I had just finished teaching a class in Berlin when Domen Žugelj and Monja Lorencic approached me. Their smiles were warm, their hearts were open, and with the shake of a hand we were family. They had already blown me away during class; the artistry and skill of their movement was breathtaking. As we spoke, I only became more impressed. I quickly found that Domen and Monja are not only phenomenal movers, they are phenomenal human beings.
What struck me most about these two is their humility, grace and drive. They are wholly committed to actualizing their dreams in a way that’s congruent with their morals and values. I learned they had driven over eight hours to attend the workshop even after spending the previous night in the hospital due to a drunkard bottle slinging incident. To Domen and Monja, no drive is too long, no amount of sleep is too little, no excuse is enough to keep them from practicing their passion. I found their unshakable commitment beautiful, refreshing and inspiring. I knew this was only the beginning of our story.
After the incredible class at Flying Steps Academy We cyphered to a live funk band on the streets of Berlin, filled up on great conversation and good food, and eventually found ourselves at the East Side Gallery, an artist hub and a remaining vestige of the divide between East and West Berlin. Sandwiched between the Spree River and the Berlin Wall, I was instantly overcome by the contradictory nature of this experience. There I was, sitting in a place that was once used to divide people, listening to stories of mothers and fathers who fled from East to West Berlin during the time of the Iron Curtain. And at the same time, there I was there with people of African, Asian and European descent, discussing our hopes, dreams and desires. This site had transitioned from a landmark of separation to a place of unity within one generation. It was a truly surreal moment, and I was overwhelmed with an intense feeling of gratitude. As the conversation died down and our exhaustion set in, my incredible new Slovenian friends began their eight hour drive home. As I watched them leave, I couldn't help but wonder where and when our paths would cross again. I hoped it would be soon.
Just under a year later, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to Slovenia. Domen and Monja generously provided me with the opportunity to teach a few classes and work on a video project they’d begun to dream up. They live in a town called Maribor where they teach dance to an extraordinary community of kind and passionate movers. I quickly realized that the same warmth and humility I felt when I first met Domen and Monja was a common thread throughout the Slovenian people. Every morning the three of us would eat fresh bread with butter and honey at Domen's home, where his nephews’ constant laughter was like background music to the amazing stories his father shared. One day after such a breakfast, we climbed a nearby mountain called Pohorje to take in the astonishing colors of autumn in Maribor. We followed our hike with a traditional Slovenian lunch that we ate in a cozy cabin in the woods. Later we rowed down the wide and calm Drava river, and finished our adventure by cooking Klobasa and Kisdo Zelje (sausage and sauerkraut). Everyday in this humble and beautiful country felt like a dream, when teaching class the same passion and energy that poured from Domen and Monja’s pores was a constant amongst every single person I came across. As if the experiences in Slovenia weren’t enough, from teaching sweat drenched classes to hikes through what seemed to be enchanted forests, Domen and Monja did what they do best the pushed and asked for more. With this request we started our work on a concept video that we had all been dreaming up.
We began the creative process for our video by attempting to nail down a concept. As we discussed general ideas and personal experiences, we found that we kept circling back to one question: Why do we often struggle and grieve when things come to and end? Whether it be a life, a relationship, or a friendship…why aren’t we just as often left with a feeling of gratitude for all the joy it brought us? We all felt inspired by this phenomenon and wanted to explore it more deeply, so we set it as the crux of our video and began choreographing.
While I was very personally connected to our concept, this video touched me in another, more unexpected way. There was a moment during our filming when I found myself marveling at the strange reality of my situation. What the hell was I doing dancing under a bridge at 2 a.m. in downtown Maribor? How did this incredible experience come to be? It was all thanks to the two open-hearted Slovenians who greeted me so kindly that day after my class in Berlin.
Domen Žugelj and Monja Lorencic treated me as though I was a part of their family from the moment we met. They welcomed me into their homes, fed me, clothed me, and even cared for me when I was sick (no lasagna for me ever again). The feeling of sheer gratitude that hit me a year earlier while sitting on the banks of the Spree River is the same feeling that overtakes me whenever I watch our video. The video we put together is just a small example of what people can do when they work together, stay true to their beliefs, and follow their bliss. As I often do, I will end where I began with those two incredibly open and warm people who greeted me so kindly that day after my class in Berlin. Hvala in Slovenian means “thank you”. This word was used on a moment to moment basis in Slovenia and truly defines my relationship with both Domen and Monja. My gratitude is unmatched and the moments shared, unforgettable. I can leave you with no other words than the one I used most in your beautiful country: