Off the Floor Episode 3: Markus Homm
If you haven't heard it yet, Off the Floor is a podcast designed to examine the stories, challenges, triumphs, and key takeaways away from the dance floor, but meant for the dance floor.
My guest on episode three is a rare exception.
He has a professional identity on both sides of the dance floor. Markus Homm is a World Latin Finalist as well as a world renowned DJ. His story, and lessons learned, can apply to anyone with or without dance, or DJ, skills.
What is the "Off the Floor" Podcast?
There are so many life lessons that come to light through ballroom dancing. After all, you can compare anything to it and it will probably work. Off the Floor aims to connect the challenges, success, struggles, and learning experiences from people outside the world of dancing to your dancing hobby.
Off The Floor Episode 003: Transcript
CL: Chris Lynam
MH: Markus Homm
CL: Maybe you know him as world-renowned DJ, maybe you know him as a world-renowned dancer, or just "Rudy's brother." However you know him, you don't want to miss this interview with Markus Homm on "Off the Floor - Episode 3."
Announcer: What happens when you combine business, pop culture, and at least five analogies to ballroom dancing? You get "Off the Floor," a podcast to help you to get to that next step in your career or your tango. Here's our host: Chris Lynam.
CL: 'Cause you live a dual identity. You've got this on the dance floor and off the dance floor life, and you're really established in both, so why don't you tell the listeners a little bit about that dual identity that you have and we'll start there.
MH: Yeah, so hello everybody. I'm very glad to be here, and yes I've been dancing. It was the first thing I did in my life; I started when I was 12-years old, and I was dancing for 23 years up until we retired from competitive dancing. That was a big big part of my life. From the time I was 16 or 17, I was always interested in music. My father used to play in a band, and so we grew up backstage. Music was always a big part of the family, but with the dancing it wasn't really possible to do anything. You were practicing 7 days a week, and there was just no time. When I was 15, 16, 17, I started to go out in Europe and I went to clubs. I got really into clubbing music, electronic music. Back in those days there was no YouTube, there was no Soundcloud, anything like this, so you had to buy literal vinyl to listen to club music at home, so that's what I did. Only later on, when I 18 or 19, I started to buy a second turntable and slowly got into the whole electronic music / DJ thing. There was no plan behind it; I just did it for myself.
Then there was a time in 2004, I moved to Russia because I had a partner from Moscow. I moved there, and of course for a foreign guy in Moscow it's not easy because you don't understand the language. You can't watch TV, so I learned a musical software called Logic, to learn the production of it. It took a long time, and I was sitting at home and everything sounded terrible for a year. It was just horrible, but I did it. I was practice, and then I came home and couldn't watch TV, couldn't do anything, so I would just sit down and read books. At that time we had YouTube, so I tried to learn as much as I can and slowly got into it because I was interested. How is music done?
Two years later or three years later I had my first release on some record labels from Europe. The way it works is other DJs think your stuff is good they'll start to buy your music. If they like it they'll play it of course, and they will buy it, and, if they like the style of the music you do, they start to book you. They would like to have you playing at their club. That's how it slowly started. Then I got into an agency in Berlin where I'm still right now, and they do the booking for the DJ. I do the rest for the dancing, and it works.
CL: How do you feel like dancing equipped you to be so successful on the DJ side of things?
MH: Well the first that helped me was once I got into music production: all you're doing is creating grooves, you're creating rhythms, you're creating themes of the track. You do analyze a lot of music, and that's what you do in practice too. At high-level dancing you analyze music, and you try to find a way, through technique, to show it in your body. It's basically what everyone is trying to do. It doesn't matter what level, everybody's trying to do that because I think that is what dancing is about. It definitely helped me to understand music a lot better.
The other way around was in the music scene helped to stay disciplined, which is something I definitely learned in dancing. I had friends who, on a Sunday afternoon, they're still in the club, and I would be the one going home because I know on Monday I have to go to practice. They would be like, "No just stay. It's really good fun." Yeah, I know it's great, but I still have to go. It really helped me to stay on track, to make everything work. Because at the end of the day there's also a business side, so if you're just having a good time, if life is just a party, then it doesn't really work. You have to be disciplined. You can't suddenly miss flights and be like "Sorry, I had a good time partying. I don't think I'm gonna make it." It doesn't work like this. It doesn't work for me. So far in my 20 years of traveling experience, I've never missed a flight. I'm really happy about that because I really don't like to let people down. If I tell them I will be there, I'll be there. I really try to keep that promise. That goes for music and for dancing, and I definitely learned this side in the dancing because you have to be reliable. You have to keep your word. You come to participate at a competition, you have to be there.
