In this episode of my Slow Bal heroes, I will be talking with Anni and Gasper from Sweden. You might know them from Balboa, Lindy Hop or maybe even Slow Bal classes, because they have travelled the world to share the joy of this beautiful dance. In this interview we talk about how they discovered Slow Bal and about their specific style in dancing. In particular I’m very curious about what they have to say about their connection.
Anni Skoglund (Sweden) and Gašper Hrovat (Slovenia) are a wonderful and inspiring couple that will warm your heart. In Slow Bal their dance style is intimate, smooth and playful. They want to share their love for Slow Bal and other Swing dances as a form of communication without words, but with music, as the essence of dancing with body and soul.
Although Anni and Gasper are versatile and love to dance to Waltz, Rhumba, Swing, Blues and Sweet music, they are passionate about Balboa, Slow Bal and SoCal Swing. There is a pure interest in the old-timers way of doing it, as well as finding and owning your dance.
Their dance motto is: “There’s no better prize as to win your dance partner’s pure smile.”
Interview by Deirdre Schoemaker with Anni and Gasper (watching time: 28 minutes)
Gasper: “It was me who got to know Slow Bal first. It was in Herräng Dance Camp in 2007 or 2008 where Mickey and Kelly taught a Slow Bal class. I was there for a Balboa week and it was a Bluesnight. So it was nice to learn how to dance to slower jazz music. I don’t know if I got the dance right that time, but I do remember the triple-step rhythm in the basic. In the evening I practiced it with other dancers and that is how it began for me.”
Anni: “My first Slow Bal experience was also in Herräng, one year later. I was dancing with Gasper and it was one of the first times we were dancing. At a certain point Gasper asked me if I knew what we were dancing. I didn’t, but I also didn’t care much because I was just enjoying it and it was great and wonderful. He said it was Slow Bal and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Gasper: “When I saw the demonstration of Mickey and Kelly I was very impressed. I’m always interested in new dances, but this one… the flow and the communication between them was so special.”
Anni: “What I also like is the music. Sometimes for Balboa and Lindy Hop dancers it’s hard to adjust to. It is nice to be able to dance to those sweet and romantic songs. I think both of us are very sweet and romantic. So we really enjoy this music and that we are able to dance to it and express those sides of the jazz and the dance. For me that is a big part: the romance.”
Anni: “Yes, I guess. Of course, sometimes when you’re performing it’s hard to always feel super connected. Because you know that people are watching you. I always disliked being in the centre of attention and being stared at. For me, what I’m doing on the dance floor is always very private. Because it’s purely what I feel like.
So sometimes I dive into that emotion and kind of block out the fact that there is an audience out there. And that is the moment that we really connect. So maybe sometimes it’s projected as very private. Either because I feel relaxed and connected with Gasper or because I close in to myself.”
Gasper: “I come from the show part if the dancing. I’m used to the audience and I like the audience. But when I started dancing with Anni, I know she has this thing that she doesn’t want to be in the centre of attention. So to me it’s very important how I connect with her and how I give her the moment and not the audience. When it comes to slow dancing, everything just shows how much of a connection you really have. How and where you are connected with your partner. It’s about dancing with each other and not about showing off.”
Anni and Gasper dancing by the canal. Pure romance, is it not?
Anni: “I think that first of all we have to talk about trust a lot. You need to trust your partner and really relax into this idea that your dance partner is going to make everything as clear and safe as possible. On every level you need to choose to trust each other. But you also need to find that trust in yourself. You have to trust that you are there for your own balance and safety and everything like that.
If you don’t find that trust in yourself and in your partner, it’s going to be hard to connect. And that’s the connection on a deeper level. Mentally you need to land in this realisation that we are here, right now, together, because we choose to and we will take care of each other.”
Gasper: “Yes, this is true. Sometimes when I find myself in a competition and I’m not dancing with Anni, it’s really tough to show your personality. The dance is team work.”
Anni: “I remember something Gasper said, very early on when we started teaching together. He said: ‘When I feel my partner, I’m adjusting my breathing to the same kind of tempo. When I feel that our breathing is matching, that is when I feel connected and relaxed’. It felt to me that that made sense.”
Gasper, laughing: “I can’t remember that! We are social dancers and of course you learn how to feel each other, feel each other’s energy. I can feel when Anni or anyone else is tired or full of energy. And I want to match that. My job as a leader is to follow that energy and bring my partner with me into the music and feel safe there. Gaining the trust is the most important thing that you can achieve.”
Anni and Gasper dancing Slow Bal on the social dance floor.
Gasper: “Yes, I did have some Tango lessons. I found it very interesting to learn how they teach and how they take their steps. Anni, do you remember that we were also invited to a Tango festival?”
Anni: “Yes, we showed off some Balboa! We wanted more students that weren’t necessarily all Lindy Hoppers. It was an international Tango festival with amazing Argentinian and Swedish teachers. They all did a show and it was really great. And then there was us, after all these really amazing shows by these great dancers. I was like, what are we doing here. We put on our song, which was Gufus. It’s a complete break from Tango and it has a silly kind of energy and sound to it. I think it fitted us very well, especially Gasper. So we do our little dance and people were very shocked, I think. They weren’t ready or prepared for this. But they were whistling, applauding and laughing in the middle of the song, so there was a really nice energy.
