Tag Archives | Milonga

Students of the Month ~ Shana Rassner-Gann & Conrad Gann

Students of the Month Shana & Conradby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Shana and Conrad started their tango adventure a year and a half ago.  She had been a modern dancer for 20 years and has a graduate degree in dance movement therapy and also in psychology. Both enjoy Contact Improvisation, a form of contemporary dance with two people.

Why tango:  Conrad says he had a vision of traveling around the world dancing tango. He and Shana had the desire to travel but not just as tourists. They thought that a couple of privates with John would be all they’d need. Ha! (The three of us had a good laugh over that.)

“We discovered we have a lifetime of learning ahead of us,” says Shana.

They started taking classes in the East Bay, then found Alma del Tango online. “We were slow learners, we were scared to go to class,” says Shana. So they started taking privates with John. After a year, they worked up the courage to go to the Level 2/3 class on Friday night.

Favorite part: Conrad jokingly says it’s the food. Getting serious, he says: “When we figure things out it’s very rewarding.” Shana likes tango because it’s an alternative way to connect.  “It’s so delicious to come together and share. We’re on the same level–we’re bad together.”

About Debbie & John: “We think they’re great, we love watching them dance,” the couple agrees. “John is really smart in the way he teaches,” says Conrad. “He boils it down in a constructive way to think about it that works for me.” Shana adds, “I feel like we found a teacher not just in dance but in life. He teaches with heart. He understood right away that we want to create a beautiful connection. Debbie is very warm and welcoming, and a beautiful dancer.” They find the Friday night mini tandas with Debbie and John very helpful.

What surprised them: “Tango is difficult, I never suspected it would be so complex,” says Shana.  “It will be something I’m working on for the rest of my life. I’m also surprised it’s grabbed both of our joint inspiration.”  

Next step – being comfortable at milongas in San Anselmo, then maybe the Boulder Tango Festival…and dancing tango in Paris!

 

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What I Learned from Gavito

By Terry Clarke, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Carlos Gavito, world famous tango dancerI believe it was in the Russian Samovar, a restaurant on West Fifty-second Street in New York City, that Carlos Gavito  placed a hand to his forehead, stared down into his drink (some sort of whisky concoction that was colored red and pink, and perhaps even had a little paper umbrella in it), and offered his opinion.

At first, I thought it was a sad observation, an effort at covering over the comedy of what he had just seen. As it turned out, though, Gavito was in the first moment of an offer to me that changed my understanding of tango and milonga. I would leave New York a year later with knowledge that has stayed with me ever since.

Gavito was one of the best-known tango dancers of his generation. Born in 1942 in Buenos Aires, he was noted for perhaps the most svelte dancing style anyone had ever seen. When he moved, you watched him. He had many wonderful partners throughout his stellar career…extraordinary women all of them. But really, you watched him. He was world famous, the lead dancer among that group of performers who toured the world with Forever Tango in the 1990s.

That evening, we had been sitting together at the bar. It was 1998, and I had been studying tango for four years. I had only a meager understanding of how tango is an expression of the national consciousness of Argentina. As such, if you really want to understand the dance, you have to know the history of that country (and particularly of Buenos Aires.) You must be able to speak Spanish and understand at least to some degree the unusual manner in which the language is spoken in that city.

I had not at that time visited Buenos Aires, although I had a good command of the kind of generic Spanish that is taught in schools. But I knew little of the slang spoken in Buenos Aires and the very unusual accents you hear everywhere on the streets. You should know those things if you wish to understand the color that makes tango lyrics so earthy, humorous and often desperately sad. Also, at the time I did not know the history of tango’s many rhythms and how they had arrived in Buenos Aires. A study of that requires an understanding of the enormous immigration to the port city of peoples from almost everywhere in the world during the nineteenth century. I can think only of New York City for a similar example.

In any case, I was dancing tango at the Russian Samovar (a weekly milonga hosted by the inimitable couple, Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco, with whom I was studying at the time.) All was well, as far as I could tell, especially in view of the fact that Gavito was at the bar, conversing with a woman companion, and occasionally turning away to watch me. I was studying with him, too. So, his opinion of what I was doing was important to me.

The tanda came to an end, and in a moment, a fast milonga came on. I asked the person I was dancing with whether she would like to do some milongas with me. Her answer was “Yes,” and off we went.

After that tanda, I joined Gavito and asked his opinion of what he had observed. He laid his forehead onto the palm of his right hand. Slowly, with kindness and not a little chagrin, he said “Che, the tango was all right. But…” He sighed with despondency. “My God!” he whispered, shaking his head. “My God, the milonga was bad.”

