Milan for a reason

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My voguing sister Jenni Milan organized a birthday ball “Jenni Milan 40 & Flawless” on last weekend. She brought an amazing international line up of dancers to teach workshops, judge the competition and to discuss the vogue and ballroom culture in an open panel discussion. It was a unique chance for the Finnish voguing scene to experience a piece of real vogue ballroom and to learn from some of the best in the world.

For me, the weekend was important in two ways. First, it was great to meet my international vogue family – other members of the House of Milan. My brothers and sisters came all the way from Slovakia, Romania, Taiwan and Estonia. As a person who often feels like an outsider, having a dance family like that feels good.

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The House of Milan: me, Mette, Jamal, Nicol, Stanley, Jenni, Aviance, Natalie, Monika, Viktor and Irina

Second, for the first time, I felt like I claimed myself in a vogue ball. I participated the hands performance / arms control category which means you can only dance with your hands and arms. I made my way to the semi finals but most importantly, I battled one of the best vogue performers in the world, Karina Ninja, and I won.

This was an important turning point for me because now I know that I can do this. I know that I can bring something new to the table and it makes me so much more confident. It’s not perfect or ready and as a dancer I’m always searching and evolving but I feel like I have been seen and recognized.

Up to this point, I’ve defined myself first and foremost as a house and hiphop dancer. I’ve sometimes questioned if I deserve to be a Milan because everyone in the family is superb. I suppose I’m not going to stop being humble and I still look up to the other members but now I feel like I am in the right place.

I am thankful to my father Aviance Milan (my vogue father) for seeing the potential in me way before I saw it and making me a Milan in 2013. To me, his dance is perfection and he’s always been very supportive of me. It was nice to experience that same love and support from other pioneering members of the house; Stanley and Jamal are icons in the voguing scene and their encouragement means the world to me.

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Tokyo got my heart

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Tokyo… the city of many faces. You wander around aimlessly and end up in the most beautiful gardens, amusement parks right around the corner or narrow alleys with tiny restaurants and bars, and there’s always people. No matter where you look, you see beauty – carved ornamental door frames, flower plantings in the smallest of spaces and even the sewer lids are decorative. People are polite and friendly, yet keeping their distance, and somehow the multimillion metropol rarely feels crowded. History and tradition go hand in hand with modern technology and western influences, forming a unique atmosphere of simulatenous calamity and buzz.

Traveling to Japan had been a dream of mine for years. Now was the perfect time to travel alone and experience something new and I must say, just doing it was one of the best decisions I’ve made recently. Of course traveling alone to a country you’ve never been to, where you know nobody and where they speak a language you have only elementary skills in, can be a bit intimidating. But starting from the first step on Japanese soil, it was clear that it would be ok. The Japanese people were smiling and helpful and everything was so well organized that there was no trouble finding where to go to.

I spent a bit over two weeks in Tokyo. My home for that time was a cute and cozy Japanese style guest house called Kagaribi Inn near Kita-Senju station. So I wasn’t staying right in the middle of everything but in a quiet area where there aren’t that many tourists. And actually, I really liked it that way.

I definitely wanted to stay at a hostel in order to meet new people since I was traveling alone. Kagaribi was the perfect place for this because the owners also stayed at the hostel and many guests spent time in the common living room. I got new friends from France, Australia, China, Japan and even met people from India and Timor. Some stayed for only a few nights and some longer but everyone was made feel welcome.

During the first day of my visit, I walked almost the entire day. I started by going to see the Senso-ji temple (Asakusa kannon temple) which is the oldest temple in Tokyo and one of two temples that have survived from the Edo era. Obviously it is a popular tourist attraction nowadays but also actively used for religious purposes by numerous locals.

From the Senso-ji temple I found my way to the river and from the river bank I happened to see the Tokyo Skytree somewhere in the distance and decided to walk up to it. As I got there, I figured I could go all the way up to see the entire city and catch a glimpse of the majestetic Fuji mountain. It was a sunny and clear day so I was lucky – the view was simply amazing.

