Written by Jon Racherbaumer
A Remembrance delivered by Jon Racherbaumer and Jessica Hack at the funeral of Alberto Paz, 15 February 2014
Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart at Sunderland in Buenos AIres
Although I’m not a tango dancer, all I now know about tango came from watching and talking with Alberto and Valorie. This knowledge was piecemeal and interpreted on the slant. Nevertheless, sometimes the perspective of an attentive bystander has its own merits, taken in from a calm distance. In a way, it’s as though one is looking on to what’s happening in the same sense we might imagine angels looking onto the human condition. And it’s from this vantage point that I want to say a few things about Alberto Paz.
What I admired most about Alberto was his single-minded fervor and dedication to tango. The passionate dream he shared with Valorie was to create a vital tango community in New Orleans, their adopted home.
Alberto’s vision was steadfast and ongoing and in this regard, he was a true American milonguero.
And to this let me add that, yes, he often seemed blunt and demanding. However, for the most part, it was in his nature to be a keen and ardent taskmaster. He could endlessly argue points finer than silken threads…or defend matters as deep and wide as the Sargasso Sea.
But what fueled these apparent excesses was his deep love of tango. And by the same token, this abiding love gave rise to unexpected and unaccountable bursts of generosity. I cannot count the number of times I witnessed his gentle kindnesses and good-natured humor.
When he was operating in full-tilt overdrive, these teeter-totter lifts and dips of extremes were amazing to observe. Yet all of it was worth it in the long run. And those who persevered and paid attention really learned and happily improved as dancers…and as human beings. Even if one didn’t fully attain what was expected of him or her, one appreciated how high bars can be set and how beautiful the art of tango can be.
This makes sense because Alberto had great teachers himself and was then inspired to responsibly carry on a tradition that included everything: the dynamics, the music, the history, and the poetry… Everything!
When I first saw Alberto and Valorie dancing together, all of these important aspects were on display.
I saw them interpreting the music they heard.
I recognized how they adored the pauses.
I marveled at how their movements achieved balance in their turns and leans.
Most of all, I witnessed how Alberto led Valorie to disclose her skills while minimizing his. (Which I later learned is the way to do it.) If the woman partner is made to look good, the dancing will look good…and Alberto and Valerie looked that good. It was a sight to behold.
From time to time, I thought that Alberto had a lover’s quarrel with the world of tango…. Again, this was probably due to his ardent and complicated temperament. He knew there would be disappointments—disappointments with others and disappointments with himself. But he always struggled with this aspect, knowing it came with the territory.
Nevertheless, he felt responsible and obliged to pay the dues of tango’s demands. This is why he put his heart and soul into it and gave it everything he had! Most of all, he was committed to being as good and true as possible rather than settling to merely look good and be false to one’s sacred ideals. This is also why he wanted every aspirant to love tango as much as he did. This is why he wanted to show us ways to the heart besides just ways to the feet.
He wanted the lyrics and the lyricism. He wanted it all.
Sometimes it’s the little things that gain access to our hearts. For example, I always adored the way Alberto pronounced “tango” with a short “a,” sounding it out as “tong-go.”
Whenever he said it, a glint sparked in his eyes—the pronunciation, respectful and loving, the equivalent of a kiss.
So it went.
And as mentioned earlier, Valorie Hart—his dedicated partner in living and loving–was the steadfast accomplice of their shared dream…in their dancing…and in their teaching. And both fully accepted the challenges and chances the Tango Life affords. Both were willing and able to move as one to its irresistible music and calling.
Uttering and hearing the words now being spoken and shared right now makes me realize how grief can paralyze people and make them feel helplessly unqualified to speak about abject losses and possible future gains.
Yet we try. We falter. We try again.
And this reminds me of two sentences that have always stuck with me:
“We enter this world alone. We leave it pretty much the same way, and in between, there is a dance we call life.”
Between Alberto’s entering and leaving this world, besides the love of his children and grandchild, two primary forces energized and inspired his soul: Valorie and Tango.
The cliché is that it takes two to tango and dancers who truly and deeply embrace this enchanting form look for signs to find their perfect partner. Well, Alberto discovered these signs when he found his precious Valorie. Together they profoundly embraced the art, striving to be exemplars as they taught and shared tango’s fierce and nourishing beauty.
When a soul as uniquely loved as Alberto disappears from our landscape, words cannot capture the sensations aroused by such an unexpected and abrupt disappearance. We are, after all, accustomed to the countless appearances and disappearances of persons sharing our daily lives.
They go. They return.
And if and when we are told that—“No! No! No! This time they’re really gone!”… We protest.
We protest because the spirit of this person, this presence, remains within us. And we have faith that this spiritual presence can be revived to sooth, console, and be with us in the here and now.
With this thought now fresh in our minds and hearts, for a precious moment, let us imagine and remember Alberto dancing and teaching students eager to understand the spirit of tango. Let us imagine and remember Alberto encouraging them to dance in the way it was meant to be.
Let us imagine and remember him dancing with Valorie…and as we do, imagine Alberto speaking these words:
They say there is a Paradise in Heaven, but does it matter? My wish is for one more joyful tango with my beloved Valorie in my arms. Let THIS be my Paradise!
And so it was.
And so it should always be.
posted by Valorie Hart