Andreja Podlogar & Blaž Bertoncelj: Tango Pioneers

By , 13 Oct 2018, 12:43 PM Made in Slovenia
Andreja and Blaž at Studio BA Tango Andreja and Blaž at Studio BA Tango Photo: Tomaž Dular

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Andreja Podlogar and Blaž Bertoncelj are Argentinian tango world champions, internationally acclaimed artists, innovative teachers, researchers, critical thinkers and global tango ambassadors, whose visionary work is gathered in a small dance studio lab in the centre of Ljubljana, called Studio BA Tango. Andreja and Blaž shared with us their knowledge and views on the dance itself, its historic development, their diverse work and future plans, which include an ambitious project to create a global creative platform for critical thinking, applied knowledge and development of new creative potentials in the field, starting with an international tango symposium, which they plan to organise in 2019 in no other place but Ljubljana.

October 13, 2018

Where did you two first meet?

Blaž: On the dancefloor.

Andreja: We met at the Urška dance school in Ljubljana. We were both competing in Latin and ballroom dances at the time.

Blaž: But in different couples.

So that was long time ago?

Blaž: We were teenagers back then. Later on, when we were both without dance partners, we decided to start dancing together.

How did you switch to tango?

Andreja: In 1996 a tango show came to Cankar Centre (Cankarjev dom), where I worked a student job as an usher and was thus well informed about all the touring groups coming to Ljubljana. So we watched the show… I got in for free, but Blaž had to buy a ticket.

Blaž: We didn’t have time to meet that evening, so we met the next day in the Drama Café and I began explaining to Andreja right away on how we should proceed with tango, as there was no tango in Ljubljana at all, and the more I was explaining to her the more she was laughing, which made me believe that she found my ideas ridiculous, and so I tried to elaborate further, which made her laugh even more…

Andreja: I was laughing because I thought exactly the same. Since we happened to have the same idea in our minds already, it was only natural to pursue it as well, and things moved really fast from there on.

The show was in June, in August I left for London where I got in contact with a tango teacher and arranged classes we then took in November. These were, however, not our first tango lessons.

Blaž: We were in fact quite fortunate with the timing. In September of this same year our colleague Uroš Andič was returning from New York, where he spent a few years teaching social dancing. It just happened that the studio where he was teaching had an internal study exchange as a big tango show - “Forever Tango “ - was on Broadway and the dancers from the show practised there, so he ended up learning tango from a famous dancer, Carlos Gavito. It was actually Uroš, who gave us our first classes in September 1996.

Andreja: He came back just at the right moment.

And two years later you won the IDO Argentine Tango World Championship.

Blaž: Our background was in competitive dancing, so our first, spontaneous approach to tango was to compete.

Andreja: After working with Uroš we went to London, studied there for about a month, then some Argentinian couples came to Ljubljana for a few weeks and we worked with them, but, of course, we also worked a lot by ourselves.

We went to Buenos Aires for the first time in 1998, where we worked really hard for about 8 to 10 hours a day with a teacher for about a month. Then we returned home to our studio and continued the hard work, analysing things we learned, on our own and with Uroš, who nevertheless still possessed a lot of knowledge, albeit of a different kind. Every teacher has a different approach, and in those days we also benefited a lot from Jelena Markovič, a ballet dancer, who gave us yet another perspective on movement in dance. Again, we worked really hard before we won this championship, with other people as well as on our own.

Blaž: Soon we were fifth in the European championship, then third, then we won the world championship in 1998. It’s interesting to note that Carlos Gavito, who taught Uroš Andič in New York, won this same championship a year later.

Becoming world champions made us wonder what to do next, what is our next step going to be. So from this technical perfectionism that is characteristic of competitive dancing we moved towards exploring the artistic side of the dance.

If we look back on how our view of tango evolved, going to Buenos Aires and then coming back to analyse, discuss and explore what we had learned allowed us to adopt a certain critical distance towards it all. If we had the money to stay in Buenos Aires for a year, for example, we would have perhaps gotten under the complete influence of one or two teachers, which would probably have prevented us from seeing things from a broader perspective.

Andreja: Each teacher can only provide you with their point of view, and if you get under the influence of one teacher only you can’t develop your own style, you can’t develop your own approach to the subject, so being forced to learn about tango from so many different perspectives worked really well for us.