I now know that what I had been dancing was simply a very fast version of the tango that I knew. I did not realize then that the milonga is a different creature altogether and requires way different talents than does tango itself.

But Gavito allowed me to recover from my own unhappiness with his pronouncement:

“Listen, Terry. You give me two hours, and I will give you milonga.”

I took him up on his offer a few weeks later and have never forgotten what he taught me.

Terence Clarke’s story collection, New York, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

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The story of the Milonga

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

African influences

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

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

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

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

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

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A Month of Milonga with Guest Artist David Orly-Thompson

Bay Area tango teacher David Orly-ThompsonWe are excited to welcome David Orly-Thompson to Alma del Tango! For the entire month of April David will be teaching all Level 1 – 4 classes, focusing on milonga. Here’s your chance to polish your skills with this popular Bay Area teacher. You’ll also be able to book a private with David. (Rose Vierling will continue to teach Contemporary Tango on Saturdays).

What does David want dancers to get from his classes? “Of course, I want them to dance well, to have many options, to have technique that supports their musicality and their ability to give pleasure to their partner.

But equally, I want them to find themselves in the dance, and to find some of the very highest experiences that are possible in tango.  This means knowing and feeling the music.  I really hope people come to delight in the special longing, almost a suffering, that is so rich in tango music and dance.

This is something relatively alien to our North American culture, and not at all the same as the blues, which I also like very much.”

Becoming a tanguero

David discovered Argentine Tango in 1993 in San Francisco where he saw it performed in a showcase. “I was moved by the pace of the dance. It seemed more personal and romantic than the other dances—freer and more improvisatory,” he says. Bored with his day job, he took the plunge and started taking classes.

David Orly-Thompson, guest artist at Alma del Tango

David teaching with Mariana Ancarola at the Metronome

In 2000 he had an opportunity to go to Buenos Aires for a year to immerse himself in the tango culture. One year turned into three. His training was focused with Gustavo Naviera and Giselle Ann and Mariano (Chicho) Frumboli.

“It was a very exciting time in tango since the repertoire and technique was beginning to expand exponentially,” he explains.

Teaching around the Bay

You might have encountered David at one of the many Bay Area venues where he has taught. He was a regular at the former Metronome in San Francisco where he hosted a popular milonga on Saturday nights.  He has also taught at Two Left Feet in Danville, Bay West Ballroom in San Rafael, Lake Merritt in Oakland, and currently teaches an intermediate class on Tuesday nights at Finnish Hall in Berkeley.

Says Debbie: “David is a gem in the SF tango community. He is one of my favorite leaders to dance with.  I have taught with him on many occasions and find him an insightful teacher. He loves analyzing the structure of the dance and just having fun with it.”

Popular DJ

David is passionate about the music. “As a DJ I build an evening around what used to be called The Big 4: Troilo, D’Arienzo, DiSarli and Pugliese.  I pepper the evening with other minor orquestas like Rodriquez, Canaro (far and away the most prolific band), and Laurenz, when the mood strikes.

 Book a private with David           

Take advantage of David’s time at Alma del Tango to book a private with him. You can speak to him at class or call him at 510-375-8805 to secure your time.

 

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Tango Love Birds – Tanya and Ilya

Fairy tales do come true

CloseEmbrace_TanyaRokhlin_byAlliNovak2013

Tanya Rokhlin

 

One evening last fall, Tanya decided to go to the milonga at Magdalena in Oakland with Debbie Goodwin. It was a spur of the moment decision as she was getting ready for a trip to Europe, but an evening of tango sounded good. When the women arrived, the room was crowded and dark.

Tanya recalls a man standing by the door as she was trying to make her way to get a glass of water. He invited her to dance but she declined. Later he reappeared and asked again. This time she accepted his invitation. Dancing with him felt very warm and comfortable. “Between tandas we discovered we both speak Russian,” says Tanya.

CloseEmbrace_IlyaMagid_byAlliNovak2013

Ilya Magid

Red flag!

During the evening, they danced a couple more tandas and she noticed he was wearing a wedding ring. Ilya told her he lives in Santa Barbara and has been dancing for many years. On alert, Tanya asked if his wife dances, too. “Yes,” he replied.  “I didn’t even listen,” she says. “I have a rule that if a man is married I don’t waste my time. Whatever I felt, I put it aside.”

At end of evening he asked if she would be dancing the next day, and where. When she responded he said “Ok, I’ll be there too.” Tanya admits she was a little excited by the prospect of dancing with him again, “but I was holding myself in a neutral space, not wanting to get too excited,” she says.

