Tears for Orlando Paiva

Argentine tango Dancer Orlando Paivaby Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

In 1995, Orlando Paiva was visiting the United States and stopped at Nora Olivera’s Sunday afternoon class and practica in Berkeley. These were very special sessions. Nora is noted for her exceptional teaching, especially in the way that she never molly-coddles the students. She tells you the truth about how you’re doing, and if you’re having trouble, she always offers a way to resolve the problem.

I had been studying tango for about a year, so I got quite a few justified suggestions from Nora, and I can still recall almost the exact words she used for many of them. Precision, exactitude and follow-through are the prime elements in Nora’s advice, and those who understand that her deep love of tango is what drives her realize how valuable those elements are.

She introduced Orlando to the class. At the time he was about sixty years old. He was very slim and gray-haired, and dressed in tan slacks, a navy-blue blazer, white shirt and tie. Not a demonstrative man in conversation, yet he exuded a kind of kindness that won over the students immediately. Nora later told me that he had a serious heart condition at the time yet he persisted with his tango no matter what.

She asked him to perform for us. I don’t remember to which tango he danced, but it was slow and extremely elegant, with the nonetheless acerb bite that makes tango music often so revealing of deep emotion. He took his partner into his arms and began dancing.

You could see immediately the care with which he pursued the dance. He walked very slowly, and I remember how he would let his trailing foot follow along, pointed back, the toe at an outward angle that underscored the grace with which he was moving. Straight-backed, immersed in the music, and very formal, he made his partner look beautiful because she too was so involved in the way he was dancing. You could feel her intensity, and part of that, I’m sure, was enabled by Orlando’s caring escort of her around the floor.

He performed none of the gymnastic irrelevancies that so often appear in the work of today’s show dancers. No kicks. No lifts. No impossibly fast tripping about. This man was a tanguero, and you could tell that by how respectful he was of his partner and of the music. He moved very slowly, and every step was a marvel.

The students loved it and responded with much shouting applause. I turned to Nora, my own noisy clapping appreciative of what I had just seen. But what I saw now astonished me. Nora, who knew Orlando well, was awash in tears. I cannot recall another occasion when I have seen her so taken by what she has witnessed. Later, I asked Nora if Orlando’s heart condition were one of the reasons for his dancing so carefully and slowly. She responded that, no, this is the way Orlando has always danced. “He is a great master, you see,” she said. That was all the explanation I needed.

This video gives you a good sense of what Orlando Paiva could do. The quality of the video is not good, for which, apologies. But please note how beautifully his partner Cristina Benavidez follows him. She is wonderful herself, of course. But Orlando gives her the opportunity to dance in so contemplative a way that her performance reveals her very heart. Watch with what attention the audience watches them. The response of the audience at the end will give you a good idea of what you’ve just seen.

Orlando Paiva died on November 28, 2006.

Read about Debbie and John’s friendship with Orlando

Terence Clarke’s latest non-fiction book An Arena of Truth was recently featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

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Dancing with Orlando

Debbie Goodwin with tango master Orlando PaivaHow Debbie & John came to know, study and dance with the Maestro

by Lanny Udell, writer, content strategist and Alma del Tango board member

While Orlando Paiva may not be a household name, to the tango cognoscenti he is highly revered for his elegant and graceful, and very personal style of tango 

Debbie and John had the pleasure of studying and dancing with him going back to the late ’90s when Debbie also assisted in his classes and served as his translator. In fact, she partnered him when he was training Robert Duvall and his wife, Luciana Pedraza, for the movie Assassination Tango.

Here’s how it all began:

Back in the day, Fairfax residents Al and Barbara Garvey were passionate about tango and wanted to build the Bay Area tango community, which was small at the time. They started a newsletter for tangueros so everyone could know where and when the milongas were being held, and when visiting professores were coming to town. Their effort grew into the Bay Area Tango Association.

Orlando was living in Los Angeles at the time, and when he arrived in San Francisco needing a partner, the Garveys called Debbie, who also speaks Spanish.
But even before that, Debbie and John had taken workshops and studied with Orlando privately.