What exactly do you mean by a critical distance?

Blaž: We were lucky to have met with tango before the Argentinian economic breakdown of 2002, which transformed tango into an export industry, redesigned to meet the need for instant cultural products on the global market. Two main trends evolved from this situation that still persist in the so-called tango world today. There is this tendency the majority pursues for a traditional essence in tango, which we see as some sort of an artificially prescribed idea of a past that never really existed. On the other hand there is an oppositional minority to this view, which however doesn’t seem to be very capable, or have the courage needed, to create an alternative to the subject of its criticism.

There are two main problems with the so-called “traditional” style of tango that we managed to observe. First its naming is not accurate, as traditionally tango never consisted of only one style. It’s a hybrid of different dance styles and social codes that were recently put together to be sold to American and European consumers as the “real” Argentine tango. And secondly, following the 1990s boom and the discovery of tango in terms of business, there was a sudden explosion in the quantity of teaching, but not in the quality, and this had adverse effects on the dancing.

Andreja: There was no such a thing as a traditional style in the 1990s, when we went to Buenos Aires. Then tango was still danced in its organic form by the older generation, who managed to preserve it through the military rule and then revive it in the late 1980s and 1990s. If something is organic, it means that it keeps evolving in many styles. As Maria Nieves once stated: “One thing I notice that is so different now is that today, everybody dances the same. When I went to a milonga I saw that all the women hung from the men’s necks, pushed their behinds out, pressed themselves against their partner’s chest and stayed so separated below that in between you could see a tramway. This style is today’s fashion. I respect it, but it’s not my taste. My time was a splendorous time for tango, because you wouldn’t find two boys who danced the same” (quoted from Paul Pelicoro, “On Tango”)

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At Milonga La Viruta, Buenos Aires, 2016                              Photo: Marko Vombergar
 

This dogmatic approach everyone seems to be obsessing over these days also involves some social norms of the past, such as the cabaceo, a male dancer’s invitation to dance by a discrete look towards a lady. This might have made sense in a historic context, but it really seems redundant today. There was no cabaceo in sight in the 1990s milongas, when an old man came to me and said “Come, let’s dance.”

So all this stiffness is a consequence of quick fixes that responded to the demand for “real” tango by European and American cultural consumers. Due to the poor economic conditions at home many Argentinians decided to enter the market for tango, as all you needed to persuade the buyers that you knew what you were doing was to be Argentinian, as if everyone in the country knew how to dance.

Blaž: You could read in Argentinian newspapers success stories that went as follows: I used to be an architect, but then I lost my job, now I am touring the world as a successful tango teacher.

Is tango not danced that widely in Argentina?

Blaž: Tango started as a street culture of Montevideo and Buenos Aires and developed in a similar fashion to hip hop in more recent times: it was danced to the popular music of the time, with dance duels in the streets and so on.

Andreja: Tango was danced in the streets, in brothels and coffee shops, and was therefore looked down on by the upper classes. In the 1913-14, however, it became popular in Europe, especially in Paris. Rich Argentinians were spending their summers in Paris, you see, and their children, being young, had picked the dance up in the streets of their home cities, and they took it to Paris with them on vacation, where it gained popularity in the years leading to World War One. From Paris tango returned home as an acceptable middle class dance, which took off in the tango boom of the 1920s and 1930s. The country is a mixture of influences, often unexpected. An old Argentinian passenger we met at an airport once asked us whether we knew what an Argentinian was, then he explained, an Argentinian is an Italian who speaks Castellano (Spanish), likes French art and wants to be a British lord.

Sounds very white.

Andreja: Well, you can hear and see influences of Afro-Cuban origin in the music and dance itself, but you don’t see many coloured people in Buenos Aires let alone in its tango scene. But this is also not a topic people there would be very comfortable talking about.    

Blaž: If you dig a bit into it you learn a lot of interesting stories about this earlier era when tango was booming. For example, one on the origin of what’s called “tango red”. Apparently, there was this textile salesman in Paris, who got stuck with a bale of material that nobody wanted to buy due to its unappealing brownish yellow colour. So he decided to use the latest craze in the city to sell it. He put the fabric in a window with a sign saying “tango red” next to it. He had no problems in selling it after that. What all this means is that many people today have no idea how the dance actually developed, and why their traditions are fake.

