Tag Archives | Bay Area

Student of the Month ~ Randy Cook

by Lanny Udell

Randy is a familiar face at Alma del Tango’s advanced classes and milongas in San Anselmo.

Randy Cook Student of the Month A tanguero since 2001, he started to study Spanish and that led him to salsa. But when he saw some tango dancers perform in a 4th of July parade in Sonoma Plaza, he switched to tango. “Salsa is fun, but tango has depth,” says Randy. He began taking classes with Alisa Adams & Alejandro Oyuela at the Sonoma Community Center.

Why tango:  “I love the music, for listening as well as for dancing,” he says, citing the melting pot of sounds that infuse tango music. “There are classical elements, traces of Italian opera, Spanish music, the African influence and, of course, Carlos Gardel, the greatest tango singer, was born in France.”

On his first trip to Buenos Aires (he’s been 7 times!) Randy found that his training hadn’t prepared him to dance in the crowded milongas. There was no room for fancy patterns on the packed dance floors. So, at first our tanguero sat at a table,  watched the dancers and talked to people – a good way to learn, he says.

During his many trips to Argentina he studied with a variety of masters including Mimi Santapa, a highly respected teacher who focused on leaders, and Carlos Costes, a protégé of Juan Carlos Copes. Eventually he learned to navigate the crowded dance floors.

Randy Cook dances at Alma del Tango milonga

Randy Cook dances at a milonga at Alma del Tango

In the Bay Area, Randy has studied with a variety of instructors including Gary Weinberg and Lisette Perelle, Christopher Nassapoulous and Caroline Peattie, Felipe Martinez, and currently, Debbie and John.  “They’re excellent teachers,” he comments.

Learning to follow

In his private lessons with Debbie, Randy is learning to follow because, “I enjoy sitting back and letting someone else do the driving so I can ‘enjoy the scenery.’  Also, knowing how to follow will help me be a better leader by understanding what it’s like to stand on the other side.”

Randy explains: “The follower has more input than many realize. That makes it more of an exchange. The more receptive the leader is, the more the dance is a shared experience. Her energy, what she makes of your lead, becomes a conversation, not a monologue.”

Suggestions for dancing at a milonga

“You don’t need to be an advanced dancer to dance well at a milonga,” advises Randy.  “It’s best to keep it simple, stay in your lane, listen to the music, and hold your partner with a soft and comfortable embrace. Remember that the two of you are also dancing with everyone else in the room, so your job is to harmonize.”

Writer/producer of a tango show

Poster for show at Sonoma County librariesLast year Randy was invited by the Sonoma County Library and Friends of the Library to create a tango performance told through story and dance. He adapted a short story from an Argentine anthology, translated it, and staged it with two couples in the lead roles, with Randy as the storyteller.  Featured dancers included Pam Shreve, Jan Lok, Mirin Lew, Gerry Forcier, Dach Ver and Michael Farmer. The show was performed in five libraries to enthusiastic audiences.

Cast members, tango show at Sonoma County libraries

Cast members Pam Shreve, Randy Cook, Dach Ver and Jan Lok

Randy’s most magical tango experience

“While dancing with a portena in Buenos Aires, the orchestra was playing and she was singing the words in my ears.”

 

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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 – 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 — 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 – 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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New Bay Area Tango Company
Makes its Debut in May

Presenting the Debbie Goodwin Dance Company

Headshot of Debbie Goodwin, director/choreographer, Debbie Goodwin Dance Company

Debbie Goodwin, director/choreographer

The newly formed Debbie Goodwin Dance Company will perform at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 22. The Company is the culmination of director Debbie Goodwin’s 20 years of performances, choreography, teaching and collaboration within the Bay Area tango community.

The work being presented in May, “Me Llamo Tango” (My Name is Tango), explores the soul of tango—more than just a lover’s tryst, it seeks to transform the perception of tango from the cliché, rose-in-the-mouth dance of sexual tension and passion. In this work, the company manifests tango as the embodiment of the human condition in the broadest sense, with the particular cultural perspective of traditional Argentine culture.

Professonal cast members & guest artist
In addition to Ms. Goodwin, professional members of the company include John Campbell, Pier Voulkos, Daniel Peters, Erin Malley, Doruk Golcu, Rose Vierling and Anton Koukareko.

Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell, tango dancers, perform in Me Llamo Tango in the San Francisco International Arts Festival

Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell will perform in Me Llamo Tango

Internationally known tango artist Eduardo Saucedo from Buenos Aires, Argentina will perform with the DGDC cast.

In addition, Alma del Tango advanced students Jasmine Worrell and Jose Orellana have joined the company as apprentices.

“When casting the company I looked for dancers with several qualities. Of course they had to be talented, but equally important, they had to be great human beings and inspiring to work with,” says Debbie. “We also have a range of ages, from 35 to 65, and a variety of shapes and sizes. Each member and couple brings their unique style and qualities to the company.”

The musical score for “Me Llamo Tango” will be performed by Seth Asarnow y Su Sexteto Tipico, one of the premiere orchestras in the United States dedicated to preserving the authentic style of Golden Age tango.

Seth Asarnow y Su SextetoTipico

Seth Asarnow y Su Sexteto Tipico
Photo by Peter Ivory

Debbie Goodwin Dance Company is sponsored by the Marin-based non-profit, Alma del Tango.

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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 – Cocco (Bella Monarch) Savelli

 

Cocco Savelli by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:   Bella wanted to start studying tango, and in January 2010 she received a flyer in the mail from College of Marin with Debbie and John pictured on the cover. It must have been fate.

Why tango:  “I fell in love with tango over 20 years ago when Forever Tango opened in San Francisco.  I went to every performance, and I was mesmerized.  I wanted to do that!” says Bella.  Four months after beginning classes, she started writing a show for stage that would involve telling the story through singing and tango.  She wanted to portray the characters and dance the show herself … so began the long-term commitment of learning tango.

Favorite part: “Everything! The dance…the shoes…the sensuality and passion of tango,” she gushes.  “At first glance tango seems to be about the flesh, but it has so many layers beyond that.”  As a singer,Bella is moved by the music. And she also loves the traditions, for example, the cabeceo. “I am constantly fascinated with how leaders and followers interact…how they lose their own identities on the dance floor and tango takes over, it’s very Zen.”

Alma del Tango's Halloween milonga

Bella as a French countess at Alma del Tango’s Halloween milonga

About Debbie & John:  For Bella, they are “the best role models I have… kind, genuine and so generous.”   She loves their commitment to each other, to the dance, and to creating a tango community.  “They are patient with students and very supportive,” she says.  “I also enjoy watching them teach and especially their ‘time outs’ with each other as they debate what or how to bring what’s next.”

Anything else?  Bella has participated in three Alma del Tango student productions. In Tango Tales she was a featured artist and sang three classic tango songs accompanied by the Russian pianist Ludmilla Morry.  She is also appearing in Alma del Tango’s new production, Tango Magic.

Most memorable moment: During Tango Tales, Bella got to know Alex and Karina Levin who also danced in the show. One night at a milonga, Alex asked her to dance, and she shyly said …no, thank you. He asked why?  She explained that she wanted to, badly, but “I am too scared…you are way too good for me!”  He said, “Don’t be silly, it’s just a conversation. I say something, you say something.  There is no wrong, no right. You absolutely can do it!”  With that, she gave him her hand.  “I have never danced like that in my life!  It was tango bliss. His genuine kindness, encouragement, gentleness and depth transcended the dance floor and captured my tango soul.”

Bella sailing the bay

When she’s not on the dance floor, Bella may be pursuing her other passion–sailing.

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Student of the Month – Pam Shreeve

 

by Lanny Udell

DSC_0098_0542

Dancing tango since:  One night, about six years ago, Pam was leaving her ballroom dance class and heard tango music playing. “I was mesmerized,” she says. “I knew then that I’d be dancing tango.”    

Why tango:  Pam had seen a tango performance back in the 80’s, but it didn’t move her so much. But once she discovered the music and started taking lessons, she was hooked. Her once-a-week class quickly escalated to two and then four times a week.

Favorite part: For Pam, it’s all about the music and the connection with your partner.  When asked what she looks for in a leader, she says it’s not about the level of dance or doing fancy things…it’s more about integrity.

