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Lizelot de Stigter: “The more you see people as they really are, the more beautiful they become”.

Interview with Lizelot de Stigter by Marij Faessen
Translation: Arnoud de Graaff


Photo : Lucien Lecarme

Lizelot de Stigter was trained as a ballet dancer and specialized in modern dance, contemporary dance and theatre dance. She also attended a dance and choreography academy in Brussels at the P.A.R.T.S., the dance academy of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Lizelot has been a tango teacher for ten years now and also gives dance demonstrations in the Netherlands as well as abroad.

I met Lizelot in Flor de Fango in Arnhem and where she teaches tango. The theme of this interview focuses on what is her vision on tango: what role did dancing play in her life and how did she arrive at her view on tango?


Can you tell me something about your background?
Since I was nine years old my life has been a life of dancing. At that age I was submitted to the conservatory in The Hague. During the week I lived in The Hague with a foster family and during the weekend I was at home with my parents. I didn’t grow up in a natural environment. Intense feelings of loneliness, melancholy and loneliness were important experiences in my life, which caused me to have a love-hate relationship with dancing.

The conservatory didn’t do much good to my love for dancing, quite the contrary it disturbed my love for the dance. I was completely focused on the outside, my inner life was not important at all. I lived for my image in the mirror. After my time in The Hague, I spent some time at the Amsterdam balletacademy, before going to the Arnhem dance academy. In Amsterdam I discovered that I was a dancer, but didn’t fit into the world of theatre. I hoped that in Arnhem I would learn what I really wanted to do with dancing. 



When I was seventeen I auditioned at Pina Bausch’s in Wuppertal. This was my great breakthrough. I made it to the last eight dancers. Pina Bausch then said to me: “I do want you in my group, but I think you are too young for it. Is this really what you want?” At that moment I felt I didn’t belong in the theatre world. My answer was no. She made me promise however that I would not quit dancing and finish my dance education. I followed her advice and was submitted to Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker dance academy in Brussels, where I stayed for a year. This was a fantastic experience. I was able to develop my dance, but still felt I didn’t belong in the theatre. I really longed for a low profile life, anonymously and peaceful.  
When I was in Brussels, I got to know the world of the tango. I had a boy friend who took a tango course in Arnhem. At a practice night I joined him and it was love at first sight. This dance immediately felt authentic. It had everything that I wished dancing should have: communication, sensuality and authenticity. From that day I danced almost every day, either in Brussels or in Arnhem. I completely lost myself in the dance and wanted to become free of patterns in dance. Tango was a completely new experience for me.

Tango taught me lessons which I had always longed for as a dancer. For example, that authenticity and beauty come from within you. To experience this, your attention has to be centered inside instead of outside. This was the first time that I could embody and show the beauty of who I truly am 


The letting go of patterns in the dance was a painful process. I discovered that patterns which have to do with forms are related with things from the past. Letting go was quite a struggle.

From this time on I started to approach tango more scientifically, in the sense of what really happens at that moment. What happens from a sensual perspective? I wanted to experience its genuineness, the authenticities. I wanted to open my fascination for that one moment. The science of fascination and inner life. Dancing changed from a burden to a liberation. And that fascination is something you can share with others.









 Photo : Lucien Lecarme

How would you describe your view on tango? 

Often people associate me with neo tango, but I do love traditional tango. Apparently I attract neo tango in these times. Not by the format of it, but in the way it functions. I don’t approach it from the what side, but the how is a central point. It only resembles tango, if the movement and coordination fits. The styling comes later.





The spiritual element lies in the disentanglement of the patterns in the dance. Tango gives us an experience of a moment, a moment of letting go of old patterns and linear thinking. Our thinking divides everything in little parts. For example: yesterday, today and tomorrow. If you let this go, you can be in the eternal now. You move from a world of multitudes to a world of unity. It means that you will be seen as you really are. The duality of good versus bad disappears and you are able to let go the patterns. Because you dance with a partner, you have a chance of becoming one. Not only with your partner, but also with yourself. If you have to force it, there is something missing. It is about truth, sincerity, authenticity and beauty. 

As a dancer I like introvert dances, but also the spectacular and sensational moves. In my classes I remove the barrier between open and closed embrace. It just doesn’t exist for me anymore. You can move into an elastic, breathing contact. The embrace will always be there, the sensuality of the contact will not disappear. I see neo tango as a traditional tango which is put under a microscope.

