Julio Valdez

by Annie Merkley

 (Julio with fellow Tango dancers and friends at the Saturday night Milonga)
(Julio with fellow Tango dancers and friends at the Saturday night Milonga)

Tango instructor by night, charity worker by day. Julio Valdez is full of energy and charisma. He delves into his world of Tango and philanthropic endeavors with sincerity and intensity.

Every Sunday night at community center Centro de Castilla y Leon in Mar del Plata the price entry is a bag of dry or canned food and 25 Argentine pesos (around $2 US). Valdez started the food drive a year ago to help children in an underprivileged neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The program has been a grand success.

Friday night at Centro de Castilla y Leon Valdez is the MC, DJ and real heart of the Milonga (name of the gatherings as well the Tango-style dance with a faster rhythm and variations of steps). Valdez takes to the floor with grace and skill. He does what true masters accomplish. He makes it look easy.

Valdez offers a group class before the Milonga where he is firm yet compassionate. Chris Radziminski, a student of Valdez for around 8 years stated very matter of fact, "He is the best." Valdez has been dancing Tango for 30 years, and in 2004 at Mudnial de Tango, Valdez was a major contender and made it to the semifinals of the world tournament.

 (Alejandra Bellonio, a student and friend of Julio Valdez who helped bring out the basketball setup)
(Alejandra Bellonio, a student and friend of Julio Valdez who helped bring out the basketball setup)

At the popular Friday night Milonga, the Tango dancers are a part of tight-knit community. They dedicate large portions of their free time to embrace tightly with eyes closed and glide in intricate steps across wooden floors. It is glorious to watch, this is no tourist Tango session. There is a tangible intimacy visible as they shift and sway with tremendous reverence and romance. Time seems to stand still as they twirl into the early hours of the morning.

On February, 28, 2015 Saturday morning at 10am, Valdez is gathering the donated food as well as a set up for a basketball court that he is delivering to Jesus es Vida - an educational activities center for children of poverty-stricken neighborhood, Parque Independencia. Having finished with the Milonga around 5am he's had only a few hours of sleep. With infectious enthusiasm Valdez smiles, laughs and buzzes around the room organizing the multi-colored plastic bags. His kind coffee brown eyes shine, as he recounts the epidemic of impoverishment in Argentina and how his heart goes out to the children who have no control over their circumstance. Valdez said in his country it is unjust how many, "chicos no tienen casa, chicos que no tienen elementos." (children without homes, children who lack rudimentary necessities)

The drive from Valdez's community center is eye opening to the vast maldistribution of wealth in Argentina. The pretty tree-lined streets adorned with sidewalks, cafes, and large attractive houses gives way to an industrial area and abruptly to a neighborhood with unkempt dirt roads and rugged cinderblock homes.

A newly painted structure stands out like a lighthouse with a bright colored mural. International volunteers recently gave the facade of Jesus es Vida a cheery makeover and constructed an addition to the structure with resourced bottles and cement.

The children come out to lend a hand carrying in the goods, dogs and kittens run around; it is a harmonious hecticness that breaks out in dance as local volunteer teachers lead the children holding hands in a circle. There is so much joy encapsulated in this moment, it feels like a birthday party.

Inside the modest building there is a small library, a chalkboard, and a table with children coloring worksheets with concentration and care. Jesus es Vida is a hive of activity. The children are invited to gather around a long table in the midday sun as Valdez hands out fresh medialunas (Argentine croissants) and chocolate milk. The medialunas and chocolate milk were donated by Hotel Primacy in downtown Mar del Plata. The kids happily dive into their delicious treats.

It's easy to forget that Jesus es Vida is located in such a poor neighborhood with the abundance of merriment. But with a look around the surrounding destitute homes it's excruciatingly apparent these kids need all the help they can get. And, in moments of quiet reflection the carefree expressions of the children descend to worry-filled distant stares.

Hugs and kisses are given from Jesus es Vida proprietors Hugo and Carmela. Valdez says his goodbyes and confides he wishes he could do more.

Saturday night and another Milonga is taking place. Valdez is a guest DJ at old church, decked out for the evenings' festivities. Dancers file in and music fills the air with nostalgic reveries. Valdez is all smiles and has tapped into his seemingly unending well of energy. After teaching private Tango lessons in the afternoon, and coming to help set up for the dance, Valdez has left very little time in the day for himself to even eat.

"Yo soy asi." Valdez says with a grin, "Me gusta ayudar." (I am just like this. I like to help.)

Page created on 3/28/2015 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 5:05:12 PM

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