photo by Larry Graham

photo by Larry Graham

text by Sharon Litwin

It was not Diogo’s intent to become a dancer. For a child who grew up on a dairy farm near a small city in São Paulo state, he says the idea never crossed his mind until he escorted his little cousin to dance lessons.

“I was 9 years old when I started to make trips to take her to the studio, but I was actually not interested at all,” he recalls. But as time went by, as young as he was, there was a change in his attitude.

“I had a dream; I thought, I’m going to be an actor,” he says. “So I figured I might as well start working on coordination to make that happen. So I started taking dance classes.”

As it turned out, he was very good indeed. But, "a boy to dance in Brazil, it’s not OK,” Diogo says. “My parents did not know about it. I told them I had joined a swim team. But actually I was dancing all day.”

A supportive aunt provided cover, allowing Diogo to stash his ballet shoes and tights at her house. Soon he was appearing at major dance festivals and at one was awarded a gold medal. The event made the newspapers. When he got home his parents greeted him in the kitchen with the paper in their hands.

“I tried to deny it. I said, Oh, that’s not me, the guy in the paper just looks like me, but it’s not me; he has the same name, but it’s not me,” he says laughing wryly. “Instead of being proud, they said this needs to stop right now. So I said OK."

Shortly after the kitchen encounter, however, he was awarded a place in the school of the Royal Academy of Dance in London. But how to break that news? Always resourceful, Diogo, who was to perform in a festival in his hometown, had a plan.

“I invited all my family members to go to the theater, but I did not tell them I was going to perform,” he says. “I told them they were going to watch my cousin perform. They all went and I performed, and I think that changed things, once they saw me. They could understand what I was doing.”

At the end of the show, Diogo’s parents, amazed at what they had seen, told him how proud they were of him. “We got back home and I told them I’m leaving to London,” Diogo says, laughing again at the memory. “And there was another no because I was 13 years old.”

But, of course, Diogo did go. After three years in London, it was back to Brazil and an almost decade-long international dance career. And now, he belongs to New Orleans. While he travels back and forth between his two countries, he has put down roots in the Crescent City, happily training talented young dancers, and being an enthusiastic member of New Orleans’ growing, vibrant, alternative contemporary dance community.