Zuzana Martincekova is one of Slovakians unrecognized dancers. Once notorious for being passionate on stage, she is now digging into the world of data. I catch up on her “Life After” with her in Amsterdam.
Rain. cruel, merciless rain. You might become miserable if you had to bike 20 km to your school and back in this weather, but not Zuzana who finds the weather in Amsterdam a bit better than the rain in her previous home, London. Zuzana used to be a professional dancer and has the type of hair you want to kill for. Long, blonde and beautiful. We met exactly one year ago in Amsterdam via a mutual friend. Not only did she come from the same country as me, but she also came to get her Master’s degree from the same program. Since then we have established a very deep friendship mostly based on aperitifs, conspiratorial theories and endless conversations about the emancipation of women and its pros and cons.
After settling down on a couch in her apartment in the north part of Amsterdam she talks vividly about how she started with dancing. “I started to dance when I was five. My older sister was dancing and I just wanted to copy her. All of a sudden, I was dancing full time without my sister. Right after primary school me and my family decided that a professional dance boarding school would be the best choice for me.” While she was studying she participated in a few exchange programs in Prague, Milan and London. After she finished her studies she was employed by the dance production Extravadansa in Slovakia. Now she lives in Amsterdam and studies Information and Knowledge Management. What a twist. Her biggest gigs include being part of Slovak National Theatre and its International Performance around the world. While she is addicted to the sensation of dancing, she realized that she cannot afford to live her life with an only option. “When I moved to London, I decided to register for an online bachelor’s degree.” In London she qualified into a popular British show ”So You Think You Can Dance.” She managed to get her bachelors and be part of the winning team of South Korean Best Musical Awards at the same time. While this sounds great, she also had to make money by dancing for Abercrombie and Fitch, being cast in various movies, and modeling.
“One day you are dancing in the theater, the next day you are in a nightclub.”
Zuzana’s dream was to be a ballet dancer. She completed Dance Conservatory in Slovakia, which took a rough 8 years. “At my Conservatory, I experienced that a lot of teachers will tell you that national folklore dance is a bad thing and ballet is everything. It’s this rotten perception that will ruin your further experience. Between the age of 10 and 14, you dance basically every style and then, based on the subjectivity of the teachers, they will divide you into a specific style. There is a committee that decides whether you are good enough to get into ballet. Also, everyone knows about everything. Everyone knows who farted when and how loud. It was quite disturbing.”
Did she like the lifestyle of a professional dancer? “Not really,” she says thoughtfully. “The lifestyle of a professional dancer could be pretty intense. You train eight hours a day, you need to be ready for tough events during the night and ready for training during the day. There is a huge rivalry among the dancers. You earn around 500,- Euros a month, and by that I mean national level. Also, if you don’t fight for being at the event, you won’t get it so you also won’t get paid. People struggle, they have sometimes hardship to find money for food. In Slovakia, in order to survive as a dancer, you have to work for various different dance companies, which means that all of sudden you are not dancing in front of an audience in the theater but in front of a bunch of drunk men next to the bar. One day you are dancing in the theater, the next day you are in a nightclub. I could not get over this.”
Zuzana was born in Zilina, a city in the middle of Slovakia with a population of 150 K people. Did she already know that Slovakia wasn’t big enough for her then? “I knew I wanted to travel the world and dancing enabled traveling for me. The dancing industry at the national level is very poor. As a professional dancer in Bratislava, you have two options. You can either work for the Slovak National Theater or SLUK- Slovak National Folk Theater. For example, they have canceled the professional dance team at Nova Scena (the only musical theater) and they only use external help which at the end costs them less money. Sadly, there is no support for dancing in our country.’’ To support herself while dancing she had to work very odd jobs. “Being a dancer in Slovakia won’t make you comfortable. I had to trim trees or work as a ring girl.”
After her move to London she realized that the dance world is not what she dreamed it would be. “People really look up to all the artists, whether it’s an actor, a dancer or a singer, but they don’t see the whole picture behind it. Based on my experience working in the cast of some well-known movies, I have learned that most of the people are alcoholics, or doing drugs and are very lonely. They are struggling with finding their own place in this world. Sometimes they can’t even pay their rent. People don’t see this. Plus they are under a strong diet all the time. The life is heavy.” She eventually started to see the other side of dancing, though she had wanted to quit a long time before these revelations.
“It’s not possible to end it like that. Dance has always been a big part of my heart and I think it always will remain there.”
