Bón Día from Barcelona!
It has been an incredible three weeks since arriving here. As usual when traveling, I started with the best of intentions to write every week, which were quickly overpowered by the drive to be outside, absorbing and exploring. It's past time for an update!
My internship placement is at Varium Espai di Movimente, a sunlit studio is quickly becoming my home away from home. This is a very special place. Varium successfully balances broad outreach (over 500 students are enrolled in a year) with depth and quality of training and professionalism with play. In three weeks here I have been blown away by the warmth of community, quality of dance pedagogy, and diversity of programming at Varium.
WHAT IT IS
The literal translation of “Varium Espai di Movimente” is “Varium Movement Space,” which is the most concise and accurate description I can think of. Varium is a center for community movement, offering an array of classes that range from traditional studio offerings like ballet, hip-hop, acrobatics, and contemporary, to those you might find in a gym: pilates, yoga, stretching/toning, etc.
In addition to these community oriented classes, Varium is a training ground for professional dancers. Anna Sánchez directs Varium’s pre-professional program, “Formación,” a 1-3 year program of intensive study that attracts dancers—anywhere from 17-30 years old—from throughout Spain, France, Switzerland, and other European countries. (More to come on this program later!)
Finally, Varium supports many dance companies in residence who train and rehearse in the studio spaces:
Brodas Bros is a professional hip-hop crew with international acclaim. These guys are incredible:
Many of the Brodas dancers are engaged in Varium in other ways, teaching classes or broadening their dance training through the Formación program.
VariumKids is a junior hip-hop company for youth from 10-16 years old:
GetBak is the next step, an amateur hip-hop crew made of youth and young adults.
With so many opportunities in hip-hop, there is somewhat of an opportunity gap in contemporary dance. Manama Varium, a new program, aims to fill this gap. Similar to VariumKids, this program will be a pre-professional company for youth who want to go further in contemporary dance.
All housed at Varium, these companies offer rich sources of opportunities for students to grow and get engaged beyond taking classes.
WHY I CARE
Back in the U.S. when I hear the phrase "dance studio,” my gut response is skepticism. In my experiences, studio atmospheres are often highly competitive and image-driven, confuse tricks with technique, and undervalue or suppress dancers’ creative drive and individuality for the sake of a uniform aesthetic. (See these discussions on Dolly Dinkle studios, competition dance, ballet and eating disorders.)
Personally, a lot of my dance education in high school and college was dedicated to unlearning the things I learned growing up in a dance studio.
But Varium is different.
At Varium, the guiding philosophy is that each dancer is different; everyone will apply the training they receive to their own personal style or movement practice.
The atmosphere is both professional and familial. In class, students and teachers are focused and motivated; outside of class, relaxed and warm. Over the course of the day I see teachers and students talking and laughing together; kids playing in the sunlit patio before classes, parents chatting with whoever is sitting behind the front desk; students in Formación taking a little food together between classes. Founders and directors Anna Sanchez and Xavier Fruitós keep watch over it all, smiles ready and faces open, eyes and ears always sharp and alert.
I wish I had a Varium when I was growing up.
Since coming to ASU, I have had very little interest in returning to the world of the dance studio. It seemed impossible to connect the pedagogy and somatic techniques I was learning at ASU to a studio setting. But seeing the way Varium operates makes me rethink this assumption, and reimagine the role of dance studios in community life if we reframed the “dance studio” as a “movement space.”