Andreja: So when tango was accepted by the higher classes in Buenos Aires – because it became popular in Paris – they started valuing it. Big dance halls developed with orchestras of 12 musicians (Orquesta Tipica) playing in them.

Blaž: With the development of the Tango de Salon in the 1930s, many rules were imposed on what was acceptable on the dancefloor and what wasn’t, as these places were also quite packed. And they had bouncers to make sure people followed the rules.

Andreja: In the city salons some moves were deemed inappropriate, such as a man getting a lady’s leg between his legs. But the dance in itself was still organic, dancers competed with each other in inventing their own styles, and – as we were told by Puppy Castello, an older, famous tango teacher – he was thrown out from many of these places for doing his own thing. At the same time, at the clubs in the outskirts of the town, the codes were looser and they danced everything. The style of tango varied according to where it was danced. Also each neighbourhood in Buenos Aires had its own style of tango – for example a popular barrio for tango was Avelaneda, and people there were known to dance with more experimental choreography...

Blaž: Social dancers today are just not aware of these developments when they claim to be dancing ”traditional” style. In the 30s, for example, it would not be acceptable to dance in a way so close like today, especially not with a stranger.

Andreja: Yes, the close embrace, also known as milonguero or club style is something that developed in the club scene of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1955 tango went into decline in Argentina as the military dictatorship banned public gatherings, and only came back at the end of the 1980s to join various other dances that had developed since then.

So tango seems to be a little different if compared to other partner dances?

Blaž: Unlike other couple dances, where steps are dictated by the music and a woman is led by a man, tango is an improvisational dance which requires a lot of communication between the partners.

Our initial approach to tango was in perfecting it technically, but after that we figured there was a vast artistic potential waiting to be explored, so we began researching the dance and the way it developed a bit deeper.

What we found in tango, and not in other couple dances, is this nonverbal communication which allows you to bypass all language barriers to get the message across. It therefore covers a large spectrum of emotions that can be conveyed, a theatre of a universal language.

Andreja: You can, for example, put on a stage a salsa spectacle, but it’s almost impossible to use salsa as a theatre language by which a more complex story could be told. It is just too one-dimensional, always happy or joyful. Tango, however, is in a way very similar to contemporary dance – emotionally expressive, you can actually tell a story with it.

You put a tango version of Othello on stage recently?

Blaž: Yes, and we worked quite hard putting this show on. The idea came in 2010, and it premiered in 2014. This was not the first time a dance version of Othello was placed on the stage. There is one very famous choreography by Jose Limon titled The Moors Pavane, however, this is a contemporary dance choreography and only 15 minutes long. Our show is 90 minutes, and we tried to implement all sorts of things into it, new technologies and sound to support the story, which was expressed mainly through the dance.

So what we tried to do was to keep the original story line but appropriate it to the tango environment of Buenos Aires, with Othello being a gringo tango dancer.

An American?

Blaž: A foreigner.

Andreja: Someone out of place.

Blaž: A foreigner dancing and teaching tango in Buenos Aires. Desdemona is the daughter of a famous local tango teacher, and Iago is a local tango dancer and Casio – remember that tango was not only a thing in Buenos Aires but also in Montevideo – Casio is Uruguayan tango dancer, and they are putting on a show in a theatre in Buenos Aires…

Andreja: If you know the story, the plot begins in Venice and then it moves to Cyprus, to an island, somewhere isolated...

Blaž: Yes, in our show, the Theatro el Cipro in Buenos Aires.

And then we encountered certain aspects of storytelling that you cannot convey entirely with the language of the dance. It is good in expressing the interactions between the characters, but there are certain things in the narrative we had to express with other media.

Andreja: Especially the manipulation.

Blaž: Yes, especially the actions of Iago.

 

Andreja: Iago was played by Uroš Andič, who did a very good job. But it was impossible for his character to express all the plots that run through his head. As we wanted to clarify the story for members of the audience who might not be familiar with the plot, we had to use some other techniques. Blaž was studying multimedia in Nova Gorica at the time, and that came handy. We also had a director, a very good director, Alberto Goldberg from Argentina...

Blaž: We couldn’t direct everything ourselves as well…

Andreja: Then one year before we premiered, and we were still developing the concepts, experimenting with all possible solutions, he was listening to our ideas and we probably gave him headache, and when he eventually left he just wished us good luck.

