Slovenia might be small, but when it comes to social dance its scene stretches across continents. Every Wednesday until the end of September anyone can connect to Ljubljana’s international dance scene that includes ballroom, salsa, tango, swing and kizomba. Ples na Plečnikovi Ulici is a free event organized by Javno Podjetje Ljubljanska Parkirišča in Tržnice where each week beginners and seasoned dancers alike can move together under the stars. We learned about how a few of these local dance scenes create connections between communities and cultures:
Jumping for Joy
"I haven’t seen so many smiles on all the people because they’re laughing their asses off [elsewhere], like i have at swing," says Mateja Grajzar, one of the co-organizers of Ples na Plečnikovi Ulici and an instructor at Studio Dansa. "It’s pure joy."
From the relaxed yet energetic Lindy Hop to the intimate slow groove of Blues — swing dance defines the improvisational jazz music and social dances of an era. For the Black American dancers who created this dance in Harlem, New York during the 1920s to the 1940s, swing was both a social, creative haven and a way to make a living as they hosted parties to pay their rent, competed in local competitions, and danced around the world. In Slovenia, the swing scene is rich and bustling with local scenes connecting dancers from Ljubljana Maribor, Celje, Nova Gorica and beyond.
"We get to show people how they danced in the old days," says Grajzar. Even today, this historical dance is here to stay.
A Walking Embrace
Tango is like walking in an embrace, says Jerneja Judež, the president of KUD Tango.si. It took her years to abandon the assumption that tango was reserved for passionate lovers and take a class alone. But when she did, she began to discover the vast world surrounding the Argentine tango that KUD Tango strives to elevate. Their weekly dances are called milongas, which are gatherings with a specific etiquette that includes cabesceo (an invitation consisting of a glance and a nod), dancing in a counterclockwise circle and escorting the follower off the floor when the music stops. From collaborating with translator Silvana Orel Kos to publish Tangočutno, which translates tango song lyrics into Slovene, to hosting international festivals, lectures, and exhibitions — the local tango scene embraces more than one another, but also the culture and history surrounding the dance.
"It’s communicating, it’s listening," says Judež. "And the embrace. I have to say it’s nice to be embraced."
Dressed in bright pink and blue crop tops made with African prints, the women were decked out to dance kizomba: an Angolan partner dance which also means "party" in the dialect Kimbundu. Originating in ex-portuguese colonies during the 70s and 80s this dance spread throughout Europe as a connection to home for African immigrants. When Barbara Pavlin, the president of Kizomba.si, wanted to learn African dances in Ljubljana during the early 2000s, she had to leave the country to find them. Even now, as Urban Kiz, a blend of hip hop and Latin styles set to contemporary music, gains popularity in Europe she clings to the traditional Kizomba she learned from Africans in Portugal and Angola. This also impacts how she views the hip-heavy, close-contact dance, noting that the perception that it’s sexual misses the mark. "It’s sensual for us, yes, but for them in Africa it’s not," she says. "Grandmothers dance with neighbors, women with women, men with men. It’s fun for them."
Check out Ples na Plečnikovi ulici on Facebook for a full list of dance nights to come. We’ll see you, and the culture you carry, on the dance floor.