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Student of the Month ~ Douglas Daven

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: Douglas started dancing tango two years ago. While he was taking classes with Christy Cote, Eduardo Saucedo taught with her couple of times. When Douglas saw on Tango Mango that Eduardo was teaching at Alma del Tango, he followed the maestro to San Anselmo. Previously Douglas had danced country western and salsa but gave them up within a month of starting tango.

Why tango: Douglas finds tango challenging both physically and emotionally. “I had pushed it away for years because I thought I couldn’t do it,” he says, “but I finally tried it on a lark, and took to it immediately. I didn’t expect to fall for it so hard. Now I dance several times a week.”

Favorite part: “The potential for intimacy, when I am really connected with my partner and we move almost as one body,” says Douglas. He loves the music, especially the sadder songs. “Even though I don’t speak Spanish I can hear it.” He enjoys dancing to music from all eras, including nuevo, and favors Pugliese “because there’s so much variety in the songs.” Roberto Ruffino, a singer from the Golden Age, is a favorite.

About Debbie & John: “They were extraordinarily welcoming when I first came to the studio,” says Douglas. He appreciates that they have graduated levels. “They break it down really well and they’re very thorough in their teaching.” He also enjoys their  humor…”it’s always fun to watch the interplay between them,” he adds.

Anything else? Douglas takes classes at Alma del Tango on Wednesday and Friday and stays for the practica. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, he dances at other venues.

  “I’m so eager to become proficient,” says the tanguero. “I feel like I’m making up for a lot of lost time.”

When Douglas isn’t on the dance floor, he is a gardener by profession. Here are some examples of his art.

Beautiful garden by professional gardener Douglas DavenBeautiful garden by professional gardener Douglas Daven

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Students of the Month ~ Marti Sukoski and Scott Adams

by Lanny Udell

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in MarinDancing tango since: Marti started dancing tango in the late 1990’s when the tango craze was just getting under way in the Bay Area. Before that she had danced ballroom and salsa. Scott discovered tango in 2006.

Back story: Scott started studying with Mayumi Fujio. In 2007, he was taking classes with Luz Castiñeiras and as luck would have it, Marti dropped in to a class. She was a more experienced tango dancer than he, but what he lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm. He invited her for an evening of dinner and dancing.

At that time, Marti was about to leave for a month in Buenos Aires to study Spanish and tango. When she got back, Scott contacted her and asked, “Do you remember me? Do you want to dance together?” She did. Fast forward—the tangueros got married last year and, of course, danced a tango at their wedding.

Traveling tangueros: “We try to dance wherever we travel,” says Scott. Destinations have included Barcelona, Spain; San Miguel de Allende, Puerta Vallarta and Morelia, Mexico, with a visit to Patzcuaro, a small indigenous town where an Argentine woman had a restaurant and taught tango. “It was very serenpiditous,” recalls Marti. The couple is currently dancing through Europe.

Why tango: For Scott, it’s the music. “It fits my personality,” he says. Piazzola is a favorite. Marti says, “It’s hard to explain, it’s a feeling. The interaction between leader and follower. You can have a tango moment with a complete stranger.” She likes the improvisational aspect of tango, “with your partner, you create something together.”

Marti and Scott at their wedding receptio n

The tango bride and groom

Like Scott, Marti loves Piazzola.  A cello player, she loves both playing the music and dancing to it. Last year she played Oblivion with a small chamber group at College of Marin.

About Debbie & John: “I love their focus on the form of tango and I’m understanding more about myself and my body from studying with them,” says Marti. They give so much of themselves through their teaching, besides being welcoming and warm people.” What Scott likes most about Alma del Tango is the community:  “it’s nice to go there, see people we know and dance with everybody,” he says.

Anything else? To prepare for their Europe trip, Scott researched milongas in every city they’re visiting. “It’s special when you dance in another country with people in another culture, whether it’s in a little village in Mexico or a big city like Barcelona.”

Tango couple sightseeing in Mexico

Marti and Scott on holiday in Mexico.

When asked why they continue taking classes they agree, “Like any art form it’s a constant learning process.”