My lessons are rather technical. The movements have to be clear and simple. I always work with movements. There are only a few principles in tango. It is important that, despite the endless variations, you are able to recognize the basic principles. This way it remains logical and simple. And that you learn what effect you have on your partner. Not emotional, but sensual. The inhalation of a moment is a sensual affair. This is what makes tango so sexy. The serenity and the beastly, and everything with lies between these two. There are no barriers; it is spiritual, very basic and down to earth. Many problems appear, for example, because barriers appear where they are actually not. Another example; love and sex, which are one. We don’t feel the connection anymore. Serene and wild, it is not this or that, but this and that. Therefore spiritual and down to earth. For me, Geraldine Rojas-Paludi embodies all these things. But also Gustavo Naveira, Pablo Veron, Pablo Inza and Moira Castellano are a great inspiration for me.


Ard & Lizelot





Which experiences have shaped your view on tango?
In Brussels I danced a lot with Sergio Molini, with whom I developed sensuality in my dance. With Vincent Morelle I experienced the timelessness where dancing can take you. When I saw Pablo Veron in a movie, I was immediately touched by his way of moving. A few days later we saw him live with Victoria Vieyra. What struck me was the presence in his moving. This made me think: how do you accomplish this as a dancer? From that moment he became my ‘internal’ teacher. If I was investigating something with my former partner Ard, I imagined how Pablo Veron would do it. Then I ‘saw’ how he did it, and then I knew what to do. This was very important for me. When I danced with him (years later), everything fell into place. It was exactly as I had imagined. What I learned then, was that the movements you see from the outside are the result of the interaction of the dancers. You don’t dance some pattern, but you dance a sensation which results into a pattern. That is about it. Pablo lets you feel how he needs you and realizes this via the dance. He has a dream, a vision, and an idea which are realized through her. 

A philosfical intermezzo. A typical female quality in dancing is that, if you imagine the man as a explorer of new worlds and her as the treasure, who is to be discovered, he will be inspired on his journey. He knows all the highways and the byways, and she knows the hidden mysterious places. With each and every move he discovers her beauty and also his own, because he sees his reflection in her. The interesting thing is that if he is not yet in contact with her, he can go in every direction. He has unlimited possibilities, creativity and inspiration. But in the end he is only able to move in one direction.

So, at the moment he joins her in an embrace, she incorporates it all in her feminine qualities and there only remains one movement which can go all ways. This is the energetic aspect of dancing tango, the way I experience it. This is typical of the female role. The development lies in the weaving, the incorporation, which, as a matter of fact, is a rather active role considering her female capacities. And for him the quality lies in the surrendering, the letting go and trusting her, so that he can feel free. In return you will get a freedom of moving. As a woman I have learned that I can take an active part in this. 

In this context, dancing with Facundo Posadas was also a beautiful experience. He is an honest and modest man. When we started to dance, it was as if we were ‘married’. He was so close and intimate, a beautiful contact. The way, in which he approached me, the intimacy was overwhelming. A beautiful experience. What I learned from him was that a woman can give so much in an embrace, so that there is a really warm contact.





Are there also female dancers who have inspired you?
Yes, Geraldine Rojas-Paludi is such a woman. Her technique is based on the intensifying of intimicy and sensuality in the dance .This results in her becoming strong without being hard. The ways she dances, I can see that she absorbs his movement and remains soft. She doesn’t get pushed over, quite the contrary, she intimates the dance. It is a manner of moving, which is very inspiring to me. Her warmth, her sensuality, doesn’t stand apart from her technique. It is a way of moving which makes everything possible. I see that there is still a lot to learn, if you see how we move. We still get pushed away a little.

How do you incorporate these matters into your teaching?
If I start teaching beginners, it is different. To be able to feel what I described, I teach tango like a kind of martial art. The little bits of patterns that I use have to be crystal clear. So I am very exact in teaching. There is a total different flow of energy when you turn your leg inside out or outside in. These things I want to be very precise, to get the right feeling. In my teaching I work with a multidimensional dance posture instead of a two dimensional one. Round instead of flat. This results in there being no difference between open and closed embrace. These are very important elements in my classes. In principle closed, but not fixated. This is also a development in dance I have witnessed in the last few years. There are a lot of people who are searching for this. It is a very sensual dance, where you move through an open position, without becoming distant to your partner.

