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Sexteto Milonguero: Tango in the Present Moment

 by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Javier Di Ciriaco of Sexteto Milonguero, Buenos Aires tango musician

Javier Di Ciriaco, founder of Sexteto Milonguero

For those of us outside Buenos Aires (I live in San Francisco) tango is heard principally through the thousands of historic recordings made during the last 80 years. If this sea of music were to be believed, you’d think that these old arrangements were the only ones that exist. We dance to them over and over again.

But there is a thriving community of contemporary tango in Buenos Aires, peopled by actual living musicians, who are writing new tangos and re-arranging the old ones in innovative ways that literally re-shape the form. Stellar artists like Cristóbal Repetto, María Volonté, Daniel Melingo, Adriana Varela and Caracol are not only bringing tango to vibrant life again, but are expanding its territory in innumerable ways.

 Sexteto Milonguero, founded and fronted by singer Javier Di Ciriaco, is one of those groups. Just completing a U.S. tour, they appeared recently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Di Ciriaco is to the manner born. He has no formal training as a singer. Rather he describes growing up in Argentina in a musical family (his father was a singer), and those occasions of parillas (barbecues), backyard celebrations, weddings and other family gatherings during which music performance by attendees is de rigueur.

This is a common occurrence in Argentine celebrations no matter where in the country you may be. Di Ciriaco describes these events, and how as a child he too would be expected to participate. It was there that he picked up his formidable singing chops.

Highly original and inventive

The sextet is made up of a bandoneonista, two violinists, a pianist, a bassist and Di Ciriaco himself, who also lends his guitar to the musical mix. One thing that makes this band so special is that these are truly professional young musicians whose abilities run the gamut from very tight playing and authoritative knowledge of the music at hand to a sense of fun and humorous drive that makes the music highly unusual in its originality. This is not a combination heard much outside Buenos Aires. 

There was just one solo performance during the concert, and it was significant. The great tango “El día que me quieras” (“The Day You Love Me”) with music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera was recorded in 1934. It was Gardel who had previously transformed tango from a country and urban Buenos Aires street music into the concert stage and recording phenomenon that eventually resulted. His recording of this song was the highest point of his astonishing stage and film career. (He died in a plane crash on June 24, 1935, in Medellín, Colombia.)

Di Ciriaco took up his guitar and sang this song alone, without the band. As with so many of the sexteto’s numbers, this version of the song was immediately recognizable. But it was also so inventive that it gave the piece a much more hip modernity and soul than I have heard in all the previous recordings, with the exception of Gardel’s own. Di Ciriaco’s version was a surprise, and a wonder. 

For fine examples of Sexteto Milonguero’s rich arrangements and featured solos by its artists, look for their recordings on Amazon Music and Apple iTunes. You can also find them at http://www.sextetomilonguero.com.ar

Terence Clarke is co-founder and director of publishing at Astor & Lenox. His latest book is a story collection titled New York.

 

 

 

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The Gods of Tango, a novel by Carolina De Robertis

Book cover, The Gods of TangoReviewed by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Carolina De Robertis is a novelist living in the United States and writing primarily in English. She is of Uruguayan roots, however, and has written provocatively about characters whose entire consciousness derives from the land, the traditions and the politics of Uruguay and Argentina. Her latest novel is The Gods of Tango, published by Knopf.

In 1913, 17 year old Leda arrives by ship in Buenos Aires, from Italy, ostensibly to be greeted by her new husband Dante. Once on shore, she learns that Dante has been killed in a street battle between syndicalists and the police.

With only the clothes on her back and a single trunk containing her things, a little money, and the violin that her cherished father gave her, Leda moves into a conventillo named La Rete, in the poor wharf-side neighborhood of La Boca. Conventillos basically were tenements, some set up by the Argentine government, others privately run, to house the thousands of immigrants pouring into Buenos Aires during the first years of the twentieth century.

