Vio's Tango Biography
If you’re mostly curious about my shoes, you can skip directly there.
I began dancing tango in Los Angeles in 2005, learning from Makela Brizuela and Pablo Rojas. I took classes with all of the teachers who visited Los Angeles those first couple of years. The ones who impressed and influenced me the most were Homer Ladas for his gentle-powerful movement and personality, El Pulpo for defining a new creative structure and for his liquid hips, and Ivan and Sara Terrazas for their passion to be systematic about technique.
I was a recovering anorexic, newly just able to participate in group activities. Directed by another, I could use my body without experiencing constant shame. I never thought I would believe I looked beautiful or that I would perform.
My first dance partner, Fritz, ruptured my frozen experience as an inadequate object by saying “you’re sexy when you MOVE.”
At that time I was a professional economist, disappointed with the conformity of my discipline at a moment when so much courageous work was and is needed. I had been threatening to retire.
I started to Mark in a fit of political rage when a female friend was kicked out of a milonga in 2007 in Los Angeles, for marking another woman. I had countenanced tango’s retrograde sexism too long already by that point. I went about learning to Mark with equal parts trepidation and fascination. I was not good at it. Once in a private lesson with Carolina Lafata I stood in the embrace without being able to move for 10 minutes.
Duro and I met in 2006.
By 2008 I had taken a leave of absence to do the research I really wanted to do. But it also gave me more time to get serious about tango. We went to Buenos Aires twice, studying daily in Buenos Aires at Pablo Villarraza and Dana Frìgoli’s school, DNI, for three months in 2008 and 5 months in 2009/2010. Also in 2010 we completed Chicho’s annual 30-hour Buenos Aires seminar. Tragically, our very intensity destroyed our beautiful relationship. We expected each other to improve faster than we could, and we lost sight of what we had together.
Dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires was the hardest thing I’d ever done, an intense psychological challenge. Tuesday nights we’d go to Tango Queer in San Telmo and then to Practica X in Almagro. I remember wishing the bus would never arrive. Practica X was inspiring, important, and excruciating. A pain I never spoke of. I became used to tango as landscape of cruel and erratic judgment, shame, endurance.
I emerged from the second trip to Buenos Aires with the observation that I was no longer carrying my shoes in a computer bag, but carrying my computer in a shoe bag. Remembering Ursula LeGuin’s recommendation that civilization should be studied as a history of carrier bags, rather than hunting and wars, I regarded this as significant and declared that I had become a dancer, although I wasn’t sure what that meant. I returned to Buenos Aires twice on my own in 2010 and 2011, bringing my total training time there to 11 months between 2008 and 2011.
I describe that time period in tango history as “The Virtuosic Era”. Marks danced aggressively with the best Revel they could get their hands on.
I witnessed the beginning of Fundamentalism in the first days of El Yeite.
I feel both radiant love for and profound fury at my teachers. Those, like Dana Frìgoli, who worked to empower Revels rather than praise innate abilities have my enduring gratitude. But my anger motivates me too, because I spent a lot of time and money with people who were either obfuscating what they knew, or who did not have clear explanations to sell.
I was a difficult student, famous for my notebook. I brought lists of questions about how to distinguish various movements. I demanded that my teachers and dance partners articulate their techniques. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked “how do you do that?” or “what part of your body do you move first?” and had a teacher tell me “you think too much.”
From 2010-2011 I practiced more than 250 hours of Pilates under the supervision of a former prima ballerina, Ali Townsend at The Pilates Studio.
In early 2011, thanks to the generosity of Debbie Bax, I had the opportunity for an artist’s retreat of sorts, during which I identified and invested the intentions of TangoForge, articulating what I really wanted to create in the world of tango, which I called “dynamic tango”. It’s not only about dancing with a lot of creativity and power, it’s also about a space that celebrates dynamic roles, music, embraces, and smiles!
For me, achieving this involves a moratorium on claims to authenticity. Not that I don’t have incredible gratitude and love for tango traditions and Buenos Aires, but I think those claims often disempower students in their attempts to find their own direct relationship with this beautiful dance.
What I want is for people to dance with connection and creativity, and this means encouraging them to use the music that gives them feelings, and to explore how tango can be relevant in diverse cultures. I do still strongly encourage people to use the cabeceo, not because it’s authentic, but because it functions well. That functional approach is what drives the pedagogy I use in TangoForge.
Working with Sebastián and on my own, I investigated my experiences with the body, with beginners, and with my own process of learning to mark. Any teacher (and most dancers) can say a lot of things about a student’s dancing. I wanted to say things that work. Eventually I departed from most of the sequencing that teachers have reproduced around the world, finding that certain advanced moves have a lot of pedagogical value with beginners, while certain preliminary moves are quite physically demanding. I also decided to abandon the mystification of tango and make it straightforward.
