Tag Archives | alma del tango

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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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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Adriana Varela – From rock star to tango singer

Tango singer Adriana VarelaBy Terence Clarke,  author,  journalist and Alma del Tango board member

Adriana Varela may not be for everyone. Her voice is not pretty. It seldom floats and will not ease you into dreamland. But I became a fan of her voice the moment I first heard it. I feel that, if you want to hear how Buenos Aires can sound when portrayed in song, you should go to Adriana Varela and listen closely.

Varela has been a best-selling recording artist of tango since the early 1990s. Starting out as a rock singer, she paid little attention to the at-that-time accepted notion, of traditional tangos of the 1930s through 50s being those most worth listening to. So…large string and bandoneón sections playing lyrical, even romantic, versions of tangos ad nauseum. They’re all very pretty, but we dance to them over and over at the milongas, no matter where the particular milonga may be held…in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, London, Istanbul, or wherever.

The voice of Buenos Aires

Varela’s voice, however, is pure porteño, which is to say, Buenos Aires!…rough, direct, and filled with irony, often humorous, often angry. When you walk down almost any street in that city, you hear this voice and that language. It is recognizable to anyone who has enough Spanish to understand what is being said, and especially how it is being said. There is no other accent in the Spanish language quite like it.

Early in her singing career, Varela made the acquaintance of the great Roberto Goyeneche. By now internationally famous, his voice was anything but soft and pleasing. When you hear it, you know that this man, too, knows the streets of Buenos Aires’s massive urban landscape and the difficulties it can present.

The circumstances of their first meeting have become famous. Varela was singing in a Buenos Aires club one evening, and she spotted Goyeneche sitting at the bar. It was known that he did not care for female tango singers, and he spent her entire set silently nursing the whiskey before him, his back turned to the stage. At the end of her set, beset by nerves, Varela stepped down from the bandstand and approached the great man. When Goyeneche realized that the young woman was trying to get his attention, he turned to her and, without provocation, said, “Che piba, (Hey, girl) you’ve got it!” From then on, they were fast friends.

For an example of Varela’s work, watch her studio performance of Mano a Mano (“Hand in Hand.”) It’s a tough-minded tango, one of Carlos Gardel’s greatest. The lyrics tell of the crazy love the speaker has for a very high-spirited young woman he knows, although one with questionable morals. She is sought after by the worst of the local two-bit gangsters…and she often gives into them. But the speaker loves her no matter what. As the singer puts it in the last verse:

“Y mañana, cuando seas descolado mueble viejo

y no tengas esperanzas en el pobre corazón,

si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo,

acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo

p’ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la occasion.”

Sadly, I can’t translate the lyrics to include the rhymes they contain, which are terrific. But here’s the essence of what they say:

“And tomorrow, when you’re broken down, an old piece of furniture,

and there is no hope in your poor heart,

if you need a hand, if you need some advice,

remember this friend here who would risk his skin

to help you any way he can, whenever you need it.”

 

The Spanish translation of Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is currently seeking publication in South America.

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Carlos Gardel y Luigi Pirandello at the Cafe Tortoni

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

 

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos AiresTango is the blood with which Buenos Aires pulses, and great writing adds to that blood. The Café Tortoni has been a place for both, sometimes separately, sometimes in concert with each other.

One of the most famous meetings here took place in 1933 between the Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello and the legendary tango composer and singer Carlos Gardel. Pirandello, the author of Six Characters In Search Of An Author, and many other plays, was an intellectual.

One need only look at the sheer bulk of the work he produced to realize that this was a serious man, and according to eyewitness reports from the Tortoni on that evening, he was also distant and cheerless. He was being feted at the café by the local literati when the celebrated Gardel arrived.

Close up of tango singer Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel

Gardel was a very different sort of fellow. Like Pirandello, a man of the theater, but he was a performer, not a writer. He arrived in a Packard limousine dressed in his best, wearing one of the signature fedora hats that were specially made for him in London. He was accompanied by two of his guitarists, and, taking the three chairs immediately in front of the Italian playwright, they sat down and performed several of Gardel’s most popular tangos.

The hundreds of onlookers in the cafe burst into great, spontaneous applause upon the completion of each number, while Pirandello looked on, apparently bored.

When Gardel was finished, he grabbed Pirandello’s hand, shook it with great enthusiasm, and waved his guitarists out the door. The Packard disappeared into the night.

After the applause and shouting died down, Pirandello turned to one of the others at his table and asked, “Who was that?”

“Well, señor,” the man replied, a little nonplussed by the question. “It was Gardel!”

“Who’s he?”

“The greatest performer of tango in the world!”

“Ah!” Pirandello sighed. He sat back in his chair, waving a languid hand before his face. “Bravo,” he whispered.

Luckily, it is Gardel’s spirit, and not Pirandello’s, that breathes in the Café Tortoni. Perhaps the finest tribute to the place can be found in the words of the celebrated Argentine writer José Gobello, who observed that you can find in the Café Tortoni the entire city of Buenos Aires.

