Born and raised in Curaçao, Edelmar Pieternelle (32), better known as ‘Pasty’, is fluent in Tambú, Ritmo Kombina and Tumba, but also Merengue, Bachata, Cha Cha and Salsa dance styles. Nowadays Pasty performs all over the world with his dance partner, Josta Ruby O’Niel. Neither is Brazilian of French Antillean, yet both have found a ‘home’ in Brazilian Zouk (a hybrid between Zouk and Lambada) and the world seems to love them for it.
Cultural anthropologist Juan-Carlos Goilo caught up with Pasty in their home city of Amsterdam and shares his interview with us below.
As an artist, Pasty values emotion, technique, innovation, body movement and musicality, when he’s performing and teaching his classes. He strives to add something new to the dance, create a mixture between traditional Caribbean style and his own interpretation.
In his years of professional dance, Pasty has worked with and performed among the most respected Salsa and Zouk/Lambada artists in the world and taught at numerous national and international events all over the world: Aruba, Australia, Suriname, Canada, New Zealand, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, Czech Republic, Spain, England, Poland, Belgium, Sweden, Belarus… to name a few!
Needless to say, Pasty is a busy man.
What inspires you to dance?
Growing up my dad would often walk up to me and bust some dance moves! He would tell me: “this is how you should dance with the ladies” and show me some tricks of the trade. He’d dance while fixing things around the house. He’s definitely one of my sources of inspiration. My dad’s brother and cousin were known for dancing their ‘come backs’ (old montunos, bachatas, merengues and slow love songs) in the Hofis of Curaçao (dance parties held outdoors). Every time I visit my family in Curaçao they still challenge me to keep up with their track record of dance trophies! My brother Sylvan unintentionally taught me to listen to every instrument in music, so my family really plays an important part in my art.
How did you find out you were going to be a dancer?
One of my father’s cousins signed me up for a talent competition at a song festival in Curaçao when I was 7. I remember it was sponsored by ISLA, the Oil Refinery. She did this out of the blue, but I think my father or mother told her I used to sing along with the songs on the radio. I prepared my own song in the form of a Cuban rap about the pollution in the world. I went to rap on stage but somewhere along the way I forgot all the words, so I started baila bai gol (dancing like there was no tomorrow)! I ended up winning the prize for most dynamic singer! From that point on I just kept dancing as much as possible. Even in high school I would habri pista (= open up the runway) for people to start dancing. By the last years of high school I was doing the choreography for the annual teen Carnival parade our school participated in. We won best choreography in 2000 en we came in second in 2001. Funny thing, I was actually invited back to ISLA’s Song Festival years later, performing as a professional dancer.
But it wasn’t until I joined Rudsel Magdalena’s dance troupe Salsation Curaçao in 1999 that I got a chance to experience how professional dancers work. With Salsation Curaçao I started doing many salsa performances, from birthday parties, Latin parties, opening acts for festivals and businesses as well as proms. Rudsel definitely inspired me and helped me a lot in my professional career. If you pay attention you will notice that many of Curaçao’s great salsa dancers have been in some way or another inspired by him.
Young Pasty in action in 1999:
Weren’t you also a leader in Curaçao’s Pinocchio-scene back in the 1990s?
During my teens I was into ‘Pinocchio’ (dance battle in Bubbling music scene). I won a prize for the duo contest in 1997. I didn’t even consider myself the best dancer, but my dance partner, Terminator, and I made up for it by innovating and making sure our moves were synchronized. Every step counted for us. We also paid attention to the other dancers and made sure everything we did was unique. If some people still don’t know how come we won this competition, here’s our secret: we were not battling, our aim was to entertain the audience!
So why Brazilian Zouk?
I moved to the Netherlands in 2001 to study. I now have a bachelor in skin therapy, but I kept my Latin dance hobby on the back burner. I was discovered in 2002 (together with D’Angelo Verginie, Eduarda de Bies), we were brought to Berlin to perform at one of the biggest Salsa Festivals of the world. We performed one of Rudsel’s choreographies and received a standing ovation.
Brazilian Zouk was coming up in the Netherlands during that time, it originates from the Lambada, the so-called ‘Forbidden Dance’. It was considered overtly sensual and therefore not allowed in public. Musicians stopped making the Lambada music, because there was no profit to be made. But dancers kept innovating, searching for new rhythms, finally stumbling upon Zouk music from the French Antilles. So Brazlian Zouk is pure fusion.
What makes you a good dancer?
Love for music, my past experiences, the many interesting people I’ve encountered along the way and especially my dance partner contribute to my success. I started dancing Zouk/Lambada in 2004 because they asked me to help popularize Zouk in the Latin (Salsa) scene. Coming from this scene I knew we had to take a different approach with the dance to make it known. This is also why my style is usually not considered as only Zouk/Lambada. Josta and I combine the dance with a contemporary style. We create something quite unique, but still accessible to a wide public.
I never took contemporary dance or jazz classes / workshops in my life, yet people refer to Josta and I as contemporary. The fact that people think I’m part of the contemporary dance movement shows that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. You just have to do what your heart tells you and don’t worry about what other people might think (…) I believe that Curaçao will flourish if we embrace our diversity and unique talents.
Is that what you’re trying to do with Zouk/Lambada?
When I visit Curaçao, people ask me when I’m moving back for good. I think I can do a lot more for Curaçao by traveling around the world dancing and meeting people [as I’m doing right now.] I always make an effort to explain where I’m from and what my culture entails, like a cultural ambassador. Last time I was in Curaçao I bought a whole lot of Curaçao paraphernalia to promote our awesome island. It would be great if the government and businesses can tap into my global reach to help promote the island, just like any of the other great people from Curaçao doing great things around the world.
Special thanks to Juan-Carlos Goilo for contributing this interview!