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Student of the Month –
Christianna Valentina

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Christianna ValentinaDancing tango since:  Christianna began her tango journey a year ago after she saw Nicholas Tapia (2014 Argentine Tango Salon USA Champion) dancing at a party where she was performing as a singer/pianist.

Why tango: “Tango had been on my mind for 15 years, and when I saw him dance I thought, that’s it—it starts tomorrow,” she says.

Christianna calls herself a “dance explorer.”  While working on a dance degree in college she studied ballet, modern, African style … and performed into her late 20’s.

Favorite part:  For Christianna, it’s the feeling of connection with another person. The nonverbal communication of having to listen to each other deeply in order to move together. “It takes so much focus, you have to turn everything off to do it, so it’s a great escape.”

About Debbie & John:  “I’m in awe of them – not only as dancers, but as teachers,” says Christianna.  A music teacher as well as performer, she understands how much heart and soul it takes. “They’re always introducing new themes, bringing in guest teachers…the classes are never stagnant. They bring creativity into every aspect. I don’t think there’s anything like Alma del Tango in the Bay Area.”

In Tango Dreamscapes, Christianna will be performing a choreography, partnered by John.

Christianna Valentina dances tango with John Campbell

Christianna and John Campbell in Tango Dreamscapes

“He has the patience of a saint,” she says.  “It’s been like trying to mold a tango dancer out of
a bundle of nerves.  It’s been a real honor to work so closely with him.”

Anything else?  In addition to dancing in the upcoming show, Christianna will be a vocalist/pianist performing a soulful tango song.  Even though she has studied Spanish and Portuguese, having to learn the Argentine accent was a challenge for the tanguera.

Last word: “Tango’s taking over my life and I’m loving it!”

Christianna Valentina, vocalist/pianist in Tango Dreamscapes

Christianna Valentina, vocalist/pianist in Tango Dreamscapes

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Student of the Month – Jasmine Worrell

by Lanny Udell

Tango dancer Jasmine WorrellDancing tango since:  Dancing has always been Jasmine’s passion, but she is fairly new to tango, having started in September 2013. “I love it, and having dance in my background makes it a little easier for me,” she says.  “I jumped in with both feet. Once you discover it, it’s all-consuming.”

The back story: In high school Jasmine wanted to be a professional dancer, but her dad, a struggling artist, wanted her to study something practical. So Jasmine decided to major in business. She also fell in love with geography, focusing on how people connect with cultural geography. After graduating, she became an art teacher in a Montessori  school.  She also  has a background in business development and people management, and is a partner in Jen Pearson Design. But the lure of dance still calls to her.

Jasmine Worrell performs with the Decobelles in Gatsby Summer Afternoon

Jasmine performed in Gatsby Summer Afternoon with the Decobelles.

Why tango: “The dance is very delicate and elegant, unlike lindy hop which is high energy,” she explains. “The connection is very different.  Tango is a closer connection…you are dancing *in* the music, rather than *to* the music. And, you’re absolutely in the moment with somebody. It feels very intimate.”  Jasmine also appreciates the technicality of tango. And that it attracts people who want to make a commitment to the dance, the culture and the community. “It’s a forever learning experience.”

Favorite part:  For Jasmine, it’s the yin and yang… the softness and the angles. “It’s not just one-dimensional,” she says. “The surrender feels incredibly good; it feels special to have that with a perfect stranger.” While on a 5-week trip to Germany, Jasmine didn’t dance at all. “I realized how much I get from connecting in the embrace and how incredible that feels,” she recalls.

About Debbie & John: They don’t put on their teacher caps and then leave,” observes Jasmine.  “They stay themselves.  They are joyful, kind, patient…and incredibly generous with information and attention,” she says. “It’s been the best learning for me, to be in that environment.”

Anything else?  Jasmine performed in Alma del Tango’s 2014 student production,
“Tango Magic.” (You may remember her performance in the Wallflowers  number and the women’s choreography piece, Leonora’s Song.)

Jasmine Worrell in the cast of Leonora's Song, Tango Magic

Jasmine (back row) in the cast of Leonora’s Song, Tango Magic 2014

She will be dancing in the upcoming production, “Dreamscapes,” partnered by Jose Orellano, and in an all-women’s dance called “Femme Fatale.” (Tickets for the Valentine’s weekend show are on sale now!)

