Quebrada and Corte in Tango

Ruddy Zelaya, April 13, 2006

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Igor: Corte is one of the cornerstones of tango. It defines the technique of many other movements and styles.
Quebrada is an unmistaken signature pose of Argentine Tango. One must know quebrada to say he dances the dance. But there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of what they are. Sometimes they are taken one for another. Here Ruddy Zelaya (formerly from San Francisco Bay Area) colorfully describes them and gives us an interesting glimpse in the tango history and future. Reading this article I myself finally was able to understand what quebrada is and how to get into it from corte. Wow!

Here is a photo of Quebrada position done by Pablo Veron ( Verón) and Gisela Graf Merino dancing to "Quejas de bandoneon" by Juan de Dios Filiberto in "Fous des Folies", directed by Alfredo Arias, Paris, 1993.

On a more serious note, I would like to address one of Tom Stermitz' comments:
"I do know from my readings and talking with Eduardo Arquimbau and Juan Bruno that many clubs in the late 1930s and 1940s did not permit cortes and quebradas, as they were considered vulgar."

Cortes y quebradas were banned way before the 30's and 40's. According to a report by J.A Diego (as quoted in Jose Gobello's, Cronica General del Tango) "on September 9th, 1862, were arrested at the tenement house of Paraguay 58, Daniel Molina, Feliciano Orsine, Rufino Olguin and Jose Sandoval as well as the women Catalina Barsolo and Francisca Diaz for 'bailando y tirando cortes' [dancing with cortes] which is 'prohibited'."

So, what is a "corte" and what is a "quebrada"? why were they banned?

A corte (literally translates to 'a cut') was a specific move that a dancer performed as a prelude to a quebrada (literally translates to 'a break'). Vicente Rossi describes the corte: "When the dancer's reptilean movements in the correct path (that was called 'bailando corrido') comes to a sudden turn and stops to show off his abilities [as a dancer] or to perform a disconcerting quebrada, the famous corte was born because the interruption literally cut the march [forward progress] of the couple."

Carlos Octavio Bunge wrote in Nuestra America, 1906: "'bailar con corte'" that is "con puro corte a la quebrada" in other words, to break [bend your partner backwards at her waist] and balancing on top of her, come into full body contact and move slowly and rythmically to the music. The contact is so complete and intimate that there was "no light" [no hay luz] between the dancers." The society at large was not ready to tolerate such immoral behaviour (the quebrada) and thus it banned it and the step that led to it (the corte). To wit:

"El tio de la novia, que se ha creido / obligado a fijarse si el baile toma / buen caracter, afirma, medio ofendido, / que no se admiten cortes, ni aun en broma" [The bride's uncle who thinks is his duty to make sure that the dance remains respectable asserts (half miffed) that cortes are not permited, not even as a joke.] Evaristo Carriego's poem "El Casamiento" [The wedding], 1913.

There are many written accounts of what the (for lack of a better term) "pre-purification" tango looked like. Here's one from the Revista de Policia [Police Gazzette], March 1904: "The public dances demand effective police intervention. The tango before, and the tango and the cake-walk now, threaten to do to our theaters what the Can-Can did to the Paris theaters of yesteryear. Moreover, [the tango] is a low class spectacle with its contortions and the inpudent gestures of its figures. It's worth noting that several of the competitions that are born out of the elements that like it, have ended at the tip of the knife."

Getting back to Tom's desire to learn about the early tango. As you know, Tango, the dance, predates Tango, the music. That is, people started dancing tango steps to existing music (polcas, mazurcas, tarantelas, etc.) before there was real tango music to dance to. [Therein lies the ultimate irony to folks (like me) who dislike "alternative music tango". Tango started as alternative insert-dance-X-here !! i.e., dancing tango steps while listening to non-tango music (sigh)]. [ No that is not true. See my comment below about roots of tango music - Igor]

In the beginning there were two types of tango with a gray area separating the two. The "real" tango was obscene, wild, full of lust and bravado. The same adjectives can be used to describe its practitioners. The written accounts present a picture that by modern standards would be defined as a date-rape done to music with lots of groping, fondling and violence. The second type was a more circumspect version of the first. This was the kind danced at places like Hansen's, at the theaters, or in public. Here the clientele was better educated, had more wealth and had to behave within the confines that society has declared as rules of acceptable behavior. The gray area was where these two worlds met: the brothels, carnaval, private parties, tenement houses and such.

Here's an example of the raw tango from a work written by Ramon Romero in 1886, Los Amores De Giacumina. I'll do my best to translate but be aware that the original was written in "cocoliche genoves" (a form of derogatory/stereotypical slang used to make fun of italian immigrants, something like "Mamma mia! Datza a greata meetzaboll!" should give you an idea).

"Giacumina took the opportunity to go to the mascarade dance at the Politeama theater. On the way there she bought a green mask to get in to the theater. As soon as she was in she was confronted by a group of long-haired compadritos that wanted to dance with her. Some of them tried to grab her skirt as she passed and she defended herself by hitting them with her fan. Just so that they would leave her in peace she agreed to dance with one of them. But this savage compadron was breaking [doing quebradas] so much and would place his legs in between hers that the poor girl's legs were becoming swollen [...] After they finished dancing the milonga, the long-haired compadrito took her by the hand into the storeroom that exists right there at the theater [...] as soon as they were inside they started dancing a 'cuadrilla cancaniera' [a quadrille with a can-can beat] The compadrito put on a white kerchief around his neck, adjusted his hat and started to dance. Giacumina wanted to dance like a little lady but what her partner wanted was to shimmy a lot, lift up her legs high, hit and make gestures with his hands, squeeze her forcefully and rub his face against her. Giacumina wanted to leave, but the other compadritos would grope her and lift up her skirts so that the rest of them could see her fat legs."

