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Student of the Month – Gary Febus

by Lanny Udell

Student of the Month Gary FebusDancing tango since: Gary and his wife, Laura, began taking tango lessons about 10 years ago when their ballroom dance teachers included tango in their classes. When the teachers left the Bay Area, Gary and Laura stopped dancing ballroom and started taking tango lessons at the Lake Merritt Dance Center.

Why tango:  “It’s definitely a commitment dance, “says Gary. “That’s why we didn’t get involved at first. It wasn’t like picking up foxtrot or waltz which you can do at a lesser level. People who get into tango aspire to be better.” According to Gary (and as we all know), “tango is a dance that will crowd out other dances.”

Gary and Laura, tango dancers

Gary and Laura

Favorite part: For Gary, it’s the emotional content, the close embrace and the salon style. “Tango has the corner on that.”  He also likes the community aspect of tango…not just a single community, but the fact that there are different crowds, different ages at various venues. And tango is something he and his wife can enjoy together…pretty much anywhere.

About Debbie & John: Gary has been taking private lessons with Debbie for about a year.  He wanted a female instructor to evaluate his dancing. “I’d been aware of Debbie for a few years, and had seen her perform,” he says. Gary and Laura have also taken Debbie and John’s Monday night couples class. “There’s nothing I don’t like about their teaching,” he says. “Debbie is a friendly, open person and she tries hard to solve your problem so you get what you want out of the dance.” What Gary wants is to be a better dancer, “and Debbie has helped me quite a bit.”

Anything else?  When they’re not dancing tango Gary and Laura are avid bike riders. They also play golf, water ski and enjoy sailing.

Last word: “Women and shoes – I never got it before, but I super get it with tango. My wife hadn’t worn high heels in a long time.  Now her closet is full of Comme Il Faut,” he says with a smile.

 

Gary and his pal, Teagan

Gary and his pal, Teagan

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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 – Chuck Isen

by Lanny Udell

Chuck Isen tango dancerDancing tango since:  A relative newcomer to tango, Chuck started taking classes and private lessons in the summer of 2013.

Why tango:  Chuck has been dancing since he started going to sock hops as a 12 year old. That’s when he learned the jitterbug, cha cha, swing and other popular dances. As an adult, he became a professional actor and studied jazz and ballet as part of his training.   In the late 70’s, Chuck began facilitating personal transformational workshops…and stopped dancing.

Now semi-retired, he’s decided to learn a dance he’d never studied before. “Tango has always intrigued me,” he says, “it’s a sensual dance, and it’s a challenge.”

Favorite part: Those moments when it flows. He enjoys “allowing the music to guide me around the floor.”

About Debbie & John: “They make tango fun, and they break it down so we are able to follow,” says Chuck. He also likes the way Debbie and John relate to each other. “Their relationship is right out there on the dance floor. It’s fun to watch them negotiate.”

What surprised him: “Because of my dance background, I didn’t expect it to take this long…it’s kind of a humbling experience,” he admits.

Chuck Isen in "I Hate Hamlet"

Chuck as the ghost of John Barrymore in the College of Marin production of “I Hate Hamlet”

When asked what he looks for in a follower Chuck says, “Someone who is better than I am and is willing to surrender to the process of following. And, someone who’s forgiving, and allows me to fumble.”

Anything else? At the end of December, Chuck went to the San Diego Tango Festival for a 5-day total immersion in tango. And, he’s considering going to CITA in March.

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Student of the Month – Edith Kaplan

by Lanny Udell

Edith Kaplan, Alma del Tango student of the month.Dancing tango since:  Edith took her first tango class in 2008. She had signed up for a flamenco class through College  of Marin. It was supposed to be four evenings but the teacher was ill for two weeks.  Itching to dance, Edith took another look at the COM program and saw Debbie and John pictured on the cover. That was it – her tango life was launched.

Why tango:  “After the second class I was enchanted and wanted to continue,” says Edith.  But after the session ended, there was a long break coming up. “I tried to figure out where else to take lessons, and I started going to beginner classes at various venues in San Francisco.”  Then Edith moved to Hawaii where she lived for the next three years.  Upon returning to the Bay Area, she continued her dancing with Debbie and John.

