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Paquita Bernardo… “La Flor de Villa Crespo”

Paquita Bernardo, first professional woman bandoneonistaBy Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

These days, women who play the bandoneón abound in Buenos Aires and around the world. This was not so in the 1920s. But one who did so was Paquita Bernardo. By some accounts she was indeed the very first professional bandoneonista.

The daughter of Spanish immigrants to Argentina, she was famous for playing tango with verve and true porteño style while often wearing a man’s suit and tie.

In 1915, as a teenager, Paquita entered the music conservatory of a woman named Catalina Torres in Buenos Aires, as a pianist. There she met a young bandoneonista named José Servidio, who so impressed her with his ability and the instrument’s sonorous soulfulness, that she switched to the bandoneón. She never looked back. (Servidio, incidentally, went on to a distinguished career as a tango musician on the Buenos Aires scene.)

Problem – she was a girl

Initially the trouble for Paquita was that she was a girl, which could have made her professional advancement an impossibility. (For an interesting novel about just such a situation in turn-of-the-20th-century Buenos Aires, see The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis.)

At the time, women appearing on stage in tango boliches and clubs were thought to be of questionable morals. Playing bandoneón requires the instrumentalist to open and shut the legs, which was deemed entirely inappropriate for women. Paquita persisted, however, and persuaded her father to allow her to pursue her study of the instrument. He acceded to her request, and Paquita, whose talent was so obvious, went on to play with various bands on the Buenos Aires club scene throughout her teen-age years.

A meteoric rise…and fall

In 1921, Paquita founded her own band, Orquesta Paquita, with her brother Arturo on drums and a very young pianist named Osvaldo Pugliese. They got a steady gig at the Bar Dominguez on Corrientes Street, and soon the traffic on Corrientes had to be diverted because of the sizable crowd waiting outside the club to see Paquita and her mates. To be sure, it was not just the novelty of seeing a woman playing the bandoneón that brought them to the club. By now Paquita was a master on the instrument and a star. In 1923, she appeared at a Grand Fiesta of Tango in the Coliseo Theater, a major Buenos Aires venue. It was a monumental event in which hundreds of noted musicians played, and Paquita was the only woman on the bill.   

Her fame rose meteorically. She played constantly through the next few years at most of the principal tango venues in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, clubs and ballrooms alike. She also became a regular in appearances on the newly established radio stations in both capitals.

Such constant appearances can take a toll on performers, and Paquita was no exception. In the fall of 1925, she contracted a difficult cold that turned quickly into pneumonia with other complications. It is thought that the treatment she received was not up to the seriousness of her affliction, and she died on April 14 of that year. She was just short of her twenty-fifth birthday.

Sadly, there are no recordings of Paquita’s playing. She also had talent, though, as a composer of tango, and none other than Carlos Gardel recorded two of her pieces: La enmascarada (“The Masked Woman”) and Soñando (“Dreaming”).

Terence Clarke’s novel about the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, The Splendid City, was published in March.

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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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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.

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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 ~ Veronica Chavarria

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Veronica Chavarriaby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  A relative newcomer to tango, Veronica has been dancing for about a year. In January 2015, while surfing the net she came across a Groupon for tango classes at Alma del Tango. She bought it but didn’t use it until six months later.

Why tango:  A native of Nicaragua, Veronica was exposed to Argentine tango as a young child. She has vivid memories of her grandmother who, each year, threw herself a birthday party. At midnight, all the guests took their shoes off, put a Carlos Gardel album on the record player and danced on the tile floors til the wee hours. That powerful memory has stayed with Veronica and she found herself drawn back to the dance.

Favorite part: “I love the community, the people,” says Veronica. After she had started classes at Alma del Tango she went with a friend to another venue, “but it wasn’t the same. Debbie and John have the recipe,” she says. “Alma del Tango is my happy place.”

What surprised her the most: “You mean other than it being so darn hard?” she laughs. “I had always been in control, as a single mother and in a big corporate job. In tango, I learned that I don’t always have to be in control.  Debbie said, you have to let go…just follow.”

About Debbie and John: Veronica sees them as a really happy couple, “they’re very real which makes them stand out from other couples and makes them more approachable,” she says.  “People can go up to them and ask for help.”

Anything else? Veronica hopes to go to Lady’s Tango Festival in Buenos Aires next March and combine it with a visit to her parents and grandmother who moved back to Nicaragua six years ago.

Last word: Before she felt confident enough to dance at milongas, Veronica decided to volunteer at Alma del Tango and she joined the kitchen crew. “That’s where the fun is! I love it.”

