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Episode 99: Los gemelos bailarines (The Dancing Twins)

By Duolingo on Thu 25 Nov 2021

Growing up in Venezuela, identical twin brothers Emilio and Orlando Tovar Gil had to lean on each other to survive. After working hard to pursue an international dance career, will a series of setbacks cause them to break up?

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Martina: In the spring of 2020, identical twin brothers Emilio and Orlando Tovar Gil found themselves at a crossroads. They had been away from their home in Venezuela for years in order to follow their passion for dance. But they had faced one setback after another…and now the pandemic had snatched away their latest job, teaching hip hop. They wondered if it was time to give up dancing…together.

Orlando: Hubo muchos momentos difíciles; veíamos que seguir trabajando por el baile era cada vez más difícil. Por un tiempo, pensamos en abandonar todo y buscar la manera de sobrevivir separadamente.

Martina: For nearly 10 years, Emilio and Orlando had been working around the world as professional hip hop dancers and choreographers, or coreógrafos. Known as the “EO Twins,” the duo had built up a solid reputation through competitions, workshops, performances on TV, and videos on Instagram. Their dancing had taken them to places like Ireland and China.

Orlando: Nosotros venimos de una familia con pocos recursos económicos, pero siempre hemos sido muy trabajadores. Nuestro talento nos ha dado la oportunidad de trabajar con compañías famosas en el mundo del baile.

Martina: But after the challenges they had faced growing up in Venezuela…and as immigrants abroad, it felt like the pandemic was one crisis too many. Even though they had always gotten through tough times together, Emilio wondered if it was time they go their separate ways.

Emilio: A veces sentíamos que era demasiado difícil seguir trabajando por algo que parecía ser imposible.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I’m Martina Castro. We are dedicating this season to you, our listeners. Over the last 12 seasons, you’ve written to us by email and social media, you’ve even called and left us voicemails with wonderful suggestions for stories. So, this episode, like the rest of this season, comes from your ideas. Like this one from Tim Little:

Tim: I am a media journalist in Melbourne, Australia and I’ve been contacted by a friend to help two brothers from Venezuela who are professional dancers. They’ve told me their story and I found it quite moving.

Martina: Well, we did contact Tim, and were delighted when he agreed to produce the story for us! In this episode, we’ll meet the twins who have danced across the world together.

As usual, the storytellers will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at

Also, keep in mind that today our storytellers are identical twin brothers, so naturally, they sound pretty similar.

Martina: Emilio and Orlando grew up in Maracay, Venezuela, not far from the Caribbean coast. In their working-class neighborhood, music and dance were embedded in their culture. Salsa, merengue, and reggaetón — Emilio heard this music everywhere: at corner stores, on public buses, and at family get-togethers.

Emilio: En nuestro país, cuando las familias tienen una fiesta o celebran algo, les gusta poner música y canciones. La gente baila, comparte y se divierte.

Martina: One of the twins’ earliest memories is from a family party.

Emilio: Mi hermano y yo recordamos perfectamente ese día. Teníamos como cinco años. Todo el mundo estaba celebrando. Recuerdo que nuestro papá estaba bailando salsa, y al ver cómo se movía, yo pensaba que era increíble. Fue muy impresionante y decidí que yo también quería hacerlo.

Martina: Soon, they were hooked on dancing. They moved to every kind of music: from salsa to pop. And the kinds of music that would become their passion: afro-beat, dancehall, and R&B.

Emilio: Nos encanta bailar esos tipos de música y la primera vez que los escuchamos, sentimos que entraba en nuestro cuerpo. Cuando bailábamos, nos transportábamos a otro universo.

Martina: As kids, Emilio and Orlando dreamed about becoming professional dancers on the world stage. So, they started by studying dance from their surroundings, watching movies…and each other! They especially loved a style called “street dance,” or baile callejero. The twins would often see it on the streets of Maracay… They’d study the steps, or pasos, on their TV whenever they could.