Last word: “Isn’t it great that in sleepy Marin county there’s a place to go on Friday night where it’s hopping?” muses Marti.

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Student of the Month ~ Matthew Plan

by Lanny Udell

 

Tango dancer Matt Plan, Alma del Tango student of the monthDancing tango since: Matt started taking tango classes in the East Bay (he lives in Albany) about 1 ½ years ago. But after a few months, he began looking for another studio. A web search brought up Alma del Tango and he’s been dancing with us ever since.

Why tango: A salsa dancer, Matt was attracted to the music and the sophistication of tango. “It’s deeper, and more artful,” he says. “Salsa has a fun aspect. Tango is not about fun.”

Favorite part: He likes the connection with a partner. “It feels a bit tai chi-like.” He also likes the music, both the classic and the new. He listens to Piazzola every chance he gets.

About Debbie & John: “They’re informative, conscientious, friendly…just what you’d hope for in an ideal teacher,” says Matt. He likes that they have a syllabus, it’s not just whatever. “That’s part of being conscientious, and part of the reason I come here, despite the drive.” Matt appreciates that Debbie and John don’t just focus on steps. “It’s about technique, and the idea of lead and follow.”

Anything else? “Other classes have just one teacher; for me, that’s a drawback. With Debbie and John, you learn about lead and follow. Understanding what the follower does helps me lead. I can execute better if I know what my partner is doing,” says the tanguero. Matt is careful not to get too fancy on the dance floor. “Before I try a figure I ask myself, will this improve my dance? For example, ganchos, they’re like icing on a cake. No need to rush into it.”

Alma del Tango student of the month Matt Plan in the red rock country.

Matt likes to hike in Sedona, AZ red rock country

Last word: “It takes a long time to get proficient at Argentine tango. If you don’t have patience or persistence, you move on. You have to be willing to put in lots of time.”

Eli, 4 year old grandson of Alma del Tango's student of the month

The apple of Matt’s eye, his grandson Eli, going on 4.

 

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Student of the Month ~ Kelli Lightfoot

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Kelli Lightfootby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Kelli started dancing tango about a year ago and loved it, but when a friend became ill, she took a break to help him. After he passed, she decided to go back to what she loved—Argentine tango.

Why tango: As a child, Kelli used to listen to Gardel and other tango musicians with her grandmother. When she questioned grandma’s choice in music she was told it’s part of her heritage — Kelli is part Argentine.

As an adult she wanted to learn tango but living in L.A. she found it intimidating. So when she moved to the Bay Area, she Googled: Tango in Marin and Alma del Tango popped up.  “I had no more excuses,” says Kelli.

Favorite part: When Kelli is dancing tango, she tunes everything else out. “I’m so intent on focusing with my partner, I lose all concept of time. I become fully immersed in the music.” She loves the music of Francisco Canaro, “I listen as much as I can.”

Student of the Month Kelli Lightfoot dances at Alternative Milonga

Kelli dances with Chris Allis at Milonga Valentina

About Debbie & John. “They are lovely…the perfect teachers for me, not intimidating at all,” says the tanguera. “They are warm and welcoming, I feel like part of their tango family. I hope they can dance forever!”  The first time Kelli danced with Debbie she thought, “Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be like.”

Anything else?  Kelli’s goal is to learn to lead and follow, “it’s the best way to understand the whole dance,” she explains.

Last word: A visit to Buenos Aires to trace her roots and get into the tango culture is on her bucket list. Her grandmother told her where to look for relatives. “I hope they all dance tango!”

Kelli and her nieces volunteered at the Tango Con*Fusion gala fundraiser

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Student of the Month ~ Catherine Layton

Catherine Layton, Alma del Tango student of the month by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Catherine’s tango path has been on again off again (until now). She had her first taste of Argentine Tango at City College in 2000. Then she took a detour into salsa, ballet and jazz, before finding her way back to tango.

Why tango: “I’ve always needed to dance in some way, and for some reason tango calls to me,” says Catherine.  A former salsa dancer, Catherine had performed in New York and the Bay Area, including a Raiders half time show. But, “there were a lot of changes going on in my life and I felt the need for a change,” she says. That’s when she turned to tango.

