ST Dance Center was established in 2014 by Semra Hoca and Tigin Aytacoglu. ST Dance Center aims to share the love of dance to all people aged from 7 to 70 primarily in Northern Cyprus.
Semra, started her ballet education when she was 3 years old and since then dance has become a passion for her. She participated in the development of world-famous musical theatres such as Nutcracker, Wizard of Oz and Swan Lake, in the UK and Scotland, during her education in one of the most successful dance academies of the UK.
Tigin’s dance life started in 2005 and he has been participating in Latin dance competitions since 2007. He has taken part in many competitions, both local and international (Berlin, Amsterdam, TRNC, Republic of Cyprus and Turkey) and he completed many of them in the first place. Although he is a very successful dancer, he mentions that he is usually against competitions and does not like to join, but he still takes part with the aim of spreading the word that a Cypriot has had these major achievements and that together as a people better things can be done.
We are wondering how people like you, who love dancing, joined this world. Can you please let us know your story?
Semra: I was a very shy child. Thanks to my mother I started ballet when I was 3 as a hobby. As time goes by, I fell in love with dancing more and more. Then, I tried different dance styles such as modern dance and tap dancing. Initially, it was twice a week but later it really became my life.
Tigin: I was studying music education at the Eastern Mediterranean University. When its Dance Faculty was approved by the government, I got an invitation from Girne American University to join and eventually transferred. I have been interested in dancing since 2005 but have no history with it before then.
Considering that in Cyprus and Turkey dance is still not very popular, especially as it is not a profession that is popularly directed to children by families, how was your family’s approach? Were they supportive?
Semra: My family encouraged me from the very beginning: however, when I decided to do it as a major at university, their first response was not very motivating. Nevertheless, they always kept supporting me as they saw how passionate I was about dancing.
Tigin, you won the first place at the 2015 Man’s Solo in Turkey and were 11th on World Latin Dance Cup finals in Miami, United States. We have read very positive feedback on the internet. However, especially for attending a competition in US, your budget needs to be comprehensive. Considering that you are representing the country, do the government or other institutions support you?
Tigin: It was the first time that I took part in such a big competition. Due to the fact that it’s the first time someone from TRNC was participating in a such a large scale international competition, I did not get any kind of support from the government. I won the Turkey championship this year and they just saw how the finals went. Now, they know I perform very well. Next year, the second event of the same competition will be held. In the light of these facts, I am hoping, and waiting, that the government will support me. Our aim is to make a difference for the next generation, but we will be very happy if we can benefit from it as well. Getting support from 3rd parties like Loacal.com is also very important and means a lot to us.
So, how did you meet? As far as we know, you have been training in Cyprus since 2010. How was ST founded?
Tigin: We met with Semra in the Salsa Jam Fest, in 2009. I feel like I had known her for years when we first met... [We giggled a little, Semra’s cheek blush- such a cute girl]
Tigin continues: I am a Cypriot but I spent most of my time in Turkey, where I started dancing. When I came back to Cyprus, I realised that the level of quality of Latin dances was very low there. Therefore, I gathered some good dancers and started to give lectures. We were the first dance group that offered Mambo (a dance style) classes in Cyprus, including Southern Cyprus. We received very motivating feedbacks. After Semra completed her education in the UK and came back to Cyprus, we made ST Dance Center official and here we are today.
What is your approximate number of students?
Semra: We have just started a new term and are still accepting applications. So, it is kind of difficult to give you an exact number. However, based on the last year, we had 60 participants, including children and adult groups. In Cyprus, where the conditions can be very challenging, we aim to reach a number of 200 by 2017. We would like ST Dance Center to be an Art Center.
[Continue reading for details...]
What are the age groups?
Semra: Our youngest student is 3 y/o. Mostly, the age group between 3-6 starts with ballet and gymnastics. When they get older, they may choose modern dance or Latin dances.
Tigin: My dad is our oldest member. [Our laughter grows louder as he continues] He is 51 y/o. Although he only started dancing last year, he is very good at it. He is often here in his spare time, exercising and having fun.
Dancing is starting to be perceived as a sport and health center around the world. The people who dance are observed to have a much healthier body and spirit. So, how does dancing affect the physical and mental development of children?
Semra: There are students who started dancing at 3y/o and have been dancing with us since we opened ST Dance Center. We have just started to notice physical changes; because it is a time-taking process. At the end of the first year, they start to learn new things more easily, standing more properly, and feeling better and more confident as they also notice that they are developing.
You named your school to be School of Mambo Cyprus. The Cubans dance Mambo, meaning "conversation with the gods" in the Congo language, nowadays often confused with Salsa. Is this true? What is their difference?
Tigin: This is a very deep subject; every branch has its own deep meaning. Salsa is the combination of various dance styles combined until what it is today. Mambo means “dancing with the gods”; also it is the name given to a witch in old times. In terms of dancing, Mambo was first performed in the 1940s, founded by a music band. In order to reach dancers deeper, they focused on this style of music. And actually, currently, there is a huge group of people who are aware of the difference between the two.
The reason for using the name of the school is to separate our children groups and adult groups. We want people to think of a dance school with modern dance, ballet, jazz dance, tap dance and musical theatre when they hear ST Dance Center. School of Mambo is an extra for adults. Everyone older than 18 may join us!
Cyprus Mambo Weekend was held for the first time this year. Are you planning to orginise similar events?
Tigin: The first Cyprus Mambo Weekend was held in March this year. It was a very nice weekend activity about the history of Mambo. There were workshops during the day and dance shows at night. We welcomed many guests from Turkey and worldwide. Cyprus Mambo Weekend 2 will be on 19-20 November. This time, it will target children groups as well. Turkey dance champions Yiğit Isıyel and Hazal Akyüz will be our guests. Follow our Facebook page for the details.
Finally, what are your future projects?
Semra: I am speaking on my own behalf; I do not plan on being a participant in any competition in the future. I have never been a competitor. As we mentioned earlier,
We want to include many kinds of arts such as more dance style, music, drama, painting arts and sculpture. It may be a nice art project. [We again wish them luck]
Tigin: I agree with Semra; our art Center project is our most important priority. Our aim is to convert the dance Center into an art Center in a professional way as soon as possible. As it has not been a long time since a dance faculty was approved by the government, there are still gaps in the legislation. Unfortunately, a lot of unaware families take dance classes from uneducated people. This issue is making us sad. We want families to be more aware and government to set new regulations in order to prevent uneducated people from teaching. We have seen very dangerous choreographies at competitions in Cyprus, and trying to perform them without education can cause serious injuries. When there is an unexpected sudden loss of balance, it is necessary to prevent the endangerment of children's health. Professional dancers, who know what to do in case of a potential accident, and who have found dance in their hearts, think the same about this issue, I am sure.
Additionally, I think I have quite more time to express myself professionally while I am still young. Dance is not a competition; it is a desire. We are really happy to be on the stage and actually enjoying this. Acclamation and warm smiles are the rewards of our effort. So, whether I am in a competition or not, we will actively be on the stage for the next 10 years.
Anything you want to add?
Tigin: Sure. We are planning to open a concept café in Famagusta, called Café Mambo, on the 1st October. You are very welcome to join us! [Sure, we will drop by to drink a “Boogaloo”. :) ]