You are expressing yourself through dance. Is there one move that you could say its yours, that you always do it in your dance?
Yes, it depends on the character of the dance. Casino, Cuban salsa is a dance where men has to perform very manly. Very arrogantly said - a man has to show how awesome he is and how the girl can be happy to be able to dance with him. She, of course, thinks the same, they are like two princesses. In Casino salsa, I use a lot of mini acrobatics as, for example, many different dips and similar stuff. I very much like to go low, and squat to the floor as a kind of "I’m a man, watch what I know" manner. So this "show off" element of Casino seems fun to me in a certain way, because of this Caribbean masculinity, which I take a little bit seriously, a little bit with humor. So this can be one of such elements where Casino is very strongly emphasized as a man's dance and I use it as kind of a seal.
What is your day-to-day routine like, how often do you dance each week, how are you preparing for classes?
Somehow I try to have about two to three classes per week. It is very good that some of those are beginner’s classes. That is always the key thing; contact with beginners, so you never forget how difficult it is to start. In addition, it is good that you take a group from their beginnings and to be able to really see through the year how they begin to dance with their heart.
I'm also teaching the most advance group that does not deal with Salsa anymore, but with all the other Cuban dances. Cuba is wonderful in the way that when you start to dance salsa and you dance it for a while, you find that this is not the end of the journey, but that there are a bunch of other dances that you can put into your salsa; from son to rumba, to Afro-Cuban dances and so on. Once a week I have a group that deals with exploration of these special dances, that enrich your salsa and your language and communicate with your partner significantly. In addition, we train Decorason group, which deals with performances to show others the joy of Cuban dances.
My routine looks like this, first I need to get prepare for these classes. This is also one thing that we figured out that if you are a school that teaches combinations, it is quite simple. You do not have to prepare yourself or you just have a set of combinations. But if every hour you want to be innovative, especially for more advance classes, you need specific preparations. It shows that you have to spend several hours every week to fill in those ninety minutes with interesting content.
We have our classes in the evening. Before that we are mostly preparing. Every minute of the week is usually filled with thinking about what else is so typical Cuban, what new things has happened, or what about its history you do not know yet. I am perhaps somehow known as the greatest nerd who digs through books and old videos from the sixties and is looking at how they used to dance, how they dance today and why the differences have appeared. Above all, there is no one truth. You're exploring. That's one thing you learn in Cuba. In the western world, we have things very well documented. For a lot of things, we know quite well how they happened, but in Cuba everyone tells a different story. Authentic dancing ... there is no authentic dance. In the case of street dancing, there is none, however, with dancing that might be religious, as African dancers, there is also nothing. Every sanctuary in Cuba, for example, has danced in its own way, and that is what we as well must understand in dance. This, in essence, gives us the freedom to really be ourselves, that we do not have to put ourselves in a certain way that is authentically Cuban, because the Cubans have hundreds of authentic ways.
In fact, you actually go to Cuba every year to gain the knowledge?
Every year, for the past seven years, I think, yes.
Who are your role models, or where do you find inspiration?
That’s a great question, because I'm not such a person that idealizes specific dancers. I cannot say five names that would be my role models. In fact, you take so little from each one that none is in the whole the dancer of your liking. I would say that one of the role models we met when we went to Cuba with Petra this year is for example Conjunto folklorico Nacional. This is the Cuban Institute for Folklore Dance, which strives to preserve all these old dances and dance them in an otherwise modernized form. There are dancers who are sixty, seventy years old and carry this tradition forward. So, I would say that they can be one of such role models that gives you inspiration. This year, when we were in Cuba, we spent 14 days at workshops in this institute, and for the quarter of our time we sang old songs that we dance to. These are songs for which they do not know the meaning, but then this mystic makes you want to dance and connects history together with the present.
So these texts are not in Spanish, they are African?
No, they are in African languages, this is in the language of Yoruba. In part, they also do not know very well what these words mean, and then they turn some word from Afrikaans, from the Yoruba language, to Spanish. A famous example is,a song for the angel Oshun, where the text in Yoruba language says "o fe yi si da" and they hear it as "o felicidad", "o happiness". And whenever they sing this poem, they sing "o felicidad, how happy I am". In fact, this means "a good man is doing the right thing". So the meaning is quite different, but also some happiness in it.