Last Word: Jasmine has been invited to join as a member/apprentice in Debbie’s new professional company, Debbie Goodwin Dance Company.

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Jasmine Worrell  “It’s a dream come true. I couldn’t be happier,” says the tanguera.

(pictured at top: Jasmine performed with the Decobelles at the Paramount
Theater in Oakland)
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Students of the Month – Antonio Sausys & Katia Dimitrova

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Students of the Month, Katia & AntonioDancing tango since:  Tango was very big in Antonio’s home country of Uruguay, and his mother introduced him to the dance when he was just 8 years old. His second connection with Argentine tango was as an accordion player touring Europe with an opera company in a performance that explored the impact of tango on Parisian society.

Katia’s tango journey began three years ago when the couple started taking lessons as a way of doing a physical activity that would also connect them artistically.

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 Halloween Party @ Alma del Tango

Why tango:  “I fell in love with it on a trip to Uruguay,” says Katia.  She and Antonio were in a restaurant/bar and she saw women come in with tango shoes in their bags.  “My jaw dropped. I wanted to do it,” she says. “When we started taking classes it felt like a meditation for a couple…you have to get in synch with each other…that’s the only rule.”

“In my case,” says Antonio, “I thought oh, I know tango.  But I discovered it’s one of the most challenging things I could do.  As a leader I had to learn how to move my body to induce the follower to do what I wanted. Leading requires sensitivity which can be difficult for men.”

Favorite part: For Antonio, it’s the building of intention, and a nonverbal connection. “It’s a true act of connection,” he explains, “because you know what you want as a leader and you must create the space for your partner.”

Katia  agrees.  “It’s about building a connection, and the constant reminder to relax. The more you relax the better. When I close my eyes it’s the best dance. Otherwise I lead!”

“And I struggle,” Antonio chimes in, laughing.

About Debbie & John:  “I really like them … they have a very good connection and both are very passionate,” says Katia. Antonio likes their body language communication – “it’s very precise. I like seeing them in action.  I like their passion, their love for tango.  I am very inspired by their artistry.”

Anything else? Antonio and Katia will be dancing in Dreamscapes, the upcoming student production.
“Because we travel at that time of year we’ve never been able to be in the show,” Katia explains. But this year they made a deal with Debbie:  “We told her if she’d give us the routine we’d practice while we’re away.  We’re very proud to go back to Uruguay with a piece we can show,” says Antonio.

Last word:
  Antonio sees tango as “a healthy co-dependency.”

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Student of the Month – Tanja Obear

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Tanja ObearDancing tango since:   Tanja started dabbling in Argentine tango about 10 years ago.  She had explored a few different dances, enjoyed salsa and swing, but when she found Argentine tango, it resonated with her immediately. Tanja has spent the last seven years focused on her family and has recently re-emerged with a new fervor for her interest in Argentine Tango.

Why tango:  “For me tango is a metaphor for life,” says Tanja. “It offers joys, challenges, and opportunities for growth. In its best moments, it becomes a true spiritual experience.”

 Favorite part: Tanja loves the connection that tango offers her…to the music, to her dance partner …and to the community. She enjoys the feeling of being completely in the moment. “It’s a very passionate dance but it can also be light and fun,” she says.

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Tanja with tanguero Mark Anderson at La Milonga de San Anselmo

About Debbie & John: “What I like most about John and Debbie’s teaching style is that they articulate the nuances of Argentine tango in a playful manner, so I’m able to stay focused, yet relaxed,” says the tanguera. “Debbie also teaches followers to be active in the interpretation of the music and the lead. Even though the leader is the choreographer, the follower has her own role to play.” Tanja also enjoys seeing women leading as well as following.

What do you look for in a leader: “It’s important for me that somebody really feels the music and expresses it through their dance.  While it’s important to be technically accurate, a leader who connects and feels the music, makes all the difference.”

Anything else? On October 31st, Tanja will dance with the Alma del Tango dancers when they perform for the Goldenaires in San Rafael. It’s her first time performing in front of a group.