Emilio: Nos gustaba mucho ver programas de baile. Había una película en particular sobre baile callejero que nos encantaba. ¡La vimos tantas veces, que dañamos el DVD! Mi hermano y yo copiábamos todos los pasos y coreografías de la película. Practicábamos y bailábamos hasta no poder más.

Martina: Soon, though, they realized they had to hide their dance sessions from their father. Because, even though they loved seeing him dance, the twins quickly realised that the feeling was not mutual. Their father was an air force pilot with very strict rules.

Emilio: La relación con nuestro papá era muy difícil. Creo que sentía que nuestro interés en el baile era demasiado femenino y él quería que sus hijos fueran unos “machos” como él. Aunque bailábamos juntos en eventos familiares, él pensaba que nuestro sueño de bailar profesionalmente era tonto.

Martina: Needless to say, since he thought their dream was foolish, or tonto, their father never paid for any dance classes. But their mother supported their passion. What’s more, Orlando knew that she protected them from their father’s temper.

Orlando: La relación con nuestro padre era difícil, pero Dios nos dio una madre increíble. Todo el mundo la conocía y la quería mucho.

Martina: But when they were just 15 years old, their mother became very sick.

Orlando: Fue el peor momento de nuestras vidas. Nuestra mamá empezó a sentirse muy mal en la casa. Éramos jóvenes y no sabíamos qué hacer. La llevaron a un hospital en Maracay, le hicieron muchos exámenes y el diagnóstico fue cáncer de cerebro. Murió un año después… Fue un periodo muy duro para nosotros.

Martina: After their mother passed away, things became even more tense with their father. They had many arguments.

Orlando: Después de que nuestra madre murió, la relación con nuestro padre se puso peor. Vivir con él era como estar en una película de terror. Mi hermano y yo nos ayudamos el uno al otro para poder sobrevivir.

Martina: After a while, the twins decided they couldn’t take it anymore. With the help of their grandmother and older sister, they left their dad and started to make a living by dancing in the streets of Maracay. Soon they met other dancers, or bailarines.

Orlando: Mi hermano y yo bailábamos más en la calle y empezamos a ir a competencias urbanas para ganar un poco de dinero. Teníamos un grupo de amigos que eran como nuestros hermanos y aprendimos mucho de ellos y de otros bailarines urbanos.

Martina: Soon after, in 2009, Emilio saw an ad on Facebook for a dance competition in Caracas. Emilio and his brother imagined how amazing it would be to be recognized for their talent in Venezuela’s capital.

Emilio: Creo que imaginar que podíamos hacer cosas grandes en la vida, fuera de nuestra ciudad y de nuestra zona de confort, nos hacía sentir que todo era posible. Pensamos: “¿Será que podemos ganar esa competencia y ser los mejores bailarines de hip hop en Venezuela?”.

Martina: The competition was called “Defying Movement,” or “Desafío al movimiento.” It was broadcast on national television and drew artists from all over the country. Emilio and his brother entered as part of a group with four other dancers.

Emilio: Teníamos dieciocho años y no éramos profesionales, todo lo habíamos aprendido con la ayuda de películas. Esa era nuestra primera competencia y nosotros inventamos nuestra coreografía.

Martina: Even though they had no formal training, the twins went in confidently, with a clear goal…and the kind of positive attitude that would shape their career for years to come.

Emilio: Nuestra meta siempre fue ganar la competencia. Nunca pensamos: “Vamos a intentarlo y veremos”. No, nosotros dijimos: “¡Vamos a ganar!”.

Martina: At the competition’s final round in Caracas in 2010, the twins danced to a mix of hip hop and rap. They performed street dances and even did some spinning handstands. At the end of the competition, the host took to the stage to announce the winners…

Emilio: Dijo: “El grupo ganador viene de Maracay…”.

Martina: Maracay! As soon as they heard the host shout out their hometown, they knew the prize was theirs. Moments later, they heard their names announced… Orlando still couldn’t believe it.

Orlando: Fue un momento hermoso para nosotros. Corrimos como locos en el escenario porque no lo podíamos creer. Había mucha gente y todos nos aplaudían. No podíamos controlar nuestras emociones.

