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Student of the Month ~ Marty Benson

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Marty BensonDancing tango since:  Marty has been dancing most of his life, primarily swing dance. For him, dancing brings together two of his passions—sports (movement) and music. He had taken some tango classes years ago and came back to it about 14 months ago.

Back story: In May 2012, Marty was blindsided by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. He became paralyzed and was hospitalized for six months, undergoing aggressive treatment. Told he might not walk again, Marty was determined to get through this ordeal and stayed focused on his desire to get back on the dance floor and the ski slopes. After his release from the hospital, he began rehab in early 2013.

“Dance is good therapy,” says Marty. “I still have issues with balance but tango helps.”

Debbie Goodwin agrees:  “Studies have shown Argentine Tango to be therapeutic for all types of physical and emotional conditions. Its multifaceted movement stimulates the brain, improving coordination and balance.”

Never expecting this level of recovery, Marty’s neurologist didn’t think he’d dance or ski again.

Why tango:  For Marty, tango is the most communicative dance between two partners. “There is room for interpretation, you can really work within the structure of the music,” he explains.

About Debbie & John: Marty heard about Alma del Tango while taking swing dance classes at another Marin venue. He attends the Level 1 and 2 tango classes on Wednesday nights.  “Debbie and John break down the patterns very well, in an understandable fashion. Their interactions are fun…they don’t always agree but they work it out in the class.”

He also likes the building itself.  “It’s fun to go there…it’s like a clubhouse with friends to dance with. It furthers the sense of community of Alma Del Tango.”

Anything else?  Marty is the proud owner of a 1978 Cadillac Eldorado.  “1978 was the last year of the really big Caddies – America’s luxury car,” he explains. “In 1979 they began downsizing.  The ’78 still had the full-sized “three body trunk.  It’s like a ship, you don’t drive it you pilot it.”

Last word: Marty’s ultimate ambition is to dance the swango – a fusion of swing and tango. (See examples on YouTube)

Tango dancer Marty Benson with his 1978 Cadillac Eldorado

Marty Benson and his 1978 Cadillac Eldorado with “three body trunk”

 

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Student of the Month ~ Veronica Chavarria

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Veronica Chavarriaby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  A relative newcomer to tango, Veronica has been dancing for about a year. In January 2015, while surfing the net she came across a Groupon for tango classes at Alma del Tango. She bought it but didn’t use it until six months later.

Why tango:  A native of Nicaragua, Veronica was exposed to Argentine tango as a young child. She has vivid memories of her grandmother who, each year, threw herself a birthday party. At midnight, all the guests took their shoes off, put a Carlos Gardel album on the record player and danced on the tile floors til the wee hours. That powerful memory has stayed with Veronica and she found herself drawn back to the dance.

Favorite part: “I love the community, the people,” says Veronica. After she had started classes at Alma del Tango she went with a friend to another venue, “but it wasn’t the same. Debbie and John have the recipe,” she says. “Alma del Tango is my happy place.”

What surprised her the most: “You mean other than it being so darn hard?” she laughs. “I had always been in control, as a single mother and in a big corporate job. In tango, I learned that I don’t always have to be in control.  Debbie said, you have to let go…just follow.”

About Debbie and John: Veronica sees them as a really happy couple, “they’re very real which makes them stand out from other couples and makes them more approachable,” she says.  “People can go up to them and ask for help.”

Anything else? Veronica hopes to go to Lady’s Tango Festival in Buenos Aires next March and combine it with a visit to her parents and grandmother who moved back to Nicaragua six years ago.

Last word: Before she felt confident enough to dance at milongas, Veronica decided to volunteer at Alma del Tango and she joined the kitchen crew. “That’s where the fun is! I love it.”

Veronica Chavarria with Maestro Eduardo Saucedo at Alma del Tango in Marin

Veronica enjoys a private lesson with guest artist Eduardo Saucedo

 

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Student of the Month – Susan Thompson

by Lanny Udell

Susan Thompson, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since:  Dance has always been part of Susan’s life—she studied ballet, jazz and tap in high school and college. A little over two years ago, she discovered Argentine tango.