I am a tango scholar, fascinated with the mechanics of tango. I work constantly to revise how I understand and articulate technique so as to be principled and consistent. My students are now able to analyze anything they see according to its biomechanical elements. More about my pedagogy.
The marks I emulate are: Chicho Frúmboli, Pablo Villarraza, and Homer Ladas. The revels I emulate are: Dana Frìgoli, Juana Sepulveda, and Eugenia Parrilla.
I experience tango as one river, and what may appear to be diverging styles are personal expressions, not fundamental differences. Although the founders of Nuevo Tango insist that the didn’t invent a single new step, when I dance dynamically people tend to label my dancing as “nuevo tango“. I do not accept this term.
One time at a milonga the announcer even tried to make a derogatory comment by describing my dancing as “acrobatic”. That day I’d had my first trapeze lesson, and I interpreted the comment as an insult to acrobats. After I thought a lot more about it, I decided that feeling like you’re flying is a nice part of tango. Improvising amazing things with your body and another person’s is really fantastic. Probably people would like the chance to be acrobats if they can. So now I embrace that word.
I Mark and Revel. When I Revel I feel like a ballerina fairy princess. When I Mark I feel like a man. I like to dress up. I can dance in any shoes as long as they are beautiful. I get high from teaching. I love dancing in close embrace. My favorite traditional composer is d’Agostino. I am a foodie, and I especially like dessert.
What marks say about dancing with me:
I lose myself with you.
You set me free. I feel like I can do anything.
With you, I don’t dance any clichés.
You have a lot of tango in you.
I don’t have to think. I can just dance.
Perfect. That’s dancing.
What revels say about dancing with me:
You are actually more interesting than most men.
You dance the most complicated dance of any woman mark I’ve seen.
In 2006 Vio performed in Makela’s first choreography, Urban Tango. She also designed the costumes.
In 2008, Duro y Vio decided we needed to take responsibility for growing the world of Queer Tango, so we started teaching beginners classes for GLBT folk in Boston. When we left the city in 2009, we founded the community group, Queer Tango Boston, which is an ongoing community-run organization with regular classes and practica. Our farewell party was Boston’s first Queer Tango Milonga and we also organized a Celebration of Women Leaders.
Immediately on arriving to Wellington in 2009, we kept our promise to our Boston students and started to build what would become Queer Tango Wellington.
In 2009, we published Aleph Bravo Tango, a novel about beginning to dance. We used the name Dyv, which is a contraction of Duro y Vio. Among many other things, the novel encourages readers to imagine a Queerer Tango. Dancers make comments like “how did you know what I was feeling?” … We also made a couple of silly videos, SnowTango and BasketballTango.
In 2012 Nick and Vio created the JewelLab at the Colombian Hotel in Sydney, a milonga where we treat everyone like jewels.
In 2013, we launched the the KnowledgeBase, the first piece of the TangoForge Digital School.
In 2014 we changed the language we use for the roles to Mark and Revel. Illustration by Michael Golding.
In 2015 TangoForge moved to Berlin to work with Roberto L’Ange.
Since January 2016 TangoForge requires all students to learn both roles.
During 2016 TangoForge partnered with the most beautiful milonga in the world, Tangoloft, to teach classes there.
In 2016 and 2017 We were artistic directors for one of the nights of the Contemporary Tango Festival. 2016: Avigation, 2017: The Tradition is Transgressive. Vio marked Jessica Phoenix, who joined TangoForge as a principal dancer in 2017.
In 2016 We launched our Annual Seminar Encuentro Compañeros.
In 2017 with our apprentices, Swan, Stefan, and Yoko, we opened and closed a School, Studio Berlin. We taught the entire Lexicon twice, and recorded it on video. This was the first version of the MasterCourse. We also produced our YouTube Series demonstrating all the variations for the 25 Elements of Tango.
In 2018 we recorded the MasterCourse in a studio, along with the Home Practice Courses, which had previously been text, and the videos for the Exercise Center, all in English and Deutsch. Now we can offer a comprehensive and bilingual Digital School.
In 2019, Vio y Roberto performed at the Roma Neo Tango Festival, taught at the Neo Tango Rave Brmen for the 4th year, and celebrated our 5th anniversary.
We produced Warrior, a film promoting Argentine Tango for new participants, with a crew of 18 from 6 countries, starring Cédric Tellier, Jessica Phoenix, and Max Power, who has been working with TangoForge since 2015.
In 2020, Vio wrote Until Forever: The Dark Silences of Argentine Tango.
We issued our MasterCourse Challenge and the first MasterCourse Exam to launch our teacher-training program.