Veronica Chavarria with Maestro Eduardo Saucedo at Alma del Tango in Marin

Veronica enjoys a private lesson with guest artist Eduardo Saucedo

 

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Student of the Month – Kathy Burwell

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Kathy BurwellDancing tango since:  In the fall of 2007, well before she stepped onto a tango dance floor, Kathy booked a flight to Buenos Aires. And that set the course in motion. Early in 2008 she went to see Alma del Tango’s production of “Tango, A Romantic Ritual,” and loved it. In April, she started taking classes with Debbie and John.

Why tango: Kathy confesses it was really her friend’s fantasy to go to Buenos Aires to learn tango.  “I glommed onto that,” she says. While she had taken ballroom dance classes, she was partial to latin dances.

Favorite part: “It’s the soul of Argentine tango,” says Kathy. She likes the movement of salsa but finds the music repetitive. “Tango is rich, it goes deeper.”

Back story: Kathy met her soon-to-be-husband, Mark Lewis, at her first tangoIMG_1248
class. In 2011, the pair performed a choreographed dance in Alma del Tango’s student production, “All About Tango.”

After the show, they took a hiatus from tango. Now Kathy is back in class (unfortunately, Mark’s schedule doesn’t permit him to join her). What brought her back? “It took some time for me to realize that I wanted to pursue the dance. I had to get clear about what my intention was and once I understood that it was not to coerce or manipulate Mark to go back, I could do it. And he’s fine with it,” she says with a warm smile.

About Debbie & John: “They have soul,” says Kathy. “They’re excellent at building foundational skills. They do what seems like rudimentary exercises…and then when they perform at the end of class, your jaw drops.”

Anything else?  Kathy came back to tango to satisfy her own inner tanguera.  “Now I don’t take any other forms of dance because I can’t imagine dancing anything but tango,” she says.

Last word: Kathy and Mark are getting married in September. And yes, they’ll dance a tango at the wedding.

Read Kathy and Mark’s Tango Love Bird story

 

 

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Student of the Month — Maria Perez

by Lanny Udell

Maria Perez, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: When it comes to dance, Maria has done it all. As a child, she studied ballet, tap and jazz, and she was on her high school’s jazz team. While in college, she became an exotic dancer to help pay her tuition. Now, some eight years later she still performs. Tango came into her life nearly two years ago.

Why tango: “I’ve been a dancer my whole life and when I saw tango I said oooh, I want to do that. It’s so beautiful and passionate,” says Maria.

Favorite part: Maria says tango is the most challenging dance she’s ever had to learn. Why? For one thing, she doesn’t like to follow, she likes to be in charge of the dance. Also, “there are very slight nuances in the cues, and subtleties which I’m learning. It’s more specific in the details than most dances,” she explains. “I’m glad nobody told me before I started that this dance was the hardest to learn or I might not have tried it.”

About Debbie & John: Maria is impressed by Debbie and John’s incredible arrangement in marriage and work. She sees their different skill sets–Debbie is the driver and John is very analytical. “I so enjoy watching them bring their dynamics to the dance floor and to their teaching. Their love for each other comes through in their dancing.”

What surprised her about tango: “I didn’t know we shouldn’t make eye contact. That surprised me but I appreciate it now,” she observes.

Alma del Tango student Maria Perez and her dog.

Maria and her pooch

Anything else? In addition to her career as an exotic dancer she has a degree in dog psychology and owns a dog walking and training business. She is also a Reiki practitioner.

Last Word: Maria is partnering with Sergio Orvalles in Alma del Tango’s December 4th student performance of Moment to Moment. Be sure to reserve your tickets!

Exotic dancer, tango dancer

Maria, exotic dancer

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Student of the Month – Sergio Orvalles

by Lanny Udell

Servio Ovalles, Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: Learning tango was something Sergio wanted to do, but he had put it on the back burner.  Then, last summer, while on a trip to Argentina for his school (he teaches Spanish at Branson), Sergio took some classes and was hooked. He called the Performing Arts Director at Branson and asked her to find him a tango studio. She directed him to Alma del Tango.

Why tango: Sergio has always loved dancing — he’s done salsa, hip hop and banda, which he describes as a fusion of lambada and polka.  He also has been very active in athletics, especially bike racing and running.

“But as I get older, my body doesn’t respond in the same way,” he explains, so he looked for another way to use his energy. “Tango can be athletic, sensual and fun.”

Favorite part: “What resonates with me is the more modern aspects — the turns and twists remind me of banda.”  He listens to tango music every chance he gets, especially while driving to LA to visit his family. “I’m still learning to follow the beat.”

Servio Orvalles in Buenos Aires with tango teachers.

Sergio in Buenos Aires, pictured with his tango teachers.

“I don’t want to be a robotic dancer who just does steps, that ruins the fluidity of it,” says Sergio, who is proud to announce he was just promoted to Level 2!

