Tag Archives | alma del tango

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

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Eduardo Saucedo is Alma del Tango Artist-In-Residence during August

Eduardo Saucedo, Alma del Tango Artist in ResidenceCome study with the Maestro!

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

The first time I ever saw Eduardo Saucedo dance was in a show at the Confitería Ideal in Buenos Aires, some years ago. He had written and choreographed the piece, and his role was that of The Wolf in a tango version of the fairy tale “Red Riding Hood.”

Eduardo paced about the stage, heavily made up in wolfish costume, his eyes wild, his voice growling, even terrifying. Above all, he danced with remarkable strength and bearing, given the rich comedy in the role he was playing.

It was marvelous!

Students and devotees of Alma Del Tango have a remarkable opportunity to study with Eduardo as he will be the artist-in-residence for the entire month of August. Eduardo is from Buenos Aires and has long been recognized for his love of and passion for the dance. His teaching, always creative, is in the same moment eminently practical. He begins with the authentic tango embrace and goes from there. He always observes the traditions of tango, while at the same time bringing fresh innovation even to the simplest of movements. His classes are also noted for their humor. Studying with Eduardo is demanding…and a lot of fun.

An internationally celebrated artist

Eduardo has been involved with some of the most important tango events internationally. Most notably he has for many years been an invited teacher and performer at the famous CITA Festival, held every year in Buenos Aires. In the United States, he has performed and taught at Nora’s Tango Week in San Francisco, performed with the Debbie Goodwin Dance Company in their show, Me Llamo Tango, and the Portland Tango Festival, to mention a few.

He has also performed at some of the key tango venues in Buenos Aires, including Salon Canning, Almagro, the legendary Confitería Ideal, and, one of my favorites, El Viejo Correo.

No stranger to video and film

Eduardo appeared in the National Geographic series Consequencias in 2010. Co-produced with Fox Telecolombia, the series was an attempt to educate viewers about contemporary issues, political and otherwise, in Latin America. He is also prominently featured in a documentary titled My First Tango by the German filmmaker Judith Schwyter, which was released in 2013.

The film, with English subtitles, gives you a close-up view of the tango dance scene in Buenos Aires, and intersperses that with footage of Eduardo giving a young woman her very first tango lesson. The lesson finishes with, to her great delight, an entire tango in the arms of the master. The film gives you a good idea of what a careful and compassionate teacher Eduardo is. Come experience that for yourself!

This August marks his fourth time as Artist in Residence at Alma del Tango. Teaching with him will be the women of Tango Con*Fusión, featuring Debbie Goodwin on Friday nights. Following the Friday night classes Eduardo will co-host a practica with Debbie and John, and on the fourth Friday, he and Debbie will perform during La Milonga de San Anselmo.

To book a private with Eduardo speak to Kikki when you come to class or contact info@almadeltango.org.

Watch Eduardo dance at Nora’s Tango Week
Watch the documentary, My First Tango (It’s delightful!)

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, will be published next year.

Read full story · Comments are closed

A rare opportunity! Dance to the music of Pablo Estigarribia and Adrian Jost at our May 25 milonga.

Tango pianist Pablo Estigarribia and bandeonist Adrian Jost

Pablo Estigarribia & Adrian Jost perform at Alma del Tango’s milonga on May 25

With special thanks to Alma del Tango’s angel, Deborah Loft.

Widely recognized as one of the best tango musicians of his generation, Pablo Estigarribia is doing a Bay Area tour with bandoneonist Adrian Jost of Trio Garufa, and we’re fortunate to have them for a performance at Alma del Tango.

A classically trained virtuoso pianist and jazz lover, Pablo discovered tango in 2005. He has studied, composed, arranged, and performed with such legendary musicians as Emilio Balcarce, Horacio Cabarcos, Maria Graña and Victor Lavallen. Estigarribia was awarded the prestigious Gardel Prize in 2015 for Best Tango Recording by a New Artist.

Adrian is well known to the Bay Area tango community. He first studied the accordion and bayan with the best teachers in his native Switzerland. Upon coming to the U.S. to pursue his master’s degree at Northwestern University, he discovered Argentine tango and made the transition to the bandoneon. In 2001, he co-founded Trio Garufa, a favorite at Alma del Tango milongas.

