Keeping SCORE: Toni Leago Valle Celebrates 20 Years

POP DEMO Dancers: Michelle Reyes & Carlos Perez. Costumes by Judy Masliyah. Photos by Mcauley Teters.

Years can be counted by 10 in decades, by 100 in centuries and, though it’s little used in modern conversation, by 20 in scores, just as Abraham Lincoln did so memorably in his Gettysburg address.

Celebrating onescore as a professional choreographer, Toni Leago Valle and her company 6 Degrees will present SCORE, an evening highlighting some of her favorite works of the past twenty years and giving a first look at her evening-length-in-progress POP DEMO, this weekend at Midtown Arts and Theater Center (MATCH). She’s crafted a first act featuring her signature solo “I Am Mother” (2004), excerpts from CRACKED (2006 & encore in 2016), and excerpts from Tetris (2009).

“These were by far, the most choreographically interesting to me,” says Leago Valle.

With a full schedule of performances on her plate during the 2003-04 season, Leago Valle admits to working full-steam-ahead during her only son’s pregnancy with a bit of denial and desperation regarding how it would affect her dance career. 

As the pregnancy developed and she considered responding to a request to perform a “mother solo” during Big Range Dance Festival, Leago Valle discovered the nurturing aspects of motherhood didn’t appeal to her at all. “As I researched motherhood for myself and the work,” she recalls, “it was strength that interested me.”

Leago Valle took photos pulled from research about goddesses and laid them out side by side to make her dance. Knowing that her mobility would be limited late in her third trimester when she was to perform, the work unfolds at a Butoh-inspired slow-moving pace. Leago Valle reveals that the jagged quality of movement in her solo is based on a stop-motion segment featuring a many-armed goddess statue that comes to life to dance and do battle in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, a film she remembered from childhood.

“I Am Mother” Dancer: Toni Leago Valle. Costume by Jennifer Wood. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

“I have performed and tweaked aspects of this solo for multiple performances over the years, so [for SCORE] it was nice to go back to the original material and include a few of the more athletic bits that were added later,” explains Leago Valle.

Slipping back into a body-revealing costume and body paint at this stage in her life is perhaps not as comfortable as slipping back into and under the skin of the mother-goddess herself. The choreographer seems to enjoy reflecting on her own motherhood journey now that her son is a college freshman. 

“I muscled through everything about motherhood,” she shares. “Determined to not give up dancing and to still be very present knowing he is my only child, it took me finding strong women in my life to serve as strong mother figures.”

The content and storytelling is what Leago Valle finds compelling about CRACKED. Here again, the dancemaker was able to draw from a revised encore of the work for SCORE that expounds upon her personal exploration of self-image, nudity and sex with reflection on the societal expectations of women.

Tetris is where I really felt I was becoming a choreographer,” says Leago Valle as she describes an evolution from work dependent on theatrical storytelling to movement-driven performance. The piece investigates the source of Generation X disengagement from politics and social issues, revealing the inner dialogue of a character living through the 1980s while video depicts what’s going on outside. The large Tetris block set pieces are long gone but an excerpt for SCORE finds the company revisiting the space shuttle Challenger explosion. Additionally, dancer Michelle Reyes will perform “The Silent Victim” and, appearing again in a pink prom gown, Brit Wallis-McGrath reprises “The Irrational Emotional Self,” a solo she originated.

A Gen Xer herself, Leago Valle has deepened her own level of political and social justice involvement, participating for five years as an escort for women entering abortion clinics in Houston, volunteering to register voters and becoming an election judge. 

“I feel incredibly hopeless on a national scale,” explains Leago Valle, “but I can do something in my state. I can do something in my county. I can do something for this lady right here.”

In 2017, she looked at over 100 bills being proposed in Texas to legislate women’s bodies — everything from tampon taxes, to breastfeeding in public, to birth control — and what emerged amid that investigation was Never Again (2018). The work evokes vaudevillian performances of 1930s Germany to comment on a wide range of events such as the Parkland school shooting. 

Because Never Again speaks to topics still on everyone’s lips just a few years later, in Act Two of SCORE, Leago Valle has paired excerpts from this more recent work with a sneak peek of POP DEMO, which will premiere in its entirety October 2023. POP DEMO transports the audience to a speakeasy where cartoonish characters reveal how propaganda is used to distract us from what’s happening behind the scenes in the political arena.

What’s next after 20 years? Leago Valle says working full-time at the University of Houston as her colleague Karen Stokes prepares for retirement, working on next year’s show and continuing her volunteer work will keep her busy. 

“In order to be a good mom to a college student, be a good professor for my students and be a good artist, that’s all I’m focusing on.”

If you’re keeping score, that’s a lot.

Toni Leago Valle and Degrees will present SCORE October 20-22 at MATCH. Purchase tickets and learn more at

About the Author

Nichelle Suzanne is a web and social media specialist for Rice University and the founder of For 10 years, she has covered dance in Houston and beyond for publications such as the Dance Dish, Arts+Culture Texas, CultureMap, and the NYC Rockettes blog at

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