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Student of the Month ~ Edith Kaplan

Tango dancer Edith Kaplanby Lanny Udell

Editor’s note: Edith was our Student of the Month in December 2013.  She performed in several Alma del Tango student productions, and then took a hiatus when she left the Bay Area. We’re delighted to have her back on the dance floor.

Going off the grid

Edith left the Bay Area in 2015 to live off the grid on an organic farm in Oregon. While there, she meditated and volunteered at an organic bakery where she learned to prepare vegan gluten free foods. “I really enjoyed it,” she says.

She hadn’t danced for quite some time, but during the last year-and-a-half of her stay in Oregon she felt the call and put on her dancing shoes again.

After returning to the Bay Area in June 2019, Edith headed straight to Alma del Tango!

What’s different

“What is new for me is connecting more with the music than ever before. I think my private classes with John have sparked that feeling. They are shaping me on that, stepping on the beat at the correct moment.”

Edith feels that her dancing has improved from where she was five years ago. “What I imagined then is now physical,” she says. “I don’t compete with myself any longer. I feel free and relaxed.”

Edith is a jewel! She comes to lessons with “beginners mind,” hungry for growth. Her joy lights the room. I welcome, too, her frustrations, because I know she will persevere. She takes a moment, stands tall and with a determined smile she says, “I’m ready now! Lets try it again!” Then comes the “I did it! I didn’t think I could ever get it!” For me, this is the joy of teaching.” – John Campbell

She attends classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and she is “courageously trying to learn to lead, but it’s really in the baby steps,” Edith says.

Edith the artist

A talented graphic designer, Edith has designed most of the posters and marketing pieces for Alma del Tango student and professional productions.

Collage of postcards designed by Edith Kaplan

Examples of Edith’s design work for Alma del Tango productions.

“I like to design for art projects, whether it’s dance, writing or mixed media,” she explains. “It’s different from being an entrepreneur. When the dance is done, it’s done. So the artwork is something tangible that remains.”

I love ‘partnering’ with Edith creatively. As Alma del Tango’s graphic designer she is able to take the movement ideas swirling around in my head for a project and transform them into something beautiful I can hold in my hands. It not only helps my projects become a reality but spreads the word about what is happening at ADT. We are so happy she is back.” -Debbie Goodwin

You can see all of Edith’s posters on display in the studio.

Tango around the world

A world traveler, Edith finds tango wherever she goes. She’s danced in Istanbul, Vienna and London. “Istanbul was best, there were milongas every night –- sometimes 3 or 4 a night! And the leaders were amazing – and also tall,” she says with a smile.  “It was intimidating how good they were.”

In Vienna she danced in beautiful open air milongas, in front of palaces, like the one pictured here. What’s next for the dancer/designer? We’re hoping she’ll stick around for a while.

Student of the Month Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Tango under the stars at Karlsplatz in Vienna

Alma del Tango student Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Edith in Istanbul

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Students of the Month ~ Dart & Dottye Rinefort

by Lanny Udell

Editor’s note: Dottye and Dart were first profiled in 2012.  At that time, they’d only been dancing tango for three years. A lot has changed since then and we thought it would be fun to check in with Alma del Tango’s long-time devotees again. Most of you know Dottye and Dart as our friendly, loyal door managers. Here’s your chance to get to know more about them.

Dottye & Dart Rineford, greet people at Alma del TangoAs Door Monitors, Dart and Dottye have been greeting and registering tangueros who come to study and dance at Alma del Tango for many years.  Their friendly faces are there to greet you every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and for Dottye, on Saturday as well. They love getting to know everyone.

“If we were just attending classes we wouldn’t have the same in-depth experience with people,” says Dottye. 

“It’s fun to see students improve and advance to the next level,” adds Dart. “We enjoy watching them grow and progress.”

As Performers: Dart and Dottye have performed in seven Alma del Tango student productions, five with Debbie and two with Rose (including the performance scheduled for July 6 at the Marin County Fair where they’ll compete with other dance groups.)

Those shows have included:

  • All About Tango 2011
  • Tango Tales 2012
  • Close Embrace 2013
  • Tango Magic 2014
  • Moment to Moment 2015…
  • and a showcase at the San Francisco Argentine Tango competition
    in which their group placed second 

What keeps them performing tango? “After 10 years of dancing, you can become complacent and not challenge yourself to go to the next level. Rose’s performance group has revived our focus on tango,” says Dottye. “We encourage anyone who’s interested [in performing] to do it; it helps you progress more quickly because of the intensity.”

What other changes have they noticed: Dottye and Dart agree, Debbie and John’s teaching has evolved. “Their presentation has grown and developed.  They seem more relaxed…they still have high standards, but they understand that not everyone can grasp it immediately. We ’re always looking forward to their next challenge.”

Words of advice: “We encourage people to attend Tango 1 and 2 to reinforce the basics…and to remind you what you need to do to stay on track.”

Anything else: According to Dottye, “Tango keeps our outlook fresh and youthful…it keeps everything firing—mind and body.”  

“I’d never performed in front of a group before,” says Dart. “It has brought out another side of his personality,” teases Dottye.  “It was hiding,” admits her lifelong partner.