“We are thrilled to present the duo at our May milonga where they will perform some concert pieces as well as classics for dancing,” says Debbie Goodwin. “Our own Christianna Valentina will sing with the two master musicians. It promises to be a stellar evening at Alma del Tango!” 

Made possible by a gift from Deborah Loft

Deborah Loft, Tango dancer

Deborah Loft, Alma del Tango angel

In order to bring you top musicians and guest teachers, Alma del Tango, a nonprofit, counts on support from our community. Our long-time friend, student and supporter, Deborah Loft, has contributed to make this event possible.

Deborah has been dancing tango for about 11 years and continues to enjoy everything that Alma del Tango offers.  “It’s amazing how Debbie and John have shaped a studio and theater with classes, practicas, milongas, performances and guest Argentine teachers and performers,” she says.

“I try never to take it for granted and make the most of it,” says Deborah. “I’m lucky I live in San Anselmo, but if I were living anywhere else in the North Bay I would take advantage of it.”

Contributing her creative skills

She deeply appreciates the importance of the arts and community and does everything in her power to be supportive of our projects.”  Debbie Goodwin

Deborah supports Alma del Tango in more ways than financial. An art historian by profession, she also has a background in theater and film. Her talents include costuming and make-up consulting. She has worked on two independent feature films and designed costumes for College of Marin theatrical productions.

She has consulted on Alma del Tango student productions and performed in several as well. You may have seen her portrayal of Maurice Le Beau in Tango Tales (2012). For that role she invented her character’s back story and encouraged other cast members to do the same in order to better understand the period and characters they were portraying. In 2013, she appeared as the novelist in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story.

Deborah Loft portrays male tango dancer Maurice LeBeau in Alma del Tango student production

Deborah Loft as Maurice Le Beau in “Tango Tales”

Deborah also likes to support Tango Con*Fusion.  “It’s an all-women dance troupe run by women; they are not limited by gender in a dance that is strongly gender-based,” she explains.

“Deborah has been our Alma del Tango angel for many years — always ready to help out not only financially but with her extensive talents and knowledge,” says Debbie Goodwin. “We are most grateful to Deborah for making it possible for us to bring Pablo and Adrian to our San Anselmo studio.”

Learn more about our guest artists:
Pablo Estigarribia
Adrian Jost

Read full story · Comments are closed

Sexteto Milonguero: Tango in the Present Moment

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

Javier Di Ciriaco of Sexteto Milonguero, Buenos Aires tango musician

Javier Di Ciriaco, founder of Sexteto Milonguero

For those of us outside Buenos Aires (I live in San Francisco) tango is heard principally through the thousands of historic recordings made during the last 80 years. If this sea of music were to be believed, you’d think that these old arrangements were the only ones that exist. We dance to them over and over again.

But there is a thriving community of contemporary tango in Buenos Aires, peopled by actual living musicians, who are writing new tangos and re-arranging the old ones in innovative ways that literally re-shape the form. Stellar artists like Cristóbal Repetto, María Volonté, Daniel Melingo, Adriana Varela and Caracol are not only bringing tango to vibrant life again, but are expanding its territory in innumerable ways.

 Sexteto Milonguero, founded and fronted by singer Javier Di Ciriaco, is one of those groups. Just completing a U.S. tour, they appeared recently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Di Ciriaco is to the manner born. He has no formal training as a singer. Rather he describes growing up in Argentina in a musical family (his father was a singer), and those occasions of parillas (barbecues), backyard celebrations, weddings and other family gatherings during which music performance by attendees is de rigueur.

This is a common occurrence in Argentine celebrations no matter where in the country you may be. Di Ciriaco describes these events, and how as a child he too would be expected to participate. It was there that he picked up his formidable singing chops.

Highly original and inventive

The sextet is made up of a bandoneonista, two violinists, a pianist, a bassist and Di Ciriaco himself, who also lends his guitar to the musical mix. One thing that makes this band so special is that these are truly professional young musicians whose abilities run the gamut from very tight playing and authoritative knowledge of the music at hand to a sense of fun and humorous drive that makes the music highly unusual in its originality. This is not a combination heard much outside Buenos Aires. 

