When and why did you start dancing Argentine Tango and how long have you been teaching tango? I’ve heard that you have an unusual story.
Yes, I do have a rather unusual story about how I arrived at tango. I’d be happy to share with you my background that led me to discover tango, and how tango became the greatest joy in my life, a joy I felt compelled to share with other people like me.
One afternoon back in 1988, my manager, a Vice President in a major investment bank on Wall Street called me into HIS manager’s office, where together they told me they had nominated me for a first-tier Vice President position. Instead of jumping for joy, I felt my heart contract. In climbing the corporate ladder, I had neglected a big part of my soul! Though I’d had outstanding training in drawing and sculpture in a great New York art school, I chose a corporate career because I “never wanted to be a waitress again”. My New York yuppie life was frenetic and, naturally, in the banking world it was essential to keep your emotions tightly under control. Besides missing a sense of natural, heartfelt, human expression, there was certainly no platform in this environment for the deep artistic expression that I craved.
So I declined the VP nomination and left Wall Street to follow my dream of starting a residential art school for young international painters and sculptors in Umbria, “the green heart of Italy”. I didn’t speak Italian and it was a huge commitment, with many personal sacrifices. Gradually, after years of struggle, the endeavor became more and more successful and gratifying. However, as executive director of the highly acclaimed art school that I had founded, I was facilitating the creative process for hundreds of others, and still working as an executive, with neither the time nor the mental space to engage in my own artistic process. My feelings of frustration and longing persisted, creating a vague ongoing malaise, like a low-grade fever.
At the same time, since I was always working at my desk or sitting in meetings and lectures in the prestigious Institute I had created, I began to lose the sense of my body and watched as my vitality went into hibernation. Working out at the gym bored me. But I noticed that when I would go to the local village fairs to dance “country-bumpkin-ballroom” (as I called it) to accordion music, I happily danced all evening and the more I danced, the more my youthful shape began to return. Dancing with local farmers and stone masons once a week was for me a much-needed frivolity and engaging entertainment. But my inner voice told me seriously:
“Either I become a dancer, or I’m going to keep getting more sedentary and . . . dumpy!”
And what about my sensuality? In the second year of the art school’s operation, I persuaded my husband to leave his job as a buyer at Macy’s Department Store, and come and work with me. We completely relocated to Italy. Sound like a dream-come-true for a professional New York couple? Over the next 5-6 years, the Art School was our joint obsession and passion, replacing the romance in our relationship with a respectful and dynamic professional collaboration. So not only was the Artist in me retreating inward more and more, but so was the Woman. While so many women I knew said they envied me for both my relationship and my lifestyle, I was quietly dying inside. I was secretly living with an enormous sadness, and I yearned for a way to arouse the Woman that was dormant deep within me.
Then, in the summer of 1994, I saw an outdoor performance of the now legendary company Tango X 2 (Tango por Dos), and was thoroughly bewitched. I knew instantly that this dance was for me, though I wondered whether I could do it. With no Internet back then, I managed to find a small, dedicated school in Rome, and started driving 100 miles each way to take lessons and attend milongas. I endured this exhausting and expensive commute, with gasoline at $5/gallon, twice a week for several years because when I danced tango it was the only moment in my life when I felt completely myself and completely free. I could express myself both artistically and sensually when I danced tango in a man’s embrace. Tango became the medium for the poetic expression of my feminine sensuality.
And so, Tango became my obsession. After 6 years of traveling for milongas, workshops and festivals to Rome, Bologna, Amsterdam, Miami and finally several trips to Buenos Aires, I decided to bring tango to Umbria. I accepted an invitation to teach in a local dance school in 1999, and in 2001 after my divorce, I left my art school to my ex-husband, staying on as a part-time consultant for a year, and dedicated myself full-time to my passion for tango. I started teaching my own regular tango courses, as well as organizing workshops and tango events in the picturesque, nearby town of Todi, attracting tango dancers from all over Italy. I hired Argentine maestros who were already traveling in Europe to teach the workshops, and hosted the artists in my home. During our quiet hours together, I would beg them to teach me how to teach. And so I gradually built a sound pedagogic repertoire, and pioneered the first tango community in Umbria. My skill and confidence as a teacher continued to grow. Within two years I was traveling all over the region for my full-time calendar of classes, driving about 600 miles a week, until 2003 when I settled in Perugia, Umbria’s capital and largest city. My more advanced students took over the teaching in the smaller towns.
From the time I founded UmbriaTango in January 2001, till my return to the U.S. in November 2008, I taught over 700 Italians to dance tango. My students were mostly highly intelligent, cultured, professionally accomplished men and women between the ages of 35 and 65, as well as college students and dynamic seniors. So often, those mature, high-achievers confided in me that, no matter how satisfying their careers or family lives were, discovering Argentine Tango had been a turning point for them, giving them a profound sense of joy and personal fulfillment they had never quite experienced before.
I often witnessed a transformation, as my students discovered, explored and confronted areas of their inner selves that they had previously kept locked away. As they progressed, they began to unleash their inner expression, especially the expression of their masculinity and femininity, and with the same sense of freedom and spontaneity that I discovered years earlier.
Why on earth did you leave Italy and come back to the U.S.?
As my school UmbriaTango grew to have 150 students a year, I trained 6 couples of instructors. By 2008 my assistants were ready to open their own schools, while other of my students began expertly organizing milongas, workshops, and special events, including the famous Chocotango Festival in Perugia, the city of chocolate. I was proud of my students for the quality and seriousness with which they worked. Tango in Umbria continued to grow with less effort on my part. You could dance every night of the week, and there was a choice of tango schools to attend. The Umbrian press and TV called me “the woman who brought Tango to Umbria.”
And so, I had fulfilled two great dreams: pioneering Umbria’s first international community of artists (which thrived until my ex-husband retired and closed the school in 2013, after its 25th year of operation), and then Umbria’s first tango community, which is going even stronger today. After 20 years abroad, I sorely missed my own family and my own culture. Knowing that my work had enriched the lives of thousands of people, I was ready to come home. I worked all of summer 2008 to find new leadership to take over my tango school. In November 2008 my students organized a farewell gala in my honor in a beautiful castle. About 200 of my former students attended. Four days later, I made the big move back to the U.S., to Naples, FL, and happily reconnected with my family.
You can read about what I’ve done since 2008 in my biography.