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The story of the Milonga

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

African influences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christianna Valentina hosts Milonga Valentina at Alma del Tango in Marin

Christianna Valentina hosts Milonga Valentina

We talked with Christie to get the low-down:

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

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

How did the idea for Milonga Valentina come about?

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

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

What kind of music were you practicing to?

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

How do you dance to that type of music?

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

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

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

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

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

About Christianna

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

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Saturday Mornings with Luz

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

Luz Castinerias teaches at Alma del Tango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taught by Jasmine Worrell

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

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

Apprentice instructor Jasmine Worrell demonstrates an Essentrics stretch

Apprentice instructor Jasmine Worrell demonstrates an Essentrics stretch.

 

What is Essentrics?

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

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

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

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

Not for dancers only

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

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

Learn more about our Essentrics class

 

 

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Polish Your Tango Skills with USA Tango Champion Marcelo Molina

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

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

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

Becoming a Tango Champion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcelo partners Johana Copes at La Milonga de San Anselmo

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

What he wants students to take from his class

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

Book a private with Marcelo     

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

Learn more about Marcelo at www.marcelomolinatango.com

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Student of the Month ~ Randy Cook

by Lanny Udell

Randy is a familiar face at Alma del Tango’s advanced classes and milongas in San Anselmo.

Randy Cook Student of the Month A tanguero since 2001, he started to study Spanish and that led him to salsa. But when he saw some tango dancers perform in a 4th of July parade in Sonoma Plaza, he switched to tango. “Salsa is fun, but tango has depth,” says Randy. He began taking classes with Alisa Adams & Alejandro Oyuela at the Sonoma Community Center.

Why tango:  “I love the music, for listening as well as for dancing,” he says, citing the melting pot of sounds that infuse tango music. “There are classical elements, traces of Italian opera, Spanish music, the African influence and, of course, Carlos Gardel, the greatest tango singer, was born in France.”

On his first trip to Buenos Aires (he’s been 7 times!) Randy found that his training hadn’t prepared him to dance in the crowded milongas. There was no room for fancy patterns on the packed dance floors. So, at first our tanguero sat at a table,  watched the dancers and talked to people – a good way to learn, he says.

During his many trips to Argentina he studied with a variety of masters including Mimi Santapa, a highly respected teacher who focused on leaders, and Carlos Costes, a protégé of Juan Carlos Copes. Eventually he learned to navigate the crowded dance floors.

Randy Cook dances at Alma del Tango milonga

Randy Cook dances at a milonga at Alma del Tango

In the Bay Area, Randy has studied with a variety of instructors including Gary Weinberg and Lisette Perelle, Christopher Nassapoulous and Caroline Peattie, Felipe Martinez, and currently, Debbie and John.  “They’re excellent teachers,” he comments.

Learning to follow

In his private lessons with Debbie, Randy is learning to follow because, “I enjoy sitting back and letting someone else do the driving so I can ‘enjoy the scenery.’  Also, knowing how to follow will help me be a better leader by understanding what it’s like to stand on the other side.”

Randy explains: “The follower has more input than many realize. That makes it more of an exchange. The more receptive the leader is, the more the dance is a shared experience. Her energy, what she makes of your lead, becomes a conversation, not a monologue.”

Suggestions for dancing at a milonga

“You don’t need to be an advanced dancer to dance well at a milonga,” advises Randy.  “It’s best to keep it simple, stay in your lane, listen to the music, and hold your partner with a soft and comfortable embrace. Remember that the two of you are also dancing with everyone else in the room, so your job is to harmonize.”

Writer/producer of a tango show

Poster for show at Sonoma County librariesLast year Randy was invited by the Sonoma County Library and Friends of the Library to create a tango performance told through story and dance. He adapted a short story from an Argentine anthology, translated it, and staged it with two couples in the lead roles, with Randy as the storyteller.  Featured dancers included Pam Shreve, Jan Lok, Mirin Lew, Gerry Forcier, Dach Ver and Michael Farmer. The show was performed in five libraries to enthusiastic audiences.

Cast members, tango show at Sonoma County libraries

Cast members Pam Shreve, Randy Cook, Dach Ver and Jan Lok

Randy’s most magical tango experience

“While dancing with a portena in Buenos Aires, the orchestra was playing and she was singing the words in my ears.”

 

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Student of the Month ~ Marty Benson

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Marty BensonDancing tango since:  Marty has been dancing most of his life, primarily swing dance. For him, dancing brings together two of his passions—sports (movement) and music. He had taken some tango classes years ago and came back to it about 14 months ago.

Back story: In May 2012, Marty was blindsided by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. He became paralyzed and was hospitalized for six months, undergoing aggressive treatment. Told he might not walk again, Marty was determined to get through this ordeal and stayed focused on his desire to get back on the dance floor and the ski slopes. After his release from the hospital, he began rehab in early 2013.

“Dance is good therapy,” says Marty. “I still have issues with balance but tango helps.”

Debbie Goodwin agrees:  “Studies have shown Argentine Tango to be therapeutic for all types of physical and emotional conditions. Its multifaceted movement stimulates the brain, improving coordination and balance.”

Never expecting this level of recovery, Marty’s neurologist didn’t think he’d dance or ski again.

Why tango:  For Marty, tango is the most communicative dance between two partners. “There is room for interpretation, you can really work within the structure of the music,” he explains.

About Debbie & John: Marty heard about Alma del Tango while taking swing dance classes at another Marin venue. He attends the Level 1 and 2 tango classes on Wednesday nights.  “Debbie and John break down the patterns very well, in an understandable fashion. Their interactions are fun…they don’t always agree but they work it out in the class.”

He also likes the building itself.  “It’s fun to go there…it’s like a clubhouse with friends to dance with. It furthers the sense of community of Alma Del Tango.”

Anything else?  Marty is the proud owner of a 1978 Cadillac Eldorado.  “1978 was the last year of the really big Caddies – America’s luxury car,” he explains. “In 1979 they began downsizing.  The ’78 still had the full-sized “three body trunk.  It’s like a ship, you don’t drive it you pilot it.”

Last word: Marty’s ultimate ambition is to dance the swango – a fusion of swing and tango. (See examples on YouTube)

Tango dancer Marty Benson with his 1978 Cadillac Eldorado

Marty Benson and his 1978 Cadillac Eldorado with “three body trunk”

 

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NEW! Alma del Tango Dancers

Calling all Dancers – Here is your chance to perform!

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

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

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

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

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

Rehearsal dates:

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

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

 

 

Package is $455/person includes:

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

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

 

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