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires, interior

The legendary Cafe Tortoni

If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires, don’t miss this landmark cafe. Here’s a preview of what awaits you at Cafe Tortoni.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, will be published on February 1, 2019

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Student of the Month ~ Erinn Loveland

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Erinn Lovelandby Lanny Udell

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

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

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

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

Chris Allis leads Kira

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

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

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

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

Alma del Tango students practice tango

Erinn & Chris Allis practicing their tango

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Who was Max Glücksmann and how did he influence tango? Part 2

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

Argentine tango singer, Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel, signed to an early recording contract by Max Glücksmann.

 

We learned last month about the beginnings of the Argentine recording and film industries, principally through the efforts of Max Glücksmann. Eventually he was to build those industries into a business powerhouse. But Glücksmann also had extraordinary taste when it came to popular music, and he knew he was onto something when he first heard the singing voice of Carlos Gardel.

A former street singer, Gardel had made an early reputation as half of the Razzani-Gardel duo that was popular on the Buenos Aires music scene before and during World War I. Eventually the two split up, and Gardel continued on as a single, signed to an early recording contract by Max Glücksmann. Gardel was still a criollo singer whose music had a country flavor heavily influenced by the music of the Argentine pampas and the gauchos.

But he was an urban kid.

As in many great cities, there were populations in Buenos Aires that had been forced to emigrate from other countries by war or economic difficulties. There was chaotic urban noise and emotional dissociation, the alienation that comes from the break-up of families, the loss of community and the anger and rage that can result.

Gardel was no stranger to this, and his first solo recording, in 1917, was a tango entitled “Mi noche triste,” about a man sitting alone in his Buenos Aires room, crushed because his lover has just left him.

The first such recording ever made

Tango had existed for years before this, but more as a folkloric music and country dance. What Gardel was singing was urban, new, and instantly popular. Gardel went on to become the biggest-selling music star in the Spanish-speaking world, an international phenomenon of enormous proportions.

Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires

Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore located in Glucksmann’s former “special” concert theater in Buenos Aires.

On October 12, 1924, Gardel made one of the first live radio broadcasts to be produced from the studio of “Lo Grand Splendid,” Glücksmann’s new headquarters housed on the upper floor of his new “splendid” concert theater. (Now transformed into the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen, the Ateneo Grand Splendid is located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in Buenos Aires.)

Gardel became a movie star so well thought of by Hollywood that by 1934 he was being prepared by Paramount Studios to become the next Maurice Chevalier. On March 5, 1934, Glücksmann arranged for a short wave radio hook-up, broadcast by Radio Splendid in Argentina –- from a studio in the Grand Splendid — and NBC in the United States.

The artists were Carlos Gardel and his long-time guitarists Guillermo Desiderio Barbieri and Angel Domingo Riverol. This occasion was memorable for a unique reason, since in fact Gardel was singing in New York while the guitarists were playing in Buenos Aires. It was one of the first such international broadcasts ever made.

Glücksmann had essentially gained control of the Argentine record industry. He did it while nonetheless becoming a hero to musicians through his practice of paying them royalties. He was the first in Argentina to suggest this, and in so doing made Carlos Gardel a world-class star and a multi-millionaire. Other Argentine musicians may not have climbed to Gardel’s heights of fame, but they all benefited from Glücksmann’s careful protection of their artistic rights.

Max Glücksmann died on October 20, 1946.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the main character, will be published in January 2019. A translation to Spanish by the noted Chilean novelist Jaime Collyer will appear later in the year.

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Student of the Month ~ Philip Benson

Alma del Tango Student of the month Philip Bensonby Lanny Udell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Benson partners Erinn Loveland at Alma del Tango

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

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

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

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Slip on your tango shoes and join the celebration…

22 years of Alma del Tango in Marin and 11 years in San Anselmo

Dance Studio sign Alma del Tango

by Lanny Udell

Time flies when you’re busy dancing, teaching and building a community around Argentine Tango. Just ask Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell.

This month they are celebrating 22 years of Alma del Tango, and 11 years in San Anselmo. Join the festivities on Friday, September 28,  with a class, milonga, performance (by them) and live music by Seth Asarnow y su Sexteto Tipico. .

How it all began
You may know the story of how John and Debbie met at Stanford Tango Week back in 1996. It was love at first cabeceo, and since then the pair has been devoting their lives to each other and to the dance that brought them together so many years ago.

Read their story here, in our June 2013 Tango Lovebirds article

Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell, tango dancers

Debbie & John in 2001

At the time they met, Debbie was working on an undergraduate degree in dance and teaching in Auburn, CA. John began commuting from Marin on weekends to be with her and they formed Alma del Tango as an umbrella for their tango activities. In 1997 they started going to Buenos Aires to study with the masters for a month each year.

In addition to Auburn, Debbie taught in Sacramento, Davis and Nevada City. While deciding on her career path, she realized that she was fascinated by the cultural aspect of social dances. Ergo, the name of their nonprofit became Social Dance Cultures with Alma del Tango as one of several programs under its auspices.