Last word: As Activities Director at WindChime – Memory Care Community in Kentfield, Tanja finds it deeply rewarding to have the opportunity to bring the joys of music and dance to the residents.  “I find inspiration for my work in tango, the arts, and the beauty found in nature.  My greatest joy in life is my seven year old daughter.”

 

 

 

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Students of the Month – Doug and Esther Rove

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Students of the MonthDancing tango since: Esther’s introduction to Argentine Tango was in 1998 when she saw the film,  The Tango Lesson. She was so intrigued, she started taking lessons. Doug’s interest came a little later, when on a flight home from Hawaii Esther asked him if he’d be willing to take tango lessons. He said, of course—even though he hadn’t done any type of dancing before.

Why tango:  “Once I got introduced to Argentine Tango I didn’t want to dance anything else,” says Esther. She especially likes the improvisational part. “Other dances don’t allow that much self-expression.”

Doug admits: “At first the music gave me a headache. And I found it frustrating that different teachers said different things. Now he enjoys the connection… with a partner, the music and others on the floor. “You have to be very much in the moment. It gets into your heart – it’s like nothing else,” he says.

Sneak a peek at Doug and Esther at La Práctica de San Anselmo at Alma del Tango

Sneak a peek at Doug and Esther at La Práctica de San Anselmo at Alma del Tango

Favorite part: Esther finds the community  very embracing. She also likes the complexity of the dance, and “the way I feel emotionally. I connected with it immediately.” For Doug, tango is always a unique experience – different dance floor, different partner, different music. “One thing that stays the same is establishing the connection and sharing the passion for the dance and one another. You can feel the passion going back and forth between the leader and follower.”

About Debbie & John:  “They are very giving…they really want to share a lot of what they know,” says Doug. Esther agrees, “We are very fortunate to have this in San Anselmo.”

Doug & Esther Rove with tango teacher Eduardo Saucedo

Maestro Eduardo Saucedo with Esther and Doug in BsAs

 

 

 

Anything else?  Doug and Esther have been to Buenos Aires twice.
Half-way through the first trip, Esther was very quiet. “I could see the wheels turning,” says Doug.  “She said, we’re coming back in April.” And they did. That time they took classes with Eduardo Saucedo, danced to a lot of live music and got to experience the culture. “Buenos Aires is like an acquired taste…but once you acquire it…you’re hooked,” both agreed.
They’re going back again next April, this time for a month.

Last word: “We have our tango fights,” they admit, “but we get over it. Tango helps us communicate better.”

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Student of the Month – MaryBeth Neill

by Lanny Udell

MaryBeth Neill in a big red hatDancing tango since:  MaryBeth discovered tango about 4 years ago.  “I went  to a class with a friend thinking I’d just observe,” she recalls.  But she brought shoes along…just in case.

Why tango:  The mystery of the dance intrigued her … trying to figure out what the instructors were doing and how they could move so smoothly when it was improvised.  How does the follower know what to do?  She had been going to Monroe Hall in Sonoma County for all kinds of dancing. Then one night the DJ played some tango music and her friend tried leading her in ochos, but she couldn’t figure out what to do.  That’s when she started taking classes to learn this mysterious dance.

Favorite part:  When asked this question MaryBeth recites a quote from Mirabai:MaryBeth Neill dances at a milongs

Tango is the union of beings, even if just for a moment. It is the breath that you take as one when the music lifts you out of the mundane and carries you to another realm.

She finds tango meditative, “there’s a stillness…it’s almost zen,” says MaryBeth. And then, of course, there are the shoes and the clothes. During a trip to Buenos Aires in 2012 she couldn’t resist those gorgeous Comme Il Faut shoes. “I bought 6 pairs,” she admits.

About Debbie & John: MaryBeth attends their Monday night Level 3 and 4 classes at Alma del Tango. “They’re amazing, I love their interaction,” she says.  In 2012, MaryBeth suffered a broken hip and was unable to dance for 8 months. When she’d healed, she took a private lesson with John to test the hip…”he was very gracious and helpful,” she says. “And Debbie is always so welcoming.  When she offers corrections she makes it very equal (leader and follower) because in tango, it’s about both of us.”