Martina: The twins didn’t care that there wasn’t a cash prize. For them, this win was about more than that.

Orlando: El premio no era dinero, pero eso no nos importaba porque sentimos que habíamos ganado todo. Habíamos ido a una competencia nacional con el objetivo de ganar, ¡y lo hicimos!

Martina: And, soon, this national win gave Emilio and Orlando a big break in their career. Before, they danced for people on the street. Now they were getting formal offers from all over Venezuela to perform at parties and on television. Everyone wanted to work with the “E-O Twins.”

Orlando: Las cosas cambiaron mucho para nosotros porque nunca nos habían pagado para bailar. Empezamos a trabajar profesionalmente como bailarines, y hasta estuvimos en la televisión. ¡Fue hermoso!

Martina: But in Maracay, almost every time they left their house, they had to contend with safety issues. Take one day after rehearsal, when the twins were walking home…suddenly a group of young men on motorbikes stopped them. Emilio saw that one guy had a weapon.

Emilio: Teníamos tan poco dinero que no podíamos pagar por el autobús. Pero nos robaron los celulares y el poco dinero que teníamos… fue horrible. Después de eso, decidimos irnos de Venezuela. La situación en nuestro país estaba muy mal y sabíamos que tendríamos mejores oportunidades en otras partes del mundo.

Martina: Just when twin brothers Emilio and Orlando decided they wanted to leave Venezuela, they met a fellow dancer who was headed to Ireland to study English on a visa. They quickly became friends, and she helped them apply to the same language program. In 2011, when their visas were granted, it was one of the happiest days of Orlando's life.

Orlando: Fuimos al aeropuerto con nuestra amiga. Yo tenía miedo de viajar en avión, pero sabía que tenía que hacerlo. Después de muchas horas, llegamos a Dublín. Me sentía en otro mundo, como en una película.

Martina: Life in Dublin was very different from Venezuela. The first thing the brothers noticed — and appreciated — was how safe they felt there.

Orlando: Para nosotros, la calidad de vida ahí era impresionante. Ver a la gente caminando en la calle sin miedo era algo nuevo para nosotros.

Martina: They twins felt safe, but that didn’t mean everything was easy. They had to adjust to a different culture and learn a new language. And they had to get jobs to pay the bills. So they spent their first few years in Dublin learning English…and working small gigs. They were hired to perform at nightclubs, as go-go dancers, but they still created their own choreography.

Orlando: Durante esos dos años, mi hermano Emilio y yo decidimos buscar estabilidad en Dublín. Así que nos dedicamos a estudiar para mejorar nuestro inglés. También íbamos al gimnasio para estar en buena forma física porque nuestro trabajo en el club dependía de eso.

Martina: After a few years, the brothers missed dancing hip hop very much. Go-go dancing had kept them working. But it didn’t offer the level of creativity or recognition that drove them. Luckily, now, with some savings, they could afford professional hip hop classes at an award-winning studio. Emilio says that initially, it was very challenging because it was the first time they had ever had any formal training.

Orlando: Los bailarines en Dublín son excelentes. La clase y los pasos eran muy difíciles, así que mi hermano y yo teníamos que practicar hasta las cinco o seis de la mañana para poder hacerlo todo bien.

Martina: Emilio didn’t want that to stop them.

Emilio: Todos los días después de las clases practicábamos en nuestra casa hasta poder hacer bien los pasos. Repetíamos las coreografías más de cien veces para poder bailar como el profesor quería.

Martina: Within a year, they were at the top of their class… They even started teaching other students!

Emilio: Después de unos meses, empezamos a mejorar muchísimo. Cada clase nos hacía crecer más y más como bailarines ¡y éramos muy buenos! En menos de un año, mi hermano y yo estábamos entre los mejores bailarines en Dublín.

Martina: Soon, Emilio and Orlando weren’t just teaching other students…they were asked to coach other dance instructors! They also got called for other fun gigs. One of Orlando’s favorites was performing as a backup dancer in 2017 with the famous Latin singer, Luis Fonsi.

