Dance world is full of various dance 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 9th interview of Dancer's Life Stories, we will get to know the story of Nejc Zupan, who is a longtime swing dancer, who teaches at international festivals, but spends most of his time teaching at Studio Dansa and also in Trieste.
Nejc, it's best that you tell us your story. Where did your dance story begin, what stages did it go through?
As a kid, I always loved to move. I first came across dance in elementary school when I was in a theater group. We had theater workshops every summer. At that time they were taking place in Tolmin, I was 13 or 14 years old. It was the first time I saw modern dancers and that fascinated me. Between them there were Ivan Peternelj, from Mladinsko gledališče and Branko Potočan, who is an internationally recognized educator and dancer. They fascinated me with their movement, interpretation, the way they taught dance and movement. Maybe someone wouldn't say it was a dance, but for me it was definitely nice expression through the movement and it was dance for me. I used to see sport dancers, but I never met them up close. I always watched beautiful dancers from afar, rotating on the dance floors.
When did you came across swing?
There was always a lot of music at home, my dad had a lot of old records. At the beginning of high school, I started playing in ska band in Kranj. At the time, we were trying with ska and swing music, so I started listening and exploring jazz and read a lot about it. I was about 15 or 16 years old when I saw the movie Swing Kids. It was a revelation to me, because it gathered what I admired in modern dance and the music from the movie. At that moment, I said that I would like to do it once in my life.
It's been a couple of years and I started to ask dancing schools in Ljubljana, where they teach dance. A couple of schools said, they were teaching swing, but that they were collecting applications. But no school has made that happen. It turned out, that no one taught the swing as we know it today. Maybe they were teaching something similar, like boogie woogie and jive, but swing, lindy hop and other styles weren't known in Slovenia.
That was in year 1997 or 1998, when we started to use the Internet more and more. That was the first time I saw that there were dance workshops abroad. Being so fascinated with jazz and ska jamaican music, I went to see my friends in London. I went to all the ska concerts and all the regular swing classes, so I knew exactly who was teaching in London. I went from class to class, for each day of the week I decided where I was going to go. Many times I just drop into their classes and they were wondering who I was and where I came from. These were my first contacts with swing to see what the thing looked like. Then I bought videotapes online.
Graduation was approaching and with dancer Lučka Lučovnik, who danced jazz ballet and modern, we decided to dance swing at the prom. It didn't happen, but in the meantime we were getting together to watch the videotapes. Even though we didn't dance swing at the prom, I continued to have this desire.
Then one day we were painting our home in Kranj. Very quickly, I got tired of it and started reading the newspaper that was on the floor to prevent the dripping paint to get on the floor. I was reading an article about a dance couple that performed dances from 30s, 40s and 50s. I knew, this was what I had been looking for. At least 5 or 6 years have passed since I saw the movie Swing Kids until I found someone in Slovenia who was dancing swing. Then I called the editors office and met Vesna Bratušek and Sajles Šinkovec. Vesna gave me Sajles' contact. I called him and we arranged to meet. As he is American, I had the image from the movies in my mind. I was most fascinated with black and white movies, like A Day at the races, the brothers Marx movie where all the dancers were black. I was sure, that Sajles as well was tall, dark-skinned swing dancer, and when we met, it was just the opposite. His father had Irish roots and his mother was Slovenian, so he looked just like the rest of us; he was not tall nor black.
He greeted me nicely and showed me the first steps in his small house, near Dolgi most. I was completely fascinated, finally the things were moving forward. During this period, I tried to convince a few colleagues in Kranj and Ljubljana to join the classes. Sajles knew how to gather people from all over and he found places where we could dance. Although he came to Slovenia with the desire to be a street artist, which he later was, he started teaching swing. We had classes at Parma street. The first course was a mix of people; some were rockabilly's, some ex-dancers, some of us had never danced anything before... And then he started teaching. The first socials were at Drama, where a coffee shop is today and where the tickets are being sold. The space was very small, the dance floor was about 20 square meters or less, and that's where we first started dancing.
And then your love for dance continued…
Yes, through classes. Sajles was a very specific man and he taught swing in a specific way. He taught one style that we all learned in the beginning, but some of us wanted to learn other styles as well, especially lindy hop, what we saw in the movies. Sajles didn't offer that at the time, I was going to his classes for a while, but then I lost the will for it and we said goodbye. Then I started going to workshops abroad. It was there that I first encountered lindy hop, a dance form that is still the most popular today. In the meantime we were still dancing and attending socials organized by Sajles. Then the socials moved to Kolizej building for a while, and later on we went to Kodeljevo.
The key moment was, when my colleague Maša Sraka opened Buba dance school and asked me, if I could teach swing there. I declined, because I didn't teach swing, I just danced and that she should ask Sajles. She insisted that she wanted me, as she saw me dancing and she liked it. Because I always liked to show something to the people if they wanted to dance and as I like to spread and share knowledge, she managed to convince me. I started teaching and enjoyed it, a lot. Sajles taught his style, we taught lindy hop, Aleš Kolar, who is known as Mister President and runs the Vintage society and dance school, began to teach in his circles and the thing quickly began to spread.
What about your collaboration with Studio Dansa?
Studio Dansa was founded by Tanja Vojnović and Anja Prešern. At that time, there were quite a few dancers who started teaching, some through school, some for themselves. Tanja and Anja had a vision to connect all these teachers within one society and they succeeded.
The group that helped develop and form the group that started teaching swing, was Salsa caliente. At Kodeljevo they had salsa parties and we had swing, so we went dancing to each other’s socials. Members of this group today teach salsa in different schools in Ljubljana. At the time they were one team and they had fantastic energy, so we really loved going to the socials because of them. We even started making our own battles in old part of Ljubljana. Both Salsa and Swing dancers did 10 half to one minute long choreographies. Then we danced against each other. A huge crowd gathered and you could see salsa and swing in one place. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case because those salsa dancers went their own way, but our swing group still seems to be homogeneous. Maybe in the future we will revive this idea.
Maybe that is one of the challenges for the future.To be continued…