“The first time I wanted to quit was because I was pressured to lose weight. You know being 13 years old and being told several times that I am too fat did not help me at all.” Zuzana, at the age of 14 weighted around 45 kilos, now she is 58. She continues with her struggles being motivated. “The second time I wanted to quit was when I was 15 and I got really bored at school. My brain needed more challenges and it somehow affected my motivation with dancing. I wanted to be more than just a dancer. The third time I wanted to quit was because I realized that by the age of 30 I would like to have at least one foot in my working career and not getting prepared for “dancing retirement”. It was never my dream to become a dance teacher. Even though she realized that she has to do something else, she just could not quit. “It’s not possible to end it like that. Dance has always been a big part of my heart and I think it always will remain there.”
Zuzana is 25 now, but becomes uncomfortable when talking about finishing her dancing career. “I haven’t finished. I still don’t consider myself being completely finished. I am still in touch with the National Theater in Slovakia, and here and there I perform.” But she admits that dancing is not her priority anymore. “It’s the situation around it that annoys you. You can’t survive there. It is a very fake world and people out there are not your friends. You have a competition everywhere. They even teach you at school that your classmates are your enemies. Nobody tells you anything positive, because it is all about correction of the movement. No encouragement. I have a feeling that this is mainly happening in our country, back in Slovakia. The teachers bring some sort of insecurity into your mind very consciously. It is a sort of a feeling that you are never going to be good enough. I think that this is the most critical thing that happened during my dancing career. Who knows if I would have been raised with encouragement and believers around me. But there are people who are really down, so I think I am quite happy where I am today. Something that nobody talks about is that fame has a tremendous negative impact.’’ Zuzana learned about the negative impacts of fame while working as an extra in some very well-known movies. “ It was very common that the actresses came in looking like hobos, they were usually even hiding behind the group of people, so nobody could see them. Fame is not for everyone. It’s also very hard to maintain relationships, because on the one hand if you date someone outside of this world, he just does not get it and never will. On the other hand, if you date someone from the industry, the artists compete against each other and have affairs. It’s really tough. Also, particularly with dancing, you are around the topic of sex at quite an early stage. Kids are not being kids, plus you get into alcohol and drugs. I am not saying that everyone does it, I’m just talking in general. It is super sad that some of my former colleagues are now Uber drivers, key holders and drivers of DHL. I mean what else you can do if you skip mathematics, physics and other relevant subjects at age of 13. By the age of 30, you are old. It does not have any perspective. At least when you are an actor, you can act till you die. In dancing, young girls play old women. You can also be a choreographer, but you don’t have to be a professional dancer to be a choreographer.’’
“If you date someone outside of this world, he just does not get it and never will.”
Does she ever look back and think about what she should have done differently in her career? “No.,” she says decidedly. ”I would not change anything. I am really satisfied with the way it is and it was. It really moved me somewhere where I would otherwise never be. I went through a lot of bullying and shit but I would not be here otherwise and I would be a completely different person.’’ It almost seems as if Zuzana knew that her dream would have been difficult to achieve. “At the end, I did not have the body for it and I would have never settled for a background tree. The major problem was that there were a lot of anorexic girls around and I had quite big legs for a dancer. They wanted me to be someone else. Sadly, I could not do it.
When asked whether she has a new dream, she smiles: “Yes I do. I would like to work for a company with technology.” When Zuzana was young she spent her time either dancing around or messing around computer monitors. She has spent hours playing the first Tetris on PC. She also had a lot of PC games like Jazz Zed and Doom and liked to play the game centers in town, where she could really just lose herself. She adds: “Nintendo was my favorite.” It almost seems like she found similar satisfaction by being around technology. “I was always intrigued by the possibilities of all functions of computers, making music, etc. but ironically I never had enough time to get closer to it because of dancing. I only got into it during my Bachelor’s degree with my first-course introduction to IT. The IT course that was offered at the Dance Conservatory was based on free access to computers, so usually guys were watching porn and girls were on Boom.sk (Social Media Platform in Slovakia back from 2000’s).
“It is super sad that some of my former colleagues are now Uber drivers, key holders and drivers of DHL. I mean what else you can do if you skip mathematics, physics and other relevant subjects at age of 13. By the age of 30, you are old.”
Does she have future goals? “No, I don’t have one, because it’s stressing me out. However, I want to do something creative. A semi-normal 9-5 job and dance as a hobby. Or something in that similar vein. I don’t think I will ever be able to have only one job. I want to do something between dance and something else. Dance people are crazy. I was always an outsider.” Zuzana does not have a specific plan for herself but she knows that dancing will always be a part of her life. She has a message for other dancers: “Even though you think that this is your life be ready for the life after. Also travel as much as you can, use your dance background as an advantage to explore the other countries where dance is treated on a different level. While Zuzana might be done with her dancing career, she does not plan on throwing out her dancing shoes. “I will just take some dance classes, just to stay in shape. Or you know, we can just go dancing like we did last Friday, Klaudia.”