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Othello at Španski borci, Ljubljana, 2014                                        Photo: Tomaž Jakhel
 

Blaž: We were putting on quite a complex show. There were only three dancers on stage, for Othello, Desdemona and Iago, everyone and everything else was presented through various other media and had to be synchronised with what was happening live on stage.

Andreja: For example, as Desdemona I was filmed on the screen, dancing with other characters, let’s say with Casio, then Othello enters and I disappear from the screen and turn up on the stage.

Blaž: So all these transitions, such as how the handkerchief goes from the screen to the stage and back to the screen again, all these puzzles had to be solved, which made the project not just difficult but also very interesting. And once we premiered we were fortunate enough to be invited to perform at the Kirchner Cultural Centre in Buenos Aires in 2016.

 

Were you nervous to perform with a culturally critical show at the place were tango originated?

BA: Yes, very much.

Andreja: On our arrival, we checked the stage for all the exit points, so that we would know where to run off if needed.

Blaž: It’s an experiment, things can go wrong. Besides, you never know how the audience is going to react.

But the show was sold out in two hours, and was really well accepted. It’s something we are really proud of, it carries the same weight as winning the world championship.

Andreja: Well it’s really hard to compare.

Blaž: It’s hard to compare, but it’s one of those things that makes you say, wow, I did it!

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Othello at Kirchner Cultural Centre, Buenos Aires, 2016         Photo: Fede Kaplun
 

Andreja: It really was a great achievement at the time. We always try to do something different, something that fulfils another aspect of what we are working on, exploring uncharted territories rather than sticking to something well tested and safe. A lot of today’s contemporary dance shows, ones that are considered alternative and different, have in fact become quite mainstream, predictable and safe.

Blaž: They are by definition a contemporary dance, and this is something you can categorise and sell, gets subsidies for and so on. We have always been difficult to categorise, so we fall in-between the genres.

Is it hard to apply for subsidies then, since what you do is so different?

Blaž: It was even hard to get this project to festivals, just before we were invited to Buenos Aires, the Cankar Centre in Ljubljana had an open call for the season to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Half the programme was devoted to Shakespeare, the other half to the use of new technologies in stage performances. We applied for both with Othello, but were turned down as they claimed that by that time they had already run out of the budget.

Two months later we were invited to Buenos Aires and received a long thank you letter from the Slovenian embassy there for our efforts in promoting the country abroad.

We are trying to get into a collaboration with the theatres, as we can’t do everything by ourselves, and theatres already have marketing channels, audiences…

Andreja: We are artists, we are already the dancers and teachers, and marketing really isn’t our strong point. We are outside the theatre lobbies on the one hand, and we are not coming from the contemporary dance scene, which usually get subsidies, on the other…, so we are not here, not there...

You are outsiders?

Blaž: If we went back to the idea of the classical tango show instead of our tango theatre, we might have been more successful in terms of the number of performances, but that’s not what we’d like to do anymore. Lately we’ve been thinking about performing in small theatres, which has been quite a global trend at the moment, one that started in Spain during the recession, but you can find it everywhere now.

Are there any places like this in Ljubljana?

Blaž: The problem in Ljubljana is that the old Yugoslavian law, which defined public events quantitatively by the number of people attending (30), was later changed so that the number was left out of the definition. This means that for a single ticket sold you need to follow same safety measures, from the security to fire brigade, as you would in the case of a show presented to a hundred people. This makes small theatres economically impossible to sustain.

We have two open cultural “oases” in Ljubljana, namely Metelkova and Rog, where these legal requirements are not being implemented. This is OK as long as no accidents happen there. If the legislation was adjusted to the reality, however, it would be much better not only for these two sites, but also for a revival of the public lives of local communities, where little local theatre places would be allowed to pop up, say in Celovški Dvori or Fužine. Such public spaces are needed for people to meet, to have an opportunity to create, to feel alive. Right now, nobody is allowed to create much, only consume, while at the same time we know there is no money for any new infrastructure needed for the preforming arts to develop, either.

Was Othello the first theatre show you staged?

Blaž: As we already mentioned, after winning the world championship in 1998 we decided to explore the artistic side of the dance, so in 2001 we performed at Dubrovnik Summer Festival with our first show, Tango Prohibido, which was very well received, but had a simple story that was there more or less as an excuse for the choreography.