There was just one solo performance during the concert, and it was significant. The great tango “El día que me quieras” (“The Day You Love Me”) with music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera was recorded in 1934. It was Gardel who had previously transformed tango from a country and urban Buenos Aires street music into the concert stage and recording phenomenon that eventually resulted. His recording of this song was the highest point of his astonishing stage and film career. (He died in a plane crash on June 24, 1935, in Medellín, Colombia.)

Di Ciriaco took up his guitar and sang this song alone, without the band. As with so many of the sexteto’s numbers, this version of the song was immediately recognizable. But it was also so inventive that it gave the piece a much more hip modernity and soul than I have heard in all the previous recordings, with the exception of Gardel’s own. Di Ciriaco’s version was a surprise, and a wonder. 

For fine examples of Sexteto Milonguero’s rich arrangements and featured solos by its artists, look for their recordings on Amazon Music and Apple iTunes. You can also find them at http://www.sextetomilonguero.com.ar

Terence Clarke is co-founder and director of publishing at Astor & Lenox. His latest book is a story collection titled New York.

 

 

 

Read full story · Comments are closed

The Gods of Tango, a novel by Carolina De Robertis

Book cover, The Gods of TangoReviewed by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Carolina De Robertis is a novelist living in the United States and writing primarily in English. She is of Uruguayan roots, however, and has written provocatively about characters whose entire consciousness derives from the land, the traditions and the politics of Uruguay and Argentina. Her latest novel is The Gods of Tango, published by Knopf.

In 1913, 17 year old Leda arrives by ship in Buenos Aires, from Italy, ostensibly to be greeted by her new husband Dante. Once on shore, she learns that Dante has been killed in a street battle between syndicalists and the police.

With only the clothes on her back and a single trunk containing her things, a little money, and the violin that her cherished father gave her, Leda moves into a conventillo named La Rete, in the poor wharf-side neighborhood of La Boca. Conventillos basically were tenements, some set up by the Argentine government, others privately run, to house the thousands of immigrants pouring into Buenos Aires during the first years of the twentieth century.

A polyglot of cultures

The conditions were uniformly terrible, with many people crowded into warrens of single rooms. The conventillo would often have a central patio with a source of water for cooking and washing, which would be the gathering place for the tenants. These sprawling edifices housed people from all over the world, and must have been a polyglot confusion of languages, cultures, manners of dress and, most principally for Leda’s purposes, music.

She hears her first tango in La Rete and is immediately smitten by it. She has never even imagined such rhythmic intensity, or such soulful intent and passion, in any of the music she has ever heard. She can play her father’s violin (although at first her efforts are insubstantial), and she determines to master the tango.

There is, however, a problem.

Tango in 1913 Buenos Aires is the domain of men, and men alone. The only women involved are those who work in the many boliche cafes and bordellos of Buenos Aires, and the duties of those women have little to do with music. The very idea of a woman playing tango is ridiculous to the men.

Leda comes to understand this quickly. Wrapping her breasts to diminish their presence, getting her hair cut in the style of a man, and dressing in her deceased husband’s clothes, Leda leaves the conventillo and takes to the Buenos Aires streets, now calling herself Dante, after her husband. She does so with violin in hand.

Leda remains so disguised for the rest of the novel, and she becomes remarkably well known as a musician. Working at first in the poorest of little boliches, she hones her talent until she becomes one of the best tango violinists on the Buenos Aires scene. But she does so as a man, and the disguise—and what it teaches her about the privileges that men enjoy that are forbidden to women—becomes the very vehicle for her rise to tango eminence.

The ways De Robertis presents the confusions that arise for Dante, her fellow musicians, and her lovers, is one of the real innovations of this novel. De Robertis writes with considerable passion and beauty about the kinds of sex that Leda finds and, of course, the kinds of love that she finds.

For anyone who cares about the origins of tango, this novel is a fine addition to the history of that soulful music in its Rio de La Plata birthplace. Find The Gods of Tango and Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Notorious Dream of Jesús Lázaro, at Amazon Smile. A portion of your purchase benefits Alma del Tango.

 

Read full story · Comments are closed

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!”

Read full story · Comments are closed

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

Read full story · Comments are closed