“What impressed me about Orlando,” says John, “was that he was very deliberate in his movements, he did everything with precision. By profession he was a machinist, and that translated into his dancing. His movements were precise…always the same…the embrace, posture, foot placements.”

And he was a stickler about followers’ feet, says Debbie who learned her beautiful foot technique from him.

You can see other influences of Orlando’s style in their dancing, such as going to the cross in cross system, with the elegant way the leader holds his left leg back. And the level changes during the Basic.

Orlando’s Signature figures

Orlando taught tango for more than 45 years, creating at least 160 exclusive figures, and he gave each one a name.

Tango dancers Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell in El Puente, the bridge pose

John & Debbie in El Puente, it only looks like a volcada

El Puente, or bridge pose…“It looks like a volcada, but the way you get into it is the opposite,” says John. “You enter it from a left turn. The leader invites the follower to step around him until, gradually, you get the lean.”
Salida del Gato … “His version of walking to the cross which also took the couple from a close embrace into an open embrace,” explains Debbie. “he moved like a panther, so his name, Salida de Gato, Entrance of the Cat, was fitting.”
Giro Común translated it means “common turn” … but it wasn’t so common the way he did it, says Debbie, “it was so beautiful!”

When Orlando was coaching Debbie and John on how to teach tango his advice was, “you can’t fix everything…find the thing they need the most help with.” Sound advice from the maestro.

Later, Orlando returned to his hometown of Rosario, Argentina where he had a home, studio and workshop. He continued to teach there for the rest of his days. One of his sons followed in his footsteps and later in life changed his name to Orlando Jr.

Read Terry Clarke’s article, Tears for Orlando

More from Debbie & John’s photo album:

Alma del Tango daner Debbie Goodwin practices with Maestro Orlando Paiva

Debbie & Orlando

Tangueros John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

L to R: John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

Debbie Goodwin teaches with Orlando Paiva

Debbie assists Orlando in class

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Los Filippini: Style, Elegance, Kindness.

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

Beatrice Bowles and I were visiting Buenos Aires in 2006, and were told about the club Viejo correo at Avenida Díaz Vélez 4820. Diaz Vélez is an interminably long thoroughfare, and on this particular night, we worried as very heavy rain coursed from above. Our taxi driver had to lean well forward over the steering wheel in order to be sure that his view of the road was clear. What was not obscured by the downpour on his windshield was blurred by the hurrying of his old, ragged wipers across the glass.

We got to the club, though, and were greeted by a couple of men at the door, armed with large umbrellas. They escorted us in, and we immediately noted the black and white tiled dance floor, gleaming smooth, that was surrounded by tables-for-four at which many dancers were sitting. What made the place immediately special for us was that the dancers were well-dressed. This is not something you normally see in Buenos Aires milongas. That city is infected with the same nuevo-homeless style of fashion, most prominently among men, that you see in almost every other American or European city these days. Levis, T-shirts, no verve, etc. At the Viejo correo, every man had on a suit and a tie. The women were all dressed with a preference for real elegance.

The Viejo correo is a local place, visited mostly by neighborhood dancers who seem to know each other well and, we found, are exceedingly friendly. They were surprised that a couple such as we could even find the place, and they watched carefully as we danced. They seemed equally surprised that we could essay the tango with at least some panache. Many of the other dancers wished to talk with us, and when they found we also had Spanish, our evening filled with conversation.

Many of the men offered the cabeceo to Beatrice, and always thanked me when they escorted her back to our table, for not being offended by their taking her from me. It was clear to them that she could dance, and I was not about to intervene with her opportunity to be on the floor with authentic milongueros porteños. The entire experience, for both of us, was unique.

There was a further surprise
One of the renowned couples in tango at the time were Lito and Lidia Filippini, and we learned that they were going to arrive at the Viejo correo, to dance that evening. “Not to perform,” one of the men assured us. “They come here all the time, just to dance, like the rest of us.”

When the Filippinis arrived, they were greeted by almost everybody as they passed through the tables to their own, which had been reserved for them. They were an older couple, dressed just so, as were all the others in the room. And indeed they did not perform. Beatrice and I watched as they joined others on the floor. Their dancing was in no way flashy or overtly gymnastic. They too were real milongueros and danced with care and elegance spiced by the usual Argentine porteño intensity.