And afterwards we got some people that actually wanted to sign up! Also some teachers came to us and invited us to their workshops the next day, which we joined. Before this experience, I also danced some Tango. I tried most couple dances throughout my life and it was when I was living in Miami Beach for a month. Every Monday we used to go to this tapas bar and dance Tango. I really liked the feeling of the dance.”
Gasper: “Do you remember what that teacher told us after our demo at the Tango festival? She said: ‘That was wonderful and I need to tell you that you have such a nice joy and energy there. You are dancing with a smile. And this is what I’m missing when I see people dancing Tango. I miss seeing the smile on their faces. They are so serious.’ And these words came from a super great Tango expert who has been dancing for many years. It feels really good to hear that. And also that my sense about Tango – that it is a very serious dance – is only because of the faces of the people who are dancing it.”
Anni: “To me there is definitely joy in Slow Bal. It just has a different kind of texture to it. It is a calm inwards joy, where you can just land with a smile. Maybe we smile a little bit less on the outside, although it happens of course. But you kind of sink in to a contemplating smile. To me that is the joy of Slow Bal.”
Anni: “Sadly I never met any of the oldtimers.”
Gasper: “No, me neither.”
Anni: “Our style is probably different, because I feel that our style really comes from ourselves. Of course we look at – and look up to – other dancers. Especially Mickey and Kelly. They were our first teachers. And then we dug a little bit deeper and watched Dean Raftery. I think you, Gasper, really like his style. More upright kind and kind of oldschool. I really like both styles and I love mixing and matching constantly. We have slightly different preferences and we dance a lot together, so it becomes both, somewhere in between. And we influence each other, even when I’m the follower. I can make my lead dance in a certain way when I feel like it.”
Gasper: “Dean Raftery dancing with Kara Britt is still my favourite video to watch. We can be fortunate that we have Mickey and Kelly because they are the only Americans who brought Slow Bal across the seas into Europe. And if they wouldn’t have shown it in Herräng, and maybe some other places, we wouldn’t have known Slow Bal today.”
“It was in Harlem in 2016 when we did a Slow Bal performance to the song Moonlight by Glenn Miller. Mickey was there as well and just before we went on stage, I said to Mickey: ‘This one is for you’. We danced to the song and when we came off, it looked like he had a bit of wet eyes. He was moved. But seriously, we give a lot of credit to Mickey and Kelly and we want to show how thankful we are.”
Anni: “I think that it is important to develop the dance and not get stuck in the little bit we know about it. Mickey also talks a lot about this. Because we don’t have so much information from the oldtimers and we also don’t have so many oldtimers that we heard anything from about this dance. So it is important to stay true to what you know, but also develop your own style. You need to find your own way. How do you like to do it most? Find your comfort zone and challenge it once in a while.”
Anni: “To me it’s the connection, because the rhythm is pretty similar. When you open up, it feels more like Lindy Hop. A closed connection feels more like Slow Bal.”
Gasper: “To me Slow Bal is very close to what Dean Raftery would dance and pretty much imitating his version and combination of the steps and syncopated steps. Everything that is different from that pattern is just slow dance.”
Anni: “I think the music choice also makes it a little bit more Slow Bal. Especially the serenades have a certain feeling to it.”
Gasper DJing in Herräng
Gasper, laughing; “You are asking a DJ here! If I would have to choose one song, it would be ‘The man I love’ by Benny Goodman, live from Carnegie Hall.”
Anni: “Yes, that is a beautiful one and could be my favourite too. It definitely has the right Slow Bal feeling. But I also love Snöfall by Charles Redlands Swingband. It also has this right feeling. I have a hard time saying what my favourite is. It would be easier to say what I like less. But I have a DJ here and I’m very satisfied with his choices.”
Anni: “That is hard to say, but I feel Slow Bal is booming right now. It is popping up everywhere like smaller and bigger mushrooms. I think it definitely has a big future.”
Gasper: “A lot of festivals don’t want only Balboa anymore, but also want to include Slow Bal. Either as a taster or as a regular class. It’s happening a lot.”
Anni: “Indeed. And nobody is surprised nowadays. A couple of years ago when we would suggest Slow Bal, people were like ‘what is that?’. But now, if you talk about Slow Bal, people know what you are talking about, even if they haven’t danced it. They have seen it.”
Gasper: “Yes, back then we really had to explain what Slow Bal is. Like: ‘it’s too slow for Lindy Hop and doesn’t quite fit on the Blues… well there! Something in between.”
Anni: “I also think you are doing a great job in spreading the love and knowledge for Slow Bal, so thank you for that!”
Want to stay tuned on these amazing dancers? Follow them on their Facebook-page: www.facebook.com/anniandgasper/out.
Are you totally inspired by this story and would like to start your own Slow Bal journey ASAP? Click here for Slow Bal classes and events.