Why tango:  After seeing Forever Tango, she was inspired to learn the dance. She had lost the three most important men in her life within a few years–her life partner of 17 years, her brother and her father. “I needed to return to my art to heal after all of this loss,” says Susan. “Dance is my creative expression in the world and tango exemplifies it.”

Favorite part: “It’s all about the connection. The other thing I like is you can play dress up. It’s part of the creativity for me.”

What surprised her the most? “How difficult it is!” After a challenging musicality class she called her mom almost in tears, “I’m flunking tango!” Susan had come face to face with her inner critic. I had to learn to silence that voice and just connect with my partner. It rears its head now and then, but I’ve quieted it to a whisper,” she says.

About Debbie & John:  When she decided to study tango, Susan wanted a local studio and found Alma del Tango on the internet.  “Debbie and John are fabulous teachers,” she says. “They know the technique so well and break it down in a way I can relate to easily.  Debbie translates it into non-dancer language so it’s easy to understand at my level.”

Deborah Loft, Debbie Goodwin and Susan Thompson at the Alma del Tango Holiday Gala

Deborah Loft, Debbie Goodwin and Susan Thompson at the Alma del Tango Holiday Gala

She likes dancing with John because “he’s an excellent leader, and he makes me feel beautiful.”

Anything else?  Susan has taken classes with visiting teachers, including Eduardo Saucedo. “He took me to another level of confidence by helping me break down some of the basics so I had a better idea of what I was doing,” she explains.

Susan danced in last year’s Alma del Tango student production, Moment to Moment. “I made myself do it,” she says. “My inner critic said, no, you’re gonna flunk again, but I refused to listen.”

Last word: 
“Tango is a lifelong journey, you never get to the destination,” says Susan. In September, the journey is leading her to tango in Paris, and she’s happy to follow.

Susan Thompson & cast of Moment to Moment, 2015 Alma del Tango student production

Susan and cast members of Moment to Moment, December 2015

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Student of the Month – Jason Arnold

Jason Arnold Alma del Tango Student of the Monthby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Jason discovered Argentine tango in 2003. After moving to Chicago from a small town in Wisconsin in the late 90’s, he got into ballroom dance, and then salsa, as a way to meet people. While he enjoyed the sensuality of salsa, after a few years he began to find it repetitive. He happened to live three doors down from a tango studio, Tango Chicago.  And the rest is history.

Why tango: “I wanted to work the other side of my brain,” says Jason whose career has been in Finance and IT.  “Social dancing gives me the chance to get out and meet people and to express my creative side in a non-linear way.”

After Jason and his former wife moved to the Bay Area in 2009, he took an eight-year hiatus from tango. In February of this year, he felt the tango itch. He looked around for a class and found Alma del Tango.  Even though he had a strong base in tango, “I felt like I was starting from scratch,” says the tanguero.

Favorite part:  “The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve liked having the ability to develop musicality and exercise my creativity with another person,” explains Jason. He enjoys the feedback that comes from connecting with a partner, and the way she can expand the movement by adding her own embellishment.

About Debbie & John:  “I really like their teaching,” says Jason.  “The best thing is their two different thinking styles…you can listen to either one depending on your learning style.  John is more analytical like me. He can explain the moves analytically while Debbie is intuitive. She’ll say, ‘Let me dance with you and feel what you’re doing.’ She’ll point things out that I’m not thinking about. Having access to both is great.” Jason also likes that they bring in guest teachers allowing students to experience other teachers and appreciate them for what they’re good at.

Anything else? Jason advises couples who are dancing tango together that the leader should go to more classes so he stays a step ahead. “It helps to manage the relationship,” he says with a knowing smile.

Last word: My high school wallflower days are over!

