Aurelia Chillemi

by Annie Merkley from Orange, CA

"Liberty comes with interpretation and improvisation"-written on the wall where Bailarines toda la vida meet.

Aurelia Chillemi watching over the BTV ( (Annie Merkley)Have you ever danced your blues away? Bailarines Toda la Vida is a dance collective located in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that brings joy, a sense of self and solidarity to its dancers. The choreographer, creator, and head of BTV, Aurelia Chillemi, has created a project fueled by dance that promotes good health of body and mind, and social/community building.

Chillemi began studying classical dance when she was 7 years old. Dancing became her passion and had a therapeutic effect on her in her youth. She loved to run, she loved to feel the movement of her body in motion. However as time wore on, she felt that the calculated choreography of classical dance was lacking in artistic expression. As she became acquainted with yoga and modern dance, a new world opened up to her; one where body language constructed conversations and artistic voice triumphed.

She studied psychology at University in Buenos Aires in the '70s. Soon after graduation Chillemi found herself combining her interests and teaching yoga and body movement to psychiatric patients. She found that many patients experienced a disconnect from their minds to their bodies. It was her intention to bring a conscious awareness to the connectivity of body and mind. She believes that the importance of physical and mental health go hand in hand.

Chillemi guiding BTV through opening exorsizes ( (Annie Merkley))
Chillemi guiding BTV through opening exorsizes ( (Annie Merkley))

Chillemi always wanted dance to bring communities together, despite physical or mental limitations. BTV embodies a revolving group of about 60 people from ages 5 to 85 of varying body-types and dancing skills. Chillemi said it's a group of artistic individuals that encompasses professional dancers, dance students, or friends and neighbors of the collective who are intrigued by physical expression and curious to open new doors. BTV meets every Friday night for a few hours, starting off with Chillemi guiding the group through interactive exercises of expression through movement. The exercises introduce a way to communicate, without stress and without words, that all are welcome to participate in.

Ivana, one of the owners of the recovered factory  ( (Annie Merkley))
Ivana, one of the owners of the recovered factory ( (Annie Merkley))

The open-mindedness and sense of community in BTV is reflected in the location where they meet. They meet on the top floor of a fabrica recouperada or recovered factory. During the economic crash of 2001, factory owners were closing up shop and selling everything they could in a frenzy. So in order to stop the owners from a rapid escape, leaving thousands without work in the wake, the workers of the factories moved into the factories. They set up tents, often joined by their families, and made it impossible for the owners to hastily sell. The owners cut their loses and now there are close to 200 recovered factories run by a collective of former workers who divide the responsibilities evenly as shared owners.

Chillemi said she has worked with many dance groups in the past, but combining BTV and the energy of the factory creates a group that is very open. She said they have grown together over the last 13 years.

After the beginning free form body movement exercises, the mainstay dancers of BTV began to practice choreographed pieces. The sun was setting and the approach to the dance was filled with individual pride, each dancer seemed to pour their entire self into the movement. The original music performed by Osvaldo Aguilar pounded through the room with an almost primal force.

Osvaldo Aguilar playing live music for BTV ( (Annie Merkley))
Osvaldo Aguilar playing live music for BTV ( (Annie Merkley))

They were preparing for an upcoming performance where the themes of the dances embody problems of social equality, and the struggles of the working class. One particularly riveting piece dealt with the oppression and torture that Chillemi, her family and fellow Argentinians endured during the dictatorship. Her choreography is powerful in its tragic and heroic display. Still to this day, what happened to many of the thousands of individuals that disappeared during the bloody dictatorship from 1974-1983 remains a mystery. Families continue to morn and ask for answers from an unresponsive government. The dancers portrayed this emotion with the utmost reverence and vigor.

BTV dancers are not in competition with each other, there is no head ballerina, no star of the show. Chillemi asks her dancers to leave their egos at the door and to be equal participants in the experience.

BTV depicting human loss during the dictatorship ( (Annie Merkley))
BTV depicting human loss during the dictatorship ( (Annie Merkley))

Chillemi pointed out that body language is the first form of communication. She said when a baby doesn't have words to express itself; it uses its body to communicate. Many people rely solely on speaking to express themselves, but forget that it's the signals that we read from how people hold themselves, their posture, how they present themselves and how they receive us, that's how you read a persons true intentions.

Person to person contact is being lost with the rise of social media like Facebook, etc., Chillemi said. A main focus of BTV is to get people away from their digital devices and to stay in physical contact with those around them. Chillemi believes that the ability to relate to people face to face is a craft that is being forgotten and with her project, she is trying to recuperate this.

The people that come don't come with the mentality that dance is therapy; they come with artistic intentions, Chillemi said. But, in reality they are making their lives better by interacting with others and taking part in this physical exchange.

As the group finished its' rehearsal, people chatted and warmly embraced as they said their goodbyes. It was palpable in the faces of the dancers and their relaxed, unburdened shoulders, that after this Friday evening encounter, the participants of BTV were stepping into the weekend dancing bravely.

Page created on 10/30/2015 8:46:19 PM

Last edited 2/13/2019 6:55:11 PM

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I am the Art Director for The MY HERO Project. I am available for mentoring and collaborating with educators and students around the world.