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 second interview of Dancer's Life Stories, we will get to know the story of Jan Bervar from Cubana Ljubljana, who is currently exciting dancers in Ljubljana with classes and socials of cuban salsa, son and reggaeton, as well as with Manana Ljubljana Festival.
Many people want to know where did the story of Cubana Ljubljana start, so Jan, if you could please share with us your dance story, when did you start dancing and at what point did the idea for Cubana Ljubljana come up?
The story started in the 8th grade of elementary school, when one of my schoolmates Špela, whom I can thank for starting my dance career, invited me to go with her to dance classes at Kazina dance school. Because there were, 3 or 4 schoolmates that have decided to go to dance classes and the only boy from school that they invited was me. Why me, it is still a mystery. And then I went to Kazina, for some years I danced social dances for the youth, and then they invited me to competition section and I danced Latin-American and Standard for a couple of years as a competitor, and then in high school I stopped dancing due to lack of time unfortunatelly.
Then quite a bit of time has passed, in short, a whole university, work, and so on, and in 2012, I returned to dancing. I remembered in essence why dance meant so much to me or why the dance attracted me in the first place. I mostly remembered the music. When I was still competing, everyone told me I was better in standard dancing, than in Latin, but I was always burning for Latin-American dances. Because in Latin-American dances, I still don't know for sure what it is, but the combination of drums, campana and piano, whenever I hear it pulls me to the dance floor. And no other music does that for me in such a powerful way that it would really pull me to the dance floor. And in 2012, I said what if I would come back to this desire and give this sound another chance.
And how did the story continue after you gave dance a second chance?
It was one Friday in August, I think, or Saturday, when I entered in Google salsa classes in Ljubljana and saw that a salsa class starts on Monday.
Excellent, perfect timing.
I went to salsa class and realized that this is the Latin music that I always wanted to have. And for about a year I danced in principle salsa, bachata, kizomba, those things that everyone to dance at the start while discovering what they like in dancing basically. But I can't say that I was attracted to the point that I would start burning for that at the time. I was enjoying it and had great fun. Like every beginner, I had my fears, problems, if I'll ever be able to relax as others do. And the question, what does really matter in dance. Because for me this was primarily music, and the partner, this relationship in dance. But I still haven't found the one message about why I dance.
Because if I look at my old career today, when I was competing, I don't like it at all, because dance for me doesn't work as a competition. I can't imagine that in dance someone could be better than another one, it is a matter of personal decision, a special feeling. When I was dancing in high school, I dreamed that. In those Latin-American dances that we dance, I already saw little of that robot, and too much sportiness. And I said that if I had enough money to go to Cuba, I would have learned to dance there, and with that knowledge I would come back and be the best sports dancer. Today, this seems a crazy funny idea to me, but already then it seemed to me that something was missing from this Western dance expression, which is often shown through sports.
This idea of Cuba always had me a little bit, that it is something authentic, because we all know that Cuba has this mystery of tradition, authenticity, isolation and so on. And when I danced later on, I somehow found out that there is also Cuban salsa, not just the salsa, to which I danced to, that there are more salsa dances.
From where did this connection to Cuba came then?
It was funny, because when I danced salsa that first year, when I danced the linear salsa, one of my dancers said, by the way, there is another way of dancing salsa in a group called rueda, rueda de casino it comes from Cuba. Well, I thought ok, in the group, I do not know what it is, and then I went to classes of rueda de casino once, and the concept by itself I liked, but when my teacher at the time, Boštjan Bibič, said, by the way, in one figure the male dancer raises his trousers to show that he has white socks and thus enchant the female dancer, I said, that's it, I was sold. And in essence that is when I felt that dance can be a communication, that you can show a lot to your partner through dance in a simple way, but also that you can present a language that you speak through dance, and this was for me in essence this link to the music, the meaning, in short, something you say with your dance, almost necessary in couple for me, and this Cuban history, which you are basically telling your partner through the dance, or you are speaking it with your body, this holy three has been decisive for me. I found that I can find my language in dance. And in some way, because I am such a geek, you can easily give me a Wikipedia, and I can explore 8 hours everything in the world from one link, Cuban culture is exactly like that. Cuban culture gives you one cookie, and if you eat this cookie, you'll find that there is a huge pastry shop in the back.
