Tag Archives | Tango in San Anselmo

Slip on your tango shoes and join the celebration…

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

Dance Studio sign Alma del Tango

by Lanny Udell

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

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

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

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

Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell, tango dancers

Debbie & John in 2001

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

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

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

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

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in Marin

Alex and Karina Levin 

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

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

Time out…briefly

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

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

Dottye & Dart Rinefort at Alma del Tango in San Anselmo

Dottye & Dart Rinefort greet guests at the milonga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tango maestro Eduardo Saucedo teaching at Alma del Tango in Marin

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

Deborah Loft, a long-time supporter says:

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

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

Argentine tango dancers Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tango dancers Debbie Goodwin and John Campbell

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

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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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Students of the Month: Sasha Bencina and Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango students of the month Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller and Sasa BencinaDancing tango since: Hasso and Sasha are newcomers to tango. They started taking classes in November 2014 and immediately became dedicated. Sasha had been a professional dancer and holds a BA in music and dance. Hasso has no background in dance.

Why tango: “She kept bringing it up until I said yes,” says Hasso. “Tango has a certain kind of spirit that feels like an encouragement for relationship,” he explains. “And because I knew Sasha was so inclined to dance, I thought that was a good place to meet her. As a health professional, I wanted to get deeper connected with Sasha and I felt tango would enable that.”

Sasha adds, “I feel deeply connected to movement and I wanted to find a way to share that with Hasso. Tango is such a beautiful, intimate way to share with your partner.”

Favorite part: Hasso enjoys stepping into the leadership role and “owning that part of the dynamic equation.” He also enjoys the togetherness, finding total alignment with his partner. “It’s a wonderful challenge, I find it truly inspiring,” he says.

“I love the listening–how deep can you listen to each other to stay in connection?” says Sasha. She also loves the closeness, the intimacy of the embrace. “You come together and the dance is like a prayer.”

Both find deep therapeutic value in tango that fits perfectly with their work as healers.

About Debbie & John: “They are beautiful teachers, I feel inspired by them,” says Hasso. “They are very encouraging and have a positive spirit about what they’re doing.”

Sasha appreciates their receptivity. “They are very welcoming and patient. We feel very welcome in the community,” she says.

Anything else? Through tango, Hasso envisions “finding this ultimate connection/alignment of our souls. Tango will help us embody what we know in our hearts and our love can deepen.”

Last word: A trip to Buenos Aires is not on the couple’s radar. They are happy to let their living room become “Argentina” as they put on a tango CD and practice what they’ve learned so far.

Tango student Hasso Wittboldt-Mueller of Marin practices QiGong

Hasso practices Qi Gong

Learn more about Hasso and Sasha and their healing center at fully-alive.com

Marin Tango student Sasha Bencina dances on the beach

Sasha improvises a dance move on the beach

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Students of the Month – Antonio Sausys & Katia Dimitrova

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Students of the Month, Katia & AntonioDancing tango since:  Tango was very big in Antonio’s home country of Uruguay, and his mother introduced him to the dance when he was just 8 years old. His second connection with Argentine tango was as an accordion player touring Europe with an opera company in a performance that explored the impact of tango on Parisian society.

Katia’s tango journey began three years ago when the couple started taking lessons as a way of doing a physical activity that would also connect them artistically.

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 Halloween Party @ Alma del Tango

Why tango:  “I fell in love with it on a trip to Uruguay,” says Katia.  She and Antonio were in a restaurant/bar and she saw women come in with tango shoes in their bags.  “My jaw dropped. I wanted to do it,” she says. “When we started taking classes it felt like a meditation for a couple…you have to get in synch with each other…that’s the only rule.”

“In my case,” says Antonio, “I thought oh, I know tango.  But I discovered it’s one of the most challenging things I could do.  As a leader I had to learn how to move my body to induce the follower to do what I wanted. Leading requires sensitivity which can be difficult for men.”

Favorite part: For Antonio, it’s the building of intention, and a nonverbal connection. “It’s a true act of connection,” he explains, “because you know what you want as a leader and you must create the space for your partner.”

Katia  agrees.  “It’s about building a connection, and the constant reminder to relax. The more you relax the better. When I close my eyes it’s the best dance. Otherwise I lead!”

“And I struggle,” Antonio chimes in, laughing.

About Debbie & John:  “I really like them … they have a very good connection and both are very passionate,” says Katia. Antonio likes their body language communication – “it’s very precise. I like seeing them in action.  I like their passion, their love for tango.  I am very inspired by their artistry.”

Anything else? Antonio and Katia will be dancing in Dreamscapes, the upcoming student production.
“Because we travel at that time of year we’ve never been able to be in the show,” Katia explains. But this year they made a deal with Debbie:  “We told her if she’d give us the routine we’d practice while we’re away.  We’re very proud to go back to Uruguay with a piece we can show,” says Antonio.

Last word:
  Antonio sees tango as “a healthy co-dependency.”

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