La Milonga de San Anselmo honors local legends of Tango

On July 26, we celebrate Al & Barbara Garvey and Jean & Charlie Stewart of Marin, founders of the SF Bay Area Argentine Tango community


Barbara & Al Garvey at La Milonga de San Anselmo July 2012

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to one of the largest tango communities outside of Buenos Aires. Today, we take for granted the fact we have the choice of several classes and milongas on Tango Mango to attend every day of the week. But this was not always the case.

The first time Barbara Garvey, a long time Fairfax resident now living in Puerto Vallarta, saw the show Tango Argentino on a business trip to New York in 1985, she called Al from the hotel to say “I’ve just seen what we’re going to do the rest of our lives.”

9489_2A year later, the touring company of Tango Argentino had come and gone from San Francisco, leaving behind a small but enthusiastic group of aficionados. Al and Barbara continued to actively promote all tango activity in the area, developing a mailing list and information center to support a growing community of teachers, students and entrepreneurs. They were joined in this endeavor by Jean and Charlie Stewart, also of Fairfax.


Jean & Charlie Stewart at La Milonga de San Anselmo July 2012

Among the first Norteamericanos to travel to Buenos Aires in search of tango

On that first trip in the spring of 1987, Barbara and Al were fortunate to take a lesson from the legendary Fino Rivera, only a few weeks before his untimely death. This encounter clarified dramatically for them the distinction between salon-style, or social tango, and the exhibition version, tango-for-export, to which they had been exposed by cast members of Tango Argentino.

Back in the States, looking for a proponent of social tango, they discovered Orlando Paiva, a milonguero of exceptional elegance, then resident in Los Angeles. They invited him to present a series of workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area. After his return to Argentina, they continued to organize seminars in Northern California for Daniel and Maria Bastone of New York, and Michael Walker and Luren Bellucci of Los Angeles, Orlando’s protégés.

Studying with the maestros 

On subsequent journeys to Buenos Aires they studied with many other leading maestros, among them Roberto Grassi, “El Pibe del Abasto,” Pupi Castello, Graciela Gonzalez, and Lampazo. In 1991 they met Nito and Elba Garcia in Mar del Plata, Argentina and, through the auspices of friends Hector and Ana Villalba, brought them to California for the first time, launching their world-wide teaching career. As the Northern California tango community grew to the largest in the US, keeping up with all its activities prompted the founding, in 1995, of the non-profit Bay Area Argentine Tango Association.

 The first milonga in Marin

The Stewarts ran the Fairfax Milonga from 1994-1999 then the Garveys took over until they moved to Puerta Vallarta in 2003. Al and Barbara also hosted many tango parties in their charming 90-year-old house centered around a dance floor and its tango bar. If you danced tango between the years of 1985-2003 you most likely would have attended these wonderful events. John and Debbie missed Al and Barbara so much, they traveled south to dance with them in their new home, again designed around a dance floor and surrounded by yet another budding tango community they have inspired!

Al and Barbara have performed and taught tango for almost 25 years, but they, along with Jean and Charlie, think of themselves as milongueros and tangueros, interested in all aspects of its culture, from the dance to language, literature, music, history and philosophy.

Milonga de San Anselmo Guest DJ’s 

The Milonga on July 26th also features another Marin couple, guest DJ’s Steve and JoAnn Palubinskas. Steve and JoAnn were introduced to tango in the same Mill Valley tango class taught by George Guim that John Campbell was attending in 1994. They have been instrumental in keeping the spirit of tango alive throughout the Bay Area and can be found dancing and DJing at many of the top milongas. They hosted the popular Broadway Milonga from 1996 to 2002 and currently co-host the bi-monthly El Arrabal milonga in San Francisco along with Adolfo Cazzary.

Come join us for a wonderful evening of music, dancing and companionship at La Milonga de San Anselmo, Friday, July 26th.

La Milonga De San Anselmo
(held 4th Friday of every month)
167 Tunstead Ave., San Anselmo CA94960
Class 7-8pm,  Milonga 8-11pm
Class + Milonga $15
Milonga Only   $10

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