Broadway, Salsa, Classical dance and then traveling all over on a boat, I came to Madison because of love. I came because of her.
Interviewing Ariel Juárez, Choreographer, dancer, and Hip Hop instructor in Madison and Chicago. Come closer to hip hop dance and its origins, to its trajectory here in Madison and the importance it has in the Latinx community and for Madisonians! Ariel talks to us about what he does, his future projects, and his opinions about what can be done so Hip Hop can become better known in this community.
Hello Ariel and welcome, thank you for agreeing to talk with me! First, tell me about yourself. Where were you born and what brought you to Madison?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I grew up an hour and a half away in the outskirts until I was 18. Then I moved to the city. I began to dance, and one instructor gave me a scholarship to dance contemporary Jazz, Salsa and Vallaron. I finished my secondary education and continued training with several instructors. I auditioned for a scholarship to learn from the classical dancer Julio Bocca and I stayed in his school for 4 years. Once I finished college I began to work in musicals, with choreographers from Broadway, as well as training myself in Hip hop. After I turned 22 I auditioned to work on a cruise for the next four years. That’s how I traveled all over dancing. I lived for a year in London, and that’s where I met an American girl from Madison. I came to this city because of her. Because of love! We went and lived in Argentina for a year, then we moved to Madison. I left a really good job as a choreographer for a company called Idea del Sur. It manages almost all of the TV shows in Argentina. I came here and started from zero.
When, where and how did you learn how to dance?
I began to dance when I was 14. At first I played soccer, but I felt like I needed free time to do something I enjoyed, as soccer was more of a job than a pleasure. I felt pressured, because all Argentinan children play soccer. That’s how I began to dance. I took classes and found out that I enjoyed it and that I had a natural talent, because I learned quick. At 18, then, I left soccer for dance. It was a little crazy! Truth is that dancing satisfied me more than soccer.
What does dance mean to you?
It’s a way to express yourself. Each instant that one dances is different, because it’s different based on how you feel: happiness or sadness, anger or frustration. Thoughts and emotions change constantly, and dance is a way of expressing your feelings at that present moment. I try to communicate that to my students, to bring out what happens within. To express life, because dance is my life. It’s all I do. I’m obsessive with my work! It’s my way of trying to be happy.
What are the origins of this type of dance? Are there different styles?
Hip Hop as a genre came up at the end of the 1950’s when block parties became common in the cities, especially in New York, because clubs and dance halls in some areas weren’t accessible to certain people. Block parties were accompanied by funk and soul, until the first DJs began to isolate the percussion and extend it so that the song became more danceable. This adaptation of ‘beats’ was later accompanied by the technique of rapping (a rhythmic singing technique based on improvisation) . Hip Hop as a dance began in the 1970’s, and at first it was instrumental. People began to experiment with mixing music in the 70’s. In fact, a common technique used by DJs is scratching, which consists moving vinil forward and backwards several times to make a transitional sound in between rhythms. It began with breakdance, with young people that gathered in groups. Well, the history of it is really long and culturally interesting, because each culture added something different to this dance. Culture plays a fundamental role.
I recommend to everybody a film called The Freshest Kids, a documentary dedicated to the birth of Hip Hop dance, Breakin’, or b-boying, one of the elements of hip hop that joined rap, graffiti and DJing. It’s a great watch!
Speaking of styles, yes, there’s different ones and in my opinion it began to divide especially during the 90’s. Today, the most well-known is Urban, which mixes Jazz, Funk, contemporary Hip Hop, etc. There’s a lot of styles! Each one has their own style, obviously. I like to mix styles, for example I like to mix Hip Hop with Dancehall, which is from Jamaica, but other people do it as well. I didn’t invent it.
Are there people interested in Hip Hop dance in Madison?
Here in Madison there’s lots of opportunities to learn, but there’s not a real community. All the studios are separated and I’m trying to find a way so that there’s more collaboration between them. That way they can come together to create more opportunities. But this isn’t possible yet. In Argentina it’s different, the studios are next to each other and they collaborate.
In Madison, until 20 years old, there’s lots of opportunities for youth, conventions, and scholarships. After this age, however, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to continue training.
I know that the academic recognition of Hip Hop has been established for years in the United States, and that you teach at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Which department do you teach in?
I began to teach classes at a studio called Madison Professional dance Center, and continue to teach at this Center. I work for two studios in Chicago, and I teach at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Dance Department. There’s a dance major and I’m part of the program. I also teach the history of dance. It’s a one credit elective, but to me it ought to be a required course, since there’s lots of opportunities to find work that involves hip hop. Plus, I think it’s important that people study modern and contemporary dance and Hip Hop. Hip Hop today is more accepted, and honestly it’s what’s at the forefront. So I teach classes and train people for competitions. I don’t have time for anything else! But, I like what I do.
How do you perceive Hip Hop dance in Madison in this day and age? How much influence does it have over the Latinx community and American community from a cultural point of view?
Truth is, in my experience, there’s more Americans than Latinxs that dance Hip Hop. There’s a big Latinx community in Madison, but more for Latinx music (Bachata, Salsa) and so they aren’t interested in other types of music.
As a professor, what message do you want to give to those that follow you and for your students?
I want to show people that they can do something if they truly want it and believe in it. With hard work much can be achieved. Of course, not everybody can do it, there’s students with talent and those without it. There’s students that finish one year and will never dance again. But I want people to understand is what matters in dance, can be applied to life. Today it’s dance, tomorrow it could be writing, or painting, and the red string that connects all of these things is the hard work and passion that one puts into it. I want to motivate people to work so that they can get results!
What’s needed to give greater pulse to Hip Hop dance?
Educational programs should be better funded. It would be awesome if a dancer came out of Madison one day. It’s a different situation in Chicago, it’s better, so I bring instructors from Chicago to Madison a lot.
Speaking of the future, do you have any projects or ideas in mind?
Yes. I go to Argentina every year to teach a workshop, and this year I started a convention with a great dancer from Buenos Aires, and we’re going to do an exchange. Professors from Buenos Aires are going to come to Madison and Chicago, and vice versa. In August I’m going to bring a professor from Chicago to Buenos Aires and I’m thinking about bringing a professor from Buenos Aires to Madison to teach a weekend workshop. Cultural exchanges are what create growth an improvement.
What’s your recommendation for people interested in studying hip hop dance?
To try it, and search, because there’s opportunities for many people, even if they don’t have money. There’s scholarships, conferences, and if there’s talent anything is possible. Possibilities are always there if you look for them. I come from a family that didn’t have the means to pay for classes. If I can give out a scholarship, I will do it with pleasure!
Thank you, Ariel, for speaking to me about Hip Hop, a type of dance, like many others, that’s good for the mood and the spirit! We all know that using your body, dancing and movement have been means for humans to express their thoughts and emotions. Even though consumerism is absorbing everything, even art, we have the primordial need to dance.