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Student of the Month – Stephanie Graham


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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Student of the Month – Robert Leys


Robert Leys

by Lanny Udell

Dancing since:  When he first saw tango danced Robert thought to himself, “I want to be the kind of person who tangos!” He started taking lessons over 10 years ago in Sonoma County and attended several Boot Camps given by Christy Cote in the Bay Area.  “After a number of years I realized I would need to drive somewhere I could take lessons on a regular basis if I was going to learn this dance well enough to dance comfortably at milongas,” he says.


Tanya Rokhlin with Robert Leys
Alma del Tango Studio Práctica

Why tango:  “The dance is so alive and filled with nuance,” says our Student of the Month.  “It is a celebration of life!”  He also enjoys Scottish Country Dancing and, on occasion, ballroom dancing.  But tango is his main focus.

Favorite part:  It’s the elegance and grace of tango that Robert finds so captivating.  “Each dance is different…a function of you, the music and your partner.   Tango allows me to make that elegance and grace a part of my life.”

About Debbie and John:  Robert feels very fortunate to have found Debbie and John when he decided to take tango classes on a regular basis.  In 2012 he participated in the Tango Tales student production.  “Practicing and training for this show gave me a tremendous boost in competence but more importantly, in confidence,” says Robert. He is currently enrolled in Debbie and John’s Musicality seminar “which is wonderful for those of us who may find ourselves rhythmically challenged. I have always appreciated the teaching ability and supportiveness of Debbie and John through this continuing journey,” he adds.


Sammie Ellis with Robert Leys
Tango Tales 2012

What surprised him most: “I am continually amazed at the complexity and possibilities of a dance where all you are really doing is walking in close connection with another human being.


Helen Reutovski with Robert Leys
Tango Tales 2012

On a personal note:  Robert lives with his life partner Martie (who also tangos) in Sonoma County.  They have four children.  Robert has been a registered architect for over 35 years and has an architectural practice focusing on residential and commercial projects.

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Students of the Month – Judy Feil and Dan Alexander

by Lanny Udell

Judy and Dan in their life outside tango

Judy and Dan in their life outside tango 🙂

Dancing since:  Judy and Dan met in a Spanish class at College of Marin in 2010. The following year she saw a COM brochure with a photo of a very dashing man. “OMG, that’s my eye doctor,” she exclaimed. (We all know who that was). That’s when the couple signed up for tango classes with Debbie and John.

Why tango:  Of the Latin dances, tango appeals to Dan the most. (He mistakenly thought it would be easier than the other styles.) Prior to tango he had no experience with partner dancing. Judy has studied jazz, tap, and other kinds of Latin dancing, but like Dan, had never done partner dancing. “I’m used to doing my own kind of choreography, so being with a partner was difficult,” says Judy.

Dan & Judy at Alma del Tango's Halloween Milonga Oct 2012

Dan & Judy at Alma del Tango’s Halloween Milonga Oct 2012

Favorite part: For Dan, it’s “dancing with Judy.” And he also likes the music, especially Nuevo. For Judy it’s the turns. “I just love the energy…even as a child I loved to turn,” she recalls.  “But it’s not just the dancing. It’s bigger than that. I have to sublimate a part of my natural personality for a time. It’s a good lesson to do that.”

Judy explains that she’s quick and assertive…a natural leader. But tango requires that she hold back and tune in to her partner. “For me it’s a life lesson in terms of relationship. Taking class together affects our relationship in a positive way.”


Dan & Judy at La Milonga de San Anselmo March 2013

About Debbie & John:  “They’re great!” says Dan. Judy elaborates: “Each gives a different perspective on the same movement. They do a very good job of explaining things in an interesting way and they’re very supportive.”

What surprised them about tango: Both partners agree that the most surprising thing was how challenging tango is, the subtlety and nuance of the dance, and the inter-connectedness of the partnership.

Last word:  While they admit to not being as passionate about tango as some students, “when we miss a week, we do miss it…”

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Student of the Month – Gerti Partsch Miller

CloseEmbrace_GertiPartsch Miller_byAlliNovak2013-1

by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Gerti took her first tango lesson in February, 2012 while on a trip to  Buenos Aires with her husband. “I already had it in mind to expose myself to tango,” she says.

When she returned, she went on Tango Mango and found Alma del Tango. “I loved the name, and when I read Debbie’s bio I was very impressed, so I booked a class with her.”  Gerti took a few private lessons with Debbie, then started attending classes and practicas.