When you think about your dancing, is there a moment that really stuck in your memory (not necessarily funny) and a moment, that makes you smile every time you think of it?
As far as funny, there is an absolutely top event that happened in Zagreb when I wanted to drop down a little. We danced with Anja and she did not quite foresee what I wanted to do. The dancefloor was full, we are dancing, I take her by the shoulder and make a "drop" on one foot. She did not expect it, and after a second, we were both laying on the back as beetles waving our hands. A friend Nemanja from Serbia was dancing beside us and looked down, like, "People, what's happening with you two?", and we stayed liked cute bugs rolling on the ground for a little while longer. So, this was definitely the funiest event because it also shows the one thing that Casino or Cuban Salsa teaches - that there are no mistakes. Everything that happens is funny and we have to take everything with humor. This is not a dance that would require perfection of you. The more "bloopers" happens in the dance, the better.
The moment that touched me the most in dance, was I think once when I first felt a pure telepathy with my partner. When you do not feel anymore what your hands do, but that things happen on their own. Once when we were dancing Casino with our Ksenija, I fell into a zone where there was no longer a need to move my muscles. Whatever I thought, she did and vice versa; I think. This was years ago and I said then, "Well, this is the Zen moment of dance, dancing with the heart that you want to reach".
A perfect dance connection.
You've been in dance for years. Surely there is some lesson, something that dance has taught you, that you can use in everyday life?
If we look at our dance community, Cubana Ljubljana, it has taught me that with the right team everything is possible. This seems to me the lesson that we have been living now for the past five years. Life teaches us all the time in all areas, but here I think it showed most crystal clear that if you do something with people who live for it, believe in it and they do it - not for survival, but for their own soul, sky is the limit.
Another thing that dance can teach you is that you can say a lot of things with very little effort. In dancing, we do not talk to one another, but we talk with movement, with the face, with the telepathy that we mentioned earlier. You can find that you can very, very economically, tell a lot of things, like emotions or a different kind of message.
Do you have any advice for our dancers, beginners, or those who think they have come to some point in their dancing where they think they can no longer progress? What would you advise them?
The absolute best advice in my life, which I gave, was - I think last year, to one of our dancers who progressed and progressed, then he came to some point when me and everyone else knew that he was capable to do a lot more. What I said to him was that he shouldn’t care about how he looks like, what others think about him, and just let go to the things he feels. Within 14-day "hats down", he became a genius dancer. A hearted dancer, he really started to not care what others think of him, and all the dancers said, "That's it." In short, a rebirth.
In fact, he completely personalized your advice.
Do you have any challenge for our dancers?
My challenge will not be so much about movement and dance, but it comes from my dance history, or my Cuban-dance history. It is very important to me to dance with music, in short, musicality. Always when I dance, there is three of us dancing. Of course, the partner is the most important, but music is also very important. Very often people ignore music, they have it as a basis, like a rhythm. Cuban music or timba, as we say, is one of the most abundant music that exists in dancing. To understand this, you can make it quite audible. So, my challenge is to take a really good album of Cuban timbers and play it on "repeat" ten times and try to find in it all the layers it gives you: from instruments, to lyricism, to romance, to aggression, such a beautiful aggression.
I would recommend Havana D'Primera album Haciendo historia - "We are creating history" or "We are creating history now", which is their first album. Try listening to the same album several times and to find out what's hiding in these songs. I needed a year to understand the genius of timba. Today, for example, a lot of dance music is much simpler, because it goes a bit more into reggaeton, cubaton, salsaton direction. The "echt" of the Cuban music, timba, is one that hides all the secrets, on what salsa dance can do in a quality manner. So Havana D'Primera - album Haciendo historia in the car on repeat five times - let's hear it.
With Jan, we will be very happy if you write about what you actually "took away" from this interview, and above all what you have taken away from the challenge; what were the findings you come up with when you were listening to Havana D'Primera album? You are kindly invited to write us a comment on Facebook or Instagram.
Jan, thank you very much for today's interview.
I look forward to continue enjoying the dance moments at Cubana Ljubljana and see you in a week.
Yes. There is a cottage on Roblek, so we are in a super Gorenjska region. Ines, thank you very much and see you on the dancefloor.