A polyglot of cultures

The conditions were uniformly terrible, with many people crowded into warrens of single rooms. The conventillo would often have a central patio with a source of water for cooking and washing, which would be the gathering place for the tenants. These sprawling edifices housed people from all over the world, and must have been a polyglot confusion of languages, cultures, manners of dress and, most principally for Leda’s purposes, music.

She hears her first tango in La Rete and is immediately smitten by it. She has never even imagined such rhythmic intensity, or such soulful intent and passion, in any of the music she has ever heard. She can play her father’s violin (although at first her efforts are insubstantial), and she determines to master the tango.

There is, however, a problem.

Tango in 1913 Buenos Aires is the domain of men, and men alone. The only women involved are those who work in the many boliche cafes and bordellos of Buenos Aires, and the duties of those women have little to do with music. The very idea of a woman playing tango is ridiculous to the men.

Leda comes to understand this quickly. Wrapping her breasts to diminish their presence, getting her hair cut in the style of a man, and dressing in her deceased husband’s clothes, Leda leaves the conventillo and takes to the Buenos Aires streets, now calling herself Dante, after her husband. She does so with violin in hand.

Leda remains so disguised for the rest of the novel, and she becomes remarkably well known as a musician. Working at first in the poorest of little boliches, she hones her talent until she becomes one of the best tango violinists on the Buenos Aires scene. But she does so as a man, and the disguise—and what it teaches her about the privileges that men enjoy that are forbidden to women—becomes the very vehicle for her rise to tango eminence.

The ways De Robertis presents the confusions that arise for Dante, her fellow musicians, and her lovers, is one of the real innovations of this novel. De Robertis writes with considerable passion and beauty about the kinds of sex that Leda finds and, of course, the kinds of love that she finds.

For anyone who cares about the origins of tango, this novel is a fine addition to the history of that soulful music in its Rio de La Plata birthplace. Find The Gods of Tango and Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Notorious Dream of Jesús Lázaro, at Amazon Smile. A portion of your purchase benefits Alma del Tango.

 

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The story of the Milonga

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

By Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Terence Clarke’s latest book is New York, a collection of stories, all of which take place in New York City. He and his partner Beatrice Bowles are the organizers of the milongas at The de Young Museum, the Palace of The Legion of Honor, and The Ferry Building, in San Francisco. You can see him in his role as the moderator of Alma de Tango’s video “Tango: A Romantic Ritual.”

In 1883, an Argentine writer named Ventura Lynch, who studied and wrote about tango and all its variations, described tango’s older relative, the milonga: “It is so universal in the environs of Buenos Aires that it is an obligatory piece at all the lower-class dances (in Lynch’s Spanish, “bailecitos de medio pelo”), and it is now heard on guitars, on paper-combs, and from the itinerant musicians with their flutes, harps and violins. It has also been taken up by organ-grinders…It is danced in low life clubs, and also at the dances and wakes of cart-drivers, the soldiery, and compadres and compadritos (i.e. streetwise ruffians and gangsters).”

This was written well before the tango’s own development in the twentieth century. But the milonga was already an ancient term, and referred to music and dance that was, in the days long before Lynch, not Argentine at all.

The famous early gauchos from the Argentine pampas and elsewhere in southern South America…lonely cowboys wandering from place to place in search of work…also sought entertainment. They found it in their own “payadas,” which were verse-competitions in which a gaucho, with his guitar, would sing a verse of his own making, and a second gaucho would respond with a competing verse, an answer to the first payador’s offering. Inventive rhyming language back and forth was the goal, accompanied by guitar, with quick thinking and improvisation the method.

African influences

Some of these gauchos were black, and before 1861, the year slavery was outlawed everywhere in Argentina, many of the servants and country working class were black slaves. They had been brought to Argentina from the Niger-Congo regions of Africa, where the many Bantu languages and dialects are spoken. One theory has it that these slaves, not understanding the Spanish in which the payadas were sung, and noting how much language there was in the competitions, referred to them with the word mulonga, which is the Bantu for the Spanish palabra, or the English word.

So these payadas were a lot of talk, and with time, the competitive gatherings became known more universally throughout Argentina as milongas.