“The dancing was wonderful, he made me feel good. The embrace was incredible.  Later I heard the same from other women.  In tango, it’s not how many moves the man knows, it’s how he makes you feel,” says the tanguera. (Leaders, listen up!)

Tango1Tanya went on her travels to Europe and when she came back, a couple months went by with no word from Ilya. Meanwhile she did some sleuthing on Facebook and friended him. She looked at the pictures he’d posted and saw that everything he told her was true. His life looked picture perfect. “I thought how unlucky I am…I felt all this but he’s unavailable,” says Tanya.

Finally, Ilya called. “He said he was coming to San Francisco to visit me. I thought, why is he coming to visit me? I never asked him to visit me…I said we could dance together.” When he invited her to dinner before the milonga, she thought, “Ok, now I can ask questions.”  Tanya was frank.  She told him, “I don’t want to waste my time, so if you’re married it’s not going to work.”

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Tanya, pictured here, played the lead role of “Angelica”in Alma del Tango’s  “Close Embrace,” February 14-17, 2013

Then he delivered the news she wanted to hear –he had left his wife. “Don’t think it’s because of you,” Ilya told her.  “It was coming for many years.  Living alone gave me time to think and analyze what I want to do.”

“Once he told me he was available and I wasn’t the reason, I completely lost my head,” Tanya admits. “And I’ve never looked back.”  Since then the couple has been inseparable. “Nothing is perfect in life,” Tanya says philosophically. “There is always a spoon of dirt in a jar of honey. Everybody looks at this from their own angle. I look at it as a miracle for me, and he looks at it in the same way.”

After dancing the lead role in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story, in which Ilya also performed, Tanya moved to Santa Barbara to be with her tango lovebird. Now the couple goes to milongas in Los Angeles every weekend.

“It is a fairy tale that I’m living,” she says with a happy sigh.

Watch Tanya and Ilya dance here:

Video filmed and edited by John Campbell – Alma Video Production

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Tango Love Birds – Kathy and Mark

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Kathy Burwell

The perfect storm

As the final piece of her divorce settlement, Kathy ended up with a round-trip ticket to anywhere United flies. As her mind drifted through various exotic destinations, her best friend said, “If I could go anywhere, it would be Buenos Aires to dance tango!” That was Kathy’s aha moment. She immediately signed up for Debbie and John’s beginning tango class.

Meanwhile…Mark, also newly divorced and new to California, was invited to the same tango class by a woman he’d recently met. They danced, but didn’t date. Then, one fateful evening, Mark stayed to watch the Level 2 class and in walked Kathy, “the most beautiful woman in the world,” he beams, “and I immediately began to think how to get close to her.”

To prepare for her Buenos Aires adventure, Kathy went to Los Angeles to visit Becka, a well-known tango dancer/teacher.  While talking with other tangueros at Becka’s house, one man said prophetically, “It will change your life.”

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Mark Lewis

Are we dating?
Back in Marin, Mark emailed to invite her to join a group that was going dancing together. That felt very unthreatening to Kathy, “not like a pick-up,” she laughs. She began venturing out to dance spots on her own, and one night she called Mark to see if he and his friends would like to go.  They showed up late, and Kathy thought he was dating one of the women.

Then, on a Saturday night they went together to a class in Sausalito but didn’t change partners.  After the lesson, during the milonga, “no one asked me to dance,” says Kathy.  Finally, someone did, and seeing this, Mark decided to leave. “I’ll get my stuff,” said Kathy, and they jumped into his truck. That’s when he told Kathy he had terminated a relationship. “It was a game-changer,” she says.

They headed into the City and danced til the wee hours (not tango). The next week, after Debbie and John’s class, they went out for a glass of wine. “Are we dating?” asked Mark. “Well, we haven’t had a date,” Kathy responded. So he asked her for a date. “I was totally infatuated,” he says.

Buenos Aires bound
“By late September it became clear to me to invite Mark to go to Buenos Aires with me because we enjoyed dancing together so much,” recalls Kathy. “Buenos Aires was a really exciting time,” adds Mark.  “There was the incredible energy of a new relationship.  We were with total strangers and didn’t speak the language. We were both new to being divorced and new to tango. We were empty nesters. Our kids are the same age…we hit the perfect storm.”

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Kathy Burwell & Mark Lewis in All About Tango 2011

“Tango is another way of solidifying our closeness and communication,” he explains. “When you’re in Buenos Aires and totally afraid to dance with a stranger and there’s only one person you can hold onto, it’s the bonding. You want to succeed at being a wonderful dancer, you want to be with that person who you know won’t judge you so you can relax and be who you are.”