About Debbie and John: “I like their methodology…they provide the scaffolding,” Sergio says. He describes their classes as very participatory, not just someone lecturing at you. “They’re good at explaining, showing and providing feedback.” He especially likes that they’re passionate about what they do.

Anything else? Sergio calls learning tango a humbling experience. “I had to deprogram my body. A lot of the dances I do have hip movement so tango is different from what I was used to.”

Last Word: Sergio looks forward to tango as a lifelong pursuit. “I hope to emulate people in the studio who continue to find the fun and the passion.”

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New Bay Area Tango Company
Makes its Debut in May

Presenting the Debbie Goodwin Dance Company

Headshot of Debbie Goodwin, director/choreographer, Debbie Goodwin Dance Company

Debbie Goodwin, director/choreographer

The newly formed Debbie Goodwin Dance Company will perform at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 22. The Company is the culmination of director Debbie Goodwin’s 20 years of performances, choreography, teaching and collaboration within the Bay Area tango community.

The work being presented in May, “Me Llamo Tango” (My Name is Tango), explores the soul of tango—more than just a lover’s tryst, it seeks to transform the perception of tango from the cliché, rose-in-the-mouth dance of sexual tension and passion. In this work, the company manifests tango as the embodiment of the human condition in the broadest sense, with the particular cultural perspective of traditional Argentine culture.

Professonal cast members & guest artist
In addition to Ms. Goodwin, professional members of the company include John Campbell, Pier Voulkos, Daniel Peters, Erin Malley, Doruk Golcu, Rose Vierling and Anton Koukareko.

Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell, tango dancers, perform in Me Llamo Tango in the San Francisco International Arts Festival

Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell will perform in Me Llamo Tango

Internationally known tango artist Eduardo Saucedo from Buenos Aires, Argentina will perform with the DGDC cast.

In addition, Alma del Tango advanced students Jasmine Worrell and Jose Orellana have joined the company as apprentices.

“When casting the company I looked for dancers with several qualities. Of course they had to be talented, but equally important, they had to be great human beings and inspiring to work with,” says Debbie. “We also have a range of ages, from 35 to 65, and a variety of shapes and sizes. Each member and couple brings their unique style and qualities to the company.”

The musical score for “Me Llamo Tango” will be performed by Seth Asarnow y Su Sexteto Tipico, one of the premiere orchestras in the United States dedicated to preserving the authentic style of Golden Age tango.

Seth Asarnow y Su SextetoTipico

Seth Asarnow y Su Sexteto Tipico
Photo by Peter Ivory

Debbie Goodwin Dance Company is sponsored by the Marin-based non-profit, Alma del Tango.

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Student of the Month – MaryBeth Neill

by Lanny Udell

MaryBeth Neill in a big red hatDancing tango since:  MaryBeth discovered tango about 4 years ago.  “I went  to a class with a friend thinking I’d just observe,” she recalls.  But she brought shoes along…just in case.

Why tango:  The mystery of the dance intrigued her … trying to figure out what the instructors were doing and how they could move so smoothly when it was improvised.  How does the follower know what to do?  She had been going to Monroe Hall in Sonoma County for all kinds of dancing. Then one night the DJ played some tango music and her friend tried leading her in ochos, but she couldn’t figure out what to do.  That’s when she started taking classes to learn this mysterious dance.

Favorite part:  When asked this question MaryBeth recites a quote from Mirabai:MaryBeth Neill dances at a milongs

Tango is the union of beings, even if just for a moment. It is the breath that you take as one when the music lifts you out of the mundane and carries you to another realm.

She finds tango meditative, “there’s a stillness…it’s almost zen,” says MaryBeth. And then, of course, there are the shoes and the clothes. During a trip to Buenos Aires in 2012 she couldn’t resist those gorgeous Comme Il Faut shoes. “I bought 6 pairs,” she admits.

About Debbie & John: MaryBeth attends their Monday night Level 3 and 4 classes at Alma del Tango. “They’re amazing, I love their interaction,” she says.  In 2012, MaryBeth suffered a broken hip and was unable to dance for 8 months. When she’d healed, she took a private lesson with John to test the hip…”he was very gracious and helpful,” she says. “And Debbie is always so welcoming.  When she offers corrections she makes it very equal (leader and follower) because in tango, it’s about both of us.”

Anything else?  A nurse, MaryBeth confesses to doing the tango walk down the hospital hallways, and she’ll sneak in a few boleos in the nurse’s station when nobody’s watching. “I need 8 days a week so I can go to more milongas,” says the tanguera, “I have more clothes and shoes than there are milongas!”

Pedicure in Buenos Aires

Pampering her feet after dancing all day and all night in Buenos Aires

Tango dancer MaryBeth Neill with nurses in Havana, Cuba

MaryBeth visited a surgery center on a trip to Havana, Cuba in 2012

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