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Our history

"In summer 2013, two well-known dance schools were transformed into the largest and most diverse dance school, Tanzwerk101! Both the long tradition of the Colombo Dance Factory and the many years of history of the Dance Academy are reflected in Tanzwerk101.

Dance professionals, dance freaks, amateurs and non-dancers. Kids, teens, 20-year-olds, 50-year-olds and even 80-year-olds dance together, next to each other and past each other.

All at Tanzwerk101 in Zurich West, the place to be!

Here are a few impressions of the story of two dance institutions that have come together in Tanzwerk101.

Colombo Dance Factory

From rebellion to institution: the Colombo Dance Factory becomes Tanzwerk101 on Pfingstweidstrasse. Colombo founder and dance rebel Yella Colombo talks about the beginnings of a new dance scene and the Factory.

Yella Colombo doesn't care what other people think. "Switzerland didn't have a proper dance culture back then. There was only the opera house and the theatre". She is bursting with energy as she recalls the state of the Swiss dance scene. Back then, that was 40 years ago. The modern dance scene in Switzerland was a wasteland; jazz and modern dance were not recognised as dance styles. „Man schaute auf den modernen Tanz herab. Dieser Popo- und Hüftschwung habe mit Tanz rein gar nichts zu tun. Art was a serious matter. We cursed these people and did our own thing".

Yella Colombo used to be a primary school teacher with a passion for dance. Because of her passion, she completed a two-year ballet training programme with Tatjana Gsovsky in Berlin, but found no satisfactory means of expression in ballet. In Switzerland, the only dance on offer was classical dance. "In the past, there were only dance academies. Dance was a highly sacred, elitist affair." At the beginning of the 70s, she discovered the école de da Alain Bernard, where jazz dance was taught, and was thrilled. This was followed by training and further education in Paris and London, where Colombo explored different styles and where she finally met the professional dancer and her future business partner Gordon Coster. In 1973, Yella Colombo gave up teaching and founded a school for amateur dancers on Sihlquai in Zurich - the Colombo Dance Factory, which she continued to run after the end of her studies. Andy Warhols Atelier („The Factory“)benannte.

Orgasm and other climaxes
Colombo invited Gordon Coster to Zurich as a guest teacher, and in 1974 he moved to Zurich full-time. Coster felt the need to express himself artistically and dreamed of having his own dance company. In the very first year of their collaboration, the two therefore founded a course of study for dancers in which all possible styles could be learned (in addition to dance, also acrobatics, singing and pantomime), as the name "Zurich Dance Theatre School" (ZTTS) suggests.

The company's first performance took place in 1974 and provoked with the title "JIZZ JAZZ. The orgasm and other climaxes". The title was deliberately chosen to express difference and attract the curious. The dance performance was quite well-behaved, laughs Colombo. "We wanted to put on a performance where the audience could say afterwards that I can and want to do something like that. We were the avant-garde of Swiss jazz dance, there was nothing like it before us."

The professional dancer comes to the Tanzkaff
In Zurich, Gordon Coster found fertile ground on which he could make a difference. In London, the market was exhausted and occupied by stars such as Matt Mattox, who had a decisive influence on jazz dance in Europe and the USA. In Zurich, Coster had the opportunity to live out his dreams as artistic director of the Zurich Dance Theatre School. He was against the strict forms of ballet; dance should not be a dictatorship over the body, but an expression of natural movement. The motto of the dance school, holism and diversity, had an impact on the quality of the training. Colombo and Gordon wanted the school's dancers to be able to perform in both a fashion show and a chamber ballet. This made it difficult to guarantee a high standard. At the same time, the school was characterised by precisely this diversity and served the students as a good basis for further training.

