Stefanía Colina is a professional tango dancer and teacher from Uruguay. Together with her partner Juan Martin Carrara she won the „Intercontinental Championship“ in 2009 and the Uruguayan Tango Salon Championship in 2012. Berlintangovibes (BTV) was honored to meet her at Transnochando Festival 2018 at Tegeler Seeterassen in Berlin. Thank you, Stefanía, for the inspiring interview!
BTV: Dear Stefanía, why did you decide to start dancing tango? What is your motivation?
SC: I was a ballet dancer, a contemporary dancer since the age of 4, and attended a dance school. In the last years at that school, when I was a bit older, they started to teach tango. So all my partners, all my colleagues started dancing tango. However, I did not start together with them because my dad didn’t allow me to go to tango at that time. It was on Friday nights and I was teenager. He believed tango was like it used to be in the time of his parents, my grandparents. A bit shady. He didn’t want me to go. But then he saw the change that tango had been through and that the lessons were good. He met the teacher, so he said: “Ok, you can go”, after maybe some months of me crying every Friday when there was a lesson. So, the motivation in the beginning was just that I wanted to do something else. One more dance. And then in a way I fell in love with tango and I stuck to it and actually I left ballet and contemporary behind and kept the tango up.
BTV: What is the number one secret of your success?
SC: Hm, I don’t know. I think I love my work, you know. We are not only dancers but also teachers. The combination of both, working on both is very important. It’s not naturally so that only if you dance well you can teach. We work mostly as teachers. We perform, of course, but most of our work is teaching. So I think we, my partner and I, Juan and I, we built up a method for teaching. And I think that is our strongest point. The dancing is okay but I think we can approach people much more in lessons, yes, and I think that was the thing that made us leap forward in our career. People started to come to the lessons and noticed that we really enjoy teaching and we want to teach and we also try to work on that. Make it better, not only the dancing part.
BTV: What was the best advice of your teachers?
SC: Well, in general there was a lot of advice from my teachers. I took lessons with a lot of teachers but I benefitted the most from three particular ones, two from Uruguay and one from Buenos Aires. And then I think in Uruguay there was this teacher, my first teacher, not only teaching us tango but also teaching us how to respect the dance, how to respect the dance floor. He told us from the beginning that we needed to understand the music, that we needed to understand the orchestras. We would just go to milongas and have fun. But when we came to him he always asked: “Which orchestra is this?” “I don’t know, I don’t know.” So, I think from my first teacher I got the respect for tango and to keep always calm. Not to believe that you are better than anyone else. From the second teacher to pay a lot of attention to musicality. Musicality is what he showed us. Of course we keep working on that. And the third maestro was more like a coach. We were already dancing. He was more advising us how to perform. So I think these were the best guidelines.
BTV: A lot of guidelines. What was the name of the last teacher?
SC: Mario Morales.
BTV: What woman inspires you the most (could also be not tango related)?
SC: Actually the woman that inspires me most is not tango related. That is my grandma. She was an artist. She was a piano player and gave concerts. Very famous in Uruguay. And of course she was very good at what she was doing, she was such a lovely person. I don’t know, she was so good but at the same time she was – as I said in the beginning – always keeping calm. And also a very good teacher. I think she is my inspiration, always.
BTV: Do you also play the piano?
SC: I began a little bit with her but once I had started to dance I didn’t have time to play the piano. Actually I think it is one of the things I will love. If I am born again…
BTV: Next life…
SC: I will do it for sure.
BTV: What are your daily habits to stay successful? Do they involve specific sacrifices?
SC: Yes. It involves sacrifices. At the moment we have a family, you know, we have a daughter. And the biggest sacrifice is to sometimes leave her. Like now, we are in a festival.
BTV: Oh, so she is in Uruguay?
SC: No, we try to leave her as little as possible. So we brought her on the tour. But we have a base in London. So she stays there and we sometimes travel over the weekend. But this is the biggest sacrifice at the moment. And then the rest is no sacrifices. I love my work, we love to perform, to give lessons. Even if we don’t sleep enough sometimes. Still we are happy that we are actually doing what we want to do.
BTV: What was your greatest tango moment?
SC: It‘s a nice story. In my best tango moment I was actually not performing. When my daughter was born, or just before she came, they played jazz on the radio. In Uruguay. And the very moment Victoria chose to come into the world, the music changed to … tango. One specific tango, that is “triunfal“.And we always knew that the name of my daughter would be Victoria which is also the name of my grandma. And the meaning of the name “Victoria” is “the one that triumphs”. So it was an amazing moment. It was tango related but I was not actually dancing.
