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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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Student of the Month: Francia Cifuentes

by Lanny Udell

 

Student of the Month Francia Cifuentes, Alma del TangoDancing tango since:  Francia grew up in Medillin, Colombia, where the legendary Carlos Gardel died. When she was growing up, her household was filled with tango music, but she didn’t think of dancing until a year ago when she was living in Sacramento

Why tango:  “I have a passion about it,” she admits. A traveling nurse, she first looks for tango, “then I look for the job,” she says. When she landed in Sacramento she thought, “OMG, I’m going to heaven.”  Francia immersed herself in the dance, taking classes six days a week for a year.

Favorite part: “The music – it’s so sensual, it touches every fiber in me,” says Francia. She loves the sound of the bandoneon and the violins. “The combination of sound goes straight to my heart. Sometimes I have to hold back the tears,” she says.  She also loves the challenge of tango. “It is so difficult – you need to think about your movement from head to toe.”

About Debbie & John: Francia loves their professionalism, the way they teach, and how they break every step into in 1000 pieces.  “They pay attention to every student and make sure everybody gets it.”

Anything else? We’re sad to say that Francia is leaving us at the end of the month. Her next nursing job is taking her to San Diego. But not to worry.  Our tanguera has found three tango venues where she can continue to pursue her passion.

Alma del Tango Student of the Month, Francia Ciguenta poseswith an image of Carlos Gardel

Francia with Carlos Gardel at the Salon Malaga, Medellin Colombia

Last word: Life as a traveling nurse can be lonely. “I go places where I don’t know anybody. Tango is the best thing that happened to me. I’ll stay in it for the rest of my life.”

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Student of the Month – Wade Spital

by Lanny Udell

Wade Spital, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: Though not a newcomer to dance, Wade is fairly new to Argentine Tango, having started in April 2014. He describes himself as a fairly seasoned swing and country-western dancer with a strong background in Latin and ballroom as well. “I typically dance and/or take dance classes 3 or 4 nights a week.”

Why tango: In 1987, a friend asked Wade to take a ballroom class with her and he agreed. “As soon as I started, I really liked it,” he says. “I found that partner dancing helped me feel more connected and also enhanced my experience of both dancing and music.”

Over the years, Wade has done some American Ballroom Tango, but as Argentine Tango increased in popularity he became intrigued. “I thought I’d get around to it eventually.” Then, last year he decided, “I’m not getting any younger. I’d better learn this dance.” That’s when he went onto TangoMango.org and found Alma del Tango.

Wade Spital, Alma del Tango Student of the Month, with swing dance partner

Wade and his swing dance partner at the Black and White Ball

Favorite part: “Because Tango is an improvised dance there’s a lot of potential for individual expression,” says Wade. While he likes all three tango rhythms, he’s partial to the Vals. He also appreciates the package offered at Alma del Tango. “I get a whole night of dancing for a very reasonable price.”

About Debbie & John: “They’re very caring and passionate teachers who really enjoy helping their students,” says Wade. “They have built something very special, I haven’t found anything else like Alma del Tango in the Bay Area.” Wade also appreciates being greeted at the front door by Dottye. “Her big smile always makes me feel welcome,” he says.

Anything else? Wade owns a machine design and fabrication business in Petaluma called Avalon Engineering. He is also a co-founder of a non-profit animal rights group in Sonoma County called Compassionate Living.  “We encourage people to move towards vegetarian and vegan diets to improve their health, lighten their impact on the environment and reduce animal suffering,” he explains. Wade also admits to being “a hopeless computer geek.”

Tango dancer Wade Spital rescues

Wade and his non-profit volunteers rescued 450 chickens that had been abandoned and transported them to a sanctuary.

Last word: When he’s not on the dance floor, Wade may be found playing the piano or guitar, hiking, or watching the sun set at the coast.

