Tuesday 2 August 2011

European Milongueros - Philippe Gonella

Now there‘s a guy with whom I bonded instantly. Why? Because he‘s got an opinion and he‘s not afraid to show it.

The first time I met Philippe Gonella was when he was taking one of our classes in 2007 with his former partner Céline (see last post). And although he seemed to share the same idea of Tango, he was really suspicious, when we introduced some of our basic principles. You could not tell, if he liked them or not. He was kinda grumpy and I somehow appreciate it, when people have got a critical approach to what teachers tell them. Also the fact that he left the room, when we were doing our demo. He later told me, that this was not meant to criticise us, but he just did not like performances. Ok, I don‘t like them either, so I can accept that.

And then we danced... and he was not sulky at all. Although he had - by then - a somewhat firm abrazo that literally made me loose my breath, I could tell, that for him, Tango is all about feeling. Being near to a woman, letting two bodies interact in a very intimate way, letting the music go from the top of your head to your toes. The moment, Philippe takes you into his arms, there will be no more boundaries - definitely not someone to dance with, if you‘ve got closeness-issues and a fan of high boleos. ;-)

So who‘s the guy, who changed from Mr. Grumpy to Señor Abrazo in an instant?

Philippe Gonella originates from Grasse, France, where he met Tango more than 11 years ago. He co-founded Cariño Tango with Céline Devèze and took up teaching and DJing. And very early, it it became clear to him, that Tango was neither the acrobatics of Tango Escenario, nor the moves of Tango Nuevo - Tango was what was danced in the traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires. His first visit of Buenos Aires confirmed him in his beliefs and he came back with the aim to establish a real Milonga with all the „reglas“ in his home region. And so the „Milonga Linda“ became one of the first traditional Milongas in the south of France: women seated separately from men, traditional music with Tandas & Cortinas, invitation solely by Cabeceo & Mirada, respecting the codes of the dancefloor... these were Philippe‘s primary objectives.

As a Tango-teacher, Philippe focusses on the basics: connection, walk, music. Up until now, he prefers to impart his ideas in private classes. In such an environment, he can much better show corporeally what Tango means to him. He also never wanted to live from giving Tango classes or even DJing - he feared that this might corrupt his sincere Tango, make him feel obliged to dance with women out of politeness, to show steps instead of principles... I find that very respectable, although I think you can stay true to yourself - even when you‘re a professional Tango teacher. ;-)

But Philippe is really not a man of compromises. So in 2009, he decided to close his firm (he was an electrician installing heatings and A/Cs), sell his equipment, sports-car and boat, rent out his house and live in a Caravan. He just wanted to Tango: to drive - like a gypsy - from one Milonga to the other, from one Festivalito to the next Encuentro Milonguero. And this is exactly what he does since then: dancing at the Milongas (mostly in Italy), DJing a lot, teaching here and then, meeting friends, having fun and great meals... Sometimes I envy him, if it weren‘t for the frugal living in his VW bus. Well, it suits him and Gitango is the name he chose as a DJ!

As a dancer, he chooses the women for their quality of embrace, not for her technique or intricate decorations. He once told me, that the sole reason he invited me to dance for the first time was not because I danced good or was a teacher, but because he could read the emotions on my face. And since them, he‘s become my favourite dance partner for slow Tangos by Di Sarli. We will not move a lot, but feel and play the music with tiny shifts of weight or steps in slow-motion. Sometimes, we will just stand still... His embrace became much softer over the years, allowing for a nice dissociation and organic communication. To enjoy dancing with Philippe, you have to be flexible and relaxed - a woman with stiff embrace and legs will not be able to get the subtle leading impulses. And if you think you can rely on memorised steps, you will be very surprised!

His new partner in life and dance is an Italian physical therapist who shares his ideas of Tango and living in freedom. Renata is such a warm and sensitive person, who connects very strongly to her partner. That makes her a perfect match for Philippe.

I don‘t want to forget, that Philippe and his friends Paule, Marcel and Renata are organising one of the biggest events for Milongueros in Europe: the „Encuentro Milonguero Les Cigales“. It takes place in early summer and boasts 3 days of dancing to the best DJ‘s choices, respect for the „codigos“, common meals, time to spend with friends - the epitome of savoir-vivre in France!

You will not be surprised, that after all those big positive changes in his life, Philippe is not grumpy any more: He‘s experiencing so much friendship and happy moments in Tango, that he will give it back to the world, smiling and and with a huge taste of self-irony. Nowadays, he even likes our demos and compliments us on them. And if I‘m lucky, I‘ll get an excellent foot-massage. To Di Sarli‘s music... ;-)

I will present you two videos in addition to the one with Céline in my last post:
- The first shows Philippe dancing with me at the first Festivalito con Amigos in Saarbrücken. See how the other three couples are racing along the dancefloor, compared to our slow moves. ;-) You can in this video also watch Andreas and Céline dancing together, the honourees of the last two posts.
- The second video is of a recent demo with his new partner Renata Lacchini in the „Contatto Club“ in Spinea, Venice.