BTV: So you always have a story for your daughter to tell her when she is older. Nice. And what was the funniest situation?
SC: Well, the funniest situation that I can remember is only funny now, it wasn’t funny at the time. Many years ago we were living in Buenos Aires and we were in “La Viruta”, the famous milonga. It was Thursday so there were not so many people, quite empty. I was dancing with Juan. And next to us there was this lady who made a boleo. And I was wearing a skirt, a cotton skirt, and it was quite loose. And with her boleo, with her heels she touched my skirt and when she comes down with her leg she pulled my skirt down, completely down to my knees. So I was in “La Viruta“, I was in embrace with Juan and I disappeared, like I melted in his embrace because I felt that, you know, and I immediately pulled my skirt up. And now I’m telling it I cannot believe that this happened. I looked around and thank goodness there was no one watching, I think. But it was like a disaster.
BTV: So you don’t teach any boleos.
SC: No, don’t do boleos, you could pull down someone’s skirt. That is really bad..
BTV: In the tango world maestros are often in the spotlight. How do you see the situation, the role of professional female dancers in tango?
SC: I think it’s okay that there are two different roles in tango. Of course we are dancing as a couple and need improvisation. One must lead and the other one in the couple should follow, of course. Otherwise it would be like a war. Sometimes the word “follower” in English is a little bit tricky. We don’t have that in Spanish. We just use “dancers” for leaders and followers. So actually the role of the lady is to follow the leader but actually there is a lot of dancing. After you learn how to follow the leader you learn how to dance through following. I think the role of the follower is very important. And actually it depends on the person’s individual phase of dancing. Sometimes it is easier to be the leader, sometimes it could be easier to follow. It could change all the time.
BTC: In your job you always have to perform perfectly. There is a lot of pressure. There will be days when you don‘t feel like dancing tango. Maybe you just had an argument with Juan or suffer from a painful headache. How do you manage to forget about it in the moment?
SC: It is actually something very difficult to do. I try to use my feelings and put them into the performance. For example, when you had an argument or you feel sad, I take advantage of the situation, even if it is a bad situation. I try to move my feelings inside and try to perform from there. Okay, when you are in physical pain it is different. I think you can cope better with an emotional problem. When something hurts, you just have to take a pill and smile and perform as if you have nothing. Yes, that is a difficult thing.
BTC: You dance and live with your partner. You have a family. Do you still have time just for you? What do you do in your “me-time”? What do you do to relax?
SC: I try to. At the moment Victoria is little. We are still traveling a lot, have big tours. At the moment it is a little bit difficult to find a moment for myself. What I do is to go outside, have a walk, just to sit with a book. But I am looking forward to settling down somewhere. We are thinking of living in Spain.
SC: In Valencia. If we are there with more routine it will be easier to find something for me. I would actually like to start dancing something else. I think that will be like a moment for me.
BTV: You dance tango professionally. Do you still go to milongas as the private person Stefanía just for fun?
SC: Ha ha. Yes, of course. We do that. Most of the time we do that when we are in our base, like in London or Spain. We go there to have fun, to dance, to chat with friends. It is also difficult to find space for that. Most of the time we have to go to festivals, have to perform or we have a lesson before the milonga. But yes, I try to manage and go. Just to have fun.
BTV: Do people recognize you?
SC: Yes, sometimes I feel that I danced much more at milongas when I was unknown. Now sometimes I feel that the leaders don’t invite me because they think I am tired or I don’t know…
BTV: Maybe too much respect…
SC: Yes, sometimes too much…
BTV: What makes you happy? What makes you angry?
SC: It depends a lot on my mood and the situation but there is nothing that really makes me angry in my personal life. Of course, in the world there are a lot of situations that make me angry.
BTV: This reminds me of your grandmother who always stayed calm.
SC: Yes, this really influences and suffuses me. Also I don’t push it. I try to enjoy life and stay calm and try not to be angry with things that are not important.
BTC: Also a good advice from a teacher….And finally, is there another profession which was or still is interesting to you?
SC: It is very difficult because I am so happy with what I am doing. I don’t know. Something interesting… Sometimes I think about being an organizer for cultural events. It is connected to my work and I think that is something I would like to do.
BTC: So this could also be interesting for the second or third life…
SC: Or maybe this one, let‘s see.
BTC: Thank you, Stefanía!
Photo and more information: http://juanmartinystefania.blogspot.de/