Favorite part:  What really hooked her was the need to be so present in tango. At a stressful time in her life she found it almost therapeutic. “When the music comes on, I’m totally involved in the moment. It’s almost like a meditation. What I learn in tango I’m able to carry out into the world.”

And while she finds salsa dynamic and fun, there’s a romance and sophistication — and challenge! — to tango that always allured her to the dance. “They’re both sexy dances but in different ways,” she explains.

About Debbie & John:  Catherine had been dancing at Bay West but when it closed, she found Alma del Tango. “As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Debbie and John were so welcoming, it felt like a family,” says Catherine.  She loves watching Debbie: “it’s beautiful to see her settle into the role with her face and body. I should be looking at her feet but can’t stop looking at her face!”

She finds both Debbie and John encouraging and supportive, “they want you to be the best dancer you can be. They’re also very generous with their time, their knowledge, and themselves.”

In addition to group classes, Catherine takes privates with John. “He has the ability to push you to the edge of what you can do…then a little beyond,” she smiles.  

Anything else? Catherine volunteers at Alma del Tango, helping with marketing, posting classes online, and collaborating with Philip Benson on fundraising projects. “Debbie and John have created something so unique, a little gem, right here in Marin,” she says, “and I want to help them keep it going.”

Catherine Layton dances tango with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango in Marin

No more fear of milongas! Catherine dances with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango milonga.

Last word: Catherine went to her first milonga on New Year’s Eve. Before that, she didn’t have the nerve, didn’t feel she was good enough yet. “It turned out fine,” she reports, “a nice mix of levels and leaders.” Now she has no more fear of milongas!  

 

 

 

 

 

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Student of the Month ~ Erinn Loveland

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Erinn Lovelandby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Erinn is fairly new to Argentine tango—she started taking classes in February of this year. Before long, her nine-year-old daughter, Kira, decided to accompany her to class because “it was more fun than staying home.”

Why tango: “I had no previous interest in tango,” says Erinn. A friend invited her to go to a class at Alma del Tango, and since it was in her neighborhood she thought, “why not.”

Erinn always liked social dancing but she had no formal dance training. Her friend, a swing dancer, left the tango class after a month. Erinn stayed on and now takes three to four classes a week!

Favorite part: “It’s fun, the set up as a social event made it easy for me to feel I could fit in,” she says. “I felt welcome, it was easy to show up and be part of the event.” She also likes that tango is challenging, and “there’s a lot of room for growth.”

Chris Allis leads Kira

For Kira, the challenge is dancing with grown-ups because of their size difference.“There are three or four leaders who dance with me,” she says.

About Debbie & John: “They are wonderfully gracious, they make it feel familial,” says Erinn. “They even welcome Kira and encourage her to come to class.”

Erinn enjoys having the opportunity to dance with both Debbie and John, “so you can get different perspectives.”  She hadn’t anticipated that making friends would be one of the perks of taking tango lessons, but “because of the interaction Debbie and John encourage, it happens.”

Anything else? Erinn watches videos of tango performances to pick up on different styles, and she often sees things she’d like to do. And, she really likes dancing to alternative music.

Alma del Tango students practice tango

Erinn & Chris Allis practicing their tango

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Student of the Month ~ Philip Benson

Alma del Tango Student of the month Philip Bensonby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Philip’s relationship with Argentine Tango has been start-and-stop since 2008. Due to his business obligations he was only able to dance in spurts, as he had to be on east coast time, meaning getting up at 4:30 a.m., so no late nights for him.

Back story: Philip has always been into dance. During his early years in New York, he danced salsa and cha cha cha at a country club his parents belonged to. But later, when he saw Argentine Tango performed, he was wowed. “I wanted to do that,” he says. He discovered Alma del Tango in May of this year and has never looked back.

Why Tango: Philip is drawn to tango because of the elegance of the dance. And, “because it’s improvisational, it’s always interesting,” he says “Ballroom tango is by the book, and salsa, is similar, the same thing over and over.”

Favorite part: “The hook for me is the connection between my partner, me, and the music, it’s like a triangle. The music is so moving, sometimes it moves me to tears.”