Garden Railroad

On rare occasions when they’re not dancing tango, Dart and Dottye can be found tending their amazing backyard Garden Railroad.

Dart and Dottye are a treasure to Alma del Tango, always enthusiastically pitching in to help wherever needed. They make our lives so much easier…and fun.  They have such a youthful and joyous energy, ready to take on anything! We are often in awe watching them dance and we are very proud to be their teachers and friends.”
-Debbie and John

And, oh yes, a story about Dottye and Dart wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their award-winning costumes at the Alma del Tango Halloween party every year!

Dart & Dottye in Dorothy & Scarecrow Halloween costumes

Dorothy and the Scarecrow take first prize at the Halloween Milonga de San Anselmo.

 

 

Read Dart and Dottye’s 2012 Student of the Month profile

 

 

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Students of the Month ~ Marti Sukoski and Scott Adams

by Lanny Udell

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in MarinDancing tango since: Marti started dancing tango in the late 1990’s when the tango craze was just getting under way in the Bay Area. Before that she had danced ballroom and salsa. Scott discovered tango in 2006.

Back story: Scott started studying with Mayumi Fujio. In 2007, he was taking classes with Luz Castiñeiras and as luck would have it, Marti dropped in to a class. She was a more experienced tango dancer than he, but what he lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm. He invited her for an evening of dinner and dancing.

At that time, Marti was about to leave for a month in Buenos Aires to study Spanish and tango. When she got back, Scott contacted her and asked, “Do you remember me? Do you want to dance together?” She did. Fast forward—the tangueros got married last year and, of course, danced a tango at their wedding.

Traveling tangueros: “We try to dance wherever we travel,” says Scott. Destinations have included Barcelona, Spain; San Miguel de Allende, Puerta Vallarta and Morelia, Mexico, with a visit to Patzcuaro, a small indigenous town where an Argentine woman had a restaurant and taught tango. “It was very serenpiditous,” recalls Marti. The couple is currently dancing through Europe.

Why tango: For Scott, it’s the music. “It fits my personality,” he says. Piazzola is a favorite. Marti says, “It’s hard to explain, it’s a feeling. The interaction between leader and follower. You can have a tango moment with a complete stranger.” She likes the improvisational aspect of tango, “with your partner, you create something together.”

Marti and Scott at their wedding receptio n

The tango bride and groom

Like Scott, Marti loves Piazzola.  A cello player, she loves both playing the music and dancing to it. Last year she played Oblivion with a small chamber group at College of Marin.

About Debbie & John: “I love their focus on the form of tango and I’m understanding more about myself and my body from studying with them,” says Marti. They give so much of themselves through their teaching, besides being welcoming and warm people.” What Scott likes most about Alma del Tango is the community:  “it’s nice to go there, see people we know and dance with everybody,” he says.

Anything else? To prepare for their Europe trip, Scott researched milongas in every city they’re visiting. “It’s special when you dance in another country with people in another culture, whether it’s in a little village in Mexico or a big city like Barcelona.”

Tango couple sightseeing in Mexico

Marti and Scott on holiday in Mexico.

When asked why they continue taking classes they agree, “Like any art form it’s a constant learning process.”

Last word: “Isn’t it great that in sleepy Marin county there’s a place to go on Friday night where it’s hopping?” muses Marti.

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Student of the Month ~ Matthew Plan

by Lanny Udell

 

Tango dancer Matt Plan, Alma del Tango student of the monthDancing tango since: Matt started taking tango classes in the East Bay (he lives in Albany) about 1 ½ years ago. But after a few months, he began looking for another studio. A web search brought up Alma del Tango and he’s been dancing with us ever since.

Why tango: A salsa dancer, Matt was attracted to the music and the sophistication of tango. “It’s deeper, and more artful,” he says. “Salsa has a fun aspect. Tango is not about fun.”

Favorite part: He likes the connection with a partner. “It feels a bit tai chi-like.” He also likes the music, both the classic and the new. He listens to Piazzola every chance he gets.

About Debbie & John: “They’re informative, conscientious, friendly…just what you’d hope for in an ideal teacher,” says Matt. He likes that they have a syllabus, it’s not just whatever. “That’s part of being conscientious, and part of the reason I come here, despite the drive.” Matt appreciates that Debbie and John don’t just focus on steps. “It’s about technique, and the idea of lead and follow.”

Anything else? “Other classes have just one teacher; for me, that’s a drawback. With Debbie and John, you learn about lead and follow. Understanding what the follower does helps me lead. I can execute better if I know what my partner is doing,” says the tanguero. Matt is careful not to get too fancy on the dance floor. “Before I try a figure I ask myself, will this improve my dance? For example, ganchos, they’re like icing on a cake. No need to rush into it.”

Alma del Tango student of the month Matt Plan in the red rock country.

Matt likes to hike in Sedona, AZ red rock country

Last word: “It takes a long time to get proficient at Argentine tango. If you don’t have patience or persistence, you move on. You have to be willing to put in lots of time.”