Dance was not far behind, and at first it was an individual expression, in which a gaucho (probably bottle in hand, his movements fired by drink) would dance to the payadores’ music by himself. Simple, a step to every beat of the music, rough-and-ready solo moves were the earmarks of the early milonga dance.

Sometimes, the men would dance with each other…milonga’s earliest appearance as a couples event. Later, as the music and dance moved toward the city in the nineteenth century, the presence of women became a reality (usually women of not much virtue). The phenomenon was deeply influenced by the black former slaves, whose presence in Buenos Aires made a permanent mark on the music and, especially, the dance. The best-known rhythms were the habanera and the traspié, the syncopations that we now always hear and see in contemporary milonga. Both are of African origin.

With time, the milonga became not only a music form in its own right, but also the single word that would describe a gathering of people coming together to dance. So,—¡Vamos, chicos, a la milonga! “Let’s go, guys, to the milonga!”

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Sending you a cabeceo to Milonga Valentina, our new alternative milonga

We’re excited to announce a new monthly milonga for tangueros(as) who enjoy
dancing to non-traditional tango music. Hosted by Christianna Valentina, the
first event will be held on December 16, from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m.

Christianna Valentina hosts Milonga Valentina at Alma del Tango in Marin

Christianna Valentina hosts Milonga Valentina

We talked with Christie to get the low-down:

Christie, for those who are unfamiliar, what is an alternative milonga?

C: It’s a milonga using music other than Golden Era tango, or Golden Era music given a new twist or a new interpretation. This music gives our students an opportunity to experience tango in a different way.

How did the idea for Milonga Valentina come about?

C: I’ve had the fantasy of doing this for about three years after going to alternative milongas in Portland, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. I proposed the idea to Debbie and John and they liked it.

I began developing a play list and practicing with my Level 4 class partner, Jason Arnold, and we found some surprising connections with the music.

What kind of music were you practicing to?

Non-traditional tango music, familiar songs with new instrumentation, pop music sung in English, world music with a habanera beat.

How do you dance to that type of music?

C: You take what you know about tango and something new comes in. It becomes more expressive.

You said you want to make this a comfortable place for beginning tango dancers to experience a milonga. Can you explain?

C: I want to give beginners the opportunity to experience dancing in a social setting, outside of class. So we will have ice-breaking activities to entice them onto the dance floor and encourage them to take some chances. When you go to a fancy milonga you have to keep it simple because of the crowded dance floor. That’s why beginners can come and follow the line of dance using the simpler figures they’ve learned in class.

How are you dividing the time to accommodate both beginners and experienced dancers?

C: We’re starting at 6:30 and the first hour or so will be for the beginners, but I’m encouraging more experienced dancers to come early and dance with the newer dancers. At 8 p.m. we’ll have a 15-minute “live surprise,” but I’m not telling what it is. You’ll have to come find out.

About Christianna

For those who don’t know, Christianna Valentina assists John Campbell teaching Level 1 and 
Level 2 classes on Wednesday nights at Alma del Tango in San Anselmo. 

Christianna Valentina in Tango Dreamscapes, an Alma del Tango student production

Christianna Valentina in Tango Dreamscapes, an Alma del Tango student production

Christie has been studying tango since 2012 and has performed in Alma del Tango student productions including Tango Dreamscapes.  An accomplished pianist and vocalist, she has her own tango ensemble, Lagrimas y Sonrisas (Tears and Smiles) and the group is currently working on a CD. For the last two summers they studied together in a program for tango musicians at Reed College in Portland.

Milonga Valentina will be held on the third Saturday of every month. You are invited to bring snacks and beverages to share. Drop-in price is $15; $20 when we have live music.

This month, the color theme is red. Dress accordingly if you wish.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

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Saturday Mornings with Luz

Tango Conditioning Class to help you find
your Inner Tanguera/o

Luz Castinerias teaches at Alma del Tango

While Rose Vierling takes time off for maternity leave, we are delighted to welcome Luz Castiñeiras as our guest teacher for Tango Conditioning starting September 30 through March 2018.