Philip listens to tango music all the time. He prefers the music of the Golden Age of tango. His favorite composer is D’Arienzo, “he’s both smooth and rhythmic,” he explains.

About Debbie & John: “Debbie and John have created Alma del Tango to share their passion for Argentine Tango with others,” says the tanguero. “I find them incredibly giving in so many ways. Their commitment to the details of form, their willingness to share…for example by offering mini tandas to students at the Friday night practicas. My sense is that they do it for the love and passion.”

Anything else? On the dance floor, Philip prefers to keep it simple and not try to impress.

Tango dancers Philip Benson and Errin Loveland at Alma del Tango, Marin

Philip Benson partners Erinn Loveland at Alma del Tango

“I’m convinced it’s better to do fewer things well than a lot of things poorly. I think my partner will be happy if I lead her properly.”

Last word: “I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to pursue Argentine Tango to my heart’s content. I envision traveling the world going to milongas everywhere.”

Next spring Philip will be pursuing Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires when he goes to CITA with Christy Cote and Chelsea Eng. He plans to stay an extra nine days to explore Buenos Aires on his own and take more classes.

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Students of the Month ~ Jim Depeyster & Lynn Tompkins

by Lanny Udell

Jim & Lynn dance at Alma del Tango milongaDancing tango since:  Jim started dancing Argentine Tango in the mid 1990’s. He was living in New York at the time and after seeing a tango performance he was intrigued. In 1993 he saw an article about Buenos Aires in Smithsonian Magazine which mentioned clubs where people dance tango all night. He thought, “yeah, I’d like to go someplace where they dance tango all night.” So he started to look for a place to learn tango in New York. “I searched for a year and a half,” he says.

Lynn was living in Colorado, but the couple met in Florida when both were visiting their mothers. She moved to New York in 1997 and they started taking tango lessons together. “Fortunately, our relationship was strong enough to survive our early tango years,” says Jim.

Why tango: Jim had danced ballroom but wasn’t satisfied with it. “When I found tango, I knew there was no point in doing anything else,” he says. Lynn, who loves all kinds of dance, decided to learn tango so she and Jim could dance together.

After moving to the Bay Area they found tango in the City and danced at the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the Verdi Club. Eventually they found Gustavo and Jesica in Marin. “At the time we were volcada challenged,” says Jim, “they took us through that.”

Favorite part:  For Jim it’s about the connection and communication on the dance floor. Lynn agrees. “Touch is a basic human need,” she says, “and tango is difficult. You have to be brave to keep working at it. If it weren’t for the touch, people may not stay with it.”

The couple makes tango a central part of their exercise routine. They dance two to three times a week, primarily at Alma del Tango. “Lynn has cleverly molded this into a dinner date—dinner and tango, it’s part of our relationship,” Jim explains.

About Debbie & John: Jim first danced with Debbie at a practica at Bay West. He knew she was a teacher but didn’t know about her role as a founder and choreographer of Tango Con*Fusion. When Lynn watched Debbie dance she realized that she was not like other dancers. “She was doing something different, it’s the way she moves, the way she pushes off.”

“We gravitated toward Debbie and John as teachers,” says Jim, “and they’ve taken us over the colgada threshold.”

Anything else? In July 2017 Jim had hip replacement surgery. He wasn’t allowed to dance for six weeks. At the end of the six weeks he was on the dance floor the next day. 

Last word: When she isn’t practicing tango or enjoying a daily walk with Jim, Lynn can be found in her art studio painting portraits (people and pets) or still lifes, or on location painting in plein air. See her work here.
 

Painting of tango dancers by Lynn Tompkins

Dean and Raya at the Seahorse

Cat portrait by Lynn Tompkins

Cat portrait

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Student of the Month ~Gwen Sarandrea

By Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango student of the month Gwen Sarandrea Dancing tango since: Gwen fell in love with Argentine Tango in the 1990’s when she started dancing with Al and Barbara Garvey in Fairfax. She’s been dancing for more than 20 years, mainly ballroom, swing, tango and country.