Anything else?  A nurse, MaryBeth confesses to doing the tango walk down the hospital hallways, and she’ll sneak in a few boleos in the nurse’s station when nobody’s watching. “I need 8 days a week so I can go to more milongas,” says the tanguera, “I have more clothes and shoes than there are milongas!”

Pedicure in Buenos Aires

Pampering her feet after dancing all day and all night in Buenos Aires

Tango dancer MaryBeth Neill with nurses in Havana, Cuba

MaryBeth visited a surgery center on a trip to Havana, Cuba in 2012

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Student of the Month – Larry Seeger

 

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Larry Seeger  by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Larry’s tango adventure began about six years ago. After seeing Forever Tango, he was mesmerized.

Why tango:  A ballroom dancer all his life, Larry was intrigued by the intricacy of Argentine tango. “I wondered, how could I learn to do that?”  Then fate stepped in and Larry was invited to a book signing for   Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home, by Maria Finn. At the event, Maria danced with David Caditz, and that fanned the flames of Larry’s desire to learn this dance. After some classes with David he discovered Tango Mango and began studying with various teachers in the Bay Area.

Favorite part: Larry has danced West Coast Swing for 10 years, and he finds similarities between the two. “Both beg for a lot of musicality, interpretation, flexibility and innovation,” he observes. “When I dance with someone and have a wow experience, it’s because we have a 3-way connection — lead/follow/music.” It’s not just the beat, Larry explains, it’s the mood. “There are surges of energy that the composer and musicians are communicating. As a dancing couple we feel that, and amplify it. When that happens, I get tearful…it’s incredibly emotional and beautiful.”

Tango dancer & sea captain Larry Seeger

Larry pursuing his two passions…sailing and dancing.

About Debbie & John: “They’re exceptional at teaching good technique…in fact, they’re driven by it,” says Larry. He also appreciates the way they approach you during class and practicas, offering feedback. “John is very tactful,” he says. “When he provides feedback he starts with the leader and almost always gives the follower some tips, too, so you don’t feel like one person is the problem.”

Larry also admires John and Debbie’s commitment to creating a tango community in Marin. “They had the vision and took the initiative to make it happen.”

Anything else?  Larry is passionate about becoming an exceptional tango dancer… exceptional enough so he doesn’t get turned down when he invites someone to dance.

Larry joined the Alma del Tango dancers for a performance at the San Rafael Rec Center

Larry partnered Lanny Udell in last fall’s Alma del Tango performance for the San Rafael Goldenaires

 

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Student of the Month – Allan Noxon

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month - Allan NoxonDancing tango since:  Allan has been dancing tango for about three years. He’d been dancing ballroom for several years and when he saw Argentine tango, he decided he wanted to “go there.”

Why tango:  Allan had danced when he was in his 20’s, but then tennis and golf became his passions and dancing went on the back burner. But when his tennis and golf skills began to wane, he rediscovered dancing. Allan finds tango a constant challenge.  “Every step is led,” he says, “so I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. It’s like a moving game a chess…you have to plan your next moves.”

Favorite part: “Because tango is danced in close quarters, it’s always changing and what you thought you were going to do is not necessarily what it ends up. It’s very challenging for the leader,” he says. Allan prefers rhythm over steps. “You can have rhythm without even taking a step,” he points out citing the check step as an example.

About Debbie & John: Allan found Debbie and John on Tango Mango and soon became a regular at Alma del Tango’s Wednesday classes, Friday practicas and milongas. “They are a great team and I love the fact that they make it real when they discuss what to teach … they have a good sense of humor.”  He has also taken private lessons with Debbie.  “She’s a wonderful teacher,” says Allan. “I tried other instructors but I liked her the best.  I can ask her to help me with something specific rather than having set course material.”

Anything else? Allan dances two to three nights a week. At least one of those nights is ballroom. He loves to dance tango to non-tango music, if he can find a partner who is willing. For Allan, an ideal night of dancing would be a combination of ballroom and tango. His favorite music is Nuevo …  he created a Gotan Project  channel on Pandora so he can listen anytime..