The circumspect tango was, one can only hope, devoid of the sexual abuse. Puting aside the quebradas, the figures done to it were similar. Media lunas, sentadas, corridas, calesitas and just plain walks were part of the repertoire. One has to remember also that the music was "happy music", i.e., El Queco, Don Juan, El Entreriano, La C...ara de la l...una, Ataniche, El Portenito, etc. all demand a faster style of dancing and a bit more "sway" in the steps. Because tango was being danced to non-tango music as well, some of the steps used in other dances became part of tango as well. Thus, the canyengue hold presents a strong simile with the chamame hold. Some orillero steps were borrowed from malambo, vals cruzado got some bits from the waltz and some from the polca, etc.

So, where did the purified tango come from? Well, that's another posting....
Best regards,

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Ruddy Zelaya can be reached at ruddy@milongas.com



Melroy from New Zealand  wrote: [Link]

"Hi, Just a little note about one explanation of the origin of the Corte.

A few years ago I took a class on the Corte with Eduardo Cappussi and Mariana Flores. A few examples were shown, explained and practised (I won't go into that). First, however, Mariana explained where the corte came from, as explained to her by a local Buenos Aires Tango historian. Sorry I don't remember his name

She explained that it came from an African street dance in which the people would move down the street, dancing individually, bouncing about and throwing their arms out. All of a sudden at a specific point in the music (or chant or whatever) they would all stop in whatever position they were in as if frozen in space. This would only last maybe a beat and then they would all be off again, dancing down the street.

She then gave us a delightful demonstration, dancing around the room throwing her arms about and stopping suddenly in various poses and expressions. She was a lot of fun!

Anyway this brief stop or 'cut' (corte) in the dance has probably always been in the Tango if you consider the African influences. Especially if you think of the quick stops in Milonga, Cayengue, or earlier styles. Of course there are other types of 'cuts' in tango as well, cut ochos for instance. Or any of the dramatic show Tango stops that suddenly block your line of dance!
But I think we have other names for that.

As I said this is just one explanation of where the Corte in Tango came from and it was a few years ago so I hope my memory is true. I know there are many of you with much better historical insight into Tango matters, still I couldn't resist the memory of Mariana 'cutting it up'! "


"..Cortes y quebradas are generic names in reference to any tango or milonga choreographic figure or dancing movement.

This is the modern meaning of those words. So tango with cortes is one danced with firuletes or embellishments such as ganchos, amagues, boleos, barridas, enrosques, planeos, etc. and those elements are generically called "cortes".

Tango sin cortes is one danced in a simple manner, mostly walking with some simple turns, and perhaps front and back ochos. Similar to tango liso.

These words originally meant a specific move. Corte: a sudden pause in the middle of a run while dancing .

Quebrada a bending at the waist in any direction while dancing.

Those two terms in time became generic meaning any tango or milonga embellishment...  "

-- Sergio [Link]

Today ( July 6, 2006) I have received Clay Nelson's invitation to Ashland Tango Weekend with Silvina.

One of the lessons is named: "Sequences with rebotes and changes of direction."

Rebote means rebound ( As Tom said ).

I think these are Cortes I was talking about:
>A thing which I call "paso cortado" and I am looking a popular name for is mostly done in double time, it is only one forth-back, and it is done without weight transform. It is not a figure by itself, but a part of many figures mostly in close, but also in open embrace.<

The same thing might be called "Picque", "Rock step", "Checked step"

I personally dislike the word Rebote, even thought it describes the thing pretty well. It sounds like a Robot to me ( My university diploma is about Robots :). I am an "automatic control systems" engineer. Someone may know what it means: systems, signals, feedbacks, leading and following in engineering and in the world around us. )

Oh, I forgot. Why I dislike "Rebote".

Because there is "Corte and Quebrada" - a symbol of Argentine Tango ( as Jake pointed out )
But there is no "Rebote and Quebrada". -- Igor Polk (It's me) [Link]

November 17, 2006

In the article: "Tango, the dance, predates Tango, the music. That is, people started dancing tango steps to existing music (polkas, mazurkas, tarantellas, etc.) before there was real tango music to dance to.."

I believe it is not right. Tango is originated from african dances. Ultimately. And africans used their instruments whatever they were, probably, drums, like ones you can still see in Uruguay when they play and dance Candombe ( or Candomble ). This music is different from European in that is has a lot of poly-rhythm and all sorts of syncopations ( listen to a true african example: "Olatunji" ). They are the cornerstones of Tango music. So that was the first true tango music. The same spirit and patterns migrated to tango performed with European instruments with its ultimate rhythm of Candombe. Practically identical pattern happened in Brazil with Samba, Cuba with Rumba, what is called Salsa now, and guess what? Blues and the whole variety of African-based roots of North American music.

Probably there was a period when tango as a dance gained popularity between new late-19-century immigrants, but the white musicians where not ready to play it right yet. They played what the could until dancers told them the right way. However listening to the earliest recordings I have from 1900-1910, one can firmly say: this is tango music.



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Something similar to Corte is called Cadencia or a Rock step. Corte is an old term found in the oldest of dancing manuals. And I can see the difference in performance. Corte is a cut. Cutting step. It has elements of sharpness and surprise. While Rock Step by its name reminds about something smoother. I prefer to use Corte term instead of Cadencia and Rock step in Argentine Tango taking in account what was said about it above.


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