Why tango:  Gerti has always loved dancing…growing up Austria she danced the Viennese waltz. Now she’s entranced by the Argentine vals. Gerti believes that people who dance have much joy in their life. “Dancing transforms me somehow…better than the gym,” she says.


Gerti’s first pair of tango shoes!

Favorite part: The musicality, passion and aesthetic of tango. One of her highlights was buying her first pair of tango shoes in Buenos Aires.

About Debbie & John:  They embody the “soul of tango,” observes Gerti. “I’m very blessed that I found them.  Alma del Tango is unique…it’s not like any other venue.”

About performing in Close Embrace: “When Debbie asked me to dance in the show I said, I don’t know if I can do it, I’m such a beginner. She said  ‘yes, you can dance in the women’s choreography.’  In my wildest dream I couldn’t have imagined being in a production like this.”

Anything else?  “Close Embrace was definitely a challenge for me but with everyone’s help and encouragement I felt very well taken care of. The professionalism and support made me want to do another show next year.”

Share your thoughts with Gerti below.


Close Embrace_Oblivion_CloseEmbraceby AlliNovak2013

Oblivion, the women’s choreography for Close Embrace.
Gerti pictured kneeling lower left

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Student of the Month – Dean Lawler

by Lanny Udell

Dean Lawler Student of the Month

Dean Lawler
Student of the Month

Dancing tango since:  When Dean started taking tango lessons in February 2011, little did he know that just two years later he’d be performing in a show  (Dean performs a choreographed dance with Sylvia Flores in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story.) “Not in my wildest dreams,” he says.

Why tango:  He had a growing interest in Latin American culture and, in fact, started teaching himself Spanish.  During winter vacations in Mexico he noticed that dancing was a big part of the lifestyle and that intrigued him. “Salsa didn’t appeal to me,” he says, “but tango seemed classier.”  So he started taking lessons at various Bay Area venues, then found Debbie and John on Tango Mango.

Favorite part: Meeting new people. And connecting with everyone.  “Sometimes it’s not even talking but sharing a nice moment with the music in close physical contact, it’s very enriching. I get depressed if I miss a day.”

About Debbie & John:  “They’re my teachers now.  There’s so much to pick up about this dance, and they’re very encouraging, they both step in to help.  I don’t think you can get that kind of attention and encouragement anywhere else.

Anything else? For Dean,  preparing for Close Embrace has been a real challenge.  “Many hours have gone into getting those two minutes to a level I’d be happy with. I just want to put on a great show for everybody.  Debbie has been very encouraging and supportive in championing my desires.”

Dean Lawler with Partner Sylvia Flores in Close Embrace, A Tango Love Story 2013

Dean Lawler with partner Sylvia Flores in “Trampera’
Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story 2013



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Student of the Month – Helen Reutovski

Helen Reutovskiby Lanny Udell


Dancing tango since: Helen has been dancing tango for five years, but her fascination with the dance began when she was 10 years old and saw ice dancers perform to La Cumparsita.

Watch the tango on ice that mersmerized young Helen.

Why tango: Helen started taking classes to find relief from her life circumstances at the time. Little did she know that in a few short years she would be performing tango onstage!

Favorite part: “The music captivates me deeply,” says Helen. She also loves the feeling of connection with a partner,  “when a couple starts moving it’s like being in a different dimension or in a pleasant whirlwind as you feel the wind under your feet.”  In tango she finds profound truths that also apply in everyday life. “You have to be alert, be in the moment, and stay tall and on your own axis.”

Helen Reutovski in All About Tango 2011

Helen Reutovski in All About Tango 2011

About Debbie & John: Their love for people and the dance, and their irresistible enthusiasm stand out for Helen. “Debbie makes us feel like a star,” she says. And when dancing with John “you find out where you are…he’s always challenging us which makes dancing with him an ultimate treat.”

Anything else? Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story will be Helen’s third appearance in an Alma del Tango student production. She greatly admires Debbie as a director/choreographer, calling her “a great visionary.”

Last word: Attention leadersHelen is looking for a partner to dance milonga with her. Interested? Email or speak to her at class.

Here’s the milonga she dreams of learning.

Helen Reutovski in Tango Tales 2012

Helen Reutovski with Robert Leys in Tango Tales 2012




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Student of the Month – Jose Orellana

Jose Orellana at La Milonga de San Anselmo
photo by Alli Novak

by Lanny Udell


Dancing tango since: Jose started taking tango lessons about 10 years ago. Although he left it for salsa, tango was still in his soul. In 2009 he reconnected with his inner tanguero.