Luz moved to the Bay Area from Buenos Aires in 2011. Since then she’s been dancing, performing and teaching at various venues.

Luz brings a unique approach and background to her tango technique classes. She first connected to tango as a music therapist working with cancer patients in Buenos Aires. During that time she collaborated on a 5-year research project that studied tango as therapy.

“I became interested in looking at how tango practice can change lives,” says Luz, “and how it can help you learn to move your body in different ways.”

In addition to tango, Luz has studied ballet and modern dance, and she integrates these forms into her tango practice. In her classes, she creates a friendly, inviting atmosphere and invites feedback from her students which she uses to tailor the class to their needs. 

Tango is a dance to enjoy with someone else but it requires knowing yourself, and knowing what you want from tango.”

Luz’s teaching reflects sensitivity to each dancer in their own journey to express themselves through tango. Students are guided on how to explore boundaries and the challenge of improvising.

Join Luz Castiñeiras for Tango Conditioning on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. at Alma del Tango, and discover your inner tanguera/o.

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Tango Con*Fusión premieres Sex, Women & Tango at SFIAF, May 26-28

Tango Con*Fusion dancers

Tango Con*Fusion, the all women dance company, challenges the iconic images of gender roles in Argentine Tango in this boundary-breaking dance production. Directed by Debbie Goodwin, and choreographed by Debbie & cast members, the show will be presented at the San Francisco International Arts Festival at the Southside Theater in Fort Mason.

Should feminists dance tango? That’s just one of the provocative questions this exciting dance production  seeks to answer.

The mere mention of Argentine Tango conjures up the iconic image of the macho-male and hyper-feminine woman of Argentine Tango. Yet many feminists dance Tango socially and professionally. How can this be reconciled?

Sex, Women & Tango explores this issue and more, such as body image, street harassment (the piropo, or cat call), same-sex couples and social and economic equality.

Says Goodwin:

Debbie Goodwin, director/choreographer of Sex, Women & Tango

Debbie Goodwin, director

“Because of the current political climate and the objectifying
attitude toward women, Tango*Confusión is delving deeper into women’s issues. Being an all-woman dance company, I felt we needed to make our voices heard, to create something in this art form where we can bring these subjects up.”

Meet the cast of Sex, Women & Tango

The Tango Con*Fusión dancers include Mira Barakat, Christy Cote, Michele Richards, Mila Salazar, Rose Vierling, Pier Voulkos and Jasmine Worrell.

Guest artist Marcelo Molina

Also featured are International artist, Marcelo Molina of Buenos Aires, Argentina;  Jonas Aquino, Daniel Peters and Casey Young.

Scott O’Day is featured on guitar.

 Joining Debbie Goodwin on the Creative Team are Daniel Peters and Pier Voulkos

Order tickets now !

Performances are Friday, May 26, 9:30 pm; Saturday, May 27, 7 pm; Sunday May 28, 5:30 pm.

General Admission $25; Children under 18 $12.50 (PG – not suitable for young children)
Box office: www.sfiaf.org/tango_con_fusion
Southside Theater, Fort Mason Center
Phone: 415-399-9554

Sex, Women & Tango is sponsored by Alma del Tango

For more information: tangoconfusion.com 

 

 

 

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New at Alma del Tango – Essentrics® Stretch and Tone Classes

Taught by Jasmine Worrell

Are tight muscles messing up your molinete? Does lower back pain put “ouch” in your ochos?  

Then come stretch, strengthen and find relief at Alma del Tango’s Essentrics® Stretch and Tone class every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30-5:30 p.m.  Jasmine Worrell, an Essentrics apprentice instructor, will gently guide you through a series of exercises designed to prevent and relieve pain. Jasmine is also Alma del Tango’s Swing Dance teacher and a member of Tango Con*Fusión Dance Company.

Apprentice instructor Jasmine Worrell demonstrates an Essentrics stretch

Apprentice instructor Jasmine Worrell demonstrates an Essentrics stretch.

 

What is Essentrics?