 

Andreja: This show was technically very good in terms of dance – we received a national award, “Povodni mož”, for the choreography – but not really in terms of a theatrical performance. At the time we had only just started exploring this aspect of the art.

We did our first show, Tango Prohibido, the way the Argentine tango shows looked like in those days, which meant we needed more dancers, a bandoneon or accordion player and a singer. We asked Uroš Andič and his partner, then we ran out of available options, so the third couple had to be trained. It turned out, however, that training amateurs is not such an easy task, as they are quite easily satisfied with what they do, whereas professionals always feel a bit insecure and therefore practice more, and also put a better show on in the end.

On the other hand, we were lucky to meet accordion player Marko Hatlak and an actress Lara Jankovič while filming a film “Tango -5”, by Tomaž Letnar, so we asked them to be a part of our first show. 

Our next show, called Tango E-mocion, premiered in 2002. We decided to put on a show with professional dancers only, and make the story a bit more complex. It was the first show, where we also used multimedia.

 

At about this time in 2003, we were also invited to perform at the Buenos Aires Tango Festival.

Blaž: This put us in a dilemma as to whether we should present something what is generally believed to be tango, or something showing how we feel about tango. The first choice meant a certain moderate success, the second carried the risk of failure...

Andreja: We decided to dance to “Adios Nonino” by Astor Piazzolla, which was quite a controversial choice of music. Although many Europeans and Americans learnt about tango through Piazzolla, you will not hear his music at the so-called traditional tango milongas, where it isn’t considered suitable. Also, Piazzolla wrote this music in memory to his father, it’s a very emotional and sad piece.

We got standing ovations for the show, and while walking off the stage we had to pass through the audience, all of them cheering us on, then we reached the media area and really shocked them with our poor knowledge of Spanish: oh, you are not from Buenos Aires?!

Blaž: We received huge national and broader media coverage, including in the Washington Post, CNN and New York Herald Tribune…we were also invited to perform on their national TV with a famous Argentinian dance couple who used to dance in the aforementioned big show, “Forever Tango”. Unfortunately we don’t also have any footage of the show, but all of this happened so fast, it was difficult to follow. Luckily, it wasn’t the last time we received this kind of media attention as we continued creating things we like to do.

Andreja: At the time, however, we started to think about putting on a theatrical performance with a more profound story. So we asked a professional in the field, the playwright Tomaž Letnar, to write a drama for our next tango performance. Harmonia, tango drama, premiered in the Cankar Centre in Ljubljana in 2006, and in 2010 we applied with this performance to the Cambalache Tango, Theatre and Dance Festival in Buenos Aires, and got accepted.

 

Again, the show was well received by both audiences and critics, and we got a lot of media coverage again, including the dance papers Critica Teatral, Alternativa Teatral and Balletin Dance. For the newspaper Clarin we had an extensive interview with the recognized dance critic Laura Falcoff, who is also the author of a book on tango.

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Vizotto Harmonia at Cambalache Festival, 2010
 
 

A little earlier you were talking about tango being an improvisational dance. But you probably don’t improvise while staging a theatrical show, do you?

Andreja: In theatrical performances with a narrative, we need a choreography, of course, but when our main concern is dancing, then we improvise.

Blaž: When we dance with live musicians, you really have to improvise, as they never play the same way twice. For example, in the project Tango Story we dance with Ars Tango Quintet and we never have choreography, so the performance is always somehow different...we won’t dance the same, let’s say, in SNG Drama next February as we danced on Arsana Festival last July... 

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Arsana festival, Ptuj, 2018                                                            Photo: Albin Bezjak
 

Andreja: And then it’s also the stage, sometimes we only have one metre of space to perform on, with quite a fall from the edge.

Blaž: Yes, on one hand we do all these choreographed shows for theatre, on the other hand, we also developed a teaching system and give classes to people, who’d like to learn the dance. This brings us to an important point, which is the control of your body as an instrument. Without it, you won’t be able to express yourself. For example, if you have a piece of paper and some watercolours and you’d like to paint a beautiful sunset, then if you’ve never learnt how to paint, your painting might, let’s put it politely, turn out a bit different from what was originally intended.

We see too many people today just being offered some steps and sequences to copy, perhaps even doing some damage to their bodies while they’re doing what they believe to be the right movement.