 

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Students of the Month – Pamela & Victoria Stuart

by Lanny Udell

Pamela Stuart and Victoria Stuart, Alma del Tango students of the month

Pamela & Victoria are Alma del Tango’s first mother/daughter students

Dancing tango since:  Pamela first took classes with Debbie and John in spring 2013, through College of Marin.  She continued in the fall of that year but due to illness she had to stop.  Now, healthy and happy, she started classes again in February.  Her daughter Victoria started taking tango classes two months ago. “I’m very green,” she says.

Why tango:  After 25 years as a professional belly dancer, Pamela was looking for a community having to do with dance. “It’s very isolating to be a solo dancer, particularly at the professional level,” she explains. “I learn so much more dancing with a partner,”

Victoria took her mother’s lead, so to speak. “When she told me how wonderful tango is, I started taking classes and learned that it has a lot of great life lessons.”

What are some of those lessons? For Victoria it’s about learning to be in the present, and to be relaxed. “It’s impossible to predict. This dance is teaching me how to listen. I really enjoy that.”

Favorite part: Mother and daughter both like the improvisational nature of tango. “Anything can come next,” says Pamela, “and you have to be able to trust that you’ll be able to figure it out.”  Victoria had previously taken a semester of ballroom.  “That didn’t help me,” she says. “They did routines. The improv of tango is more fun.”

About Debbie & John: “I adore them beyond compare,” says Victoria.  “They’re my perfect teachers, so kind and gentle. I love how much fun they are. John understands the perfectionist part of me. Debbie understands that I’m a beginner.”

Pamela finds them amazing dance instructors. “I’ve seen changes from when I started to today. They’ve come to a new refinement in their curriculum. They’re more focused on a process that allows you to learn…continually changing and flexing within the class.”

Anything else? Victoria, an English major at COM, looks forward to participating in dance competitions. “I totally want to perform.”

Her mom is looking to advance her horizons in the dance world, socially. “That means going to events, dancing well socially, and becoming part of the community.  I want to be part of a group,” she says, “I haven’t had that in my life.”

Last word:  Victoria: “My mother is the true dancer of the family, she just cannot stop!”

Pamela:  “Watching my daughter dance is one of the most gratifying and inspiring experiences for me, both personally and as a parent.”

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Student of the Month – Sergio Orvalles

by Lanny Udell

Servio Ovalles, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: Learning tango was something Sergio wanted to do, but he had put it on the back burner.  Then, last summer, while on a trip to Argentina for his school (he teaches Spanish at Branson), Sergio took some classes and was hooked. He called the Performing Arts Director at Branson and asked her to find him a tango studio. She directed him to Alma del Tango.

Why tango: Sergio has always loved dancing — he’s done salsa, hip hop and banda, which he describes as a fusion of lambada and polka.  He also has been very active in athletics, especially bike racing and running.

“But as I get older, my body doesn’t respond in the same way,” he explains, so he looked for another way to use his energy. “Tango can be athletic, sensual and fun.”

Favorite part: “What resonates with me is the more modern aspects — the turns and twists remind me of banda.”  He listens to tango music every chance he gets, especially while driving to LA to visit his family. “I’m still learning to follow the beat.”

Servio Orvalles in Buenos Aires with tango teachers.

Sergio in Buenos Aires, pictured with his tango teachers.

“I don’t want to be a robotic dancer who just does steps, that ruins the fluidity of it,” says Sergio, who is proud to announce he was just promoted to Level 2!

About Debbie and John: “I like their methodology…they provide the scaffolding,” Sergio says. He describes their classes as very participatory, not just someone lecturing at you. “They’re good at explaining, showing and providing feedback.” He especially likes that they’re passionate about what they do.

Anything else? Sergio calls learning tango a humbling experience. “I had to deprogram my body. A lot of the dances I do have hip movement so tango is different from what I was used to.”

Last Word: Sergio looks forward to tango as a lifelong pursuit. “I hope to emulate people in the studio who continue to find the fun and the passion.”

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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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