Interview with Ney Melo 2011

“There will never be a step, sequence, or trick in tango that will come close to matching the power of the embrace.” I do not have to say more than that…NEY MELO

Ney Melo si Jennifer Bratt au fost primii profi de tango de afara pe care i-am vazut dansand tango si de la care am luat primele lectii de imbratisare inchisa, postura, cum calcam, muzicalitate, etc. M-au impresionat intr-un fel anume, nici eu nu stiu cum... au un loc aparte in inima mea, si poate nu numai a mea... stiu pe cineva care a primit o pereche de pantofi albastri de piele intoarsa de la Ney si cum s-a bucurat atunci :) ma gandeam cum ar fi sa dansez eu in pantofii lui Jennifer... mi se parea ooooaaaauuu :). Prima lectie privata  de tango din viata mea cu ei a fost... incredibila, intr-o luna de mai, cam pe vremea asta; doua ore dupa ce s-a terminat lectia mi-a trecut tremuratul genunchilor... de la emotie :). Am scris atunci o lista cu cel putin 12 lucruri pe care sa le luicrez, ce-mi spusese Jennifer. Cred ca o mai am pe undeva, si s-ar putea sa mai fie acolo cate ceva de lucrat inca :). Asa ca acest interviu mi-a trezit amintiri super faine:

AM. When did your tango journey start and why did you choose argentine tango?

NM. I grew up dancing salsa and merengue. Later, I was a guitarist and singer in a rock band in high school. Aside from high school dances, my band actually got to play at the Supper Club and at the Limelight in New York City. Then I went to University, and I was told to “be more serious” so I received a degree in Accounting. This led to a 5 year stint with Lehman Brothers as a banker, a job I then lost after the September 11 terrorist attacks. I was there that morning, working across the street in 3 World Financial Center. I would have been in one of the Twin Towers on that morning if I had not decided to work late to finish and deliver a report the night before.

With my new free time and a new view of life, I decided to revisit my artistic interests. I was accepted into a salsa dance company and spent a lot of time in dance studios teaching and practicing salsa. This is how I saw a poster for a Tango “crash course” at the Dance Manhattan Studio in NYC. I decided to attend. I had seen tango in movies and I once accidentally walked into a milonga when I thought I was heading into the salsa room. The dance looked interesting enough (although I didn’t like all those ganchos and leg wraps) but what I really liked was the music. I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MUSIC. And I didn’t fall in love with Piazzolla or that tango jazz stuff. I loved D’Arienzo. Just like the Clash used to say that they are “the only band that matters”, I say that “D’Arienzo is the only orchestra that matters!” I can talk all day about how great D’Arienzo is! But, of course, I love all the orchestras. And I love traditional tango because traditional tango has guts, it has feeling, it has love, hate, violence and redemption all wrapped up in one exciting 3 minute opera! What more do you need?

So since I had the time and no prospect for a new job anytime soon, I decided to further my tango learning by going down to Buenos Aires. I decided to live there for a while. This was a great time for a foreigner to be living in Buenos Aires, it was after the Argentine peso crisis so the city was very cheap and dangerous, and many of the great tango couples were still together.

AM. How and where did you meet your long-term partner, Jennifer Bratt?

NM. I met Jennifer at my first milonga during my first week of learning tango. I remember walking into the milonga and seeing her beautiful smile. The milonga is called La Nacional, it is the Thursday milonga in NYC. Jennifer was already teaching, performing, and traveling with Robin Thomas. I was just a beginner so I didn’t dance with her. I only said hello. Later, I was hired to teach salsa at a studio called Empire Dance in Manhattan and was able to speak with her more and soon we started dating and then dancing together. Our partnership is one that has lasted for over 9 years in many forms (as boyfriend/girlfriend, as just dance partners, always as friends). Most recently we have decided to become partners as something else……….parents! Jennifer is pregnant and due to deliver in October.

AM. Ohh, that’s great! Congratulations to both of you !

AM. How long have you spent in Argentina to learn tango and who are your teachers?

