The dance world is full of dancers' various stories, from people who dance only for fun to those who seriously train and compete, from dance teachers to choreographers, from festival organizers to dance school owners. Stories diversify depending on the style someone dances and whether they prefer dancing in pairs or dancing by themselves. The dance has so many different shades and every dancer carries his dance story, which is not reflected solely in their dance, but also in their everyday life. But in the end, all dance stories share one great love, love for dance.
In the first interview with Dancer's Life Stories, we will get to know the story of Domen Brlek, the former hip hop dancer and currently cuban salsa dancer.
Domen, when did your dance career begin and through what stages did your dance go?
Uf, this is a long story. I have been in dance for almost 20 years, I actually started a professional dance at around 16. The desire to dance woke up in elementary school, I think 6th, 7th or 8th grade, when I watched Michael Jackson dance and I liked it very much. It was interesting because my parents and surroundings talked about how he was »grabbing himself down there«, how skinny he was and that he has a squeaky voice. It was perceived a bit bad, so I dropped the idea. At the age of 16, the wish came back, because in high school, when we - the boys started moving, we got the girls attention a bit more. And then I said, that it would be good to have this knowledge to win over the girls. This was the first motivations for me to actually go train. At 16, I remember begging my colleague if he would come with me, because I did not dare. It was like: »Let’s go, there will be a lot of girls there«, and so on.
…but I need a little bit of encouragement from my colleagues.
Of course it's easier, if you go with someone, but my colleague couldn't go, because his parents didn't allow him. So I said: »Ok, if I'm thinking of it for so long, I'm going to try.« When I got to the first training, there was a lot of cute girls and I was like: »Whoa, what should I do now?«. I remember, that before I stepped in, the former coach Gena Zeneli said: "What are you standing there for and watching?", and I said: "I just came to have a look." His answer was: "No, no, here we will not be looking, in the dance hall you dance, you do not sit, you have to start dancing immediately." I have to be thankful for that, cause later on I had the same motto as a teacher. To everyone who came »to take a look«, I said: "Stand up and dance!« Anyway, after the first training, my coach said that I was a wood. Well, that's what I thought. He said, that I can't even walk, that I need another 5 years to learn to walk and then I can start some kind of dance. What he said would be a demotivation for someone, but he fired me up. I came from a family, that when someone said to us: »You can't do it«, I say: »but you know what, you will not sell a pumpkin to me, I'll show you how I can't…« And so it turned out, that after three months I didn’t think about how to dance to win a girl anymore, but it was pure motivation for me to show how I can dance. Then I fell in love with dance so much, that I was no longer interested in the representatives of the opposite sex. That was some kind of my long start.
Dance actually became your love?
Yes, a strong passion. I have to thank dance, because it has »pulled« me through life really well. For example, in high school when I went dancing like a kid, I was not super-disciplined and if I wouldn't go dancing, I wouldn't graduate, that is a 100% fact. First of all, I had a way to relax and second, we had a rule at home that if I don't do certain tasks, I can't go to dance lessons. So I had to organize myself better so I could go. That gave me a strong guideline for life. If I wouldn't have that, I am 100% sure, that I wouldn't graduate.
So yes, I got a bit out of topic. Somehow my dance started with landing in hip hop at the age of 16, then at 17 or 18 I began »to flirt« with break dance and electric boogie. Our coach encouraged us to go to several trainings, so that we had a greater width in dance. I signed up for break dance and electric boogie. I still don't know how I manage to train all of it, because it was from 9pm to 11pm or from 7pm until midnight, getting home to sleep and then go to school. Kind of a cycle.
So probably also a lack of sleep?
Not really, because at university or in high school I slept during the lectures. Well, we were lucky we had shifts and sometimes I had classes in the afternoon, so I could prolong my sleep to the afternoon. So these were kind of my beginnings. At university I thought that I have to put more attention to studying, so I took a year out of dancing. That was, uf, very difficult, then I came back. I mean, I wasn't totally without dance, I was still teaching it. In Kranj I taught a small dance group, but I didn't have this complementary training where somebody else would teach me. I kept my knowledge up to date by searching through Google and Youtube about what else could I improve. But it's totally different if you are dancing with a dance group which still gets additional knowledge from a professional dance trainer who improves their knowledge non-stop.
Well, after a year I came back to Bolero and at that time Nika Kljun was already the principal dancer. Then my knowledge exploded. I was still totally in break dance, still in electric boogie, but she gave me a greater width because she comes from a family of dancers, but that is her story. I can thank her very much for accepting me to the group at the time, as I was one of the oldest, no, I was the oldest. All 18 and me a little over, but again another story.
Later, around my 30s, I stopped dancing professionally. No competitions, no special appearances, no concrete trainings 3x, 4x, 5x per week in Bolero. I kind of left my professional part behind. I also stopped teaching and that was the worst part of my life, because I was half a year without dancing at all. That means no dancing, neither training with other choreographers, nor training with dance partners, nor training by myself to teach others... I thought I had to be without it because I opened a company and all my focus shifted to it. But then I saw that everything began to fall down without dance and I said to myself: »This can't go on like this anymore.« And then I came to cuban salsa, when my ex-partner said: "Come on, I can't watch you like this, let's go and find some dance..."