Eli, 4 year old grandson of Alma del Tango's student of the month

The apple of Matt’s eye, his grandson Eli, going on 4.

 

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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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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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Student of the Month ~Gwen Sarandrea

By Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango student of the month Gwen Sarandrea Dancing tango since: Gwen fell in love with Argentine Tango in the 1990’s when she started dancing with Al and Barbara Garvey in Fairfax. She’s been dancing for more than 20 years, mainly ballroom, swing, tango and country.

Why tango: Gwen had always loved tango, but she didn’t have a comprehensive place to study. She took a 6-year hiatus from dancing, and when she came back, it was to tango only. She had moved to Bellingham, WA and found some tango classes there but “it was on a small scale,” says Gwen. “Not a big community.”

In 2007 Gwen went to Buenos Aires with a group and stayed two weeks longer than the others. “I was alone, and it was a little frightening,” she recalls. She knew people wouldn’t ask her to dance if they didn’t know her, so she hired taxi dancers and had a wonderful time. “Coming home was disappointing,” says the tanguera.

Finding tango at home: Gwen came back to the Bay Area and started looking at tango videos online. That’s how she discovered Alma del Tango. “It woke me up! So I started going to the Wednesday night classes and I’ve been there ever since.” Now Gwen attends the Level 3 and 4 classes on Monday nights. “I just love it, it’s so fulfilling.”

Favorite part: The collaboration and synergy with partners keep her coming back.

“Every partner is different, every dance is different. Some dances are fun, some are nurturing, some exhilarating, some playful, and some irreverent.”

About Debbie & John: “They should be very proud of what they’ve created—an open hearted community.” She finds both are very generous with their time, dancing a tanda with students at the Friday night practica. “The studio is based on a living partnership, and that feels good,” she says.
Gwen feels at home at Alma del Tango. “I love the community, people who are joyful in dance.”

Anything else: “I like laughing at my mistakes. Often, while dancing, we burst out laughing. I’m trying to take that into the rest of my life.”

Last word: Gwen is also a talented montage artist and has written a book on the subject, Montage Mirage Photo Tapestries, How To Create Photo Art From Your Heart. Learn more at MontageMirage.com

Wedding montage by Gwen Sarandrea

Wedding montage by Gwen Sarandrea

 

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Student of the Month ~ Laura Gish

by Lanny Udell

Tango Student of the Month Laura Gish

Dancing tango since: Laura is celebrating one year of immersing herself in Argentine tango. She had dabbled in classes before but didn’t find them satisfying. Then she met Wade Spital (a regular at Alma del Tango) at a party and he pointed her in the right direction.

Why tango: “I had been interested in Argentine tango for several years,” says Laura. “The essence of it intrigued me.” She loved the theatrical expression of tango, and the romanticism. “When I saw it performed I said, oh, I want to do that.”

Back story: As a child, Laura felt shut out from artistic expression, discouraged by her mother who was a performer. To deal with her feelings, she turned to horses. “They were my stability, they taught me everything,” she says. She bought her own horse when she was 11 years old. Shoeing horses became Laura’s passion. If she couldn’t dance, she’d do, what was for her, the next best thing.

Favorite part: “Learning tango has been an interesting journey. I’ve always picked things up quickly but tango stopped me in my tracks,” admits Laura. When she found that she had chosen the most challenging dance, she realized that she had to live in the moment. “It put me in touch with my emotional side and I accepted that I’m on a lifelong journey.”

Lady’s Tango Week in Buenos Aires

Student of the Month Laura and Veronica take a selfie

Laura and Veronica ready for the milonga

Unexpectedly, the trip brought up a lot of emotional issues for Laura–it was a very expensive therapy session, she says. At first she wanted to flee, but she stayed and pushed through her fears. “It was a big shift for me,” says the tanguera. “When I came back I felt I had the strength to be in my own shoes.”

Laura with Barbara Henry at Lady’s Tango Week


About Debbie & John:

When I started coming to Alma del Tango, I felt at home. I felt that this is the soul of tango and it’s where I want to be.

With Debbie and John, you don’t feel that it begins and ends with them,” Laura explains. “They’ve built a community and it’s very comfortable.” In addition to the Wednesday night classes, Laura has taken some privates with John. “That’s helped boost me,” she says.

Last word: “Now I feel like I’m at the beginning. I have no expectations. I’ve arrived at a place where I can let it flow without a preconceived notion of what I should be doing. Now I’m just going to enjoy myself.”

Alma del Tango student Laura Gish and her dog Stewart

Laura and her pal Stewart at Alma del Tango

Alma del Tango student Laura Gish

Laura and taxi dancer in BsAs

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Student of the Month ~ Randy Cook

by Lanny Udell

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Cook dances at Alma del Tango milonga

Randy Cook dances at a milonga at Alma del Tango

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

Learning to follow

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

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

Suggestions for dancing at a milonga

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

Writer/producer of a tango show

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

Cast members, tango show at Sonoma County libraries

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

Randy’s most magical tango experience

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

 

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Student of the Month ~ Marty Benson

by Lanny Udell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tango dancer Marty Benson with his 1978 Cadillac Eldorado

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

 

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