Jason Arnold Alma del Tango Student of the Month with his son at a Giants game

Jason and his son at a Giants- Cubs game

 

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Student of the Month – Michelle Ly

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Michelle Lyby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  As a teenager in Viet Nam, Michelle was introduced to tango in a ballroom dance class. But it wasn’t Argentine Tango. Last year, a friend invited her to the Sea Horse for an Argentine Tango class. “I was in a good mood, so I said why not? I hadn’t danced in over 20 years.” Michelle was captivated and signed up for lessons.

Back story:  “Tango fascinated me, it’s so beautiful,” she says. When she joined the class at the Sea Horse she thought, no problem, I’ve done ballroom dance before, but, “boy—Argentine Tango is not like ballroom! I was totally lost because in tango, it depends on the leader, not counting steps. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration.”  After three months, she was frustrated—“I couldn’t dance it.” But she kept going even though she was miserable. “I wondered, what’s wrong with me?”

One evening after class, a woman invited her to dance. “I didn’t know a woman could lead,” says Michelle. That woman happened to be Sylvia Goodman who told Michelle, “Don’t worry, leave it to me.”  After the tanda, Sylvia told her about Alma del Tango. Soon after, Michelle bought her first package at Alma del Tango.

Why tango:  “My passion for the dance was like a burning inside of me,says the tanguera.  She realized that in Argentine Tango, you are not stuck with a certain process. It’s about connection with the leader. So she forgot about counting steps,as she was used to doing in ballroom. “It’s more about free expression between two people,” says Michelle.  “It’s like falling in love.

You cannot be absent for a moment. If you lose that focus it’s not tango anymore.”

Michelle Ly with tango instructor David Orly Thompson at Alma del Tang, Marin

Michelle with David Orly Thompson dancing milonga at Alma del Tango

Favorite part: Even though she enjoys Latin dances she finds they’re not as rich as tango. “The expression in tango is so beautiful, so artistic,” says Michelle.  She began to buy shoes, and special clothing. “And I began to wear red to create a mood, like anybody in love doing silly things. Sooo sentimental…what can I say?”

About Debbie & John: Michelle looked at the Alma del Tango website and watched videos of Debbie and John dancing. Then she contacted Debbie. “I said I’d do anything to dance like her. I want so badly to be able to dance nicely like her. And John is awesome, the way he stands, his technique.” Says Michelle with a warm smile, “Alma del Tango freed me, it finally clicked. I am able to dance more and more. Without Debbie and John I couldn’t dance.”

Last word:

A day without tango makes my heart sad.”

 

 

 

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Student of the Month – Kathy Burwell

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Kathy BurwellDancing tango since:  In the fall of 2007, well before she stepped onto a tango dance floor, Kathy booked a flight to Buenos Aires. And that set the course in motion. Early in 2008 she went to see Alma del Tango’s production of “Tango, A Romantic Ritual,” and loved it. In April, she started taking classes with Debbie and John.

Why tango: Kathy confesses it was really her friend’s fantasy to go to Buenos Aires to learn tango.  “I glommed onto that,” she says. While she had taken ballroom dance classes, she was partial to latin dances.

Favorite part: “It’s the soul of Argentine tango,” says Kathy. She likes the movement of salsa but finds the music repetitive. “Tango is rich, it goes deeper.”

Back story: Kathy met her soon-to-be-husband, Mark Lewis, at her first tangoIMG_1248
class. In 2011, the pair performed a choreographed dance in Alma del Tango’s student production, “All About Tango.”

After the show, they took a hiatus from tango. Now Kathy is back in class (unfortunately, Mark’s schedule doesn’t permit him to join her). What brought her back? “It took some time for me to realize that I wanted to pursue the dance. I had to get clear about what my intention was and once I understood that it was not to coerce or manipulate Mark to go back, I could do it. And he’s fine with it,” she says with a warm smile.