NM. Jennifer and I go and in live in Argentina for long periods of time since 2002. In those early days, many of the great couples were still together: Javier y Geraldine, Ezequiel Paludi y Sabrina Masso, Tete y Silvia, Pupi y Graciela, and Pablo y Dana. Tete Rusconi was still alive as was Gavito. I still remember that Mora Godoy’s studio was where the aspiring professionals went to learn and where Pablo Villaraza & Dana Frigoli were teaching. Mingo Pugliese and Gustavo Naveira would teach at Cochabamba 444 and Julio Balmaceda & Corina de La Rosa would teach at la Galeria del Tango in Boedo. Jennifer and I learned something from all of these teachers I mentioned.

AM. You have lived in NY, San Francisco, and South Beach Miami, which community was the most eager to develop its tango?

NM. New York and San Francisco are big tango towns. Jennifer and I always got a lot of support from those two cities. Miami is a smaller community but one that has alot of potential. I love the weather in South Beach and it was great fun living there.

AM. Do you want to open another studio like the TangoVida Studio in San Francisco?

NM. The TangoVida Project in San Francisco was an amazing 3 year episode. Jennifer and I opened a storefront studio solely dedicated to tango and we offered classes every night of the week. Before long, we built a following and we had students at a high level of tango dance. It got to the point where their technique was good enough for us to just work on advanced combinations. I would like to open another studio like this but it would have to be with pilates or yoga during the day and, at least, one other couple. It is difficult to just have one dance and one couple supporting the whole venture.

AM. Ney, you speak Spanish fluently, what is your cultural heritage?

NM. My father is from the Dominic Republic and my mother is Ecuadorian.

AM. You have a great selection of tango pics. Who took them?

We never had a professional photographer take our photos! Many of our photos (the ones with me in the white suit) were taken by putting on the camera timer and then striking a pose in front of the camera! Other photos were taken by either my sister Lissette or the tango teacher Isaac Ho, who I would invite to our apartment in BsAs for some mate and then trick into pushing the button on the camera!

AM. You are known as a salon Villa Urquiza Dancer. What drew you to choose this Style?

N.M. The salon Villa Urquiza style is a very elegant style that gives a lot of space for the woman to adorn. I think Jennifer’s footwork technique puts her among the best female tango dancers in the world. It would have been a waste for me to throw her around and place her in these awkward positions for tango nuevo steps and not let her adorn to the music. Another thing that drew me to the style was that it filled a void that existed in tango in the US at the time.

When I started dancing in NYC, there were only 3 styles that the young people were dancing at the milongas: the Susanna Miller “milonguero style”, Tango Nuevo, or an ugly hybrid of the the two. “Tango Salon” was taught in the dance studios by Argentines who used to be classical ballet, contemporary dance, or stage show dancers and it resembled
tango for the stage. So the thinking was that if you were studying tango salon, it was because you were aspiring to get into Forever Tango or something like that. Furthermore, if one took a step back and looked at the US as whole, Americans would further classify Tango as either “open embrace” or “close embrace”. You basically had to choose one or the other. Although the nuevo dancers would talk about a flexible embrace, when they actually danced “close”, it didn’t look right, it didn’t look “tango”. So I chose to dance close-embrace, milonguero style.

Dancing milonguero style was great at first but eventually I felt that there was something missing in my musicality, in my movement, and even in my embrace. Then I went to Buenos Aires in 2003. I took classes with everyone: Chicho, DNI, Julio y Corina, Tete, and Mingo Pugliese among others. They were all excellent teachers and I learned a lot but it still wasn’t complete for me.

One Tuesday night, I saw Javier Rodriguez at Porteno y Bailarin and I was blown away. He wasn’t teaching in Buenos Aires at that time, so I asked friends about where to learn to dance like that. Someone told me that Javier is “re Villa Urquiza” and that I should go to Sunderland if I want to see more. When I went to Sunderland that Saturday night, it was like all the pieces fell into place. I saw the role models of how I wanted to dance when I grew up: I saw El Chino Perico, Carlitos y Rosa Perez, and many others. In addition to the Saturday night milonga, I started going to the Sunderland practica on Monday and Wednesday nights. This practica was great: for the first hour, all everyone did was practice their walk, afterwards everyone would just dance and Carlos Perez would come over and correct you.