CL: Yeah, well that's so good. So you know how like with dancing you'll have maybe new choreography or something, and you'll have this point of view where you'll be representing for maybe a season of competitions. Are you doing the same thing? Are you putting together sets well in advance? How much of that preproduction work are you doing and how often are you changing it up?
MH: The preproduction is done with every piece of music that I create. If I'm having a release on a certain music label, it starts in the studio. I'm doing a track. Like on Tuesday I finished a track. That track we decided on the feel and the style, which I like, and that goes on to the record company and they're gonna release it. But talking about next Saturday when I'm playing in Switzerland: I don't know what I'm going to play then, not right now. Of course I have my set. I have the music I've been playing for the last 3, 4, 5 gigs for example. It depends first on where you're playing: is it a small club with 200 people, or is it a club with 1,500 people. The sound's already changing. Is it outdoors where you're playing with 2,000 or 3,000 people? It's a different sound.
CL: So you're saying just sort of vibing off of the group, or are you talking like acoustically? Like it sounds way better for me play these kinds of tracks cause there's 1500 people and it's outdoors. Is that what you're saying?
MH: Yeah, but it depends on what time you're playing. Let's say if I'm playing from 2 to 5, it's a different sound than if I was playing in the beginning; from 10 to 1 for example. Also depends a little bit on who plays before you because you can't really cut it. You can't really be that different. Also sometimes, to compare it with the dance world, it's like with dances or with shows. You have some events where certain dresses work fantastically. You can have a small intimate competition of 400 people or you can have a massive event, and different dresses work differently on different floors. I think that good dancers are very much aware of that. When Blackpool comes up, which is our biggest competition I'm sure everybody knows about, there's different dresses. The dancers prepare for that. They're a bit different in their design: maybe a bit more elegant, more stones, maybe a bit more flashy. It works great there, but, if you're in a more intimate competition somewhere, it may be slightly too much. It's a similar thing sometimes with music too.
CL: So, when you have that deep connection to the music as a DJ, and you know every hook and chorus, do you feel like it gives you a different vantage point when you go back into the studio? Knowing what you know, have you surgically gone through the music that you have?
MH: Yes, I really think that that is the combination. I very much come from the rhythmically and mechanical side. I'm always like that, and I'm always trying to analyze the music and find a way to show that in my body as good as possible.
CL: That's so cool, so then was there a moment where somebody kept you on the right track? You talked about how disciplined you were and how you knew you needed to be there on Monday, but maybe before you were doing that all on your own. Was there a person that kept you on the straight and narrow?
MH: Yes, of course. I think it first comes down a lot to my parents. That's number one. I remember the time when, coming back to when I was 12-years old, I had just started to dance, but I also liked music. I had a try out at drum school, so I had a drum lesson, and my father was with me. Then afterwards he made me decide. There was no option to do both. "You do one 100%, not 50% on both, so make a decision. What do you want to do?" My brother, who hopefully everybody knows, he did the same. We both started only doing dancing, so this was our first introduction to it. Later on I think we were both lucky that we had good teachers. They told us without pressure or violence or anything, they just made you understand: if you want to make it, there are certain things you have to do. Most importantly, if you lose, you get up and try again. There comes difficult times. You lose, you don't know why, you don't understand it, judges don't like me, and the world is terrible. Then a year later everything is great. I really learned that sometimes you just have to hold on and keep going. There a lot of other competitors who are maybe weaker than you, and they'll maybe stop, so you just have to keep going.
I remember a time in Europe, in Germany, we had a selection within the youth of up to 18 years old, a selection of the best kids. There was about 40 couples, and at the time we were really one of the worst ones. It was these young couples and they'd been in the finals, they'd been in the worlds final, German champions, and so on. Out of all those 40 couples, today there is only 2 still in dancing. The rest disappeared. Of course it was very impressive to us to see all these great dancers, but judging by today, they're all gone. Some of them were really talented, but something along the way made them stop. I don't know what it is. In the end it's something I really learned: when difficult times come, you have to just keep going - if you love it.
CL: Yeah, and that's so true. It's not that people are lacking the vision or the dream of becoming a great dancer, but there are these crevices, these little cracks, in that path and sometimes it consumes people. Thinking about some of those people that you know, did some of them just start a family or did they just get disinterested? What do you think it was?