Last word: “I’m never going to give up tango in favor of ballroom, and vice versa,” says Allan. “To me it’s the joy of dancing, not necessarily the dance I’m doing.”

 

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Student of the Month – Sylvia Goodman

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Sylvia GoodmanDancing tango since:  About 11 years ago, Sylvia’s then-boyfriend took her to Esalen for a workshop called “Tango is More Than a Dance.”  Though her boyfriend didn’t relate to the dance, Sylvia fell in love with it, and a few months later she joined the instructor on a trip to Buenos Aires…the first of many.

Why tango:  “Curiosity led me to the dance in the first place,” says Sylvia. “Tango is more than a dance, you bet it is. It’s a metaphor for life.”

Favorite part:  A therapist practicing Process Acupressure, Sylvia finds that her work in the world is a lot like tango. “It involves following the lead of the patient and listening carefully to what’s being said so I can follow and be connected. Tango helps me do that.”

She especially enjoys dancing with people she doesn’t know. “When you take that risk, sometimes it’s absolutely magical. You may never see them again, but you’ve had that connection.”

About Debbie & John:  “Debbie is doing something nobody else is doing. Her women’s technique class is crucial. And the student performances encourage one to challenge oneself.”

Sylvia Goodman in Tango Magic, Alma del Tango

Sylvia as a tango addict – In Tango Magic – The Spell is Cast

She also likes the structure of Debbie and John’s classes…”the way they build…there’s something for everyone,” she says. “Even if you start in the beginning class, by the end of the evening you’ve learned something more.” She also appreciates that they continue to hone their own skills, and applauds their efforts in turning the studio into a performance space. “They put in hours and hours to make it a welcoming, joyful, nurturing place for people of all levels,” she observes.

Anything else?  Sylvia has performed in several Alma del Tango student productions, including this year’s Tango Magic.  And, she took teacher training so she’d be able to teach her six granddaughters to dance tango if they were interested.  Her 6-month-old grandson is a leader in the making. When she babysits with him she turns on tango music and dances him around. “I want him to have it in his body,” says his tango grandmamma.

Last Word: Sylvia likes to lead as well as follow. “I don’t do fancy things,” she says. “It’s a lovely experience and has given me a greater appreciation of the difficulty of leading.”

Sylvia at La Milonga de San Anselmo

Sylvia is a regular at La Milonga de San Anselmo

 

 

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Student of the Month – Gary Febus

by Lanny Udell

Student of the Month Gary FebusDancing tango since: Gary and his wife, Laura, began taking tango lessons about 10 years ago when their ballroom dance teachers included tango in their classes. When the teachers left the Bay Area, Gary and Laura stopped dancing ballroom and started taking tango lessons at the Lake Merritt Dance Center.

Why tango:  “It’s definitely a commitment dance, “says Gary. “That’s why we didn’t get involved at first. It wasn’t like picking up foxtrot or waltz which you can do at a lesser level. People who get into tango aspire to be better.” According to Gary (and as we all know), “tango is a dance that will crowd out other dances.”

Gary and Laura, tango dancers

Gary and Laura

Favorite part: For Gary, it’s the emotional content, the close embrace and the salon style. “Tango has the corner on that.”  He also likes the community aspect of tango…not just a single community, but the fact that there are different crowds, different ages at various venues. And tango is something he and his wife can enjoy together…pretty much anywhere.

About Debbie & John: Gary has been taking private lessons with Debbie for about a year.  He wanted a female instructor to evaluate his dancing. “I’d been aware of Debbie for a few years, and had seen her perform,” he says. Gary and Laura have also taken Debbie and John’s Monday night couples class. “There’s nothing I don’t like about their teaching,” he says. “Debbie is a friendly, open person and she tries hard to solve your problem so you get what you want out of the dance.” What Gary wants is to be a better dancer, “and Debbie has helped me quite a bit.”

Anything else?  When they’re not dancing tango Gary and Laura are avid bike riders. They also play golf, water ski and enjoy sailing.

Last word: “Women and shoes – I never got it before, but I super get it with tango. My wife hadn’t worn high heels in a long time.  Now her closet is full of Comme Il Faut,” he says with a smile.

 

Gary and his pal, Teagan

Gary and his pal, Teagan

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