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Coming down, I took a tour in the shops at the root of Skytree. This is when I saw for the first time that it is actually true that Japan loves Scandinavia and Finland. There’s Finnish words here and there (like a fashion store called “Keittiö” which means kithen in Finnish) and at some of the most popular sights, Moomin cafes. Moomin are Finnish cartoon figures that seem to be very popular in Tokyo.

During my stay, I saw so much, went to so many places and met so many people that I cannot quite recall the order of things. The first half of my stay I dedicated to being a decent tourist – sights, good food and relaxing – and during the last days I spent mostly dancing, going to dance events and hanging out with friends.

I went to Meiji jingu; one of the biggest temples in Tokyo, the Akihabara electric town, the Yanaka ginza; an old world market street, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ueno… Two weeks wasn’t nearly enough to see and experience everything the city has to offer.

A special place for me was the Korakuen garden which is one of the oldest Gardens in Tokyo. Even in winter time when only one flower was blooming and many trees didn’t have leaves, the garden was stunningly beautiful. Having had some turmoil in my personal life lately, itas been difficult to find peace of mind, but something about this place made me feel calm and hopeful. Spending time outdoors, feeling the warmth of the sun, seeing birds, flowing water and kids playing traditional Japanese games, walking around on quiet paths and feeling the history around me had me staying in the garden for hours without really doing much.

During my dancing adventures, I participated a battle called the Ultimate Dance Battle. It was a small dance event on the side of a massive hiphop event. There were thousands of people swarming outside of Studio Coast and at first I thought they were all dancers. I hadn’t realized that most of them were coming to see an MC battle and only a small bunch were dancers. But because none of the organizers really spoke English and my Japanese is so elementary, I didn’t quite understand where was I supposed to be and when and got in late as the preselection was already in full swing. I saw the skill level of the dancers and figured I didn’t lose so much just watching. So I just danced on my own in the corner as the cyphers were going on. The DJ was playing incredibly good music and I felt really good since there was no pressure and so it happened that one of the judges saw me dancing and wanted to put me through into the battles anyway. Well, I battled but lost in the first round. Good times nevertheless!

Besides UDB and dance classes, I also went to Juste Debout Japan. This time I just watched since I didn’t have a dance partner but I enjoyed myself tremendously! The technical level in the competition was amazing and especially the kids were incredible. I was very inspired by the dancing and actually it was nice just to watch for change. It was also nice to meet some friends and spend time with them and new acquaintances.

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Dinner with old and new friends

I met so many nice people, did so many interesting things and saw so many beautiful places that it felt like I would have stayed in Tokyo way more than two weeks. At the same time I felt like I could have easily stayed way longer and coming home, I was already planning my next trip. I still have the sakura blossoms to see…

Ex Animo

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From the heart, from the soul.

House dance is a truly special dance style to me. It is so technical and yet so emotional and I have never been able to express myself so fully through any other art form.

That’s why it was very appropriate that I got to be a part of a collective of four house dancers, called Ex Animo which is Latin for “from the heart” or “from the soul”. We performed our piece Other Side of the Game at a club last night. Enjoy!

Expectations surpassed in Baltic Session 2016

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Baltic Session is an annual dance event in Tallinn, Estonia. I have been going there every few years to meet up with friends and new acquaintances from all over the world, to dance my heart out and to get inspired by the battles and showcases. The amount of effort and passion the organizers put into it has always made the event very special; the theme changes every year and every detail is thought out to fit the theme. This time the theme was Star Wars inspired which was apparent in the gorgeous planet shaped DJ booth on the main stage and staff dressed up as characters from the movies.

This year I traveled to Tallinn for four days with my dear friends. I attended a few workshops and then I had decided to participate three categories; hiphop 2 vs 2 with Sami who I’ve been dancing with a lot lately, house 1 vs 1 and hands performance. I would have wanted to do vogue new way aswell but four categories would have been way too much for one day.

