Ice tango – frozen or intimate?
I, like most people, associate tango with sensuality and intimacy. Add to that ice and for me that image of warm-blooded passion simply evaporates. Thankfully, I had the pleasure to work with figure skater Veselina Mihovska for two months, so I could find out how interesting and challenging it is to recreate tango, or any dance, on ice. At the end of our collaboration she agreed to sit down for this wonderful interview and shared with me how tango has enriched her life.
What is your sport and how is it related to dance?
My sport is figure skating in the ice dance category. It is one of the newest categories in ice skating and it has great names such as Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto from the USA, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada as well as Meryl Davis and Charlie White from the USA. We also have local representatives from Bulgaria participating and being legends who are Maxim Staviski and Albena Denkova. The sport developed as a part of wanting to do something more than jumping from element to element. Keeping the intimacy and doing dance instead of just element by element. This obviously came at a cost because technically we are not as fit as the other categories of ice dance. It is not as demanding in that area. It is the performance of the dance that is the difficult bit.
How long have you been figure skating?
Officially, five years, but I started when I was fourteen when I entered high school and we just decided to go and skate because that was the hip thing to do then. It was first ice hockey, then I got into ice skating and I got to compete eventually.
What inspired you to choose that category?
There was fire, there were fireworks and it was passionate. It was not just rushing through some choreography and programme. There is this lingering feeling that is left in the audience at the end of the program because of the connection that the two people bring on ice.
How successful do you think figure skaters are at bringing to life real dances?
The ones that put effort into it and research it well – they are really good at it. The ones that have chemistry in between each other are really good at bringing it on ice. But you will always get the casual people that just do steps on a piece of music and have not researched at all what the dance is, how you get there, what the feeling is, what should be the feeling that you share. It is a very big problem in our discipline nowadays. With getting the standards higher, with getting more compulsory elements within the programme you feel sometimes disattached to the dance. You just feel like doing this compulsory figure, then exit it, then this compulsory figure, exit… There is a very big danger of losing the dance for the steps and for the points. But there are successful people that manage to do it.
Which dances do you bring to life on ice?
Waltz, golden waltz, quickstep, Finnstep, rumba, samba, paso doble, French tango and Argentine tango. There is a difference between the waltz and the golden waltz. It is mainly the fact that the waltz is more flowy. The golden waltz is much heavier than the normal waltz, so the music would not be light. It would be dramatic. The Finnstep is a variation of the quickstep, created by Finns (ice dance couple and two-time Olympians Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko) and adapted for ice.
Which one is your favourite?
Finnstep, because it is bubbly. It is like champagne. It is fun, crispy and it just flows but at the same time it is energetic and you keep jumping around. It is fun.
Why did you have to learn Argentine tango?
We have two programmes. One of them is the short dance and the other one is the free dance. In the short dance from 2011 we have to combine a compulsory dance within it and it is usually one lap of the compulsory dance. This year the compulsory dance was tango romantica. It is a very European tango and it is very heavy-standing. It usually takes about 38 seconds to complete the lap and from then on you are free to do an original piece added to that dance. It is classically combined with waltzes and I did not want to do a waltz. I wanted to do a tango from start to finish. I convinced my partner that this is the right choice. So, we decided tango in order to be different, because you will not be surprised when every single programme this year would be starting with waltz, then in the middle section it would be the tango romantica and it would finish with a waltz or a Finnstep at best. For me each dance has a different meaning and combining them just for the sake of combining them is not a good mix, it is not a good taste.
What do you think of tango as a dance?
Tango is different. In the beginning I thought we would do those dramatic things that one watches on YouTube. It is not like that. It is much closer to home. It is gentle, but then not. I like the idea of dancing with each other as opposed to dancing against each other, because for a lot of things you can see online it is dancing against each other more than with each other. Tango for me is passionate. It is a lot about sex as well, let’s put it straight, but it is gentle and just special. It is definitely about communication, but that is about every dance – it is always about communication. What I find interesting is that you can just grab a partner and just dance, because in my sport we do not have that as much. We stick to the choreography, to the same partners. It is good to have the same partner for a long time. In tango you can build the connection in the span of one song. It is one dance and then you have something and you start talking to the person you are dancing with and getting to know each other without having to be intimidated in any way. It just happens. It just flows with the music.
What was it like to learn the Argentine tango?
Well, it was fun which Petar (Galabov) provided a lot. It was difficult – especially in the beginning when I did not know at all what the hell was going on and I could not even read the slightest “Just move forward” sign. But it grows on you. The moment you finish doing something and you realise “I can do that”, then you build up and build up – it is amazing. You feel great about doing it and then you can see something beautiful happening on the ground, but I can imagine it would be the same on ice. You can see that result and it gives joy to people, not just yourself. Yes, you do dance for yourself and with your partner, but then again other people watch and it creates a community as well, because it is like “Oh, I want do that, maybe we can switch partners and I can learn to do that.” It is social, it is a very social dance.
Do you want to keep dancing and have you found a place where you can do that?
Yes, definitely. It is in Oxford. It is in one of the castles and it is a social group. They call it tango social. It is for argentine tango and milonga and I shall check it out with my friends. I might get some of them to dance as well.
Do you feel enriched for having experienced tango?
Yes, I think it has opened a whole new horizon. I found a lot of new friends here and when I go in Oxford I shall meet more people this way. It will be more social than just going dancing at a club. Everyone could do that, but it is not social.
Which is your favourite tango song and which song did you choose for your ice dance?
My favourite tango song is “La Cachila”. I also like “Payadora”. For ice that would be my choice, that would be my top pick. “Payadora” is much more flowing and I can get ideas as to how to bring it on ice. The tango I like best, “La Cachila”, has a lot of highs and lows, it is like stop and go and change direction a lot. That cannot be done on ice.
Which is your favourite ice tango?
“Assassination tango” by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. That was one of their earlier performances when they were still building up as a team and even then they were very wary of preserving that feeling, preserving the dance and it worked out really well. It just gives me goosebumps.