“The interesting questions” interview with Judith Preuss, Mala Junta

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I’m not the first generation of tango dancers in Berlin. I have knowledge for 20 years. I entered the scene in 1991. From the beginning in Berlin women couples existed, Brigitte and Angelika. When my first dance partner quit, I started leading, leading, leading. Irma, my teacher said “ok, I don’t have men for you, but there are plenty of women. Would you like to lead?” I said ok. I didn’t think about it. I want to dance, I didn’t really care leading or not. The dance partners she gave me were all ages, sizes, all different kinds of women, and I could take the classes without paying. The women liked to dance with me, so I felt much more independent going out at night, I could invite people to dance. It was a nice feeling, not to sit there and wait until somebody’s inviting you.

When I came back from Paris in 1996 back to Berlin, the dance school Walzerlinkgestricht asked me to teach tango. At first I didn’t want to do it…finally I said ok, after they asked me 2 or 3 times. They opened I think in 1997. Then I started to work there, giving a lot of classes. I started with 3 tango classes. I was trying out how to teach tango. I could do whatever I wanted. After 3 months there were 5 classes, and by the end of the year there were 10 tango classes. It was too much to do alone!

We didn’t have any cortinas, tandas and cortinas. It was a bigger mix of traditional tango and different music…I don’t know when we started to play cortinas. It happened in the last 10 years, little by little people felt this need to go back to what they called “the real tango of Buenos Aires”. They needed to have this definition of more traditional music. I think it was the idea to bring order on the crowded and chaotic dance floors. There was this wish to create more harmony and order by having a good DJ who runs stable music. That would help the dancers to behave better on the dance floor. It seems to me that in Paris they had the same thing. Everything became too chaotic with the big moves, and then suddenly it changed into the traditional way again. In Berlin it came to a hard change again. For me it seems that people who said 10 years ago this milonga I don’t like because they never play nuevo. Exactly the same people say now oh you cannot go there because they sometimes play nuevo. This seems very characteristic for Berlin, that they took it such a serious way with this traditional music, and the cabeceo. For me, too seriously. If you want my personal leaning.

There was a big show called “Berlin Tango” in 2006. we tried to bring all the good dancers on stage in a big democratic relation between 17 people who agreed to work for this show (12 of them were dancers). not all of them danced in the same show, and not all dancers were in the organization team. But the idea was to write everybody who was working at that time with tango…We produced it ourselves and brought it to stage 4 days in the Academie der Kunstler. There was a moment when the musicians organized for the group Sabor a tango, 10 musicians. They still exist and play sometimes at festivals.

In Berlin when I started there were a lot of little fights between the dance schools, sometimes from personal relationships. Now I would say it’s a good workflow in between the studio owners.

I want to talk about the really interesting questions…


I like that nowadays we have a lot of offers of different milongas. The openness of Berlin’s milongas, being open, to integrate artistic work in tango, also integrating more nuevo, and nontango, which was very big 10 years ago – maybe 2005. People liked it. There was no bad thing to play that in your milonga. Mala Junta was based on traditional music, but it didn’t mean that we didn’t play other sounds.

Café Dominguez started four years ago in my school. They started to build a real traditional milonga with cortinas and tandas and cake. And it really attracted a lot of people. It was the right moment for this thing to open. They took it very serious, I found. Since this year maybe, or since a half year it starts to soften a little bit again. But it still is very difficult to find DJs who will play 80/20. (Editor’s note: In Berlin every milonga advertises percentages. ’80/20′ means 80% traditional music and 20% alternative.) These DJs are very difficult to find. Even if they can do it, they don’t like to do it because the public is so mean with them. Or they don’t do it anymore. The new ones don’t know what to play. Now you try to have fancy cortinas, but you stay with the traditional tango music.

But Berlin is big enough to have some of the other examples, TangoLoft, Spiegelsaal. There are still people with a more free view on the tango scene.


What I like about tango is that all generations are able to dance tango. You can start with whatever age you have. In Mala Junta I like to have this diversity, to attract many different pupils. I like to have older and younger teachers and different nationalities. Tango is an international language. I remember that Thomas Rieser had the idea to open something for the young people. For me of course I always wanted to attract young people as well. … Now Sven and Pedram have the younger public. I agree if people manage to attract new people to the tango scene that’s a good thing. I like it. Only the economic needs, they are difficult. People don’t like to see it in the beginning. The economic needs in this moment you don’t live from the young generation, you live from people who like to pay money to take classes and to pay money at the bar to support the milonga. This is not the case with the young people very often.

Gender roles

There is now wish of being more feminine, being women. When they started Café Dominguez, I felt all these young pepole who come with their partner and behave like old people. They come, change their dress and wait for the cabeceo. I found it a little ridiculous. If you want to be a tango teacher, if you want to run a school, it’s more than changing and putting high heels and smiling nice.

The imagination people have is that they want to dance nice. For me tango is nothing where “nice dancing” is a good aim. it’s not about being beautiful, dancing beautifully. Tango is expressing yourself and you can express a lot of different emotions. For example, there’s a school here called Tango Tanzen Macht Schön (Tango Dancing Makes you Beautiful). This is commercially wonderful. But the name, for me it doesn’t make sense for me with tango. Tango is not about being beautiful! It’s about expressing yourself! I dance with a lot of different emotions. Sometimes i’m really angry and I think I dance well. So I don’t think of being beautiful when I dance tango.

But I can observe that this wish of dancing beautifully is in many pupils. There are a lot of unconscious ideas about being feminine. I would like to have a sign of what Mala Junta stands for. Tango without borders. I like this idea of having no limits. No limit in age. Everybody is able to try, to dance it. Everybody is able to perform in the way he wants. Maybe you have a Kung-Fu fighter dancing tango in the next few years.

I would not cry immediately if someone does something new “oh this is not tango anymore. “ for me it depends more the quality of movement and if he convinces me. If there is quality of movement and musicality i’m able to see that. It’s about consciousness. If you have consciousness about what you are doing, it can be very diverse.

Rules and competition


Judith Preuss and Constantin Rüger
Judith Preuss and Constantin Rüger

Why do we need the cabeceo? Why should we do things like how we imagine it is in Argentina? The scene is bigger there, they don’t have only the cabeceo, they don’t have only traditional music. I haven’t been for more than 10 years, but I keep in touch with people coming there and traveling there.

What’s the aim of having these strict rules? I like to mention that we should have flow on the dance floor, and to practice in classes the idea of navigation. But I think you will not have it with stricter rules. For me it’s that people fear to move free. They want to have a definition of being right and doing it right, and in the right way. They feel more secure if they do the right tango, but there is no right tango.

I had harder times in the last year because the tango salon strictly rule game was taken very serious by a lot of people. Sometimes I felt a little like my generation, and my closest partner Constantine, we sometimes talked about “the good old times”. I don’t like competitions, World Cup tango, bla bla. I don’t see any need to do that. It’s a commercial need, this need of people to feel more secure, who is the best, what is the best tango. Now we know. It’s a pity if the tango is occupied by the same history like ballroom dancers. They have standardized. The dance itself could be danced and taught in a different way, but that was the history of the standard dances. With tango it’s the same, if you have a competition you need rules. What did he do better? The diversity which is so nice in tango gets lost.


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