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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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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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