Vicky Tzoumerka-Knoedler was born and raised in Athens, Greece. When Vicky was six, her father started teaching her waltz, tango, fox trot, and other ballroom dances, using movie dancers such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as their teachers. At eight years old Vicky began taking ballet and character dance with Amy Speck, Greek folk dance with Karabestos, and piano with Mina Boni.
Vicky attended college at the Orlinda Chiles Pierce College in Athens and graduated with a degree in psychology. In college Vicky also studied voice with Minos Dounias and attended the French Academy where she received a baccalaureate in French Literature. Vicky also studied at the Scholi Xenogon and became a licensed international archaeological tour guide, leading tours in Greece, at the Louvre, and the British Museum. During Vicky’s tours and travels around Greece, she attended folk festivals where she learned new Greek folk dances. When near retirement, Dora Stratou asked Vicky to direct the Dora Stratou Greek National Folk Dance Theatre in Athens. Although tempted, Vicky had already married her husband Bill, and was living in Madison.
In Madison, Vicky studied ballet with Charmaine Ristow (Wisconsin Dance Council Distinction 1996) and Vivian Tomlinson (Wisconsin Dance Council Distinction 1999) and performed in many local ballet productions. In Madison, Vicky also resumed her studies in voice and piano. Ruth Harris, a former pianist for Mahalia Jackson, invited Vicky to join the Ruth Harris Gospel Singers where Vicky had a number of solos. In the 1980s Vicky studied music composition with Professor Karlos Moser and began creating musical works that have been professionally performed in the United States, Italy, and Greece. In more recent years Vicky composed music based on Greek mythology such as Medea, Antigone, Cassandra, and Ikaros that have been choreographed and performed by Kanopy Dance Company.
Forty years ago, Vicky founded the Mesoghios Dance Troupe to perform Greek folk dances and educate the public on Greek culture and history. Mesoghios performs authentic dances from various ethnic groups and regions of Greece including Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly, Peloponnesus, Black Sea, Crete, Asia Minor, at the Aegean, Ionian, and Dodecanusus Islands, and Greek gypsy. Mesoghios has also performed other dances from the eastern Mediterranean (e.g. Turkish, Sephardic), western Asia (e.g., Azerbaijan), and Russia. Mesoghios started with three dancers and grew at one point to 24 members. Currently the troupe is made up of four enthusiastic women. Mesoghios dances in authentic costumes and jewelry of the various Greek ethnic groups. Many costumes are original handmade pieces obtained in Greece and others are stage costumes based on authentic costumes found in the Benaki Museum in Athens. Some of Mesoghios’s costumes were stage costumes given to the company by Nicola Bazacas, the former first dancer for the Romanian Ballet Company and performer at the Bolshoi in Russia, who taught folk and classical dance in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Thirty years ago the Madison Civic Center approached Vicky to help organize “something ethnic and different” and the International Festival was born. The International Festival at the Overture Center last January hosted 30 local arts groups representing every continent.