Then I saw Jorge Dispari and Marita’s ad for “Tango de Salon al Estilo de Villa Urquiza” in El Tangauta. (Jorge and Marita are the parents of Geraldine Rojas and Samantha Dispari, and they also taught Javier Rodriguez.) I started going to those classes as well. From the Sunderland practica, from Jorge and Marita’s classes, and especially from Javier Rodriguez’s guidance, my tango started taking shape.

So “Villa Urquiza style” was the tango salon taught to me and Jennifer by Javier Rodriguez, los Disparis, Carlos Perez, and influenced by El Chino Perico and the past milongueros of Sunderland and Sin Rumbo. Their style of tango, their “Villa Urquiza style” had a noticeable aesthetic and musicality that we wanted to incorporate into our dancing.

After studying this style and practicing for months, we returned to New York City and I remember being very nervous before our first performance. You must understand that, at this time, all the young dancers were dancing nuevo or show. Everyone was going in one direction and I had a crazy dream of going the other direction: I wanted Ney & Jennifer performances to consist of elegant walking and turning in a nice embrace; the social tango that we enjoyed dancing with each other in Buenos Aires. We started performing this and it was a success because it was different and it was good.

Young dancers think that they are being rebellious when they do crazy steps to nuevo music. They are not being rebellious because this is what EVERYONE is doing. If you want to be a rebel, then put on a nice suit, and just walk, turn, and pause with your partner for one performance. I can assure you that, at first, it is the most nerve wracking thing that you will do because every fiber of your body will say “move faster, do something crazy!” but once you finish the tango, you will feel great because you will know that you have done something that really took guts. And furthermore, the people who really know tango, the connoisseurs, will appreciate it. Soon everyone else will notice and…well that is how we can start to change the madness that is happening in US Tango.

A.M. You have travelled to many places around the world… Which country/ city have you visited to teach tango was the most “enjoyable” for you as a teacher and professional tango performer?

N.M. I love teaching and performing in Florence, Italy. I love the beauty and the energy of the city and I also learn a lot from Patricia & Matteo. Patricia & Matteo are one of my role models for a tango couple because of the way they dance but also because they are true tango professionals. They have one of the biggest schools in Italy, one of the biggest festivals in Europe, are constantly in demand for workshops around the world, and it has been this way for over 10 years. It is a talent to be financially successful in an artistic endeavor and to be able to do it consistently year after year.

I see all the behind the scenes work that they do and it is astounding. They arrive at the studio office at 10am and work straight through until the night; a day that includes teaching, creating choreographies, going to the gym, and administrative tasks. People like this raise the standard of what is a “professional” in tango.

A.M. Comparing the many tango communities that you have met here in the US and abroad, is the level of tango comparable?

N.M. The US has a nice and friendly tango atmosphere. I love to go out dancing in different cities in the US. But I will be frank: the level of tango is better abroad, even if you just travel a few hours to Montreal, you can see the difference. The foundation of the way they dance tango is from Tango Salon. Whether it veers off to more Nuevo, or more apilado, one can still recognize the Tango Salon in the dance. I am not sure where the style that Americans dance came from. Americans don’t interpret the dance with their feet but with their bodies; they don’t place importance on their footwork. Also, they usually dance with alot of flexion, they take huge steps, and they do some funky wiggle with their bodies. The men don’t really embrace (they don’t give their chest and they don’t hold you with their arms) and the women don’t adorn. And to top it off, the musicality! It is very literal (no one dances the mood of the music) and it is very whimsical (they interpret things in a way that is almost comedic, there is no gravitas in their dance). Anyone that has spent a long time in Buenos Aires or in Europe and then comes back to dance in the US will tell you that it is a big shock to the system!