Edith dressed up for  Halloween at La  Milonga de San Anselmo 2012

Edith dressed up for the Halloween
milonga at Alma del Tango, 2012

Favorite part:  Edith is a creative person and she finds tango a very creative dance. “I like the connection with your partner and with the music … and the interpretation, which can be different every time,” she observes. “ It’s a beautiful dance for a woman, allowing her to express a female energy that’s not so possible in the outside world … of being strong and surrendering at the same time.”

About Debbie & John: “It’s a combination of their passion and ability to teach what they really love,” says the tanguera.  “They’ve built a community where it’s more than just coming together to dance, and with the performances we have a very strong connection.  I feel privileged to be part of this. I couldn’t be in a better place.”

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Edith dancing at the Halloween
Milonga de San Anselmo – 2012

Anything else? A graphic designer, Edith contributes her talents to many Alma del Tango projects. She designed the poster, program and other elements for Close Embrace. She also creates Debbie and John’s promotional pieces, and did the design work for Tango Con*Fusión’s Trading Places and last fall’s Piazzolla concert.

Edith will be performing the women’s choreo in our 2014 student production, Tango Magic. And, she is contemplating a trip to Buenos Aires in March.

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Edith with Debbie at Nora’s Tango Week Milonga 2012

Last word: When asked her secret for getting a dance at a crowded milonga, she grinned and said, “smile.”

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Student of the Month – Deborah Loft

by Lanny Udell

 

Deborah LoftDancing tango since: Seven years ago, Deborah was taking a ballroom dance class which included one unit on tango.

Why tango: She fell in love with the music and the moves and, in time, transitioned out of ballroom. “It took me a while to find a tango community and teachers,” she explains.

Favorite part: For Deborah, tango is unlike any other form of social dance because of the close embrace, the connection, the musicality, and the one-step-at-a-time nature of it.  She’s loved to dance since she was a little girl, although she’s had no formal training. “So it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve made a commitment to learn this dance as well as I can.”

About Debbie & John: “To an exceptional degree they create community, and that has all kinds of benefits which also show up in our dancing,” says Deborah. “We know each other, have patience and confidence in each other.” She also appreciates the way Debbie and John work together and continue to learn from the best teachers and bring it back to us. She appreciates Debbie’s strength, creativity and energy. “Since I take private lessons with her, I appreciate her strength as a leader.”

Anything else? Deborah has participated in all three Alma del Tango student productions. In All About Tango she performed a solo partnered in part by a man and in part by a woman.

Deborah Loft as Maurice Le Beau in Tango Tales

Deborah as Maurice LeBeau in Tango Tales, 2012

And in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story, she played the role of the novelist on stage and as the recorded voice-over. She also danced in the finale and was the show’s costume coordinator.

Deborah Loft as the novelist in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story

Deborah as the novelist in Close Embrace, 2013.

Tango fits perfectly into Deborah’s profession and passion as an art historian. But she also has another passion – opera. She rarely misses a performance at  the San Francisco Opera and travels to Europe to attend the great opera houses in Vienna, Salzburg and Paris.

Last word: In 2012, Deborah spent three weeks in Buenos Aires immersing herself in tango. She went for CITA, the annual international tango festival, then stayed on to study and dance with a local instructor who spoke no English. By the end of her stay, both her dancing and her Spanish were transformed!

 

Deborah at the SF Opera

Opening night at the San Francisco Opera

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Student of the Month – Pam Shreeve

 

by Lanny Udell

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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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Students of the Month –
Jane Woodside and Jerry Ballard

Jerry Ballard & Jane Woodside

Jerry Ballard & Jane Woodside

by Lanny Udell


Dancing tango since:
  Jane and Jerry started taking tango lessons in February, 2013. The classes were a Valentine’s gift from Jane to Jerry.