Why tango: Gwen had always loved tango, but she didn’t have a comprehensive place to study. She took a 6-year hiatus from dancing, and when she came back, it was to tango only. She had moved to Bellingham, WA and found some tango classes there but “it was on a small scale,” says Gwen. “Not a big community.”

In 2007 Gwen went to Buenos Aires with a group and stayed two weeks longer than the others. “I was alone, and it was a little frightening,” she recalls. She knew people wouldn’t ask her to dance if they didn’t know her, so she hired taxi dancers and had a wonderful time. “Coming home was disappointing,” says the tanguera.

Finding tango at home: Gwen came back to the Bay Area and started looking at tango videos online. That’s how she discovered Alma del Tango. “It woke me up! So I started going to the Wednesday night classes and I’ve been there ever since.” Now Gwen attends the Level 3 and 4 classes on Monday nights. “I just love it, it’s so fulfilling.”

Favorite part: The collaboration and synergy with partners keep her coming back.

“Every partner is different, every dance is different. Some dances are fun, some are nurturing, some exhilarating, some playful, and some irreverent.”

About Debbie & John: “They should be very proud of what they’ve created—an open hearted community.” She finds both are very generous with their time, dancing a tanda with students at the Friday night practica. “The studio is based on a living partnership, and that feels good,” she says.
Gwen feels at home at Alma del Tango. “I love the community, people who are joyful in dance.”

Anything else: “I like laughing at my mistakes. Often, while dancing, we burst out laughing. I’m trying to take that into the rest of my life.”

Last word: Gwen is also a talented montage artist and has written a book on the subject, Montage Mirage Photo Tapestries, How To Create Photo Art From Your Heart. Learn more at MontageMirage.com

Wedding montage by Gwen Sarandrea

Wedding montage by Gwen Sarandrea

 

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Student of the Month ~ Laura Gish

by Lanny Udell

Tango Student of the Month Laura Gish

Dancing tango since: Laura is celebrating one year of immersing herself in Argentine tango. She had dabbled in classes before but didn’t find them satisfying. Then she met Wade Spital (a regular at Alma del Tango) at a party and he pointed her in the right direction.

Why tango: “I had been interested in Argentine tango for several years,” says Laura. “The essence of it intrigued me.” She loved the theatrical expression of tango, and the romanticism. “When I saw it performed I said, oh, I want to do that.”

Back story: As a child, Laura felt shut out from artistic expression, discouraged by her mother who was a performer. To deal with her feelings, she turned to horses. “They were my stability, they taught me everything,” she says. She bought her own horse when she was 11 years old. Shoeing horses became Laura’s passion. If she couldn’t dance, she’d do, what was for her, the next best thing.

Favorite part: “Learning tango has been an interesting journey. I’ve always picked things up quickly but tango stopped me in my tracks,” admits Laura. When she found that she had chosen the most challenging dance, she realized that she had to live in the moment. “It put me in touch with my emotional side and I accepted that I’m on a lifelong journey.”

Lady’s Tango Week in Buenos Aires

Student of the Month Laura and Veronica take a selfie

Laura and Veronica ready for the milonga

Unexpectedly, the trip brought up a lot of emotional issues for Laura–it was a very expensive therapy session, she says. At first she wanted to flee, but she stayed and pushed through her fears. “It was a big shift for me,” says the tanguera. “When I came back I felt I had the strength to be in my own shoes.”

Laura with Barbara Henry at Lady’s Tango Week


About Debbie & John:

When I started coming to Alma del Tango, I felt at home. I felt that this is the soul of tango and it’s where I want to be.

With Debbie and John, you don’t feel that it begins and ends with them,” Laura explains. “They’ve built a community and it’s very comfortable.” In addition to the Wednesday night classes, Laura has taken some privates with John. “That’s helped boost me,” she says.

Last word: “Now I feel like I’m at the beginning. I have no expectations. I’ve arrived at a place where I can let it flow without a preconceived notion of what I should be doing. Now I’m just going to enjoy myself.”

Alma del Tango student Laura Gish and her dog Stewart

Laura and her pal Stewart at Alma del Tango

Alma del Tango student Laura Gish

Laura and taxi dancer in BsAs

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