About Debbie & John:  Pam is a devoted fan. “I adore them…they are the most compassionate, sincere, hard-working instructors. They take amateurs and create magic. They listen, and give great feedback. Debbie has such faith in us, she treats us like stars.”

Pam dancing with Randy Cook

Pam enjoys a dance with tanguero Randy Cook
at Alma del Tango in San Anselmo

 

Her most magical tango experience:  While on a hiking trip in Jordan, Pam heard Bedouins playing Middle Eastern music in their tent, and she realized one could dance milonga to this music. So she and another tango dancer in her group did just that. The Bedouins had never seen tango before, nor had they seen a couple dancing together in a close embrace. They loved it … and so did Pam.

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Pam

Pam scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef

 

On a personal note:  A native Marin-ite, Pam has been a critical care nurse at Kaiser for 25 years. She has a daughter in grad school in San Francisco and a son in the Special Forces. Pam is also an adventure traveler, hiker, and loves birding. When we spoke, she was online booking a trip to India.

 

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Tango Love Birds – Michael and Margaret

Danger – the romantic kind CloseEmbrace_MichaelKlesert_byAlliNovak2013

Just over five years ago, Michael moved to Napa and became seriously addicted to tango. He began taking classes in Yountville but in order to dance at a real milonga he had to travel further – to the Belrose in San Rafael.

“The best way to do this without succumbing to the terror of asking a stranger to dance was to car pool with other members of the Yountville class,” says Michael. “One afternoon I was introduced to a charming, sophisticated, elegant Russian woman named Margaret, and we discovered that she also was from Napa.  Life is full of serendipity.”

Initially Michael was reluctant to cabaceo the lovely tanguera, thinking she was a more experienced dancer. But, eventually, after much internal debate, he worked up the nerve to ask her to share a tanda with him.CloseEmbrace_MargaretTrachtenberg_byAlliNovak2013

“I was completely embarrassed and thrilled at the same time,” he admits. “She didn’t seem too offended by my leading, so I invited her again a little later.” Soon, the two began dancing more often and commuting to various milongas, first with small groups and occasionally just with each other.

“Danger — the romantic kind — lurked in these long drives back and forth,” Michael recalls.  These interludes allowed them to get to know each better, sharing life adventures and discovering mutual interests as they drove. “Margaret went to university in Moscow where ballet, opera and theater were all very available and top quality, and I conducted musical theater, once aspired to conduct opera and was a symphony orchestra manager at one time,” Michael explains.

The spark ignites…MM-107

The time spent alone together in the car became more engaging and more exciting.  “Neither of us was aware of our growing desire for the other until one night, when I walked Margaret to her front door after dancing. She kissed my cheek, almost melting me in my shoes,” says Michael. “Totally unexpected and searingly hot, this simple gesture led me to admit that I had been wanting to touch her hand in the car but was afraid to scare her off.”

During their commutes Margaret wasn’t thinking about a relationship. “I thought he was a very nice man and I enjoyed his company. I liked not having to drive by myself at night.” Things began to progress more rapidly after Michael took Margaret to dinner to celebrate her birthday at Skates in Berkeley, then to a milonga in Oakland – their first real date.

“Since then, we have danced at my best friend’s wedding in Colorado, in the lobby of several hotels, Yountville and Cabo San Lucas included, at wineries, the de Young museum, outdoors at the Legion of Honor, and on stage in Alma del Tango’s production Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story in San Anselmo.”

CloseEmbrace_MichaelKlesert_MargaretTrachtenberg_byAlliNovak2013

When he knew she was the one

For Michael, the most romantic night of all was early in the relationship. “With a full moon and fog rolling over the ridge in Sausalito, we danced to live music by Seth Asarnow and Marcello Puig, alone on the tiniest of dance floors at Cafe Divino. I knew at that point she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

Margaret agrees, “it was extremely romantic.  Afterward we drove along the Bay and I realized it but didn’t say anything. Tango is a very passionate dance.  Some day we won’t be able to go tango dancing, but in the beginning, tango did its part.”

“None of this would have been possible without our very strong, mutual obsession for tango,” says Michael. “Our next big tango adventure will be a trip to visit Margaret’s daughter in Paris. Any suggestions for great places to tango?

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