by Anne Burgers
When she was a child, her father told her she was named after a Dutch queen. From that moment, Brazilian born Juliana Braga (age) knew that one day she would see our small, cold country. Eventually, it was dancing that took her here. “Dancing is therapy.”
Juliana’s dancing school, Espaço Cultural, is located under the tracks and has a view on the houses in Haarlemmer Houttuinen. The school is small and cozy. In this place and in other Amsterdam based schools, Juliana has taught the elegant ballroom dance samba de gafieira and the more sensual, playful forró for twenty years. She also teaches samba solo, a spicy solo dance that we know from the Brazilian carnival. All three dances originated in Juliana’s home country.
You’re passionate about dancing. How did this love arise?
I didn’t get into dancing, it got into me. I was basically born dancing. At the age of three I started practicing moves so a couple of years later my mother decided I should have lessons. She doubted between dancing and athletics for a short while, but eventually, she registered me at the first school for modern dance in my hometown of Belo Horizonte. That is where it really started. My teacher, Marilene Martins, taught me everything, also on anatomy and didactics. And when I was fifteen, I started teaching and working as a ballerina and choreographer in Marilene’s school. A couple of years later, I got my degree.I didn’t get into dancing, dancing got into me.
You started with modern ballet but ended up with ballroom dancing. Can you tell us something about that?
Next to modern ballet, I also studied Brazilian folk dance and Afro-Brazilian dance, which is very strongly inspired by the culture of the African inhabitants of Brazil. But when my father took me to a samba de gafieira baile [dancing night], I was sold. I was immediately intrigued by the social aspect of partner dance and I started intensive private lessons from known gafieira masters.
Is the social aspect in partner dance the reason you’ve taught this style for twenty years now?
I’m a teacher by intuition. I teach and want to teach everyone, because I see qualities and flaws in every individual. My way of teaching is directed at the person instead of the dance: the main point is not to get every step perfectly, it is the ability of my student. For me, the main point is the ability of the student
What are your ideas on dance? What is the function of dance to you?
For me, dancing is developing expression. That is why I prefer expressionist folk dances over kinds of dance that involve a lot of difficult moves. I want to learn people how they can use the music to express themselves. Technique is important, of course, but not half as important as musicality and emotion. Dancing is therapy. To gain self confidence, to get rid of stress, anything. And dancing is to have fun, to not having to prove yourself to others.
How do you see your dancing life in the Netherlands?
I ended up here in 1989, when I was still working with a modern dance group. I feel at home here. This is a place where I can work a lot, where I feel needed by people. For me it’s very important to do something that helps others. I’m basically a social worker. Maybe I’ll go back to Brazil one day and work in the favelas [slums] with children who get no opportunities, which I did before. Either way, I want to do something that is social and that is necessary. When I’m old, I want to look back on my life and be able to say: ‘I didn’t sell my soul.'