At what point did you get the idea for Cubana Ljubljana, at Cuba, or ...?
For my own dance school. Yes, it can be that it was during my first visit to Cuba. And above all, because I was very disappointed with the way in which everyone taught dance in Ljubljana at the time. In all dance schools where I went to classes, after you won the basics, each course was about come and learn some combination. And for me, it was just like learning samples, in short, here you have the next sample and do it on the dance floor. There was no emphasized on creativity, or how to implement these pieces in your own way, it was very mechanistic. That was one of the motivations. The other one happened in Cuba, when I went to Cuba, I thought that everyone will dance rueda de casino there, not in Cuba, they dance salsa in pairs, that is the main way. Rueda de casino was danced in 50, 60, when it developed. Then slowly everything changed in Cuba, more or less to dancing in pairs. Today, it is dancing in pairs and reggaeton clearly, and when I came to Ljubljana I said, no one really teaches salsa as they dance it in Cuba. This means mostly in a pair, and in a way that is simple and creative for someone who starts from scratch. This is to get rid of these combinations, and to dance like they do in Cuba. And then, we decided with my ex-partner to make our own dance school Cubana Ljubljana, which will be very sincere. Sincere in the sense that we really do what they do in Cuba and that it will be very pedagogical, so that we can help everyone to learn how to dance.
Then how did the story of Cubana Ljubljana develop? From these beginnings, how did you succeed? Because now you really have become one big family already, how did your story go?
It started so that we realized that with two instructors you cannot realize your dreams. In short, the plans were always enormous, and to share the joy that we see in the Cuban culture to somebody else, we just said that we have to grow. That was the first thing, and we just started to broaden our team and in my opinion the biggest step or leap forward was when Eva joined. Eva and her femininity, technique and attitude to dance and music, I think she shot us among the stars. And when you start getting such great students who stay with you for a long time, among them you also find new teachers. And one thing that we defend is that we do not learn neurosurgery. We teach people to dance street dance, and there is no need for a dance teacher with twenty years of experience, but every person in whom we see a good motivator and as a good pedagogue, can learn these things in a year or two. So, in fact, by accepting new enthusiasts, we turn them into teachers with time, and the family grows, grows and grows because we can have more and more classes.
At the moment you are quite a big school already, but am I interested to know what is your criteria for success? Where do you see yourself in five years, or is this already, the size you want?
Now from business perspective, in any case we are a non-profit organization. So, we do not look at things businesswise, but we still have some criteria to know when we have succeeded. One thing that we wanted to achieve basically is that we are not building a dance school, but a dance community, so that we are really connected, that everyone knows each other, to say it simple that we party together. In order to build this family, one thing that we have to do is have a lot of events, for example, from festival Manana Ljubljana to inviting a lot of foreign teachers to Slovenia, because we believe that we do not know everything and that it is great that you can incorporated into your own dance everything you learn from different people. But despite this richness of workshops, classes and socials, and so on, there is essentially just one criteria for success, and that is how many people come to our party, how is the party and the amount of smiles.
How people enjoy it.
Yes, and essentially, this is the ultimate goal, or the end result of all the workshops, all the classes, and all the hobbies of people, all the dance hobbies that people realize through Cubana Ljubljana.
And where can you see, probably through these visits to Cuba, where do you see any other challenges for yourself in dance?
An interesting question. For myself in dancing. Cuba is the treasure of dance, and specifically, I am a dancer who wants to make his dance dictionary as wide as possible. This means that it is in my interest to get to know different dance styles, as this gives me a wider vocabulary when I talk to my partner on the dance floor, if she of course speaks the same language so any dance can be rich and different. So in essence my challenge is how to go to Cuba more times, or to find out what else can be done in connection with Cubans in Europe, and thus help the development of Cuban dances, because one thing we need to be aware is that the Cuban salsa or Casino today is really living and developing in Europe. Here is the core of the dancers who we, together with Cuban instructors, are doing new things and discovering the old influences of the salsa and implementing them in the dance, along with Cuban music of course, which develops mainly in Cuba. And this seems to me such a major challenge for the future, in essence, to find out what else still exists in Cuba, in what way to show it in dance, and not necessarily to be buried in the details of things, but to look at things from the point of view of the richness that the Cuban culture offers.
To be continued…