?
Jorge: I tell students, if you don’t pay attention, you lose. You are 100 percent in the class or 100 percent out of the class. If you are in, be ready to suffer.
Do you have other tango interests like singing, playing music, or composing?
Jorge: I would love to sing, but I’m horrible. One of my wishes is to dance and sing at the same time – for myself. Some people like to sing in the shower. I like to sing when I dance. Babies learn to copy words and phrases. They start speaking without knowing what it means. In dance, you learn steps. We copy sequences. To understand, you start to improvise. Then, the next level is to try to do what the music says. The next level is the story of what the singer is saying. To be able to dance the story, you have to understand the language. People have to understand Spanish to do that. That’s why I want to sing with the singers. It transforms your life. You’re singing, and your body is moving in a relationship with the lyrics. I was taking opera lessons, but I was completely horrible. But I’d like to sing.
What would you do if you couldn't be a tango dancer?
Jorge: I’d be a martial artist. That’s one of my loves. I like the philosophy. It has so much history. If I’m very tired, and it’s 3am or 5am in the morning, and somebody brings to me dancing, martial arts, or my daughter, I wake up again. It has to be something you really love. It would need to be aikido or kung fu – something like a dance, or something with animals. I love big animals. I love their power.