To keep it simple… I made it through the preselection rounds in all three categories. It may not sound like much but it was a huge deal for me. Being in the top 8 in house out of 80 dancers, top 8 in hiphop out of almost 100 couples and getting my “tens” in hands performance which I had never entered before, in a high level competition like that was a massive break through. I am so happy and proud of myself! It is definitely a new phase in my career to make it into the battles on a regular basis also in other countries than Finland, and this was the fourth time I did that this year. Finally I feel like all my hard work is paying off! Finally I feel like other dancers and people actually see me. I have proved the people who insist, that people only need to do one thing, wrong. And having these feelings makes me want to work even harder because it means I’m doing this dance thing to myself and to all other dancers who are being told to do just one thing and to ignore their depth as movers and artists.

I have had a rough time in my life lately and thus it was also very important to get to feel the good vibes and positivity. The after party was all madness! We danced 4,5 hours straight ahead and were pretty much the first and last ones on the dance floor. Oh, the sweet pain in your legs when you almost can’t walk anymore but pure happiness makes you move nevertheless… Priceless!

I was extremely inspired this time by this particular showcase by a Russian dance crew. Too bad the filming is a bit all over the place (professional but not very dancer-friendly) but I think you still get a sense of it.

All in all… expectations surpassed! The event was off the hook, I had so much fun dancing and I did better than I would have dared to expect. Over and out.

Vogue with a twist

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Voguing is a beautiful dance style. It is powerful, expressive and technical – and yet I have stuggled with it way more than with other styles that I do. I love the attitude in voguing.. the strong poses, the confidence and I also like the movement vocabulary a lot. But a lot of the time all vogue dancers look a like to me. They all do the same stuff, they don’t really listen to the music (they only listen to the tempo – not the rhythms, melodies and messages) and especially new way vogue looks more and more like gymnastics than dance to me.

My personal goal is to dance vogue just like I dance other styles. This means knowing the technique and using that in a creative way to the music. I want to feel like I am expressing something about me instead of just trying to memorize the rules. So lately I’ve tried to take some of the concepts and ideas I’ve learned in hiphop and house and bring them into my vogue classes and dance.

I was happy to do a little showcase with a student of mine who has been coming to my vogue classes for almost two years now. She’s truly had her ears and mind open because she keeps on getting more and more awesome and winning me in battles 😀

So, here is our vogue with a twist showcase with a music from Mortal Kombat. I hope you enjoy!

Tradition meets trend

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Today I had the privilege to do one of my all time favorite performances. I got the chance to collaborate with a very talented kantele artist, Ida Elina. Kantele is Finland’s national instrument that has a significant role even in our national epic Kalevala. Today the concert kantele looks quite different from the early versions of the instrument but, nevertheless, it is as traditionally Finnish as an instrument can be.

It was exciting to get to dance to kantele music especially because I am a street dancer. Combining techniques and movement from the various dances I love that are usually danced into very different music, allowed me to almost be an extra instrument. I tried not just to dance to the music but to tell stories and appreciate her artistry. The performances combined a traditional instrument, pop music and street dance in a historic venue… Definitely interesting.

All this was made possible by the event organizing platform Venuu and of course the entrepreneurs of the White Hall.

Ida Elina: http://www.idaelina.com

Venuu: http://www.venuu.fi

Your critics aren’t the ones who count

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There is nothing more frightening than the moment we expose our ideas to the world.

Brené Brown is one of my favorite researchers at the moment. Her insights into being vulnerable have been life changing in such a wonderful way for me that I almost can’t imagine a life without learning from her.

This video clip is her presentation in the 99 conference to people working in creative industries. Shortly, she is saying that without vulnerability we cannot create.

When we present an idea of something that we care about, we are afraid of rejection. In dance, we present ourselves, our ideas of the music and movement and rejection hurts because we care so much. In the video, Brené introduces a few very good thought patterns to get ourselves ready for the criticism that we know we have to face for sure.