I was once hanging out at the studio of a well-known tango couple from Buenos Aires (who dance a very modern/tango nuevo type of tango). We were looking at the teacher performances from a large festival here in the US. They looked at me afterward and asked “Y que es esto?”. Americans have become too nuevo even for the BsAs dancers who dance nuevo! Perhaps we are uber-nuevo?!

Why is this? One reason is that American tango dancers take classes from teachers with different techniques and and then try to include everything in their dance. I say “If you try to be everything, in the end, you are nothing”. You cannot mix technique. If I want to dance like a certain teacher, then I will take classes from that teacher and do EVERYTHING that they do. I will copy everything about their dance and stick with their technique for a long time.

Another reason is that good tango teachers who teach social tango make more money abroad. Therefore, all the Argentine teachers go to Europe and the US dancers that get recognized enough, eventually just go to Europe and mainly work there. I know tango couples that have more work than they can handle in Europe but then go to the US and have to fight for every dime. Why don’t Americans support their local teachers? I think Americans still have a bias against either non-Argentines or non-Champions who teach Argentine tango and they also, many times, don’t know the difference between show tango and tango de salon. This is a recipe for disaster. This allows for Argentines who don’t know how to dance to just claim “I am Argentine!” and start teaching badly, or for a couple that claims that they were Tango Champions in “such and such years” to get a following of students.

All of this is ironic because not even the Argentines have this bias (as evidenced by the winners of their Mundials during the last couple of years). It is the same thing in Europe, Europeans don’t care if you are white, black, or blue, if you can dance and you can teach, then you are in. From the beginning of me and Jennifer’s career, Europe and Asia appreciated our dance and invited us to their countries to learn our technique, our musicality, and our views on the dance not to watch us do gymnastics on stage.
That being said, things are getting better here in the US. There are organizers that strictly promote tango salon and there is a new
generation of Tango Salon dancers, especially in Los Angeles, that are starting to change things.

A.M. As a tango teacher or a dancer, who inspired you the most?

N.M. Javier Rodriguez inspired me the most as a dancer and teacher. He helped us not only with technique but with the aesthetic of the dance. He always inspires me and I learn something every time I am able to take his class again. I also like what Sebastian Misse & Andrea Reyero do.

AM. Having your experience as a tango teacher, what was the biggest challenge for you to overcome to be able to teach?

NM. When one starts teaching, one always confronts the dilemma of “should I give the students what they want or what they need?” I chose to give people what they need. I chose to give people the tools they need to be able to dance tango in a crowded milonga in a close embrace. Once I chose that path, everything else became easy. I feel that teachers who are in the other group of “giving them what they want” are always worried about what is “in fashion” in tango and whether their dance is on the cutting edge. I will tell you what is “in fashion”: an elegant walk, beautiful turns, and perfectly timed paradas….all to traditional tango music!

I am not saying that the only way to dance tango is in a traditional style but I do think that dancers need to study the traditional style, they need to listen to the traditional music, and they need to go to Buenos Aires. Watching youtube is NOT a substitute for going to Buenos
Aires, living in the city, and dancing in the milongas. Tango is a language and when you go to Buenos Aires, you learn how the portenos speak that language. This is important. For example, if someone from another country was learning english and they asked me about an english phrase, I could say “sure, you COULD say that, technically it is correct, but a New Yorker would never say that”. It is the same in Tango, alot of dancers do things, invent things, but a porteno wouldn’t do it in that way. This is not to take away from the beauty of the things that are invented by dancers, but I think they should be aware of the traditional style.

As tango teachers, we have a responsibility to teach beginner students the traditional Argentine tango. If the students choose to then break the patterns and invent things, then that is wonderful. But I have seen beginner classes that teach in-line boleos and colgadas!

AM. What are your other hobbies or passions besides tango?

