“Dancing from the Soul, Pure-Heartedly” – An Interview with Yuliana Basmajyan

As part of our month exploring excellence in Tango, Holly Darling interviewed Oxygen teacher Yuliana Basmajyan, current USA Tango champion and third place worldwide with her partner Brian Nguyen. Read what motivates her to vanquish her obstacles, and her subtle, heartfelt views on how we can “Breathe, Embrace, Excel.” Join her at Oxygen !


What does it mean to be an excellent tango dancer/leader/follower ?

To be an excellent dancer means to be a perfectionist; to always strive to become better; and to set higher goals.

To be an excellent follower,  one needs to pay attention to her partner; to be very sensitive to the lead and to the music. It’s important for the follower to take an active role in the dance.

An active follower doesn’t just automatically move where the leader takes her. Really, she needs to enjoy every single step, own it, and add to it and not just do it ! The woman needs to spice up the dance with her own interpretation, without interrupting the lead, the dance or the music.

For me, an excellent leader needs to know how to connect with the woman on a deeper level, and make her forget about everything that exists in this world, and just concentrate on the dance.

The leader needs to know how to give space to the woman, which means leader doesn’t only lead but also follows the follower. Every follower and leader dance differently, so for both roles it’s important that they try to understand each other’s dance and dance accordingly. The follower needs to adjust to every single’s leader’s dance while keeping her technique. The same with the leader.

To be an excellent tango dancer means to dance from the soul, pure-heartedly; to love the music; to really enjoy the dance and the moment with the partner; and, as well, to look aesthetically pleasing.

What motivates people to excel in Tango ? What motivated you ?

What motivated me to excel in tango is to dance better so I could enjoy it more, and not think all the time about my mistakes ! I wanted to make the leaders that I dance with happy. Watching videos of the people I admire motivated me a lot to work hard on my dance. And after having a partner, especially, it was crucial for me to become better. My partner really inspired me to excel.

What specific habits foster the achievement of excellence in tango ?

Practicing consistently alone and with a partner

Watching youtube videos

Socializing with professional tango dancers asking questions

Taking yoga classes or other dance classes

Trips to Buenos Aires while studying with the best masters

Dancing at milongas in Argentina.

In general, dancing at milongas helps you discover who you are as a dancer.

What do you think are the main obstacles people face when they want to excel ?

Having a full time job, not having a partner, or not going out to milongas.

Are there ever moments when you don’t feel motivated to do all the work that you know is needed to get really good ? What do you then ?

Definitely, there are moments that I don’t feel motivated. But when I think about my dreams and what I want to achieve and constantly remind myself about them, then that motivates me. By going to Buenos Aires I feel really motivated by seeing the best of the best there. And my partner Brian motivates me too !

What kind of advice would you give to those who are dancing tango and striving for excellence?

I would recommend them to constantly work on their technique, to practice, to go out dance, and to travel !

What does it mean to excel as a TEACHER of tango ?

When you work a lot on your own technique and analyze how things work you automatically will be a good teacher. Taking other people’s classes helps a lot to see how others teach. You take things that you like to use for your own classes.

What are the things that contribute to make an excellent learning environment that motivates dancers to excel and be the best they can ?

I think the most important is to create an inspirational environment for students, with a high quality of teachers. I would say the dress code actually is very important for the teachers as well as the students. Because, students are looking up to the teachers and so basically teachers are the role models. It’s important for teachers to look like Argentine Tango dancers from within as well as physically.

Using Argentine elements is very important to create the right environment. It’s also imporant for the students to be exposed to the traditional Argentine Tango dancers from Buenos Aires. (By the way, Yuliana is organizing a wonderful Argentine couple, Virginia Pandolfi and Maximilano Cristiani in LA in January ! -Ed.)

I like the idea of creating a 1 hour Question & Answer event with the instructors and students, so instructors can share their experiences and give advice to the people who just started. That can create a high motivational factor.