Dipping their tango toes into the Bay Area
Every other weekend, the couple went into San Francisco to dance and John introduced Debbie to the local tango community. They frequented the Club Verdi, Broadway, and the Golden Gate Yacht Club. After seven years of commuting, Debbie and John settled in Marin together. John was teaching tango classes through Tam Community Education at the time. Among his first students were Alex and Karina Levin.

“John was one of Alex’s and my first tango teachers,” says Karina. “We first took classes with him in 1999-2000, and later we studied with Debbie and John. They played a dramatic role in our development as tango dancers.”

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in Marin

Alex and Karina Levin 

When Karina’s life dramatically changed in 2013 with the untimely death of Alex,

“Debbie and John were the ones who embraced me and carried me through the pain. They are not only my tango teachers, they are my dear friends.”

Time out…briefly

After they married, Debbie and John took a break from teaching to concentrate on artistic endeavors. But it didn’t last long. In 2004, Debbie founded Tango Con*Fusión, the all women professional dance company. But the urge to teach grew too strong to resist, and in 2007 they started a class at Drake High, which long-time student Boyer Cole describes as “a hot night in the cafeteria with 57 students on a concrete floor.”

Dart and Dottye Rinefort got their first taste of tango the following year. “2008 marked the start of our journey into the world of Argentine Tango with John and Debbie. It was in a small, windowless room at Drake High School, filled with faces eager to learn this challenging dance. Many of those faces have continued on this journey with us and are among our treasured tango family,” says Dottye.

Dottye & Dart Rinefort at Alma del Tango in San Anselmo

Dottye & Dart Rinefort greet guests at the milonga

Dart adds: “To a non-dancer, John and Debbie’s step-by-step approach along with tons of patience and encouragement helped turn an incredibly formidable dance into an enjoyable and rewarding experience. For us, they have brought to life the rich history, music, passion and improvisational possibilities of tango.”

Building community in San Anselmo
Driven by the desire to build a tango community in Marin, Debbie and John began searching for a venue. At that point they were teaching privates in the living room of their home. They rolled up the rugs and moved out the furniture. Clearly, a studio was needed!

When they found the current space in the Knights of Columbus hall, they started renting by the hour. “I got tired of carrying in the sound equipment for every class,” John says, so they decided to rent it on a permanent basis as the home of Alma del Tango.

“We wanted a studio where people who wanted to dance well could learn and grow,” says Debbie, “and we wanted to offer programs that would enhance their experience as a community, including classes for all levels, practicas, milongas, performances, student productions and guest artists.”

To transform the space to match their vision, they had the stage built and added stage curtains. John installed video equipment, lighting and sound equipment, turning the bare bones dance hall into a tango center, the only one in Marin.

“We put a lot of time into designing the classes and making students aware of the historical context of the dance,” explains Debbie. “At the same time, we want to be cutting edge, which is why we continue to study the new developments of the dance and have visiting teachers as well.” 

Tango maestro Eduardo Saucedo teaching at Alma del Tango in Marin

Eduardo Saucedo, guest artist in residence for the month of August

Deborah Loft, a long-time supporter says:

“Over the many years I have been studying tango with Debbie and John, I have seen them go from weekly classes in a generic space at Drake High, to building a community with our own studio, stage and boutique; several classes a week (sometimes with visiting dancers from Argentina), monthly milongas (often with live music), and performances. What an accomplishment! This has taken great dedication on their part, and I am so grateful that we have these resources right here in San Anselmo.”

Philip Benson became a regular at Alma del Tango in May of this year. “Alma del Tango is the jewel of Marin for Argentine Tango students and dancers, he says. “John Campbell and Debbie Goodwin are superb instructors and hosts. They have created a warm, encouraging environment in which to learn, dance and connect with others who have an interest in or passion for this unique form of communication and connection. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful community.”

Argentine tango dancers Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell

For Debbie and John, teaching and performing together is so fulfilling

For Debbie and John, the years of dancing and teaching together have been fulfilling. “Not a week goes by that I don’t learn more about teaching and gain a new appreciation of movement and helping people,” says John. “I never thought I’d have a second career as a dancer!”

Alma del Tango gave  Debbie a place to pursue her creative work and to have community. “Especially with the kids away,” she says, “I love having my tango family around.”

“John and I really enjoy teaching together, that’s why I’m so happy to be back teaching the full program since recovering from my knee injury.”

Reflecting on her experience at Alma del Tango, student Errin Loveland says:

“I came to ADT in February of this year at a friend’s invitation. I had no dance experience of any kind, though I was open to whatever I encountered. I felt welcomed immediately as Debbie and John have created a warm space for those that are absolute newbies. Their own love of tango shines through, and they are eager to share what they know both technically and around the music and history of Argentine Tango. Debbie and John encourage a community atmosphere that supports learning what can be a very challenging dance. I look forward to attending for years to come. There is so much more to learn and explore.”

Tango dancers Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell

Debbie and John invite you to join their anniversary celebration at a class, milonga and performance, September 28 at Alma del Tango. Live music by Seth Asarnow y su Sexteto Tipico.

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