Beatrice and I danced a tanda, and we sensed we were being watched by the Filippinis. This can be an unnerving experience for dancers who are not professionals themselves. After dancing, we sat down at our table and, heads held in reserved silence, calmed our nerves with a few sips of malbec. After more tandas, we saw that the Filippinis were leaving, and as they approached our table, I nodded to Lito. To our astonishment, he and Lidia struck up a conversation with us. Where were we from? Were we enjoying Buenos Aires? Where else were we dancing? And then they told us that they thought we were dancing well. It had been a pleasure for them to watch, they said. I reached out a hand to Lito, which he shook with enthusiasm, and we both thanked them. It was then that I noticed that the others in the club were watching the conversation. It was clear that they approved, too.

The evening, of course, astonished both Bea and me.

As you’ll see from this video the Filippinis dance in an older style free of the balletic macho fireworks that so often mar contemporary tango.

Compás. Elegancia. Verdaderos milongueros.

For another adventure from that evening at the Viejo correo, see my piece “Big Nose in Buenos Aires.” 

 

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Student of the Month ~ Fred Anlyan

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Fred Anlyanby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: When speaking with Fred about tango, it’s important to specify Argentine Tango, as he has danced other genres…i.e., International Tango and American Rhythm. He started dancing Argentine Tango just last August.

Back story: Fred didn’t discover dancing until he was in his 40’s. His then-wife wanted to dance so he agreed to a few lessons, thinking that would be the end of it. But he got hooked! At that time, he was dancing International Ballroom and International Latin. He became a Pro/Am competitor, dancing with one of his teachers.  He later took up West Coast Swing.

Why Argentine Tango: It so happened that the studio where he first went for ballroom classes in the 1990’s was located in the same building as Alma del Tango, so that piqued his curiosity. “Argentine Tango was starting to get popular,” says Fred, and he became interested in pursuing it without giving up his other forms of dance. When he did venture in to Alma del Tango last August, Eduardo Saucedo was Artist-in-Residence so Fred had his first month of tango training with Eduardo.

Fred describes Argentine Tango as very complex and technical. “Some things can carry over from other kinds of dance, but the application is different,” he says. “I consider myself a pretty good ballroom dancer and decent West Coast Swing dancer…but I wasn’t very good at Argentine Tango.”

Favorite part: Fred took a few minutes to think about this one. His answer: “My vision for what I could do if I continue to practice. I have my mind set on things I want to do, but I’m not there yet.” (Ed note: Are any of us?)

About Debbie & John: “I think they’re terrific, he says, “so warm and supportive. They greet everyone with a smile and a hug. They’ll support you in stretching a bit beyond where you are. After I’d been in class for 1 ½ months I asked if I could try Level 2. They looked at each other, talked briefly, and said, sure, go ahead.” Now Fred takes Level 1, 2 and 2/3 on Friday night.

Anything else? “Whenever you do something challenging you have to put in a certain amount of time to get good. I’m not there yet with Argentine Tango.” But with his determination and skill, there’s no doubt he will be.

Student of the Month Fred Andlyan dancing a Fox Trot

Fred and his partner Christine Rinne danced a Fox Trot in a showcase at Stars Ballroom

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Noche de Tango…An intimate, Buenos Aires-style evening at Alma del Tango

 

by Lanny Udell

Tango vocalist/dance teacher Mira Barakat and guitarist Scott O'Day at Noche de Tango

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing” – Douglas

When Debbie Goodwin approached Mira Barakat with the idea of presenting a “tango cabaret” at Alma del Tango, Mira was intrigued. “I had been working with guitarist Scott O’Day for several years, and the idea of teaching musicality came out of our partnership,” she says. Thus, the concept for a musicality workshop followed by dancing to live music was born.

Mira and Scott wanted it to be an intimate evening, where dancers would feel relaxed and comfortable. In the workshop guests learned about musicality from the point of view of a musician and a vocalist/dance teacher.

“Most classes are technical, about structures and steps,” says Mira. “Musicality can be more subtle. We wanted to inspire dancers to listen to the music and feel how it affects our bodies. Dancers can move intuitively when they know what to listen for.”

