Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Own Tango Story

Naples Tango and I just celebrated our first anniversary at our Holiday Party, last Thursday, December 17. It was a wonderful party, with about 40 guests - a great turnout considering how many other holiday parties were competing for attendance that evening, and considering how young the Naples Tango community is!

Yes, it's been just a year.  I arrived in Naples in November 2008, after 20 years in Umbria, Italy, so happy to be finally reunited with my mother.  I immediately started looking for a dance studio in which to start working.  On December 21, I registered the domain "naplestango.com" and published my first post, and the following day I taught my first Introductory Demo class at the Fred Astaire Studio in Naples. Two months later, I went out on my own.

Many people have asked me how I started dancing and teaching tango, and why I left Italy to come back to the U.S.  So, feeling sentimental about my 1st anniversary back in the US, I'll tell you the short version of My Tango Story:

Nearly 22 years ago, upon discovering that I had been nominated for a VP position in a major investment bank on Wall Street, 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 college and in a great NY art school, I eventually chose a corporate career because I “never wanted to be a waitress again”. My New York life was frenetic and, naturally, in the banking world it was essential to keep your emotions tightly under control. Besides the absence of natural, heartfelt, human expression, there was certainly no "platform" in this environment for the deep artistic expression that I craved.

So in 1988 I declined the VP nomination and left Wall Street to pursue my dream of starting a residential school for young international painters and sculptors in Umbria, “the green heart of Italy”.  In the second year, I persuaded my then-husband to come and help me manage the school. We barely spoke Italian.  It was a huge commitment we both made, with many personal sacrifices.  Gradually, over years of struggle, it became more and more successful and gratifying!  But 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.  The sensation of frustration and longing persisted, creating a vague ongoing malaise, like a low-grade fever.  At the same time, my marriage had turned into a business collaboration, so not only was the Artist in me quietly dying inside, but so was the Woman.

In the summer of 1994, I saw an outdoor performance near Spoleto of the now legendary company Tango X2 (Tango por Dos), and was thoroughly bewitched. I knew instantly that this dance was for me, though I wondered whether I could do it. Without the benefit of the 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” (tango dance nights).  I endured this exhausting and expensive commute 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 became my obsession, and after 6 years of traveling to Rome, to Bologna, to Amsterdam, Miami and finally several trips to Buenos Aires, I decided to bring tango to Umbria. I started teaching my first regular courses and organizing workshops and events with Argentine masters for a national audience, giving life for the first time to a tango community in the Region of Umbria.  After my divorce that year, I left the art school and dedicated myself full-time to my passion for tango. My skill and confidence as a teacher continued to grow.

Since 2000, I have taught over 700 people to dance tango, mostly highly intelligent, cultured, professionally accomplished people between 35 and 65 years old, and also many college students and dynamic older seniors.  So many of 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.

As my school UmbriaTango grew, I also trained 6 couples of instructors who by 2008 were ready to open their own schools, while other students of mine began expertly organizing milongas, workshops, and special events, including the famous Chocotango Festival, now in its 5th year in Perugia, the city of chocolate. I was proud of my students for the quality and seriousness with which they worked. The growth of Tango in Umbria continued, at this point 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".  I called the affectionate and grateful students of my students "my tango grandchildren" (even those who were 10 years my senior).

I had fulfilled two great dreams of mine: pioneering first an international community of artists in Umbria, and then a tango community, both of which are still going strong.  I sorely missed my own family and my own culture.  After 20 years abroad, I was ready to come home. I worked all summer to get the numbers in order and to find new leadership to take over my school.

The new director and I worked together for weeks to make a smooth transition, and the passage of my school from "UmbriaTango" to its new incarnation, "El Bandoneon", felt very sound and healthy.

One of my students masterfully organized a big dinner and milonga, my "despedida" (farewell party), in a beautiful castle on the outskirts of Perugia on November 7, 2008. Almost 200 people attended.  Two of my tango-musicology-proteges brilliantly handled the music all night, into the wee hours. A special video was projected, that had been made by my Greek students, teachers of the tango school in Chania, Crete, where I had taught workshops in their early years.

Great memories, great experiences, and great relationships with people who will always be my friends and surrogate family. Now I am so happy to be back in my own country again, after 20 years away.

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