Why tango:  Jane first became interested in tango in the 1980’s when she saw the film Tangos, the Exile of Gardel (El exilio de Gardel: Tangos).  It tells the story of a group of Argentinians who are exiled in Paris and decide to put on a tango-ballet dedicated to the legendary Carlos Gardel.  Tango struck Jane as a sexy, sophisticated and beautiful dance. Jerry, a musician, was an Astor Piazzolla fan.  “Everything I learned about tango I learned from Piazzolla,” he says.  (Jane actually saw Piazzolla in France in the 1970’s.)

Jerry was always interested in partner dancing, but “I’m about as talented at dancing as your average street lamp,” he says.  Jane doesn’t agree. “He really has good rhythm,” she says. Jane has done many types of dancing – including figure skating — since she was in her 20’s, but had never done partner dancing.

Favorite part:  For Jerry, it’s actually having moments of feeling that he can dance, while Jane  likes the idea of exploring something she’s never done before – responding to your partner in dance. “By nature she’s a leader and I’m a follower,” adds Jerry, so having to reverse those roles doesn’t feel natural to him.

About Debbie & John:  Jane, a petite 5’2”, and Jerry at 6’3”, find Debbie and John great models for them because of the height difference.   They also appreciate how easy it is to ask them for clarification, and that they can each demonstrate as leader or follower to show how it should feel.  Adds Jane, “I love when they disagree with each other about what they’re going to do next.”

Anything else?  Jerry says he felt confident in Level 1, but feels less so in Level 2.  Drawing on her dance background, Jane understands it’s good to be working on what you know, plus have a bit of a stretch, and then something totally challenging. “It’s like learning an alphabet, then words, then phrases. I’m looking forward to getting comfortable with the alphabet and enough words so I can start to work on the phrases. I think that’s when it will be artistic and the most satisfying.”

Last word:  Jerry and Jane have a 16-year-old daughter, Elena, who they describe as the most talented member of the family. They also have two Labradoodles – Gypsy & Django, and rumor has it that they’re learning to come when called with a Cabeceo.

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Student of the Month – Mark Anderson

by Lanny Udell

Dancing since:  Mark first saw Argentine Tango performed at a half-time exhibition show during a Grand National Ballroom Convention, over 20 years ago. Then, after a 10 year hiatus from serious dancing, in April 2011, he attended a Weller House milonga in Fort Bragg. Dressed in tight-fitting Wrangler jeans with a rodeo belt buckle, cowboy boots and a western shirt, he “tango-walked” all night. He recalls: “The people, the embrace, the ambience, the music…I was hooked!”

AccordionPiano

Mark Anderson – Accordion Player

Why Tango: For Mark, tango is the pinnacle of dance expression. He has had structured partner dance instruction and experiences for a number of years, but since finding this dance form, “I can truly relax and express myself, and feel my partner’s expression in the music,” he explains. The music is a big part of the draw for Mark, an accordion player with a deep appreciation for musicality.

Favorite Part: Those moments between the cabaceo, leading up to the embrace…and then that first step when I can feel us become one with each other …

About Debbie & John:  After watching some very accomplished followers at a milonga in Santa Rosa, Mark inquired as to where else they were dancing. They mentioned Alma del Tango and invited him to join them at a class. “Debbie approached me as soon as I entered the dance floor,” says Mark. “She made me feel very welcome and at-ease.”  He admired the manner in which John and Debbie worked together and relayed the facets of the lesson to their students. Now he looks forward to Debbie’s energy and enthusiasm every week.

TangoMirabai

Mark Anderson – Tango Dancer

What surprised him most: Having come from a ballroom background, Mark was surprised at the slower movement of the dance lanes in tango, “ it allows much more time to explore and improvise,” says the tanguero.  He is also surprised at the vast array of options and amalgamations available in the figures presented in tango. “And, I am pleasantly surprised at how luscious and provocative the women dress at the milongas!”

On a personal note: Mark makes his home in Potter Valley, Mendocino County.  A home and commercial building contractor for over 30 years, he currently specializes in turn-of-the century remodels. Mark is an active ocean diver and pursues sport fishing using breath-hold diving techniques. He is also an active musician playing the piano accordion, and a classical music enthusiast.