MH: Just a few of them started families. Some of them, y'know, you get to that point of your life, 16 or 17, and you have a girlfriend and you ask yourself "Why do I do this? I could be laying at the pool right now. Why am I going to the studio right now to do my Cha Cha for the fifth time?" Others they didn't want to make all the compromises. They just wanted to enjoy life without having to practice every day. Some of them changed partner for the fourth time, and that didn't work out. In the end there's always a loser. They couldn't find a partner, results were not good, and so on. But, like I said, I really think results will change. Maybe it's also not enough what you put in on your own side. I was always complaining about results. My teacher told me, "You don't practice enough. That's the reason. It's not the judges. It's you." I think it's totally okay to make mistakes, if you learn out of them and change it. I think it's great.
CL: So if you were talking to a group of new professional competitors, what're your words of wisdom to them? I love that you said you were the worst ones out of that group, and now you're the only ones still dancing. What would be you message to those new partnerships that are out there?
MH: First of all, I think it's really important to find a small circle of your own team, people who you trust. So I felt that I was always in a very safe, good, environment, and I trusted them. I really trusted them, and that was very important to me. Then develop the discipline of repetition to keep on doing, keep on working on yourself. You have to understand that your plan to become a good dance is much bigger than one result. A result can change.
Make sure to trust your partner, and to work together with your partner. I always thought "Other partners are better, and let's split with this one," but in the end I really understood that it's all the same thing. In the end, with all the arguments you do in dancing, you're both here for the same thing. You both love dancing. The worst thing to do is find a partner who is just like you. That is just the worst. Let them be different, and then I think it can work out. The worst is if they're the same as you. I was looking for that for so long, for so many years. "Hmm, she's very strange, she's very different. I need to change."
CL: Then you had someone that was like you? What happened?
MH: No, no, I think we're just in many ways different. With my last partner, I think we're very different in many ways. Obviously we also have some similarities, but we are very different in many, many ways, and that's what's interesting. That makes it work because sometimes you want to give up and she's putting you through, or the other way around.
CL: It's so true. I think that you have to have that friction. My wife always says "You need to have friction to create momentum." We've had our share of friction in practice, but I think it creates these catalysts. No one comes up with a solution if you never run into any problems, and I love what you just said. It's like, "If you had someone that was just like you, you'd quit at the same time." That's so true.
MH: For sure, because like one thing will be very different. We could argue in practice, like great arguments, I'll tell you, for me, by the time we went home, I would still be upset. If necessary, for a week. The reason would be because she did not straight and ease it in the rhumba. The good thing was, we would go home, and five minutes later she would ask me, "What do you want for dinner?" For her it was only dancing. For me it was everything. See, if we were the same, we wouldn't have talked for a week afterwards. Ten minutes after: "What do you mean, argument?" It was past. It was in the studio, and now we're home. I was like "Um, really? It's okay?" In that way it works.
I've had other partners where they were very similar, and we would argue, and we wouldn't talk for three days because of that thing that happened on Monday.
CL: Yeah! And I love what said: that it's just these emotional things that really don't matter in the end. For dancers it's a lot like athletes, like in basketball or football or something, and it's after they've retired, and they look back. They could become these great coaches, and they just have this great vantage point. They know how to conserve their energy. They're smarter even if they're not as athletic. What was that point for you when the light came on and things started to line up and you became, like you said, "mentally stronger"?
MH: I think it happened after I retired, but it happened a lot when I started to judge competitions. I realized on the competition road, it doesn't really matter because me, as a judge now, I don't look at that. There were many many things were I'm like, "Oh god, how silly I was." I think there's a lot of things when you're not competing or performing yourself, when you're enjoying and coaching from the outside, you get a better eye for what's really necessary and what isn't necessary at all.
CL: Yeah. In our area we would have a weekend convention for all the teachers and executives. We would have a Jack and Jill. Now it's all the people that are judges, but they used to take all the people that we active competitors that were rising star semifinalists up to open semifinalists, and they would have them be the judges of the Jack and Jill just so everyone can experience what that really looks like. Like you said, it's those little minor details that you're obsessed and willing to go war over, no one can see it.
MH: Exactly. That's great. I think it's really really good because it gives the competitors a chance way way before they retire to find out that it doesn't matter.
CL: Yeah, oh gosh. If I could've had that lesson five years earlier.... [laughs] oh my god.
MH: [laughs] Me too, I'm telling you.
CL: Yeah, so let's talk really quick about your brother and just that dynamic. The correlation is like you have both, independently of each other, developed your own careers. Did you feel like, early on, that he'd stick with dancing the same way you're sticking with it? From a big brother standpoint, how do you feel like that all transpired for him?
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