About Debbie & John: “They have soul,” says Kathy. “They’re excellent at building foundational skills. They do what seems like rudimentary exercises…and then when they perform at the end of class, your jaw drops.”

Anything else?  Kathy came back to tango to satisfy her own inner tanguera.  “Now I don’t take any other forms of dance because I can’t imagine dancing anything but tango,” she says.

Last word: Kathy and Mark are getting married in September. And yes, they’ll dance a tango at the wedding.

Read Kathy and Mark’s Tango Love Bird story

 

 

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Student of the Month – Chris Allis

by Lanny Udell

Marin tango dancer Chris AllisDancing tango since: Chris has been dancing since high school. He’s done everything from belly dance to ballet, ballroom and more. About three-and-a-half years ago he decided to make a foray into Argentine Tango and took some classes in the East Bay, then got side-tracked into ballroom. Last August he “dove back into tango” and started taking classes at Alma del Tango.

Why tango: Chris loves the improvisational nature of tango. “More than any other dance I’ve done, it’s a conversation between partners that can change moment to moment in response to the music, to what your partner does or what others on the floor are doing,” he explains.

The defining moment for him came at a Goth nightclub in San Francisco. They were playing a down tempo, lush, “shoe gazer” song and a couple was dancing Argentine Tango. “I wanted what they were having,” says Chris. “They were amazing to watch.”

Favorite part: For Chris, it’s the sense of collaboration, improvisation, and artistry of the moment. He likens tango to a work of performance art, produced one time only. “Even if you have set choreography, it still changes,” he says. He loves dancing tango to alternative music, and that it can be done anywhere—in a café or dance hall, even on the sidewalk, “anyplace you have a partner and music—or no music.”

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in Marin

Chris and Maddy at Alma del Tango

About Debbie & John: Chris first met Debbie and John when they were subbing at a class at Bay West. He really enjoys their approach to teaching. “They take time with what needs to be worked on, add in some complexities, show where steps can go and how to work them into the improvisation,” he says. “They treat the arrangement of the class like a milonga, showing how to transition from what you’re doing in the studio to the social dance floor. The community they’ve created includes wonderful people in a warm and welcoming feeling.”

Anything else? “Throughout my life one of my loves in dancing has been to take dance into public spaces where you can pull people in and invite them to have a taste,” says Chris.

Last word:  An equal opportunity leader, Chris enjoys the energy of every person he dances with. He explains, “the more advanced partners inspire me to up my game, and the person who has just stepped onto the floor for the first time brings their own presence, style and personality. If they’re willing to take a chance on the floor, I’m willing to meet them there.”

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Chris Allis, swing dancing at Jack London Square

Swing dancing at Jack London Square

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Students of the Month: Sasha Bencina and Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango students of the month Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller and Sasa BencinaDancing tango since: Hasso and Sasha are newcomers to tango. They started taking classes in November 2014 and immediately became dedicated. Sasha had been a professional dancer and holds a BA in music and dance. Hasso has no background in dance.

Why tango: “She kept bringing it up until I said yes,” says Hasso. “Tango has a certain kind of spirit that feels like an encouragement for relationship,” he explains. “And because I knew Sasha was so inclined to dance, I thought that was a good place to meet her. As a health professional, I wanted to get deeper connected with Sasha and I felt tango would enable that.”

Sasha adds, “I feel deeply connected to movement and I wanted to find a way to share that with Hasso. Tango is such a beautiful, intimate way to share with your partner.”

Favorite part: Hasso enjoys stepping into the leadership role and “owning that part of the dynamic equation.” He also enjoys the togetherness, finding total alignment with his partner. “It’s a wonderful challenge, I find it truly inspiring,” he says.

“I love the listening–how deep can you listen to each other to stay in connection?” says Sasha. She also loves the closeness, the intimacy of the embrace. “You come together and the dance is like a prayer.”

Both find deep therapeutic value in tango that fits perfectly with their work as healers.

