Skip to main content

Danza maligna

Tango has been compared to vampirism in its nocturnal practices, and more than one popular representation has evoked the danse macabre. It has adherents as a religion does, and there is little point denying its cultish aspect. It is famously addictive. Danza maligna captures such feelings and more, musically and lyrically. At Café Argentina, Milonga Falucho celebrated the summer season with John's recitation, music by Maurizio Najt on keyboard and Juan Carlos Arias on bandoneón (to which Danza maligna is something of a hymn), and a dance show by Andres Bravo and Sarita Apel. Renée hosted and dejayeed. 

Danza maligna (1929)

Letra de Claudio Frollo

Música de Fernando Randle


Dance Malignant (1929)

Lyrics by Claudio Frollo, trans. J. Osburn

Music by Fernando Randle


Se arrastran los compases compadrones

Del tango que se encoge y que se estira,

Su música doliente pareciera

Sentir que una amenaza se aproxima.

Viviremos los dos el cuarto de hora

De la danza nostálgica y maligna,

Escuchemos latir los corazones

Bajo el numen de Venus Afrodita.


How they drag us in, the voluptuous beats of

The tango, living and dying, expanding, contracting,

Their doleful notes like something approaching,

Like to a threatened peril or a danger impending.

And together we'll have our quarter hour

Of this dance most nostalgic and malignant,

And the beat we’ll hear is of the hearts of

Lovers devoted to Venus Aphrodite.


Placer de dioses, baile perverso,
El tango es rito y es religión,
Orquestas criollas son sus altares
Y el sacerdote, su bandoneón.
Quiero sentirme aprisionado
Como en la cárcel de mi dolor,
Guarda silencio mitad de mi alma
Que hay un secreto entre los dos.


Pleasure of the gods, perverse among dances,

El tango is rite, sacrament, and religión,

Its altars are our homegrown orchestras

And the high priest is its bandoneón.

I want to feel myself chained and locked in

As though in the jailhouses of my pain,

Guarding in silence that half of my soul that

Abides as a secret only two know.


Se arrastran los compases compadrones
Del tango que se adueña de tu fibra,
El roce de tus rulos en mis sienes
Derá la extremaunción de mi agonía.
Te invito a penetrar en este templo
Donde todo el amor lo purifica,
Viviremos los dos el cuarto de hora
De la danza nostálgica y maligna.

When they drag us in, the voluptuous beats of

The tango, as they take possession of your spine,

The graze of your hairy curls on my temples

In my agony will deliver me the last rites.

Come with me into the recesses of this temple

Where the ceremony of love will purify all,

And together we'll have our quarter hour

Of this dance most nostalgic and malignant.

Claudio Frollo was a lawyer who wrote a legal encyclopedia and founded a law journal as well as writing lyrics. Fernando Randle was a pianist-composer with whom he collaborated on a handful of tangos in 1929-'30. Although dancers know the Enrique Rodríguez version of Danza maligna with the singer Armando Moreno, it was first recorded by Azucena Maizana, an imaginative, vocally nimble artist known for dressing as a gaucho.

Imperio Argentina would record the song only a year later accompanied by a simple but powerful guitar, thus giving us two strong interpretations by women a decade before Rodríguez's dance version.

Maizani and Argentina recorded all of the stanzas. The Rodriguez-Moreno leaves off the final, its ominous import subsumed in the very sort of orchestral music represented in the lyrics. In that way, it could be said to "realize" the song. Here it is danced by Geraldine Rojas and Javier Rodríguez at the legendary Niño Bien milonga in Buenos Aires.


Despite numerous final or next-to-last vowels that echo each other, this letra does not have obvious end rhymes. Religión and bandoneón stand out in the second stanza; even at that, the rhyme is only on the last syllables and doesn't reflect a pattern. I’ve retained the Spanish since the words are recognizable to an English speaker, as well as keeping El tango in the same sentence. This gives the cultural claim its due and suggests something above the ordinary, sacred or holy, like Latin in the old masses. Orquestas criollas is not self-explanatory and needed to be translated. Criolla/o has a special resonance in the Spanish-speaking Americas, representing the aesthetic of a colonized continent, a mix of European, African, Indigenous, and Asian heritages. “Creole” is an English synonym but too linked to francophone cultures to work in this context. I passed on “New World” as Eurocentric; “autochthonous” belongs in a graduate thesis; "mixed" lacks a link to the soil; so I settled on “homegrown.” The first and last stanzas have an interesting reference to the couple dancing together for a quarter hour. Renée suggested a possible relation to the Spanish expression tener un cuarto de hora, which implies a moment in the sun, akin to the Warholian “fifteen minutes of fame.” It's an appealing nuance that I’ve tried to hint at.

—John Osburn