A New Way of Learning

by Gabrielle Vella, Buenos Aires Dance Project Study Abroad Participant

I never thought in my college career that I would have been asked to experience life in another country. When I was offered a scholarship to go to Argentina; I was shocked. It didn’t hit me until we were on a 10 and a half hour plane ride that I was up for the best experience of my life. It was then that I started to reflect on my college career and how it has led me to this opportunity; all of the struggles and battles became the most valuable moments for me because it was those moments that led to success, which was being offered to dance in Argentina. This experience taught me valuable life lessons, as well as opened my eyes to a much more important factor: dance is what I strive to do.

The most interesting part of the trip was developing ways to comprehend the language as well as communicate, since they speak Spanish. Luckily, I knew many of the basic terms and phrases to help me get by. It was a challenge when ordering food or purchasing souvenirs, to say the least. However, I tried my best in respect for their language and country, and I actually found myself very engaged with the culture when I did try to use the language. Their culture is very uplifting, not only are they very religious, they are motivated, appreciative, and spiritual. Tango is a form of dance that keeps their culture alive, since they express the true meaning of love and romanticism. It was amazing that these individuals would tango in the streets and play music, it made the city feel so alive and welcoming. The liveliness rubbed off on me and made me inspired and motivated, an overall extravagant feeling.

The most valuable part of the trip was attending UNSAM, or Universidad Nacional de San Martín, where I was able to take class, teach my choreography, and watch the professional company rehearse. The experience of taking class, in another language nonetheless, was unbelievable. The classes were so well executed and the students were knowledgeable and talented. I worked hard to pay attention to the movement as well as fully embody it, which was difficult yet motivating. My favorite class was the composition class where I was able to teach my choreography to the students. It was a difficult task, since many of them did not speak English, although I may add that quite a few did know it well enough to communicate briefly with me. I had a group of ten students, where I was able to teach them the beginning of my senior choreography since it incorporates partnering. I also taught them two other phrases from my work. I was absolutely astonished by these students; their interest to learn my choreography made me feel accomplished and welcomed. They would try their hardest to ask me questions about the quality, speed, and direction of the movement. I was able to break down the movement with one of the girls that performed my piece, so the students had a visual of what the movement should look like. I continuously showed the movement and the students followed along with full engagement. It made me want to work harder and made me feel very professional, as well as comfortable. At any given moment I would perform the movement with them and then they would ask me not to perform it with them to make sure they knew the material on their own. They never gave up and that gave me extreme amounts of appreciation and motivation.

Overall, I brought this work tactic back home with me. I always have the urge to dance, but now I see dance at another level. I continuously try to experiment with unknown movement so my body can inhibit the material. This process makes me work harder and dig in deep to truly find the motion and intent of the movement. I feel as though me teaching my work to the students actually taught me more than I ever expected. I never thought my level of dedication could increase so rapidly and make my love of dance stay alive.

Furthermore, watching the professional company of UNSAM was by far my favorite experience of the entire trip. Oscar Araiz is an absolute genius and his choreography never left a dull moment for the eyes to watch. These dancers were physically built so beautifully and it was shown through their dancing. The continuous engagement to the characters the pieces required was so intriguing and made the pieces that much more interesting to watch. They were extremely well rounded in technique, I never seen them make a mistake. They were always on the side fully embodying the movement of the next piece they were going to work on, they never stopped moving; and when they did not have a piece to work on next they were doing push ups or sit ups. I was so inspired. I could not help but to think I want to be them. Their drive was so contagious and it was then I realized again that I want to be part of a company like this. Their work ethic was at such a high level it was amazing to see the behind the scenes of a professional company. We were able to learn a short section of one of the pieces and dance it with the company dancers. They were so welcoming and helpful, I never seen them not smile. The littlest things stood out to me the most, and I could not help my jaw from hitting the floor with their knowledge and talent.

Here is a picture of the 16 company dancers performing one of Oscar’s pieces:

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On the other hand, visiting the most exquisite sites of Buenos Aires taught me a lot about their culture, history, and art. I visited the Colón Theatre, The Pink House, La Boca, Palermo Viejo, La Recoleta Church and Cemetery, and many museums. I constantly felt inspired and motivated. That was my overall feeling of the trip; I cannot use those words enough. I was able to incorporate this experience to the art form of dance. I found a parallel between the locations and my major: that beauty and meaning can be expressed in many different ways. I found the culture fascinating, as well as the historical sites. One of my most favorite locations was La Recoleta Cemetery, where the tombs were “buried” above ground in these beautiful tiled, old mini buildings. It surprised me that their way of burial was so different compared to where we live. However, it was amazing how the structure of the cemetery was in relation to its age and meaning.

Here is an overhead view of La Recoleta Cemetery:

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La Boca was another amazing site to see. It was like we saved the best for last since we went on the day we were flying back home. This was an area that many tourists attended- it was funny to hear so many people speaking English as opposed to Spanish. These beautiful buildings are painted bright colors and are historical sites where the immigrants used to live. There is a rich history that lies within this small village. However, there are many stores, restaurants, and markets outside. La Boca reminded me of a revamped version of Little Italy, but brighter. I gained more appreciation for Buenos Aries because of the long timeline of history and meaning; they never let their culture die and that is truly inspiring.

Here’s a picture of La Boca:

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Overall, Argentina was the most motivating and inspiring time of my life. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I wish I could express how this has changed my outlook on many different things; there is a personal meaning that lies within me that is nearly unexplainable. I felt so alive, like I was living every moment to its greatest extent. I have always been a visual learner, so traveling was always in my interest. Yet, this trip I did not expect to have such a drastic, positive outcome. I really engaged in all of the activities and moments, and feel as though it could have not been any better…unless we had stayed longer!

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