Juan Villafane is one of the greatest dancer of the actual Vintage Dance scene: from Lindy Hop to Jazz roots and Tap. After many years circling the world, teaching and performing in Swing events, he decided to stay in his home country, Argentina, to bet to the local scene. With lots of his work and passion, Buenos Aires keep on dancing with several new and great projects: CAPOS, Swingin’Party, BA Swing City.
What brought you to Swing music and dances (Lindy Hop, Tap, Jazz roots)?
It all started when I saw a video clip of a NeoSwing band on TV back in late 90’s/early 2000. Can’t recall the exact year. But I remember that I fell in love with the music, the fashion and the dancing in that clip. I started researching and quickly realized that actual Big Band Swing, Lindy Hop and Tap were the thing I was looking for. This is before Internet was everywhere, before YouTube, so you can imagine how deep you had to dig to find the information down in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It became a sort of obsession and I dedicated my life to it. The result, 15 years later is the reason why we are talking right now.
You have a large experience in those dances. Could you sum up your incredible career?
Well, I started as a self-taught dancer here in BA. Endless hours of practicing, watching the original dancers on VHS and always on the lookout for more information (that’s music, dancing, history, fashion, you name it). Then in 2006 I decided to give myself a shot at the international scene. I traveled by myself to Europe to visit some important Swing Dance Events, specially the legendary Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden. That’s where I met Sharon Davis. We became dance partners and stick together for around 8 years! We worked hard and eventually succeeded. It was a beautiful journey, sort of unreal now that I look back at it. We traveled around the world, USA, Europe, Asia, Australia, around 25 different countries, and who knows how many cities. Teaching at Dance Festivals and workshops, performing and or competing at the top of the game.
Can you identify some particularly memorable performing experiences? Or perhaps some that you would rather forget about?
Without a doubt, the most important performance was at The Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC in memory of Mr. Frankie Manning at his Centennial. “Frankie 100” was unbelievable. For me, being on THAT stage for THAT reason was a dream come true. I don’t think there’s a performance I would rather forget. I of course had bad runs and made mistakes many times but I rather remember and learn from those experiences. I don’t really regret any of it.
Have you been influenced in your way of working by your experience with other choreographers/ dancers?
Definitely so. At the beginning my major influences were the original dancers. I watched those clips so many times that I knew every single detail by heart but never had the chance to meet any of them. Then, when I started travelling I got the opportunity to met some amazing dancers and performers that greatly influenced my ways of working. In Lindy Hop I must name Kevin St. Laurent & Jo Hoffberg (USA), Nathan Bugh & Evita Arce (USA) The Harlem Hot Shots (SWE), The Ninjammerz (FRA), Vincenzo Fesi (ITA), Marcus Koch (GER), Ryan Francois (UK) and of course Sharon Davis (UK) but the list could go on and on. In Tap my biggest influences are Joseph & Josette Wiggan, Sarah Reich, Jason Samuels Smith, Andrew Nemr and Thomas Marek. These are all extremely talented and high-level artists. Every single thing they do is always done meaningfully. Other two big influences in regards of performing and the life of a traveling artists are Victor Rubilar, an Argentinean juggler now living in Stockholm and The Rampin Brothers a trio of exceptional acrobats who performed for Cirque Du Soleil for over a decade and who had give me great words of advice during all these years. I’m still learning and on the look out for inspiring dancers to share my work with.
Does your Argentinian culture influenced your way to dance Lindy Hop?
I guess it did. I mean, I think that your culture will always come out and express itself when you dance. You can’t help it.
You recently inaugurated a premises of Swing City, a Swing school in Buenos Aires you created with Manuel Bicain Goral and Mariel Gastiarena. What does it represent for the Lindy Hop scene and to you?
I think is a big step towards making this dance more popular. Also, it sets certain standards of professionalism and is definitely a stepping-stone to keep growing as a scene, both locally and internationally. For me, Swing City represents the beginning of a change in the way I live my life. A place where I can share and give to others all the joy that this dance gave me, without having to travel to the opposite side of the planet to do so. Meanwhile I can keep studding and growing as a dancer and promote Swing Dance Culture in my own country.
How did you started with the Swingin’ Party?
It started as a continuation of Swingin’ Festival. An event that Manuel and I did in 2012. We started in 2013 with a small party once a month. Maybe 80 people shown up on a good night. Then it started growing. It became a big production and in 2014 we had over 700 people in one night! During 2015 we did Swingin’ Nights, every thursday and it became a steady social dance night in Buenos Aires. In 2016 we will go back to the big production format and on Friday January 8th we kick off the season with a special edition of Swingin Party ElectroSwing! Mighty Mezz (Caravan Palace) and DJ Greem (C2C) will be in Buenos Aires for an amazing DJ set as team. We are looking forward to it. Also, BrazoFuerte All Stars (our house band) and Swing City will be performing on stage while our “Estilo Vintage” will be offering hairstyling for man and women, shoe shinning and other cool things for free to everyone who walks into the venue.
Today, it looks like there is a new fever for vintage culture and dances. According to you, how they are received in the contemporary culture? And why?
I think that people who are exposed to the music and the dance always love it. The message of this culture is one of inclusion, tolerance, joy and happiness but it keeps it real. Swing music and dancing doesn’t look the other way. It’s not about escaping reality. It’s about looking at the things that you don’t like right in the eye and decide to make something good out of it. This message touches and welcomes everyone, from any path of life. That’s why almost 100 years later we still crazy about it. Swing dancing and music is here to stay and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes viral.
What do you think about the blend of electro swing music and Lindy Hop community?
In my opinion Electro Swing is similar to what Neo Swing used to be. A different style of music that gets touched by Jazz and incorporates it to create a new concept. And that concept resonates with a lot of people, making it popular for a while. Sooner or later the people who stick to it will end up listening to Jazz and most likely would dance as a consequence. If not, they will perceive it as just a fad and forget about it. I like the fact that electroswing is popular now. It brings the best of two different worlds together and helps promoting the scene. For us, who love Lindy Hop and its ways but are modern people, influenced by what’s up in the world right now in terms of music and art in general, ElectroSwing is a perfect fit.
Which electro swing tune would you choose for choreography?
There’s a bunch of good songs to dance to. Though, the swinging rhythm is the key for real Lindy Hop dancing so when dancing to Electroswing, blending it with house dancing, Chicago footwork and stuff like that is the way to go. I do like Parov Stelar’s “Booty Swing” remix on “Oriental Swing”, originally recorded by Lil’ Hardin Armstrong. Also, Kormac’s rendition of “Rockin’ In Rhythm” by Duke Ellington that he named “Scratch Marchin”.
About the next Swingin’Party: especial electroswing!
Friday 8th January, in Buenos Aires, Agrentina.
Electroswing live set by DJ Greem (C2C) and Mighty Mezz (Caravan Palace) from France, Orquesta Brazofuerte in live, Lindy Hop introductory class by Swing City, plus a free Beauty & Vintage Salon for all guests!
Link of the event: Swingin’ Party: especial electroswing!