“I enjoyed learning about tango music “models” and their names. Mira and Scott concisely demonstrated how to embody these models in our dancing. I look forward to seeing how I can incorporate this aspect of musicality in my tango!”  -Kyra

The Salon

In Argentina, Mira explains, there are many restaurants with a small dance floor where you can eat, drink, socialize and dance. That’s the feeling she wanted to convey on this special evening. “A tango Saturday night out, slightly different from a milonga.”

Scott and Mira played for dancing, with DJ’d music between sets. Guests chatted at cabaret-style tables, munched on delicious empanadas from The Wooden Table Cafe, along with other snacks and sampled a variety of wines.

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing and Scott’s fluid accompaniment on guitar.  Good food and wine to boot.  I look forward to another such splendid affair.” – Douglas

 

The event was wonderful in a number of respects.  First, the workshop topic, namely, musicality.  This is something that even though it is right in our faces, or rather, our ears, tends to slip under the radar.  It is important, and the event helped address it.  Second, live music.  This is always nice, and in this case, was particularly touching.  Third, the opportunity to dance, in the workshop, during the live performance, and with the recorded music.  And the dance seemed in a more intimate, cafe-type setting.  And hey, the food was good!” Matt

Mira’s Album Release

The party was also a celebration of Mira’s first album release, “Mira Barakat Tangos.” It was recorded in Buenos Aires, with “two amazing guitarists,” Juan Villarreal and Patricio Crom, assisted by the well-known singer and artistic coach, Ariel Varnerin. Rather than produce a physical CD, they decided to offer it as an online release only. The collection of 11 songs is available for streaming and purchase at mirabarakat.bandcamp.com.

What’s Next?

If you missed the February 1st Noche de Tango, no worries. Another such evening will take place on June 6, at Alma del Tango.  Watch for the announcement.

Mira will soon be heading to Buenos Aires for her tango immersion program, BA. Tango Evolution, where students learn and train with professional dancers as partners. Learn more at batangoevolution.com.

 

 

 

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Students of the Month ~ Lynn Gardiner & Jacq Macias

by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Lynn had dipped her dance shoe into tango about 10 years ago, but came back to it seriously 2 ½ years ago after she met Jacq and they enjoyed dancing tango together.

Jacq has been a social dancer for six years and discovered tango in late 2015. (Jacq uses gender neutral pronouns they/them or simply their name when being referred to.) They had been dancing country western, but after trying a tango class at Abrazo in Berkeley, Jacq was hooked. 

Why tango? Both agree, “Tango relies heavily on connecting with your partner, there are no set steps, it’s highly improvisational. It’s an opportunity to zone in and be really present together.”

Favorite part: For Lynn it’s the feeling of flying. “A mixture of going where the leader is taking you, and what you, the follower, bring to it. The feeling of one person + one person = a pair, and the pair rides the wave together,” she explains. “The leader doesn’t create it…the music creates it.”

Jacq likes the life lessons you learn in tango. “Even if you’re leading, you’re also following your follow,” she says. Typically, Jacq leads and Lynn follows, but they do change off.

About Debbie & John: “They create a warm, welcoming atmosphere,” both partners agree. “It’s wonderful to be in their class, they’re attentive to answering questions,” says Lynn. “Debbie is trained in different forms of dance, so you can ask specific questions, such as, is this like ballet or jazz, and she can describe various dance styles and cross-compare.  John is great in the way he describes things scientifically—power, rotation, cause and effect.”

“We like that they are a couple teaching together. It’s fun to watch them get along and uplift each other. It’s like learning about a dance partnership in action.”

Jacq says, “Monday night is our favorite night of the week. We attend Level 3 and 4 and make a whole night of it.  Their teaching style is very comfortable and dynamic. I especially enjoy the musicality lessons. They offer suggestions on technique, and you find you’re getting better and better.”

Anything else? The tangueros attend weekly practicas and occasionally a milonga.

We love our date-time at Alma Del Tango, and can’t say enough, how dearly Debbie and John’s classes have enriched us…dance skills-wise and personally as well

Tango dancers Lynn & Jacq compete in April Follies

Lynn and Jacq competed in April Follies.