About Debbie & John: “They are beautiful teachers, I feel inspired by them,” says Hasso. “They are very encouraging and have a positive spirit about what they’re doing.”

Sasha appreciates their receptivity. “They are very welcoming and patient. We feel very welcome in the community,” she says.

Anything else? Through tango, Hasso envisions “finding this ultimate connection/alignment of our souls. Tango will help us embody what we know in our hearts and our love can deepen.”

Last word: A trip to Buenos Aires is not on the couple’s radar. They are happy to let their living room become “Argentina” as they put on a tango CD and practice what they’ve learned so far.

Tango student Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller of Marin practices QiGong

Hasso practices Qi Gong

Learn more about Hasso and Sasha and their healing center at fully-alive.com

Marin Tango student Sasha Bencina dances on the beach

Sasha improvises a dance move on the beach

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Student of the Month — Maria Perez

by Lanny Udell

Maria Perez, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: When it comes to dance, Maria has done it all. As a child, she studied ballet, tap and jazz, and she was on her high school’s jazz team. While in college, she became an exotic dancer to help pay her tuition. Now, some eight years later she still performs. Tango came into her life nearly two years ago.

Why tango: “I’ve been a dancer my whole life and when I saw tango I said oooh, I want to do that. It’s so beautiful and passionate,” says Maria.

Favorite part: Maria says tango is the most challenging dance she’s ever had to learn. Why? For one thing, she doesn’t like to follow, she likes to be in charge of the dance. Also, “there are very slight nuances in the cues, and subtleties which I’m learning. It’s more specific in the details than most dances,” she explains. “I’m glad nobody told me before I started that this dance was the hardest to learn or I might not have tried it.”

About Debbie & John: Maria is impressed by Debbie and John’s incredible arrangement in marriage and work. She sees their different skill sets–Debbie is the driver and John is very analytical. “I so enjoy watching them bring their dynamics to the dance floor and to their teaching. Their love for each other comes through in their dancing.”

What surprised her about tango: “I didn’t know we shouldn’t make eye contact. That surprised me but I appreciate it now,” she observes.

Alma del Tango student Maria Perez and her dog.

Maria and her pooch

Anything else? In addition to her career as an exotic dancer she has a degree in dog psychology and owns a dog walking and training business. She is also a Reiki practitioner.

Last Word: Maria is partnering with Sergio Orvalles in Alma del Tango’s December 4th student performance of Moment to Moment. Be sure to reserve your tickets!

Exotic dancer, tango dancer

Maria, exotic dancer

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Student of the Month – Nicole Tolson

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Nicole Tolson by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Nicole has been dancing tango for less than six months, and she loves it! At 15 years old, she’s Alma del Tango’s youngest student.

Why tango:  Nicole and her uncle Chalmer took a basic ballroom dance class together which included a segment on Argentine Tango. Now, “tango is my second favorite dance ever,” she says. Her first favorite? East Coast swing. Nicole’s family is very musically involved, they all play instruments and enjoy dancing.  Chalmer comes to all the classes with her.

Favorite part:  “I like the fun, social part of it,” says Nicole. “It’s like a family or a small community.” She finds tango a bit more challenging than other dances. “Anything can happen, it’s like a bunch of scattered pieces that you can put together.” She also likes that “as a follower you get to decode what the leader’s doing, and add your own thing to it. That works better with my personality.”

About Debbie & John: When Nicole first met them, she thought they were like hippies. “They talked about the energy and flow, and then I realized it’s the only way to describe it.” She dances more with John and finds him “very smooth.”

Anything else?  Nicole is a sophomore at Drake High where she is on the co-ed wrestling team and participates in track events. She’s been a runner since elementary school and started doing the long jump in middle school. Her friends think it’s cool that she dances tango. (So do we.)

Nicole-100mm hurdles-cropped

Last word: “Tango speaks for itself,” says Nicole. “I’ve made friends and even though they’re adults, it isn’t awkward.”

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