At times, I compare those few bits of patterns that I use, with a crystal wineglass. The glass carries and holds the wine. It is about feeling of course, ecstasy. It is carried by a minimum of transparency and a crystal clear form. There are dancers who only focus on the wineglass and others, who only talk about wine. It is about the connection, form and feeling, or form and freedom is also an option. To attain freedom you need form. A form which doesn’t limit your possibilities. Otherwise you only dream.  Photo : Lucien Lecarme



You need the multidimensional dance posture to sense the introspection, to stay soft and relaxed. To stay in balance, you need spirals, because they protect and maybe even enlarge your inner space. With your inner space you can absorb movements, without being pushed away. This is the technical aspect. It is not difficult, it is only different and finally allows you to dance more easily and free. You only can free yourself of a pattern by moving through and out of a pattern. In the end the pattern doesn’t limit you anymore, but serves you.

This is not something I invented myself, but is something I became aware of and developed in my own dance. Gustavo Naveira helped me doing so. Years ago we attended his workshops. He was focused on how you can let your embrace become alive, to let it breathe. 

What is your theme now?

Two things actually. Mirjam Diedrich and I are invited to make a choreography for the Amsterdam international dancetheatre. It is quite an experience to get in contact with the world of theatre again. It feels logical, it had to happen someday. Now I get a chance to use all the knowledge and experience of tango and share it with young theatre dancers. The second important theme at the moment is neo tango. I see neo tango as a style which is not something different than traditional tango. Quite the contrary, it can serve as a deepening, an enrichment of traditional tango. As if you place traditional tango under a microscope. 


When you talk about choreography, do you mean essentially patterns?
No, in tango there is more than patterns. I teach dancers intensively in the interaction of the dance. And also in choreography this interaction results in a movement. Every time should feel as if you haven’t done it before. Otherwise the soul of tango is missing. I work with these dancers the same way I do in my classes, but these dancers can do more. I let them do a lot of contact exercises, to develop their sensuality. Apart from this I work from the outside to the inside. I give them sequences and have them experience and develop the typical tango qualities. It is great working with those dancers, because they are so talented. I knew this would happen once, and now, when it is happening, I see that there is still a long way for me to go.

You have mentioned a few people who have been very important for you in your developing as a dancer. How important is Ard, your former partner, for you?
Very important. We have deeply influenced each other, which was also a painful and beautiful process. I had to let go everything, the concepts, the patterns and ideas about myself, which I had constructed in my past. Totally letting go my past, also in dance. This is also a physical process. A purification, a cleaning. I was able to let go because of the dance. 

Some people go into psychotherapy to find peace with their past, but dance is also capable of doing this by allowing yourself to move in a beautiful way. Not to react out of your old habit of fear, but let in the new things and let them do their work in you. And then there is a resistance everywhere in you, you encounter your deepest fears, barriers and attachments to certain attitudes. They all float to the surface. By working hard, day in and day out, we managed to succeed. The essence of this process was to leave your ego and replace it with who you really are. It kind of feels like loosing your own identity, to which you have become used and emotionally attached.

For me dancing functions as a method to be who I truly am. This is why I can enjoy dancing so intensely and all there is in life. I also experience it as a gift to help others in their discovery of who they really are. 

I will give you an example, Often dancers ask me if I can help them correcting their dance posture. Well, what doesn’t work is to correct somebody’s posture, because it is connected with your past. Only if somebody experiences something in a different way, the posture can be changed. I hand out experiences in the form of a movement to people, so that they are able to rebuild their posture in a harmonic way. I am always deeply touched when I see it happen. People start feeling happy and show their true beauty. 

Sometime ago I worked with a group of people, who take weekly classes with me. It is a closed group of wealthy people. When they realized that they could not ‘buy’ tango, they became cynical. There was a lot of resistance. A real battlefield. I could physically sense how much energy they had invested in hiding their dark side. They were used to showing their good side. Image and reputation were very important to them. In fact they were scared to death to be seen as they really were. At the last lesson there were only a few couples left. They were happy and proud that they reached the finish. Then they started to ask questions, like: “Do you talk when you are dancing?” I answered: “Yes, we talk, but without words”. I told them that in time you start to feel your partner more and more. That by dancing you can become intimate and feels how someone really is. I added that I sometimes was hired by therapists, who asked me if, by teaching their clients, the dance could liberate them from their patterns and remove blockades. They were shocked and started to hide their fears by joking about it. One person joked: Well, I don’t know if I dare to dance with you again”. This really moved me and I asked them: “What are you afraid of? Don’t you realize how beautiful you are?” Silence and then a ray of sunshine. For a moment they were free of the enormous pressure they put on themselves. Really, the more you see some people as they really are, the more beautiful they become. We are so desperate to show our good side, that we forget that that is also a mask behind which we hide and feel safe. A façade which is based on fear is just a survival mechanism. Dancing tango is a wonderful way of removing those façades



Photo : Lucien Lecarme