Last word: Lynn has been training in dance for 30 years and owns a private dance studio, Learn with Lynn! She teaches 17 different types of partner dance and also choreographs weddings and teaches a Parkinson’s group. Music is her other passion. “In dance, I feel I’m all the instruments at once,” she says. A singer/songwriter/bass guitar player, she currently has four singles out. Find them at LynnGardinerMusic.com

Tango student Lynn Gardiner teaches in her own dance studio

Lynn teaching in her studio

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My Love, Let Us Stay Here

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

One of my very favorite tangos is “Quedémonos aquí,” with music by Héctor Stamponi and lyrics by Homero Espósito. It has been recorded by most of the major singers of tango since it was first written.

The lyrics form a single suggestion from one lover to another, that they remain where they are at the moment…presumably in bed…rather than getting up and returning to the irresolute tango life of forgetfulness, alcohol’s hopelessness, and all those things that have drained them of blood itself in the fruitless lives they’ve been living.

 

“Amor, la vida se nos va,
quedémonos aquí, ya es hora de llegar!
¡Amor, quedémonos aquí!
¿Por qué sin compasión rodar?
¡Amor, la flor se ha vuelto a abrir
y hay gusto a soledad, quedémonos aquí!
Nuestro cansancio es un poema sin final
que aquí podemos terminar.
¡Abre tu vida sin ventanas!
¡Mira lo linda que está el rio!
Se despierta la mañana y tengo gana
De juntarte un ramillete de rocio.”

“My love, life is passing us by.
Let us stay here. Right now has the hour arrived.
Love, let us stay here!
Why fall pitilessly to pieces?
Love, the flowers are just now blooming
and there is such pleasure in solitude. Let us stay here!
Our weariness is an endless poem
to which here we can bring an end.
Open a life that has no windows!
Look how beautiful the river is!
The morning awakes and I would
bring you a bouquet of morning dew.”

The lovers are caught in a debate with themselves over the state of their souls. Do we continue this irresolute tango life (the bars, the boliches, the lies we tell each other, and the foolish search of the bottom of the glass) or do we turn to the soothing beauties of nature, the soul-healing qualities of sunlight and clear, rippling waters, of flowers and the delicacy of the morning dew? The choice is clear. But in the midst of the exhaustion that our wasted life has brought to us, can we make that choice?

As you can see, this tango is not light reading. Big questions are at its core, and the music that carries these lyrics is some of the saddest I’ve ever heard. The irony for me is that this entire tango and its plea for freedom from self-doubt is made up of the tango life itself that the lovers are questioning.

As such, it is eminently danceable. A remarkable example is a recent performance by Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez, to “Quedémonos aquí.” Often these days the videos of tango are filled with excessive hurry, big-time gymnastics, and way over-dramatic gesture. Not in this one. When Fernando and Ariadna are finished dancing, there is a demonstrable silence before the applause comes. I believe this is so because the audience is stunned by the beauty of what they’ve just seen. 

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be available in bookstores and on Amazon after April 15.

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Tango…and “The Two Popes”

Scene from the movie "The Two Popes" starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Prycxe ns, and

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio in “The Two Popes”

by Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

I would not usually think of Argentine tango in terms of the Roman Catholic papacy. But with the Netflix release of the new film, The Two Popes, the relationship is made clear, at least in the life of one of its two main characters.

A fictionalization of the relationship between Joseph Ratzinger, a German cardinal who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and his successor Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentine Jesuit who was made Pope Francis I in 2013, the film is a tour de force effort by its two main actors.

Ratzinger is played by Anthony Hopkins with his usual detailed depth of gesture, speech and feeling, while another accomplished British actor, Jonathan Pryce, plays Bergoglio in what looks to me to be a spot-on accurate look at Bergoglio’s personality. They become involved in a long personal struggle over the future of the Catholic Church during a time when that organization, as it still is now, was under justified fire for its inability to address long-term, self-inflicted problems. This “debate” is the reason to see the film, and it is riveting.

But, there is a second plot in which a young Bergoglio makes his decision to become a priest, and the seasoned Jesuit Bergoglio is made to deal some years later with “The Dirty War.” This struggle resulted in the disappearance and murder of 30,000 Argentine citizens at the hands of that country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.

