I was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, and discovered tap dancing when I was just 6 years old. I was in the audience of my sister’s dance recital when a little boy took the stage and started tapping. I was mesmerized and immediately asked my parents if they could put me in class as well. They thought it was an interest that would fade quickly, but they were wrong. The first dance teacher I ever had was Adriana Brunato, at Academia Cristina Cará, and she set the stage not only for my future in dance but for my entire life.
Adriana was more than just a teacher. She was my second mom. Two years into taking recreational classes with her, my parents got a divorce and our family struggled financially. Things got so rough that I had to stop all extracurricular activities. One day Adriana ran into my mom on the street and asked where I had been. My mom mentioned our situation, and Adriana told her not to worry. She said she was opening a new school called Companhia Brasileira de Sapateado Tap Factory, and that she would offer me a full scholarship. From that day on, I never paid for a tap class again. Still, Adriana’s support and generosity went beyond even that. When I was 13, my mom had a stroke and was in a coma for three months. During that time, Adriana took me into her home and cared for me. (My mom has since recovered and is well.) When I was 16, she gave me my first break as a teacher at her school. When I turned 18, which is the legal driving age in Brazil, she bought me a motorcycle so I could make it to class without depending on an unreliable bus system.
As an educator, Adriana is very intense. When she walks into a room, everyone can immediately feel her energy. She couldn’t pretend we were doing well if she thought we could do better. All she had to do was scratch her nose and we would know that it was time to step it up. It was her tell; she couldn’t control it if she wanted to. She cared a lot about weight transfers and the correct way to place your body in order to hit the specific notes you wanted.
Despite her high expectations, Adriana was also understanding. For example, I often took a tap board behind the building we danced in to practice both an hour before and an hour after class. One day she followed me out there and said that I sounded good. When I said it wasn’t though, she told me there is no such thing as perfection, and that allowing space for mistakes could make me sound better and more natural. “Making mistakes is not the problem,” she told me. “It’s what you do after that matters.” As an adult, I realize that she was right. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal.
Adriana grew up dancing in Brazil as well, and was always eager to expand her knowledge beyond what she had been given as a child. She had a passion for musicals and New York City ever since she was young, and every so often she would visit the city for 10 days at a time. During these trips she would watch tons of musicals and attend master classes, then return home to create tap shows that were inspired by her experiences. She sought to understand the fundamentals of tap and how to do things correctly, so that she could pass that knowledge on to her students. Once, when I wanted to quit because I was the only boy in class, she brought me the VHS tapes of Tap Dogs and About Tap. Only gentlemen were dancing, and she said, “See, you might be the only one here, but you’re not the only one out there.”
In terms of corrections, she taught me to make my movements seen and not just heard. In tap, people focus primarily on the sound, but she told me to make it accessible even for people who don’t understand the sounds of tap. She also taught me to treat everyone with kindness. This is something I strive to pass down to my own students as well. Rule number one in my room is that we all have a great class together. I want them to leave thinking it was fun, and that can only happen if we treat each other with kindness.
Things have come full circle for me now. Both Adriana and I moved to the States years ago. I live in Washington, DC, and she lives in San Diego, CA, and anytime I teach at a convention near her I invite her to come and watch. Then, I have the several hundred students in the ballroom turn around and meet her. I tell them she is the reason I am where I am today. And now, I’d like to thank her again for giving me a career and a life through dance. I have had incredible experiences because she never gave up on me.