Dancing their story
In 2011, Kathy and Mark performed a choreographed dance in Alma del Tango’s student production, All About Tango. They danced a milonga that joyfully expressed their tango love story.
While other priorities have kept Kathy and Mark from regularly dancing tango, they’re hopeful that will change.  The welcome they received at the benefit milonga for Alex Levin was so heartwarming.  “Look at the community we have,” beamed Kathy. “It was wonderful to feel welcome and to pick up where we left off.”

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La Milonga de San Anselmo Honors Two Marin Tango Couples

On July 27, La Milonga de San Anselmo honors Al & Barbara Garvey
and Jean & Charlie Stewart
who
helped build the SF Bay Area Argentine Tango community from scratch starting in 1985!

San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area is one of the largest tango communities outside of Buenos Aires. Today, we take for granted the fact we have the choice of several classes and milongas on Tango Mango to attend every day of the week. This was not always the case.

The first time Barbara Garvey, a Fairfax resident, saw the show Tango Argentino, on a business trip to New York in 1985, she called Al from the hotel to say “I’ve just seen what we’re going to do the rest of our lives.”

Al & Barbara Garvey

A year later, the touring company of Tango Argentino had come and gone from San Francisco, leaving behind a small but enthusiastic group of aficionados. Al and Barbara continued to actively promote all tango activity in the area, developing a mailing list and information center to support a growing community of teachers, students and entrepreneurs. They were joined in this endeavor by Jean and Charlie Stewart, also of Fairfax.

Among the first Norteamericanos to travel to Buenos Aires in search of tango

On that first trip in the spring of 1987, they were fortunate to meet the legendary Fino Rivera and take a lesson from him, only a few weeks before his untimely death. This encounter clarified dramatically for them the distinction between salon-style, or social tango, and the exhibition version, tango-for-export, to which they had been exposed by cast members of Tango Argentino.

Back in the States, looking for a proponent of social tango, they discovered Orlando Paiva, a milonguero of exceptional elegance, then resident in Los Angeles. They invited him to present a series of workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area. After his return to Argentina, they continued to organize seminars in Northern California for Danel and Maria Bastone of New York, and Michael Walker and Luren Bellucci of Los Angeles, Orlando’s proteges.

Studying with the maestros 

On subsequent journeys to Buenos Aires they studied with many other leading maestros, among them Roberto Grassi, “El Pibe del Abasto”, Pupi Castello, Graciela Gonsalez, and Lampazo. In 1991 they met Nito and Elba Garcia in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and, through the auspices of friends Hector & Ana Villalba, brought them to California for the first time, launching their world-wide teaching career. As the Northern California tango community grew to the largest in the US, keeping up with all its activities prompted the founding, in 1995, of the non-profit Bay Area Argentine Tango Association.

The first milonga in Marin

The Fairfax Milonga (1994-2003) was run by Jean and Charlie from 1994-1999 then taken over by the Garveys until 2003 when they moved to Puerta Vallarta. Al and Barbara also hosted many tango parties in their charming 90-year-old house centered around a dance floor and its tango bar. If you danced tango between the years of 1985-2003 you most likely would have attended these wonderful events. John and Debbie missed them so much, they traveled south to dance with Al and Barbara in their new home, again designed around a dance floor and surrounded by yet another budding tango community they have inspired!

Al and Barbara have performed and taught tango for almost 25 years, but they, along with Jean and Charlie, think of themselves as milongueros and tangueros, interested in all aspects of its culture, from the dance to language, literature, music, history and philosophy.

Milonga de San Anselmo Guest DJ’s 

The Milonga on July 27th also features another Marin couple, guest DJ’s Steve and JoAnn Palubinskas. Steve and JoAnn were introduced to tango in the same Mill Valley tango class taught by George Guim that John Campbell was attending in 1994. They have been instrumental in keeping the spirit of tango alive throughout the Bay Area and can be found dancing and DJing at many of the top milongas several times a week.  They hosted the popular Broadway Milonga 1996-2002.

We invite you to come and enjoy a wonderful evening of music, dancing  and companionship at La Milonga de San Anselmo this Friday, July 27th.

La Milonga De San Anselmo
(held 4th Friday of every month)
167 Tunstead Ave, San Anselmo, Ca 94960
Class 7-8pm  $15 Class + Milonga
Milonga 8-10pm  $10 Milonga Only

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