Bergoglio, the young bon vivant and tanguero

As a young man, Bergoglio is something of a Buenos Aires bon vivant who is an ardent tanguero. He is in love with a woman, also a tanguera, and they attend a Buenos Aires milonga that will be familiar to anyone who has visited the famous dance halls in that city. At the same time, he is struggling to understand whether his calling to the priesthood is legitimate. That would, of course, require that he give up his relationship with the young woman, whom he was thinking of marrying.

To her great disappointment, he does enter the Jesuit order, but not before we get to see the lovely ambiance of tango and its dancing (even by Bergoglio and his girlfriend themselves) during that remarkable time. Incidentally, young Bergoglio is played by the superb Juan Minujin, a noted Argentine stage and film actor who is as porteño-looking a man as you can get.)

Just because he becomes pope does not mean that Cardinal Bergoglio loses his love of tango. Late in the film, he and Ratzinger have achieved a kind of rapprochement in their different views of what The Church should be. Ratzinger has always believed that The Church should not compromise any of its doctrines. Bergoglio is portrayed as a far more liberal force who has a realistic view of the feelings and behaviors of hundreds of millions of actual Catholics. The Church has refused to deal realistically with these behaviors, and he is the one person who can understand and bring about the changes needed.

A papal cabeceo

The two men don’t necessarily agree at the end of the film, but there is profound respect between them. In a remarkable scene, after Ratzinger has stepped down as pope and Bergoglio has taken over the office, Bergoglio visits the former pope. As he is leaving, he asks Ratzinger if he knows anything about tango. Of course, Ratzinger does not, and Bergoglio proceeds to give him a quick lesson in the tango basic. They fumble. They don’t do well. Ratzinger is embarrassed. Bergoglio is amused. But it is the moment of actual friendship with which the story comes to its end.

This moment, too, is not to be missed.

Regarding the historical accuracy of the film, there are numerous moments in it that mis-portray to a degree the relationship between the two men. You can read about these in detail here. But the film tells a gripping story about opposing political ideals that clash memorably. The movie is directed by the Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, who co-directed the terrifying City of God. 

The Two Popes is a stunner. Take it for what it is worth to you on any level. At the very least, you’ll enjoy the tango. 

Terence Clarke’s novel, When Clara Was Twelve, which takes place in Paris, will be published on April 15.

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Student of the Month ~ Larry Litt

Portrait of larry Litt, Alma del Tango Student of the Monthby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Larry hadn’t set foot on a dance floor until 2011, the year that he turned 70 and got married for the second time. His wife Ying had been dancing tango for 10 years.

When taken as a spectator to his first milonga, he said to himself, “Wow, I want to learn to dance like that!” His thoughts, better expressed years later by Otros Aires, included: “Say goodbye to your old life. There’s no going back.”

Back story: Larry was very diligent in his tango study, attending several classes a week, taking private lessons, practicing at home with his wife, and attending milongas. But then, in November 2018, he underwent a complex surgery and had to take a 3-month hiatus. As soon as he was able, he was back on the dance floor.

To Larry, tango involves more than dancing. It’s a life that includes physical fitness. “You use the same muscles as in martial arts or ballet, and similarly you need skills in balance and range of motion. And a great add-on is learning tango musicality,” he says.

As a new dancer starting at a later age, improving his tango involved many extra hours. “Although going to med school was an intellectual bonanza, it also was a physical fitness disaster. There was so much sitting!” says Larry, a retired UCSF professor emeritus in Anesthesiology.

Favorite part: “The connection–when it works,” says the tanguero, referring to the tango connection with one’s partner. “It can exist even with the simplest figures. For the leader, it’s all about the follower, not oneself. I learned that in an early beginner class after feeling that I had mastered the steps just taught. Proud of myself, I asked my partner for feedback. She replied, ‘I felt like I was dancing alone.’ That was the first of many epiphanies.”

Tango dancers Larry Litt and his wife Ying with Eduardo Saucedo

Larry and his wife Ying with Eduardo Saucedo

About Debbie and John: “Related to the first epiphany is the fact that one can be given an explanation without being given an understanding. Debbie and John do an outstanding job making sure students get both,” says Larry. “Their technique is highly polished. They emphasize fundamentals, teaching by example after every explanation.”