So the cure was a dance?
Yes, and since I was 31 years old, for the past 5 years, I have been fully immersed in cuban salsa. This was the beginning and it's not over yet.
What was the story with cuban salsa?
Yes, it was also interesting. With my ex-partner, we went around looking at potential dances. We tried another type of salsa, which is »linear salsa« or dancing on one line. I didn't like it; I wasn't allowed to express myself, what I was used to from hip-hop and break dance. You have to break the rules that you have learned. At this salsa they didn't allow this. But then we came to cuban salsa, where Jan Bervar prepared an experimental class with his ex or open days, what are they called already? They were days of open doors and we tried it. I saw him jumping around and being explosive and I also jumped a little, and he said: "Wow, good style!" And it was like: "Yeah, I'm home!" So, now I am in the cuban salsa and enjoying it.
As far as I know, you are also performing?
Yes, I can thank Jan for inviting me to their Decorason group. We go around, well not so much for now. Once a year, there is some kind of obligatory performance, where we "elite" dancers, show what you can do with cuban salsa.
What's your dance routine like today? How often in a week do you dance? Do you go to some classes, dance socials…?
When I started to dance cuban salsa, I was totally in. Almost every Thursday, Friday, Saturday I went out partying, just dancing. Because when you start to dance and you like something, you have to dance a lot to feel the music, to hear it. I listened to it a lot so I understood it even better. There was a very big challenge, because I didn't know how to change from the individualists, the hip hoper, to dancing in pair.
Today, at Jan Bervar, in his dance group Decorason, it's actually a rule that you have to come to practice at least once a week, I mean, we get together and the choreography is being made, Jan and Eva prepare it. It is also a directive that we must go to other classes at least once a week to expand our knowledge. Then here is also the »men's style« which I like very much, it's every second month but I would like it to be every month. It's a good feeling, it may sound weird, because we are only guys there and we are doing stupid things. It's like when you're in high school and you are having fun. Anyway, 3 times per week a good hour and a half of dancing. Then, at home, we dance with my girlfriend. She would like to practice and I would like to dance. Oh, I shouldn't have said that, I'll hear it when she sees this. So, sometimes we dance.
This is kind of my routine and there are some festivals, that happen regularly and we go dance there and regular dance socials in Cubano. It's good when you have a Friday off and you relax and dance till the end. Something like this, this is the routine.
Is there another dance challenge for you? A dance style that you would like to learn?
I didn't say it yet; when I was dancing professionally, I also went to jazz ballet, we had to go. We also had to take Step, giving us the width really. At that time, I was really interested in everything that was new, what my body can do, how can it move. Then there was Housing, where you jump to house music interestingly. Then was zezling, I can't even say it right, where you are spinning and behind, it looks a little more special. If you ask me - dance is everything, in dance you just have to express yourself to show the actual music that you hear with your body. This is for me the definition of dance. You're a dancing instrument, or how to say, a visual part of the music.
Let's say, now it's my challenge to master African dances or Cuban-African dances, African style. I need to improve rumba and how to calm down. I have so much in the muscular memory that I'm the hip hoper, that it's quite a challenge. For example, Son - which is part of the cuban salsa, is a sweet elegant dance. I have to be more fluid, that it's not all super-cut, which was quite a challenge in cuban salsa at the beginning for me.
Considering that you've been in very diverse groups, from hip hop to cuban salsa - these are two rather different communities; what would you say are the major differences and the common points that are found in each dance community?
Everywhere there is the same passion; the desire to dance, the desire to express. At first, for me was about checking out the girls, later it was just to dance. Dance gives me freedom. When you are dancing and you hear the music and express yourself with the body, because of this music it's like being in another world. It's really such a nice feeling. The special difference is for example in hip hop, that you are an individualist. Ok, you can be an individualist, but still, the whole group must breathe and dance. In cuban dance, you can do some solo stuff, but here I've learned more how to lead a person, a partner, that you are not alone, but you have to do some poetry together. If I am an egoist and I am dancing on my own, my partner will not enjoy it and I will not enjoy it. However, here I learned a bit more, how to be a little better men. In hip hop I learned how be a macho: »See how bad I am, how good I twitch, how good I dance.” No, but when you're in pair, it's just that we're together and this is one of the differences between these two dances.
Electric boogie and break dance are only technically different, but a community or groups of people who are coming with the interest to dance or for hip hop or break dance or cuban dance; the interest is totally the same, but together it's like a family. Big differences are only technical and what fits you. Let's say to someone bachata fits better, because it's more gentle, it has such a character. To me cuban salsa fits really well, it reminds me of hip hop, it's fun, explosive, there is no super precision, unless the technique needs to be worked out, that is for Jan. So, it's more about what fits your character.
What would you say is your typical dance move? Your signature move?
In my opinion, if you go watch anywhere and I'm a freestyling, I'm always starting with a right hand twitch, left hand twitch and then I turn my head around; that's kind of my signature...
To be continued...