Essentrics is a full body workout that rapidly changes the shape of your body through a dynamic combination of strengthening and stretching. These exercises develop lean, strong, flexible muscles, and you’ll quickly notice changes in your posture.

“This style of stretch is flowing, not static,” says Jasmine, “and it’s not aerobic; it’s much calmer. It feels good as you’re releasing tension.” No equipment is used in the class, except for a mat (bring your own), and a diverse playlist accompanies each routine.

After experiencing debilitating shoulder and arm pain a few years back, and getting no relief from traditional medical intervention, Debbie Goodwin came across this program and wanted to offer it to her students and others. She says:

“Essentrics fits in beautifully with the dance classes we offer at Alma Del Tango. It has given me relief from my pain and has helped create a stronger and more flexible body that allows me to manage my strenuous schedule of dancing and teaching.”

Not for dancers only

Essentrics is ideal for all fitness levels. Whether you’re a tango dancer or not, you’ll benefit from the exercises that rebalance the body, prevent and treat injuries, and unlock tight joints.

 “I love all things stretchy,” says Jasmine. “In tango, things get tight—women are in heels, muscles and joints are challenged. Exercises that loosen up your hips and increase flexibility will make you a better dancer.”

Learn more about our Essentrics class

 

 

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Polish Your Tango Skills with USA Tango Champion Marcelo Molina

Argentine Tango performer, teacher,choreographer Marcelo Molina Guest artist during March

We are excited to welcome Marcelo Molina to Alma del Tango from March 1 –  20. While Debbie and John are on their annual immersion in Buenos Aires, Alma del Tango students will have the opportunity to study with the elegant Argentine Tango USA Stage Champion of 2011 & 2013. Marcelo will teach all Level 1 – Level 4 classes, focusing on Classic Turns with Sacadas, Enrosques and Embellishments. 

Debbie and John will be back to dance for you at La Milonga de San Anselmo on March 24, to the live music of Seth Asarnow y su Sexteto Tipico. Rose Vierling will continue to teach Tango Conditioning classes on Saturdays.

Becoming a Tango Champion

Marcelo is a Tango performer, choreographer and instructor with over 15 years of experience. Born and raised in Córdoba, Argentina, he began his dance studies in 1997 with a company called “Sangre Latina.” While in the company, he studied several types of dance including Caribbean rhythms, folklore, Latin-American and Argentine Tango. Over time, his passion for tango took hold and never let go.  

“I never thought I would be a professional dancer,” says Marcelo. In fact, as a child he trained to become a soccer player, but eventually he gave up on that dream. He went to see a friend who was dancing in a show with Sangre Latina, “and I fell in love,” he reminisces. “I decided I wanted to dance with them.”  He tried out for the company and was accepted. At the time Marcelo was studying to be a PE teacher and he considered dancing a hobby.

“Tango started intriguing me more and more. When I left the company I knew I was going to devote my career to tango.” 

Marcelo has performed in various countries including Cuba and Italy, as well as across Argentina, in a show called “Viaje por El Mundo,” and later in “Tango on Broadway” with the renowned singer and bandoneon player, Ruben Juarez

He has resided in Fresno, California since 2011 where he teaches and brings tango culture to the local community.  From his home base he travels to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver and other large cities to teach and perform.

Marcelo has also appeared with “Tango del Cielo,” a unique group led by the harp player, Anna Maria Mendieta. They were invited to perform with the Ukiah Symphony.

Marcelo Molina and Johana Copes dance at Alma del Tango in Marin

Marcelo partners Johana Copes at La Milonga de San Anselmo

Says Debbie: At our Milonga last September, Marcelo stepped in at the last moment to partner Johana Copes when her regular partner was unable to get a visa. He was such a joy as he taught a masterful class at Alma del Tango, and I knew we would want to invite him back to teach again. When John and I were thinking who should teach our regular classes as we go on our annual trip to Buenos Aires, he was first on our list!

What he wants students to take from his class

“What I try to put on my students’ memory is the concept, not steps. I want them to keep in mind what they have to do when they create any step. If I can give them critical thinking, start the engine for them to grow, that’s my reward,” says the maestro. “I hope they are willing to know me, I’m sure I can help them in one way or another.”

