Like his 19.3k+ followers, when I “discovered” dancer and choreographer Andi Xhuma (Andreas Tzoumas) on Instagram I became an immediate follower of his remarkable project and engaging choreographies. As I write this, it has been 182 consecutive days of the dancer’s self-made, non-funded project involving around a one-minute long daily video performance taking place in a different location in Athens.
I was very excited to meet the 31 year-old man behind this creative and inspiring project, (which inadvertently serves almost as an advert for how multifaceted the Greek capital is). I wanted to find out more about who he is, how he ticks – and above all, how on earth he manages to do this every single day.
He’s not only doing something creative, which involves an entire process, but is also engaging -and exposing his inner world – with his viewers, through his dancing, creating his videos, and journaling.
We started our discussion with how he entered the world of dance – first with ballroom dancing at 12 and later hip hop and contemporary dance lessons at the local dance school. A big part of his dance choreographies is the music he chooses, so I was curious to discover what inspired him both in terms of music and dance as a child.
What were the main music influences when you were growing up?
Most of my influences came in the 2000s because I didn’t have much access to music in the 1990s… At that time, it was very much a situation of “you’re going to listen to whatever dad listens to!” and he listened to a lot of heavy Greek folk music, “bad” Laika, it was trash! Later I got what I think every Greek kid gets – “xenolatreia” (love of foreign things) and I got really into mainly American Hip Hop and then transitioned to classical, Greek and other music – and now it’s just a big mix.
Did you go on to study dance?
Yeah, I told my mother “I want to be a dancer!” and she said, “Ok!” I left Albania and came to study dance in Greece at the National School of Dance for three years.
After I finished school I worked in Greece for about a year in bouzouki music clubs with Elena Paparizou and other music artists. My plan was to earn enough money to go to the US, but then I passed some auditions and went to Germany, and after that it was one thing after the other – around 3-4 years of jumping from one job to the other in Europe. Then I came back to Greece – it was only supposed to be for a little while, but I just stayed.
What is it like to work as a dancer in Greece?
I think the arts community is very much reliant on the Ministry of Culture and Sports in Greece as that’s one of the main funding sources, while the others are private – like the Stegi Onassis, or the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center, basically the big cultural institutions. So in a way, they carve the path of how things go by choosing what or who makes what. My opinion and my solution to that would be to create more self-sustaining art because then you have more freedom to do what you want to do, and you can carve out a path that was not ever there.
Is there some kind of working model for the arts that you think would be successful if it were implemented here?
You can use the social media model, from the “creator economy” as they call it, which is not exactly art in that regard, but I think it’s very close in the mechanics. It’s very difficult in the beginning because you have to build your audience by posting on social media, and then once people who are interested in you, and find out more about you and your work, at some point you can be self-sustained and create with their help.
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Which is what you’re doing…
Yeah. I mean, I’m not making any money from what I’m doing, and I like that I’m not making any money from it, because I think it gets spoilt as a project. In the case of this particular project, there have been several opportunities to make money from it but everyone just wants to have their name in it or their logo or product. And because it’s like a diary for me – I write things as well each day that I dance – it would be odd to include somebody’s logo and say “buy this” or “do that” when I’m actually expressing my feelings. It has to be honest. If you’re not honest, what are we doing?
Ok, time for “the big question”! How on earth do you manage to get yourself to perform to this huge audience every single day?
I have those days when I want to maybe go to the sea and… disappear! But I think because this project is a priority for me at the moment, everything else that’s going on falls into second place. So, the very first thing that has to be done when I open my eyes is to do this. Of course, I do have days when I feel super lazy. But when you overcome that, you just make a decision – which is sometimes very difficult – and just making the decision is 50% of it. And the rest of the 50% is to actually do it.
Would you say this work-in-process project is also part of your personal evolution, like a discipline that makes you grow spiritually and mentally?
Whether I like it or not, it’s going to be that, because it forces me to evolve, to focus, to meditate. Because there are so many variables that I come across as I do something like this, and if I let every single thing affect my emotions, I’m going to get shattered. I have to deal with cars, the weather, creative blocks – every time it’s something else. And as I do it of course it’s going to sharpen my skills.
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Why and how did you start the project?
Last year I did a live show at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, which took a big chunk of my time. And when I finished that there was nothing – which I really enjoyed until a few months later when quite a lot of things started getting to me. I’d been following a practice of doing certain things every day for around four years, but I skipped that in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. I kept telling myself “I have to do something! I have to do something!” so around December of 2021 I thought it might be a good idea to start a daily practice. I did, and as time went on, I just didn’t want to stop as it kept growing with more and more layers. On January 12 it’ll be a year, so I will stop then!
You’ve developed a massive following (19k+ on Instagram). How does that make you feel?
It’s very rewarding. It’s very nice to get messages from people. It’s usually artists: they often say they like seeing the practice; it helps them discipline themselves. But I also like that it resonates with people who are not into dance at all, because that’s one of the troubles with dance – people who aren’t into it aren’t likely to go and watch it or get curious about it. Sometimes I get messages saying things like “I don’t really care about dance, but your videos make me happy!” which is very sweet.
I’m glad people watch it and connect with it. I meet people from extremely different backgrounds and very different social statuses, and they all connect in the same way to this project, which I think is one of its greatest achievements. Some people tell me “I really needed to see this today!” or “this really resonated with me.”
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How do you decide on a different idea every day?
I usually go by instinct. It could be something as simple as having a coffee at Lola (where we are). It’s just “Ok, I’m just going to go there, see what happens. You watch and see what’s happening around me. Like ‘over there those people are moving stuff, and this is probably going to go on for around 7 minutes, 9 max.” So, if I have my gear with me I have to find the strength within me to go and talk to these people and tell them “I’m doing this project, can I please film in front of you as you’re picking up the things?”
Some people go “yeah, sure, why not?” so there’s this very quick connection that happens, a synergy. I put on the music, set up the shot, and the whole thing happens really fast. It takes strategy, observation, and persistence… Sometimes it can be daunting. Sometimes people can just go “No! F-off!”
Have you thought of collaborating with musicians who can give you music to use in your routines?
There have been a few discussions but unfortunately, it’s very difficult for me to click with music – for every song I end up picking I’ve probably heard another 30 before it. Like I said, if you find something that’s going on, you need to find the right music for it otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
How do you do your filming?
For the music, I have a speaker and I play the music live. I’m a one-man crew – I simply set up my phone. I also like to put my own “Easter eggs” in the video – I like to play with what feelings or ideas an image creates in the viewer – it could be a small person in the background and a big one in the foreground, and stuff like that.
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What kind of music inspires you to dance?
Now because of the project, I listen to a lot of instrumentals – it’s usually remixes of classic things with beats. There’s this guy called Andrew Applepie from Germany – I really like what he makes.
What’s next after the 12th of January?
I have a couple of ideas for longer-length dance films, but they have very high requirements in terms of budget so I don’t know if I will find the budget to do that. The last dance film I did was with my sister based on a piece by Bach.
What principle matters to you most?
I would like to touch upon complex themes of human nature, and maybe even religion. I’m really interested in the theme of how people don’t take accountability for their actions. I see that every day and it fascinates me. I have a very strong sense of justice.