Fight for survival
Finances were always a problem. There were no subsidies for the modern dance styles and Colombo had to go to the city from time to time and "beg" for a deficit guarantee. But necessity is the mother of invention. To ensure the survival of the dance school, Colombo introduced the annual summer courses, where she flew in foreign choreographers from all over the world to introduce new styles, such as hip hop in the 1990s. "We were the first in Switzerland to offer these summer courses. We used to do it out of necessity, but nowadays it's become the norm." Colombo often had to go to the immigration police to persuade the officials to give the foreign teachers a residence permit. "The officials didn't want to issue an entry permit because they didn't understand that there was no domestic supply of contemporary dance teachers." In addition, a second dance company was founded, the Colombo Dancers, which also became a source of financial income as a show group. The relatively high school fees (in 2004, a student paid 1,100 francs a month) earned the ZTTS the reputation that the school would accept anyone - as long as they paid. Nevertheless, Colombo can look back on a long list of Zurich stage dancers who have completed the ZTTS programme.

Fire and relocation to the Steinfels site
The school burnt down in 1990. Colombo had to look for a new home and found it in the Steinfels site in Zurich-West. "There was nothing out there at all. The people at the Steinfels site wanted to upgrade the neighbourhood and were very accommodating in the negotiations." From 1990 to 1994, they practised in a temporary location in the basement, after which the school moved in for good and played a decisive role in shaping the atmosphere of the Steinfels site.

Handover of power
Gordon retired in 2000 - and Colombo did not want to carry on alone. She handed over the artistic management to Frank Rutishauser and assigned Boris Grüter the operational management. Her partner Gordon was paid off and left Switzerland. In 2007, Colombo sold her dance school to Migros. According to Colombo, the other interested parties were either too naive or only endeavoured to skim off value. She had a good feeling about Migros - because they assured her that the school would continue in her spirit, at the same location and under the same name. The promise could not be kept. In 2013, the dance school moved from the Steinfels site to Pfingstweidstrasse 101 in the former banana packing centre, and the name was changed to Tanzwerk101 Colombo doesn't seem to mind. "The interesting thing about this whole story is not the sale of the school or the name change from Colombo Dance Factory to Tanzwerk 101," says Colombo. "It's the change from a dance school to a higher technical college for contemporary and urban dance". Until now, dance has had a difficult time in Switzerland; the profession was only recognised by the state in 2009. Switching to a recognised diploma course had already been a dream of her partner Gordon Coster. Colombo sighs. Coster passed away in March 2013 and was unable to live to see it. "He would have been incredibly proud".

Yella Colombo has been happily married again since 2011. She is beaming. She would never have expected it after being alone for twenty years. She didn't miss anything back then. "I had a totally full life, I had my dance school, I had my friends, I had my dog. There was always something going on." But now she is also very happy and enjoys spending time with her husband. Colombo also devotes herself to her second passion, tango, takes singing lessons and sings in a choir. This woman will not be bored in the future either.


"In the summer of 2003, Klubschule Zürich ventured onto the big dance floor: it took over the premises of the former ATZ (Akademischer Tanzclub Zürich) in Zurich Oerlikon, thus signalling the Klubschule's intention to promote and expand the field of dance.

Until now, the club school has offered a small number of dance courses such as hip-hop or jazz in its movement rooms.

With the opening of the Dance Academy, a dance and meeting place of over 2000m² was created, with 7 dance halls, a bistro and a large event hall.

The dance area was completely rebuilt and after a short time the Dance Academy stood for dancing from all cultures, whether exotic like Bollywood, Hula or AfroDance, everything could be found in the Dance Academy. Couple dancing was also cultivated and there was no dancing pleasure for two that could not be learnt in Oerlikon: Salsa, standard, Latin, disco, tango, boogie-woogie, rock'n'roll, Lindy Hop, everything had its place.

At the same time, the Dance Academy also became an event venue, with regular dance events, tournaments, championships and company celebrations being successfully organised in the large event hall.

We have even welcomed international show stars such as Jay-Z and Tina Turner as guests at the Dance Academy, national musicians such as DJ Bobo, dancers such as Curtis Burger and Detlef D Soost and countless Eurovision candidates, music stars, Misses and Misters have prepared for their big performance at the Dance Academy."