NM. I got into running and spinning (indoor cycling) while I was living in San Francisco. It was through spinning that I was able to lose almost 20 kilos (42 pounds) that I had accumulated over years of travelling, teaching, and EATING. I even ran a half marathon back in January down in Miami.

AM. Where do you and Jennifer get your outfits, your shoes?

NM. Jennifer uses Comme Il Fauts, the stilettos made in Buenos Aires. I have my shoes made by Husan Usta in Istanbul or I use the Derby style men’s shoes from Madame Pivot Firenze. As for outfits, Jennifer and I are constantly shopping for outfits in different cities. A couple of times I have had a tailor in Buenos Aires make my suits. This is great because he knows all the “tricks” in cutting the suit so it looks great when you dance. I wish the fashion companies would see that tango is a great way to show off their clothes and start sponsoring the dancers! Imagine: tango suit made by Armani, tango dress made by Cavalli!

AM. Any funny stories related to teaching or performing tango you would like to share?

NM.We once had an audience clapping with the music during a milonga performance off beat!

AM. You and Jennifer have taught and performed at festivals with Chicho Frumboli y Juana Sepulveda, Javier Rodriguez y Andrea Misse, Sebastian Misse y Andrea Reyero, Julio Balmaceda y Corina de la Rosa, Milena Plebs, and other Argentine tango stars. How does this make you feel? Do you get nervous when you perform?

NM. Yes, it is very scary to see Milena Plebs or Chicho in the audience! You think to yourself, “What can I show them that they haven’t seen??” Then, we realized that these maestros want to see our connection as well as the sincerity of our tango. As long as our dance comes from within us, with emotion, then it passes the test. Furthermore, they just want us to relax and enjoy the festival along with them! We are always honored when festival organizers invite us and include us with these maestros.

Being that we improvise our performances, the audience is very important. Our best performances are when the audience is yelling and applauding during the performance. Tango performances are to be treated like a football game, you don’t wait until the end to applaud, you encourage the players the whole way through!!

Finally, before I perform I always pray 3 things:

1) That I am present in the moment,
2) That I can let the music and my partner inspire my improvisation
3) That I can display to the audience the emotion that I feel in my dance.

After I pray those things, then it is showtime!!

AM. Currently, you are based in Europe, specifically Berlin, why Berlin?

NM. For this last tour, I spent some time in Berlin and I really liked it. I like Berlin because it is at the center of tango in Europe, both geographically and in the fact that there are many tango artists living there. This city reminds me of the New York City that I grew up in; it has an edge, it is gritty, and it is still affordable. Although I will be spending a lot of time in Berlin, I also have to divide my time between New York City (where my family lives) and Istanbul.

AM. Teaching tango – will this be your life fulfilling role, or you want to achieve a certain level or recognition within tango and then move on to another profession?

NM. The fact is that I am a new dancer. The teaching tours and recognition started only 2 years after I started dancing. Now I look at those old videos and I see how my enthusiasm, energy, and the fact that Jennifer and I were so in love carried us through in those performances. It is nice. But we are definitely better dancers now. Every year, I learn something new or I am finally able to do that certain step that I had learned many years ago but somehow always felt uncomfortable. That is the thing with Tango, you don’t learn Tango, you develop your tango and some things just take longer to develop. As for another profession…sure, if I found something that was just as fun and creative as tango!

AM. What is your biggest dream that you would like to achieve in your life?

NM. To raise great kids who will grow up to become great people.

AM. What are your tango plans for the near future?

NM. After 4 years away, I am spending my first summer in New York City teaching tango at the Dance Manhattan studio, where it all started for me. Jennifer has taken time off from tango teaching and touring indefinitely and has encouraged me to find a new partner. She just wants to be a mommy and work on Therefore, my next teaching tour will be with a new partner. I will also be back in Buenos Aires soon to see friends and learn more. One always needs to keep learning…..

Thank you Ney for sharing your tango story with our readers.

Aga Mroz

For more information about Ney’s teaching go to :



Andrei a spus…
Nana, imi iei si mie un interviu cand ne mai vedem ? :)))

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