Book a private with Marcelo     

Take advantage of Marcelo’s time at Alma del Tango to schedule a private with him. You can speak to him at class,  call him at 559-360-9824 or email marcebmolina@hotmail.com to secure your time.

Learn more about Marcelo at www.marcelomolinatango.com

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NEW! Alma del Tango Dancers

Calling all Dancers – Here is your chance to perform!

CloseEmbrace_PensaloBienGroup1_byAlliNovak2013The new Alma Del Tango Dancers is a fantastic opportunity to grow as a tango dancer,  connect to the larger tango community and have a lot of fun performing!

Rose Vierling is teaching a fully choreographed group tango routine which will be performed at La Milonga de San Anselmo at Alma del Tango on  Jan. 27, 2017.

This group is open to all tango dancers, of all levels.  There will be challenges for more advanced dancers and room for dancers just starting out.

You do not need a partner but you are encouraged to find someone you enjoy working with.

Rehearsals are Sundays 4-5:15pm starting Oct. 23rd at Alma Del Tango; 167 Tunstead Avenue,  San Anselmo, CA.

Rehearsal dates:

Oct. 23, 30
Nov. 6, 13, 20 (no rehearsal -27)
Dec. 4, 11, 18 (no rehearsal -25)
Jan. 8, 15, 22 (no rehearsal – 1st)
Plus rehearsal/dress rehearsal TBA

Performance Jan. 27th at La Milonga de San Anselmo
plus possible other venues!

 

 

Package is $455/person includes:

12 Choreography classes
12 Group classes (any weekly group classes offered at ADT)
Group Photo Shoot with on-site Stylist (date TBD)
Video of Performance
2 tickets to the milonga to give to your family and friends

If you have any questions or would like to sign-up please e-mail Rose at: rose_vierling@yahoo.com.

 

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New swing dance classes rock Alma del Tango

The sound of swing dance music is not what you expect to hear at Alma del Tango in Marin. But now on Tuesday nights, you can learn East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop with instructor Jasmine Worrell. The high energy class which started on July 5th had everyone smiling, those who have danced swing before and those who were total newbies.

Why swing dance at the tango studio?

Swing dance classes at Alma del Tango in Marin

Swing Dance with Jasmine Worrell at Alma del Tango

It’s a natural fit, actually. Jasmine, who is dancing with Tango Con*Fusion in their new season, is a long-time swing dancer and teacher.  “I have a wonderful relationship with Alma del Tango,” she says. “I love everything about it and wanted to do more with that community.”

What some Alma del Tango dancers may not know is that Debbie Goodwin had been a swing dance teacher before tango entered her life. She created the highly successful “Rugcutter” dance program in Auburn, California which focused on teen-agers. Her classes in social swing, performance skills, jazz technique and choreography for vocal performers were extremely popular.

Come swing with us!

All levels are welcome. In Week 1 you’ll learn the basics and over the course of four weeks you’ll learn three to four new patterns. You’ll be dancing before you know it!

Swing dance class at Alma del Tango in San Anselmo

Learning East Coast swing at Jasmine’s class

“Swing is a totally different energy, it’s more casual,” says Jasmine.  “Tango is moodier, more serious. It brings a different relationship.”  Lindy is a little more challenging, explains Jasmine. “The follower is circling around the leader, while in East Coast Swing, you mirror your partner.”

Private lessons available
Want to go more in depth? Jasmine offers private lessons before or after class to review material and help you advance faster.  Speak to her about scheduling a private or semi private.

Starting soon, Alma del Tango will include a few sets of swing music during our monthly Milonga. And, watch for news of a monthly swing dance at the studio!

Learn more about Swing classes at Alma del Tango

Meet Jasmine Worrell

“Jasmine’s swing dance class is so much fun! She’s a terrific teacher, breaks it down for each
student to make sure they are comfortable with the pattern before moving on. Everyone had a
smile on their face.”
-Lanny Udell

 

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