Andreja: This is why the music has become so one-dimensional at the traditional milongas, people don’t really know how to dance to something that doesn’t dictate the step. But we like to dance to music we like. And in order to express oneself, one needs to adopt a proper technique. It sounds like the hard way, but it pays off as knowing the technique, having your body in control, you can enjoy the movement you create. And it’s not really that difficult. Being sort of pioneers, we feel an obligation to develop a system of teaching, of transmitting the knowledge we obtained throughout the years. So we developed a skill of identifying the problems our students struggle with and the remedies for them, instead of just showing them how things are supposed to look and then leaving them to figure out how to copy of it, as is often done these days.

Blaž: As Andreja has already mentioned, you have this counter movement that is against the “tradition”. Now we are not against it, we accept the heritage, we do not, however, support this iconographic idea of the tradition. On the other hand, we are not just sitting here in Europe complaining about the situation out there, we go out there and risk doing something different. We go to Buenos Aires and dance in the middle of the street in front of 2,500 people or even more, in front of the government building on Avenida de Maya to the music of Magnifico.

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Av. de Majo, Buenos Aires, 2016                                          Photo: Marko Vombergar
 

Which song?

Blaž: Ruska, from the soundtrack of “Montevideo, bog te video”.

 

What is “Tango Nuevo”, and is this the version of tango you dance?

Andreja: In 1999 we went to Buenos Aires to attend the first International congress of Argentine tango, when the idea of the so called Tango Nuevo was implemented. In the 1990s three teachers, three tango dancers, Gustavo Naveira, Fabian Salas and Mariano “Chicho” Frumboli, began searching for structural consistencies in the dance. So they developed a system of solutions to various circumstances that can emerge from the situations a couple can encounter in the mutual exchange of conversation that occurs in dance.

Blaž: Basically they said to themselves, ok, we have a certain position, where can we proceed from here on…

Andreja: … what are the possibilities to improvise from a particular position onwards? So they developed this somewhat structural model, a dance grammar, which allows us to improvise more freely, and this is what is called Tango Nuevo.

In 2006 we went back to practice and learn the model with Gustavo Naveira, who was actually the main leader of this project…

Blaž: It was in fact a teacher training programme…

Andreja: It was really intense, he is perhaps the teacher we gained from most from in the shortest period of time. And what we learnt from him is also what our students now benefit from the most. This way teaching is actually very interesting, and we wouldn’t do it if it was just about showing the steps. There is, however, a bit of a confusion among dancers today about what Tango Nuevo stands for, they believe it is when you dance in an open embrace and ….

Blaž: … you do some crazy stuff.

 

Andreja: Only that the so-called crazy stuff has always been done in tango, but with Tango Nuevo you can now do it from any point in the dance without having to memorize the whole choreography, thus creating your own combinations in each dance.

We enjoy seeing how our students create things that wouldn’t think of doing only a year before, when they started to dance with us.

Who are your students?

Andreja: They come from all walks of life: competitive dancers, teachers, social dancers, but most of them are just ordinary people who started dancing tango because they found it interesting. Their age ranges from 20 to 70, even 80 years old, and I should note that 70 year-olds can sometimes do things many in their 40s can’t.

You are also active in the field of research. You are preparing a study on the benefits of dance among the elderly.

Blaž: Yes, a few years ago we made a study A pilot research of dance movement and social aspects of application of Argentine tango in the population of deaf people - it was great to see deaf people dancing tango, and also how other dancers changed their mentality about the deaf after watching them dancing. The title of this new study is Prevention of Falls in the Population of Elderly People. We are currently working with a medical team on the protocol of the study. The aim of the study is to offer solutions that would mitigate the effects of an ageing society. Tango dancing could not only reduce the costs related to a lack of fitness and coordination among the elderly, but also problems associated with solitude and a lack of interests.

Andreja: The aim of the study is to scientifically prove what we’ve known from practice for quite a while. The point is, however, that technique and practice are done in accordance with the anatomic functions of the body. You need to know which things are good for you and what can cause harm. People have back problems, their knees hurt, etc., and don’t seem to know where this came from.

Blaž: We tend to believe that dance teachers, just like any other coach, should first gain a certain teaching licence. I received swimming coaching for eight years and no parent would entrust their child to an unlicensed swimming instructor. But since no one can drown on the dance floor it’s believed no damage can be done at all. We have seen, however, how some really bad dance teaching could cause serious lower back and knee problems in a couple of years.

