Interview by the journalist Guillermo Alfieri
(10 October 1926 – 2 August 1990)
He was enjoying the full boom of the show “Tango Argentino” in Nueva York. He lived at a luxurious hotel on the Fifth avenue, when one morning his strong voice resounded along the corridors, he was angry: «Tell that old maniac that if he wants tango at ten in the morning he´d better dance it himself!... Ah! If he wants to see me he has to come to the theater...»
That old man, who had been at the premiere, moved heavens and earth so that a special show for the following morning was organized, and the disgust sprang out when Virulazo was told that due to protocol reasons, the special show had to be ad-honorem. And he added always shouting: «And tell him that for free I don’t dance for anyone!» And so it was, that old man was Henry Kissinger.
By then the dancer was 61 years old, he had 5 children and six grandchildren.
The nickname VIRULAZO appeared when he was 18 and played the game of bowls for money and the back of the grocery stores of his town, San Justo (a city in the Buenos Aires suburbs).
A little old Italian permanently encouraged him: «Mandale el virulazo, mandale el virulazo» («Give it the virulazo»), he had adopted that word as a synonym for “bochazo” (strike with a bowl).
His birth name was Jorge Orcaizaguirre, of Basque ancestry and Italian on his mother’s side. He was brought up by his grandparents because his parents separated very soon.
«I owe everything to my grandfather, he gave me the highest degree I achieved in life, that of man. I adored him.
«The few pesos he earned at the railroad company were not enough, I helped him by doing anything but three things: being a gossip-monger, vile and a creeper, the worst defects a man may have. I was a street vendor of any kind of things,I worked as a shoeshine boy at the whorehouses doors, I sold sausage sandwiches, I bought hair in Entre Ríos to bring it to Buenos Aires to sell it to wig manufacturers. Later I began as laborer at a slaughterhouse and ended as foreman and livestock buyer.
«Since I was thirteen I liked to dance tango at the clubs of the zone or neighborhood of Mataderos. Once “el Negro” Celedonio Flores (author of tango lyrics. See Section “Poets”) and the singer Carlos Acuña saw me dancing tango and they told me: “Boy, you can’t go on dancing for free”. The following day I debuted at the café “La Armonía” on Corrientes avenue, afterwards the cabarets “Chantecler”, “Tabarís” and all the classy places.
«In the year 1952 the Águila chocolate company organized a big national contest for tango dancers. 157 dancing partners participated and the finals were held at the radio Splendid auditorium. I won it. Thanks to that the tours throughout the country began and lasted until the hard times of the 60s when the rock programs on television made us terribly starve, we danced for a few coins. Only Juan Carlos Copes and I resisted. A life of bohemia is nice but you have to die of starvation.
«In the 70s we started to come out again, the first time it was a tour accompanying Hugo Del Carril. In the early 80s I made up my mind to give up dancing, but soon I was told of the idea of “Tango Argentino” and it aroused my enthusiasm.
«I am a professional only because I´m paid. Deep in my heart I keep on being an amateur, I don´t stick to a choreography, that´s what the dancers do and I am a milonguero, one of the few who dance tango-tango, that´s why they call me from everywhere.
«With the money I earned in the latest tours I bought three houses, a truck and two cars, for my kids, now I go out a few times more, I collect some dollars and, so long!, I quit. Each tour means five or six months and for me it is an ordeal, it´s like being “encanutado” (in jail) in Alcatraz. I suffer the worst a man can endure, to be alone in a crowd. In Japan I stood up on the corner of a street and I was surrounded by two hundred million “ponjas” (Japanese), and I didn´t understand a damn shit what the hell they were saying. I got into a restaurant, asked for a sausage and they brought it with honey, it was crazy! They eat uncooked fish as the indians do. Don´t pull my leg! I never ate so much chicken and spaghetti as in Japan. There are people who like that, but I don´t. I enjoy a good wine, a barbecue with friends, the little goldfinches I have in my own backyard.
«When I´m on tour, when I don´t perform, I sleep, I don´t care for anyone, I take with me a pile of pocket books of detective and cowboy stories and so I´m OK. They fucked me with Venice. But what´s Venice? The Chacarita cemetery but flooded, and please that Chacarita forgives me. I´m fed up by those who start shouting for the sake of status or snobism: Ay, how beautiful is Venice! The pampa is beautiful!, there you can see the trees, the animals, the colors of the grass in the immensity, it is not a city that is sinking and, each time that a gondola with an Italian passes by, it leaves such a smell of decay; then the Riachuelo (a bad smelling river), in comparison with that, smells like Atkinson lavender water.
«My weight now is 128 kilograms, but I don’t care; with a black suit, a bow tie in Gardel’s fashion and smart clothes I feel as I were relieved of that excess.
«In Broadway during a performance, I was hearing a voice that shouted at me: Bravo, gomina, bravo, gomina! (a sort of gel to straighten men’s hair). It turned out to be Nureyev. Anthony Quinn and Robert Duvall became friends of mine. The latter, each time he comes to Argentina, comes here to my place to eat some little barbecue.
«I love my wife Elvira, I idolize her, if I should lose her..., I don’t know, me tiro bajo el tren.
«I’m a sentimental, I can’t stand to be alone and even less without a partner like her. It means 28 years of going to bed and getting up together. But it’s more, because we have been lovers for 44 years. Elvira was my first fiancée, but I don’t know why we didn’t marry. Each one led one’s own life, but one day in 1959, I was already separated from my first wife, when I was riding a horse somewhere in La Tablada, I saw a bus passing by with Elvira in it, I made gestures for her to get off, but to no avail, then I galloped after the bus until she finally got out, otherwise I would have followed her up to her house. We talked and here we are.»
LOOSE PHRASES BY VIRULAZO
«Rudolf Valentino was a brazen faced guy, he didn’t know dancing».
«Tito Lusiardo, a good comedian, but as a dancer, he’s a scarecrow. But anyway, he was with Gardel, who’s gonna argue about?»
«Travolta. A sissy. Just like that Michael Jackson. Those things do not become history. That’s not dance, dancing is Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.»
«A tango dancer? Petróleo. Just a few know him, only those who go to the milongas.»
«The tango I like most is "Berretín", by Pedro Laurenz. And as for lyrics "El motivo" by Pascual Contursi.»
«I don’t listen to new Argentine music, not even if I were mad. Those are young guys who are empty. In tango you will always find something that portrays your life. Did it happen to any of you that your girlfriend fell into a cesspit? That’s what those boys say in one of those lyrics. Maybe no one has stories to tell. People who get up at six in the morning to go to work all day long, should not be cheated. Those people deserve art like the one Gardel offered to them. Those people are not touched by four assholes who don’t work and smoke marijuana.»
«I was never involved in politics, but I always vote for democracy. In this country the military men and the priests are a cancer... Ah, I have a dream, I wish I died dancing a tango.»
Originally published in the daily paper Página/12 of Buenos Aires.