Why tango: During his salsa days, Jose met Cari who later became his wife. They decided to take tango lessons together and enjoyed a beautiful wedding dance.

Favorite part: “I get a lot of satisfaction when I encounter someone I don’t know on the dance floor and we can have a ‘conversation’ ” he says.

About Debbie & John: Jose appreciates that they teach very difficult material “gently.” He describes their technique as simple and clean … “I’m really happy to be in their hands.” Jose recalls when he first met Debbie and John and noticed their rapport. “I fell in love,” he says. “They’re not only good dancers and teachers, they’re good together.”

Anything else: Jose will have a leading role in the upcoming student production, Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story. He hopes to give the audience something that will inspire them to explore tango. “I want them to walk out thinking they saw something special.”

Last word: While he is a little envious that the Argentines invented tango, he says his native Chile has better empanadas.

Jose Orellana & Tanya Rokhlin
photo by Alli Novak

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Student of the Month – Tanya Rokhlin

Tanya Rokhlin 2012

Student of the Month – Tanya Rokhlin
by Lanny Udell

Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  July 2011

Why tango:
Tanya was drawn to tango after experiencing the embrace. She was on a cruise ship and saw a performance by a “gorgeous Argentinian.” She asked for a private lesson, and the moment he embraced her she felt the connection. “I was in a zone,” says Tanya.

When she came back to San Francisco she began to look for classes. That’s when she found Debbie and John.

Tanya Rokhlin & Robert Leys in Tango Tales 2012

Favorite part: The connection. Tanya admits that her life has been mainly self-centered, but when she started taking private tango lessons with Debbie she realized that she had to listen, to surrender to the lead, or she’d never get in the zone again. “I find sweetness in this,” she says.

About Debbie & John: Tanya feels blessed to have found them. “I love their enthusiasm and professionalism.”

Tango Tales

Tanya Rokhlin & Deborah Loft Tango Tales 2012

Anything else: As she prepares for the lead role in the upcoming student production,
Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story, Tanya recalls performing in Tango Tales earlier this year.
“I never thought I was a showy person, but I found it exhilarating.” She’s looking forward
to being in the spotlight again.

Photo by Alli Novak
Dancers Jose Orellana & Tanya Rokhlin

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Students of the Month – Dart & Dottye Rinefort

Students of the Month by Lanny Udell
Lanny Udell


Tango Tales

Dart & Dottye Rinefort – Tango Tales 2012
Photo: Alli Novak




Dart and Dottye Rinefort

Dancing tango since: 2008


Why tango: (Dottye) I was intrigued by the idea and have always liked sampling something new. Then a high school classmate “dared” me to just try it.  Dart has never missed the opportunity to accompany me on a new journey so we embarked on our tango adventure together. His appetite for travel was rewarded when we were able to explore the origin of the dance – Argentina!

Favorite part: Solving a good mystery or piecing together a complicated puzzle is something we have always enjoyed. The study of Argentine tango meets all those requirements and much more.

Dart & Dottye Rinefort
All About Tango 2011
Photo: Dominic Colacchio


About Debbie & John: They are dedicated and compassionate instructors of Argentine tango. When we overcome an obstacle in class, they share in our excitement. They give us the individual attention and encouragement that keeps us moving forward, and they always remind us to have fun.

Anything else:  For the more mature dancer, they say to eat your berries and fill yourself with antioxidants to delay cognitive decline. We say, tango every night of the week and there won’t be any cognitive decline.  Once we have accomplished some of the patterns or “tinker-toys” as John calls them, we need to work on their connection with the music (musicality). That’s the allure: the next challenge!


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Student of the Month: Boyer Cole

Students of the Month by Lanny Udell
Lanny Udell

Boyer Cole

Name: Boyer Cole

Dancing tango since: 2007

Why tango: I had done all the ballroom dances and was looking for something new.

Favorite part: The creativity, trying to come up with steps during the práctica and connecting the dots from one step to the other. Working to keep the steps in the right expression for the music.  I’m amazed at how quickly I can forget what I learned the night before.

About Debbie & John: They’re great teachers. They take a subject and expand on it so I feel more comfortable with some of the details of the dance, and then they will add on something else that can be used with what I just learned. This progressive approach works well for me.

Anything else? I like Debbie’s newsletters and emails; they’re a great way to stay informed.

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