Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Brothers Enrique & Guillermo De Fazio tango dancers

The next time you draw stares when dancing with your guy in public, reference the De Fazio brothers. Enrique and Guillermo De Fazio rightly call themselves traditional tango dancers, because when tango was in its infancy, men danced together. In the late 19th century, the rich landowners in Argentina needed thousands of workers to prepare their vast mineral and agricultural products for shipment from Buenos Aires to Europe. They advertised in Europe for workers, and great numbers of immigrants arrived in Buenos Aires, eager for the opportunity to work. When they arrived, they encountered a huge problem: there were very few women immigrants. To engage in sexual relations with a women, the heterosexual immigrants patronized bordellos, and while they waited in (inevitable) lines, they practiced dancing – with each other, for lack of female partners. In order to climb the social ladder, among the skills they needed was to be able to dance properly with respectable ladies. With so many men to choose from, ladies in Buenos Aires selected only the best male dancers as partners, so competition among the men was keen.

The brothels of Buenos Aires provided live music to entertain the men while they waited their turn, and by necessity the men practiced their dance steps with each other. Most of the immigrants were from Spain and Italy, and they lived in tenement blocks that formed huge ghettos. With their different tongues and cultures, music and dance became their common language. They possessed only portable musical instruments, and a version of an accordion, called a bandoneón, became the backbone of tango music (the bandoneón has buttons on both ends – no keyboard on the right end, as on an accordion; the player is seated, with the instrument resting on his knees -- see photo above). Thus the tango rose from the ghettos of European immigrants, who soon enough exported it to Europe, via France, where Argentine sailors danced with the local girls of Marseille. By 1909 the tango had reached the stages of Montmartre in Paris, but in 1912 the tango took Paris by storm. Although the tango was danced by the lower classes in Argentina, upper class men in Paris began dancing the tango, and it shed its lower class stigma almost overnight. By 1913 the tango had become a massive craze all over Europe.

Then the “European” version of the tango got exported back to Argentina. A book published in Buenos Aires in the early part of the 20th century stated in its introduction that the purpose of the book was to teach people the elegant Tango as it was danced in Paris, which was nothing like the tasteless, squalid little dance done by the lower classes in the outskirts of Buenos Aires (!). From about 1917 onwards, a new respectability led to Tango lyrics written by the finest poets that Argentina and Uruguay had ever produced. As the lyrics improved in quality, great tango singers began to emerge, particularly with the advent of radio, and later sound films.

The Golden Age of tango was from the mid 1930s until the 1955 coup in Argentina that ousted General Perón. Carlos Gardel* was by far the most popular tango singer, achieving cult status. In the 1940s and the 1950s practically everyone in Buenos Aires danced the tango. There were great tango orchestras, wildly popular tango singers and famous tango dancers. The average citizen of Buenos Aires would work from 6:00 am until 2:00 pm, go home to eat and sleep, then go out for a late night of tango dancing, arriving home only in time to shower and get dressed to head back to work.

Young men started to learn the tango at age 13. They started at men-only practice dances, just watching at first, then learning to dance the women’s part. After about nine months, the boys were allowed to lead, dancing with another younger, less experienced lad. The tango was so difficult a dance to learn, and the public so critical of poor performance, that this period of apprenticeship generally took about three years to master. Thus, a 16-year-old boy attended his first “milonga” by arrangement of an older practitioner. No woman would dance with a young man she had never seen dancing. There were too many good dancers for her to be interested in risking a dance with someone with poor skills, so unless he was exceptionally good looking (nothing changes!), one of his more experienced friends would have to ask a woman, as a personal favor, to dance with the boy. If it went badly, he would have to go back to the practice dances until he could hold his own.

The men did not go to the “práctica” just to learn to dance, or there would not have been any experienced men for the beginners to dance with. The men continued to go to the práctica for a couple of hours each night, four or five nights a week, before they went to the milonga. They did their real dancing at the práctica; they went to the milonga to meet women. Generally the men in the prácticas followed better than the women at the milongas. At the prácticas they could experiment more and take risks. Dancing with women, they had to stick to what they could do perfectly, to increase the woman’s enjoyment of the dance. In the prácticas there would be men who specialized in following..., and I think you can see where I’m headed with this.

From 1955 until the fall of the military junta in 1983 after the Falklands War, tango went underground, since the military suppressed anything having to do with ousted Perón, a populist who had endorsed the tango. The fall of the military junta in Argentina in 1983 began a spectacular tango renaissance in Buenos Aires, leading to the “tango nuevo” movement, in which more freedoms and variations were incorporated into the traditional music and dance, leading to much higher artistic quality. The music of classically trained composer Astor Piazzolla epitomizes this new style. Purists resisted these developments, and many of them literally spit on the grave of Piazzolla to this day (he died in 1992). As for myself, I never tire of Piazzolla, and I frequently perform his music in public.

*Gardel (above left, wearing his trademark fedora) was a real mamma’s boy (some diehards deny that he was gay, citing his [sole] attachment to a member of the opposite sex, a 14-year-old girl, for a few months when he was 31, but come on!; he exhibited no sexual or romantic attraction to women, although they literally threw themselves at his feet). Gardel grew up on the streets of a poor part of Buenos Aires. His movie-star looks and highly emotional vocal interpretations made him the Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley of his day, all wrapped up into one. A skilled baritone, he also composed hundreds of tangos, sang on the radio and appeared in movies. In addition to Latin America, he performed to adoring crowds in Europe and New York. He died in 1935 in a tragic airplane crash in Medellin, Columbia, at the age of 44. Millions of his fans throughout Latin America went into mourning. Hordes came to pay their respects as his body was taken from Colombia through New York City and on to Rio de Janeiro. Thousands rendered homage during the two days he lay in state in Montevideo, where his mother lived at the time. Gardel's well-traveled body was finally laid to rest in Buenos Aires, and he attained a cult status that exists to this day.

El dia que me quieras,” composed during the last months of his life, is considered by many to be his greatest hit. This version, performed by my favorite classical tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, will make your hair stand on end.

El dia que me quieras (music composed by Carlos Gardel, 1935)

The day when you’ll love me, the roses will dress up in festive hues,
the wind chimes will be ringing to tell the world you’re mine now...

The night when you will love me, from the blue sky above us
the jealous stars will see us as we walk hand in hand...

...etc. – you get the idea! This is schmaltz of the highest order. The passion this singer from Peru brings to this lyric is nearly overwhelming.

Tip: If you are young and unattached, do yourself a favor and find yourself a Latin lover, even if for a brief affair. Do not delay -- just go for it. You can thank me later.


  1. ... ¡Qué brujo es el amor!...

  2. Diego Flores is a magnificent operatic tenor who can do anything written for his type of voice with aplomb. It seems most unfair of the gods to have made him heartbreakingly good-looking as well. I don' care whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, I only hope he is sublimely happy and continues to enjoy much success and fulfillment in a long, beautifully-lived life.

    - Orlando Woolf