You mentioned earlier that you encountered tango during your student years. What did you study?

Andreja: I wanted to study medicine at first, but then friends persuaded me not to, as I would have to sit at a desk and study and wouldn’t have time to dance any more. So I applied and finished pharmacy, while making sure to take as many medical courses as I could, while my degree thesis was also done at the Faculty of Medicine. I draw on my knowledge of the anatomy of movement when teaching quite a lot in my dance classes, at least in terms of movement optimization and prevention of injuries. Based on the concept of biomechanics I have also developed a technique of floor exercises – the TangoFloorTec technique – which helps to develop an understanding of the correct posture and body movements otherwise carried out while standing up.

Blaž, earlier, when we talked about your theatrical performance of Othello, Andreja mentioned that many solutions in the show came from your studies of multimedia arts at the University of Nova Gorica.

Blaž: Yes, but before that I’ve earned a BA in interior design.

Have you designed this dance studio? It looks very pretty, like a little Sistine Chapel.

Blaž: This is in fact wallpaper of a mural in the Louvre, The Kidnapping of Europe, one of the rare occasions in which my original degree came of use. When we got this studio it was just four barren walls. This is not only our dance school but more like a laboratory for us, everything is happening here, children practice piano, or just dance as well. We spend a lot of time here. If a crisis strikes with our apartment at home, we could just crash here for a while.

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At Studio BA Tango                                                              Photo: Tomaž Dular
 

We have a very personal approach to our students as well, which they appreciate a lot since it’s very important for the development of each individual student to have a lot of care and works in a relaxed atmosphere... But on the other hand it was interesting that when we had team building exercise for companies, and the first activity was just to stand there, observe and do nothing, you could see how uncomfortable the majority of people felt. We have so much practice in putting social masks on in our everyday communication with each other, but it’s interesting to see how the body doesn’t lie.

Andreja: They told us later that they learnt a lot of things regarding communication skills, but that for them this was the most horrible exercise they’d ever done.

Blaž: Because if you want to learn about body language and interaction, then you have to step out of your comfort zone.

This wasn’t a tango workshop, was it?

Blaž: This was a team building workshop in a company. We had it because tango and management seem to have certain similarities, in that both require lots of communication skills. We also gave an interview about this to the magazine published by the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.

If a firm has an autocratic boss, who is in a constant monologue, then it won’t get very far in business these days. It’s a very similar thing in tango.

Andreja: For example, in tango if you’d like to take the lead and you communicate this to your partner through touch, by grabbing them slightly stronger, you will get their attention about what you are planning to do. But if you do this all the time they will stop “hearing” you. It’s the same thing in management. If you lead softly, and then in a crucial moment push a bit, you will get the attention. But if you push and shout all the time, your employees will sooner or later start to ignore you.

Blaž: We tend to search for universalities that apply across various fields.

What are your plans for the future?

Blaž: Because of all the divisions we see in the global tango society today, we decided to organise the 21st Century Tango and Art Symposium in Ljubljana next year.

Andreja: The idea is to bring together all those who are capable of critical thinking and don’t need to identify themselves with any of the particular camps. People who are critical but also creative. Our main concern for tango is in the quality of its evolution, not that much in the ongoing “traditional” vs. “contemporary” quarrel, which fails to address the main issues. These are in developing the artistic potential of the dance as well as a proper teaching system which supports the development of tango’s fullest potential. To achieve these goals one needs a supportive environment, a platform for the exchange of knowledge, for the exchange and growth of ideas.

Blaž: What we want to achieve in, say, five years’ time, is to establish some kind of a platform for critical thinking about tango in today’s environment. Because today we see less and less quality projects, and this is unfortunately a global phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of tango or dancing. Everything seems to be going in the same direction of fast production for immediate consumption. Not much of value to society comes out of this. There are many small but important projects that lie fragmented around the globe that could make a difference in the quality of life of many people if they reached them. For example, we have worked on a project of tango for the deaf, and I know there was a project in London in which tango was used as a tool for reintegration of the homeless back into the society. So many of these small projects are happening around the globe, but there is no platform that would allow them to meet, make themselves visible and empower each other in mutual support and cooperation. Our 21st Century Tango and Art Symposium should be the beginning of that.

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Photo:Tania Mendillo

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