Those plans were not simply to have a school or club or a tango theater. The ambition that has driven him since 1982 is to have the world’s first tango university — a four-year program leading to a bachelor’s degree.
“The goal is to teach all aspects of tango,” Ive told me, “not just the dance — the dance is just one goal. We will teach all the instruments, all the folklore, even the cooking, and we will direct people into performing arts or into education.”
We were sitting at a table in a large room with a white-and-black checkerboard tile floor and tango posters on the walls. Dances are held here at least twice a week, as well as many of the private lessons.
My obvious question was whether there would be enough interest to sustain a university, much less to begin it. He brushed my doubts aside, telling me that tango was the most complicated, most ornate, most emotional, most intellectual, even the most philosophical of any of the western dances. To hear Ive and Ludmilla describe it, tango was not just a dance but also a way to order one’s life and put the world in perspective.
“First we had to make a syllabus, then we put it all on videotape. It’s a system to teach and to learn. I’ve been working on this syllabus for 36 years, but we just made our instruction tapes five years ago. We’re talking about 1632 patterns, or steps, presented chronologically starting from 1905. The tapes are now being used in about 21 countries. The plan was to find the right city for our university. We didn’t think of San Diego, but we came to San Diego and we said, This maybe is it. We will start the university as soon as we get the funding. We can get donors, but we need the right donors.”
The syllabus takes a student through different levels of complexity — bronze, silver, gold — and teaches other forms of tango, such as the milonga — an earlier form, faster and more cheerful — and the vals cruzado, or tango waltz.
Ive brought out a thick roll of architectural plans, done by a local architect who had traded the plans for lessons.
“The plan is to make a tango mall. The university will be in the back, all the university on one floor, all the departments. In the front will be a circular mall with 24 boutiques, all related to tango, and keep the middle for dancing and other programs. It will be a reconstitution of Buenos Aires, and when someone steps into the mall he will forget he is in San Diego. It is ambitious but not impossible. One thing I know — it will happen, definitely. I will find a way.”
Then Ive began to talk about the origins of the tango.
“Tango started in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, from the port. Immigrants from eight different nations came to Argentina to find work. They left their families in Europe — from Hungary, Russia, Italy, France, from Poland, and Jewish and African. Tango was first an African contortion dance and ‘tango’ is an African word. It means ‘a place where blacks sit down to dance.’ Then all those nations — you know, they came by ship and they didn’t find any work. Argentina, the silver land, it was a deception. Now they live in this little outskirt, one above each other, and they start to exchange culture, music, exchange everything, and they met the gaucho, the Argentine cowboy, and the payadores, the troubadours — the ones who carried music from ranch to ranch with guitar. And altogether they start to build a kind of music, nostalgic music. Before tango, was milonga — it’s what payadores play — but it was just rural milonga, not the dance. There came little by little a dance composed by habaneros from Cuba, polka from Czechoslovakia, mazurka and Scottish dance and African candombe — this created the first pattern of milonga, which matched the rural sound played by the payadores. You know, tango is a bastard. It contains 21 dances. It’s not like another dance — it has a history but no foundation. Tango is a way of moving, a way of thinking. It didn’t start with a pattern like another dance. In other dances you first look at the basic pattern, the steps, and then you recognize the dance — you say that’s a waltz or a polka. Tango is the opposite — the way makes the pattern, and in other dances the pattern makes the way. In other European dances everything started in the aristocracy or the theater and it dropped down to the population. So if you take the polka, the waltz, it was just for aristocracy, rich people, theater, then the population learned it for pleasure. Tango was the opposite — it started in the street and it moved upward.
“Tango is a culture, a story, a dance, and a way of life. But again, contrary to anything else, the music was created after the dance, not before. The way of life was created before the dance. It gave some patterns about how to move and from that was created music, then it became the culture. First, it’s a way of life, then a way of moving, then a music, then a culture. It started with the way of life, but we must go back to the kid, to the children of immigrants who met the gaucho, and they began to imitate them in the street, they swaggered and walked as they did and there was always fighting. They played the little gaucho and then they became independent of him and the tango began.”
Early tango orchestras were made up of a piano, flutes, and violins. Then around the turn of the century a queer instrument called the bandoneon was added — something that falls between the accordion and concertina — squared-shaped with 71 keys and invented by Heinrich Band of Krefeld, Germany, in the mid-1840s. The bandoneon has been the primary instrument of the tango every since. It was the bandoneon that was played by Astor Piazzolla.