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Mark Anderson – Contractor

Last word: “I have always enjoyed reaping the benefits of positive results from confronting challenges,” says Mark, “and I find Argentine Tango classes and milongas to be some of the most challenging and rewarding moments in my life, thus far.”

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Student of the Month – Jill Aggersbury

WP_Jill-Aggersburyby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Jill, Alma del Tango’s volunteer coordinator, started taking classes with Debbie and John through College of Marin in 2011, then joined ADT’s Wednesday classes when the COM sessions ended.

Why tango:  From ballroom to Latin and folk, Jill has danced almost all her life.  She had seen Forever Tango, and when she served on the board of the Allegro Ballroom in the early 2000’s she met Christy Cote and saw her perform. Then she found out about Debbie and John and her life as a tanguera was launched.

Favorite part: Jill loves the music and meeting a diverse group of people. “They seem to have an appreciation of beauty, even in the clothes and, of course, the shoes,” she says.

Jill in her role as Alma del Tango's Volunteer Coordinator

Jill as Alma del Tango’s Volunteer Coordinator

 

 

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Jill in Tango Tales 2012

About Debbie & John: “They’re great teachers, they complement each other so well and have great patience,” says Jill.  She likes that Debbie and John teach tango as a whole, including the culture and the etiquette — not just steps. She took their 3-month musicality workshop which gave her a deeper appreciation of the music and helped her to better associate the steps with the music.

Anything else? “Tango is a very sensual dance and one of the most difficult dances because it requires so much balance,” she notes. “You really have to feel your partner, there has to be a connection.”

Last word:  Jill would like to learn to lead so when there’s a surplus of followers, she’d be able to dance. Sometimes when the Level 1 class is short of leaders she will step in. Buenos Aires? It’s on her To-Do list.

CloseEmbrace_PensaloBienGroup1_byAlliNovak2013

Jill (center) in her role in Pensalo Bien BEFORE breaking her foot and being unable to perform in Close Embrace 2013

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Student of the Month – Stephanie Graham

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Stephanie Graham

by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Stephanie took her first tango class three years ago with Debbie and John at COM. She also does Irish Step Dancing and has taken tap.

Why tango: After years of performance oriented dance Stephanie, an empty nester, wanted to learn a partner dance. “I knew I would have to study to understand it,” she says. She had seen Tango Argentino, the precursor to Forever Tango, and was struck by it. But, she admits, seeing it with her dad was “kind of embarrassing because it was rather steamy.” Another reason  she chose tango is “… unlike Irish Step Dancing, it’s something I can do in my 80’s.”

Favorite part: The possibility of surprise.  “You don’t know in any given dance what level of connection you’re going to have with someone,” says the tanguera.

Cast of Shoe Seduction

Stephanie top row, 2nd from right “Shoe Seduction”                         All About Tango 2011

About Debbie & John:   “I’m so glad they were my first teachers, they’re always very encouraging. And, I’m glad they started milongas in Marin, it gave me the courage to go to milongas.”

Stephanie has danced in two Alma del Tango student productions, All About Tango and Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story.  “Working with Debbie on the shows was amazing,” she mused.  “She has calm energy.  It’s incredibly hard, and I’ve never seen her lose it.”

Stephanie Graham dancing with Dean Lawler lower right couple in Close Embrace 2013

Stephanie Graham dancing with Dean Lawler, lower right  Close Embrace 2013

Anything else: In March, Stephanie went to Argentina with two friends. She took tango classes in Buenos Aires and hired a taxi dancer for a couple of days. “It was nice to dance all night with a good leader,” says Stephanie, “but it isn’t the same when you have to pay someone to dance with you.”

Stephanie, third from the left dancing Pensalo Bien in Close Embrace 2013

Stephanie, third from left dancing Pensalo Bien in Close Embrace 2013

Last word:  When asked if she experienced any piropos*  in Argentina, she laughed explaining: “one in Mendoza, but I don’t know what they said.”

*Piropo – Flirtatious, “poetic” remarks directed at women by men on the street.

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