Experiencing Buenos Aires: An Artful Encounter

by Mackenzie Morris, Buenos Aires Dance Project Study Abroad Participant

Prior to my experience in Argentina I had never traveled outside of the country. Needless to say I experienced quite the culture shock. Having read up on the culture of Argentina (specifically in the area of Buenos Aires) as well as reviewing customs and language differences learned in previous Spanish courses, I was prepared for many of the cultural changes such as greeting with a kiss on the cheek, the food differences, etc. I was ready to approach the cultural shift with an open mind. Even so, reading and researching a culture is very different than actually experiencing it first hand. I knew that the people of Argentina were relatively intimate but I had no idea to what extent. Not only were people more publicly affectionate but the physical space between people was closer, more proximate; personal space (which is typically highly valued in American society) did not seem to be an issue or even noticed at all, especially when on the road. As well, there seemed to be a more communal, sharing atmosphere in general.

On a more somber note, the disparity between wealth and poverty was quite distressing. We were warned that the political climate of the area was particularly unstable, fluctuation in monetary value was commonplace, and that we would experience begging and homelessness throughout the city. Despite knowing this prior, it was, as I mentioned before, distressing and frankly sad to see and experience first hand not only homeless adults, but young children as well. There were also a great deal of stray dogs and cats that would roam around as well. One other, slightly less disparaging aspect of this trip which shocked me greatly and that I was not prepared for was just how influenced by American culture they are. Many of the people we encountered could speak english and translate with ease and most restaurants had two menus, one in Spanish and one in english. Even more, almost all of the music we heard was the same as we would here in the U.S. and there was a plethora of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and ads for American companies and brands generally written in english. Even the people, specifically a group of dancers we met, know more about American politics than most of us in the group do.

Aside from the culture shock, I was also in complete awe over all of the beautiful art and architecture we saw. We first visited a church, Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, which had the most beautiful and colorful displays and tiles inside. From there we visited La Recoleta Cemetery, one of the highlights of the trip due to its stunning, intricately detailed monuments. We also visited two museums, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and Palais de Glace. We were also fortunate enough to be invited to see many rehearsals and lighting/dance installations such as a ballet rehearsal being held in our directors old studio as well as sit in on a incredible rehearsal of one of her old student’s work (one of my favorite parts of the trip because most of the piece dealt with floor work which is an area of dance I enjoy most). The lighting/dance installations were also incredible: the first used computer software to project images of space with dancers seeming to defy gravity onto very unique surfaces; the second was a live performance which utilized lasers and light beams reflecting off of or through different surfaces such as hole drilled into construction paper, broken cd’s, and mirrors.

Walking through La Recoleta Cemetery

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Towards the end of our stay in Buenos Aires, we were finally able to take some classes at the Universidad National de San Martin or UNSAM, under the direction of Oscar Ariaz. We took a Graham modern class the first day then ballet on the second while also participating in a choreography class and one of Oscar’s company’s rehearsals. Within the choreography class, taught by our director, we talked about our choreography projects and some of us (myself included) had the chance to teach parts of our choreography to the participating students. It was interesting and genuinely fun experience to see that, even through a language barrier, the students were able to pick up the choreography easily and even perform it at the end of the class. It was a wonderful experience to see my own choreography set on these students particularly because you could see their willingness to learn, explore, and play with the movement and the ideas behind it. I even had two girls approach me after class to tell me that they were very interested in my movement exploration and we ended up exchanging information, another highlight of the trip.

Sitting in on Oscar’s company rehearsal at UNSAM

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We were also fortunate enough to sit and and eventually participate in Oscar’s company rehearsal, which was an inspiring experience. The company members were so dedicated, hard working, and passionate about their work and the movement set on them, often times repeating the same movement over and over until they could perform it almost like it was second nature and without prompt from the director. Not only were they amazing dancers but they were also gracious and welcoming, inviting us out to eat on our last night. The entire experience of dancing with them, seeing them perform, and then later talking with them (although it was difficult to get past the language barrier) I felt inspired and motivated to take what I had seen and gained from this experience and apply it not only to what is left of my academic career here at GCU but also to my future experiences, wherever they may be. I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity and experience all that I did; I may have left a piece of myself in Argentina, but I have gained so much in return.

Our last night: Spent with some of the lovely dancers from UNSAM

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An amazing mural in La Boca

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