Orlando: Nos invitaron a bailar en un programa de Televisión Española donde iban a presentar “Despacito” con Luis Fonsi. Fue algo muy lindo.

Martina: The twins had a new goal in mind, one that would lead to long-term career stability: teaching choreography at a well-respected studio. So, when they heard that representatives from a famous dance company would be touring through Dublin, they immediately signed up for a class with them.

Orlando: Decidimos practicar mucho antes de su llegada. Teníamos una meta: ser los mejores bailarines en su clase.

Martina: This was no small goal…this dance company had worked with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber. But the twins trained as much as they could before they arrived…and their hard work paid off.

Orlando: Fuimos a todas sus clases y éramos los más talentosos.

Martina: In fact, leaders at the dance company were so impressed, they invited Emilio and Orlando to audition to teach at their studio. It was a dream come true for them! The only problem was that the studio was in New Zealand. To work there, they needed a visa. The twins applied with high hopes. But the consulate sent them an email, denying their application.

Orlando: El empleado nos escribió: “Lo siento mucho, pero sus visas fueron rechazadas”. Cuando fui a hablar con mi hermano, vi que estaba llorando. Perdimos mucho dinero, habíamos trabajado duro para esto. Nuestra meta era ir a Nueva Zelanda a bailar, pero ahora, parecía que solo íbamos a bailar ahí en nuestros sueños.

Martina: The brothers felt helpless and depressed. They didn’t know where to go next. But they kept pushing toward their dream of being choreographers. And soon, they found a new opportunity…in another part of the world, China. Emilio was thrilled when they landed a job teaching at a global dance studio there, called Millenium Dance Complex.

Emilio: Enseñar en esa escuela nos hizo muy felices, especialmente después de todo lo que habíamos vivido.

Martina: But then, just as they were finally gaining momentum in their dancing career, the 2020 global pandemic brought everything to a stop. Soon, the twins had to stop following their passion and take whatever job they could find to pay the rent. All the stress took a toll on their relationship.

Emilio: La pandemia fue muy difícil para nosotros. Hemos tenido que trabajar mucho para poder sobrevivir. La gente no sabe lo que ocurre en nuestras vidas. A veces pensamos en separarnos y parar de bailar para buscar una carrera más estable.

Martina: But then, one day, Emilio received an unexpected email. It was from the Millenium Dance Complex again, with a new invitation. One that would help them achieve their dream of teaching and dancing for the long term. Orlando felt it was a sign they had to keep dancing — together.

Orlando: Era una oportunidad para trabajar en esa escuela. Mi hermano estaba llorando, pero esta vez, lloraba de felicidad. En ese momento, supimos que teníamos que continuar.

Martina: The brothers had been through so much together, from their difficult family life to challenges abroad. But in that moment, Emilio realized they had to have faith, or fe, that they were better together. After all, they were the “E-O Twins!”

Martina: So they accepted the new job and danced their way to Cologne, Germany.

Emilio: Cuando las cosas son difíciles, seguimos teniendo fe y eso nos mantiene juntos. Cuando bailamos, volamos y se nos olvida todo. Nuestra infancia fue difícil, pero el baile salvó nuestras vidas. Cuando bailamos, podemos ir a cualquier lugar y nuestra imaginación no tiene límites.

Martina: Orlando and Emilio Tovar Gil are professional dancers known as the “E-O Twins.” They’re currently based in Germany.

This story was produced by Tim Little, a journalist in Melbourne, Australia.

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The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. ¡Gracias por escuchar!


This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Tim Little
Narrator & Protagonist: Emilio Tovar Gil and Orlando Tovar Gil
Story Editor: Laura Isensee
Script Editor: Caro Rolando
Managing Editor: David Alandete
Mixed and Sound Designed by: Mauricio Mendoza
Production Manager: Román Frontini
Assistant Producer: Andrés Fechtenholz
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: David De Luca
Executive Producer/Host: Martina Castro