Larry takes a private lesson with John on Mondays before the Level 3 class. In early sessions with John, Larry had to lead. When asked how that went (due to the height difference) he replied, “well, it makes you stand up straight!”

Ying remedied the height issue for about a year by regularly joining Larry’s private lessons. When that was no longer possible, Larry was able to find a tanguera who regularly partners with him in John’s lessons.

“When John asks me ‘what do you want to do today,’ I say, ‘whatever is best for learning in class tonight.’ That greatly reduces stressful challenges to my brain’s visual-spatial processing. Some dancers can, from watching only once, identify steps and subtleties of a figure,” Larry explains. “Far from being such a person, I benefit greatly from the foundation set by an early look.”

Anything else:  Larry and his wife have danced tango during their travels to France, Japan, China, England and Wales. Each time they found their fellow dancers warm and welcoming, much like the community at Alma del Tango.

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“La Divina” María Volonté

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango Board member

Tango singer Maria Volonte with her guitarThe next time María Volonté comes to the Bay Area, drop everything and go see her in concert. You’ll hear intense tango, sung with Buenos Aires porteño charm and streetwise knowledge, delivered with grace and deeply felt passion. Some songs written by others; originals by María herself. And there’s more. María is an accomplished jazz singer as well, and you’ll see that she can carry her own in any North American or European jazz venue.

María Volonté was born in Ituzaingó, a city in the Buenos Aires province, about twenty miles from downtown Buenos Aires. 

“I lived with my parents and my five sisters in a large, bright house. My father worked as a project draftsman and painted watercolors in an exquisite way. But above all he was a great showman who had been frustrated. He had spent the greatest portion of his youth acting, reciting and singing in cinemas, theaters and cabarets. But as soon as he got married, his first wife made him know…clearly…that vaudeville and the delights of conjugal life were not compatible. After that, he devoted himself to transferring all his fascination for the world of the stage to his daughters.”

Of greatest importance to Maria’s father was music. “We used to sing and listen to tango, folk music, bolero, flamenco, jazz, opera, musical comedy, French and Italian songs, Portuguese fado….”

How a tape recorder awakened her to the passion of singing

When María was five, her father brought home a new invention, a home tape recorder, and one of the first things he did was to ask María to sing for him. It was an ancient Neapolitan song “Catari (Cuore ingrato)”. Listening to herself for the first time, she wept, and she remembers the moment to this day. “There was so much secret pain in that melody, so much generous love! That day I discovered, unknowingly, that singing is to allow oneself to be pierced by passion.”

María’s father bought her first guitar when she was ten. “Something within me changed forever.” As she progressed through secondary school and beyond, she sang with friends, all kinds of music. “We used to sing folk tunes or rock songs written by Argentines. And thereafter in the 1970s we would mix the Argentine songbook with music by people from other countries…the Chilean Violeta Parra, Paco Ibáñez from Spain, el cubano Nicolás Guillén, another Spaniard Joan Manuel Serrat…. It was wine and song into the wee small hours of the morning, and it was shaping my courage and warming my voice.”

María Volonté singing in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires.

María Volonté singing in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires.

Married in the early 1980s, María and her husband lived in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A subterranean folk culture was thriving in the city during those years, and she was an active part of it, paying her early dues as so many musicians must, wherever she could. “I sang outdoors at the Plaza Dorrego. I sang in many, many bar rooms. I sang in sheds.”Her musical eclecticism was not to be denied.

But María knew even then that there was one sort of music that was meant for her.

“I clearly realized that my destiny was in tango.”

Maria Volonté’s home is still Buenos Aires, where she lives with her second husband, American writer, musician, and photographer Kevin Carrel Footer. But they concertize together extensively in North America and Europe, visiting the San Francisco Bay Area once or twice a year. You can see them together in a recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert Video

On her website, you’ll see some other fine videos of María at work. You’ll get a sense of the breadth of material with which she works, and you’ll see especially what a true tanguera María Volonté really is. Her recordings are available on Apple iTunes.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published in 2020.

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