Here we’ve got for you my other favorite piece from BluesSHOUT this year! I really appreciate that Dexter wanted to show that solo dancing isn’t just for the ladies. And also, he did a fantastic job of matching the attitude of the dance to the attitude of the music – and you can tell from the video that it drives the crowd wild! However, you can tell from his in depth interview that his artistic success came, not only from inspiration, but from a lot of hard work and thought about his craft.
And thinking of the crowd, this time there are some bonus questions that Dexter answers for us! They address some issues I heard people talking about after the performance at BluesSHOUT.
What did you want to express with this choreography?
The choreography in this piece expresses a lot of attitude, confidence, and a good amount of sass I would say. For our first collaboration, Heriberto and I also just wanted to perform a solo Blues piece that was fun and entertaining to watch. I think we succeeded on all counts. 🙂 In choreographing this piece, I wanted the movements to be simple but dynamic, each movement having a purpose and strong relation to the music. For entertainment value, we added some parts in the choreography to “tease” the audience but still held it to the intentions we had for our movements. The first thing people would say is that it’s sexy, but I think the sexiness is a result of us moving confidently. When I first communicated with Heriberto about this I wanted to be very clear that we weren’t just doing the movements for the sake of being sexy, but that the movements had to come from a place of skill and prowess and which were purposeful to the music. From our initial conversation and knowing Heriberto’s professionalism and skill, I knew that we were on the same page for this performance. We also knew the reaction we would get teaming up for this performance which made this collaboration exciting for us.
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
I was listening to my Pandora station one day and “I Prefer You” by the late and great Etta James came up. Immediately, I knew that I had song I could use for my performance with Heriberto. I chose this song because it has a strong performance quality and simply because it has a “fun” vibe to it. Immediately, the music comes out strong and confident and is layered with strong brass and percussive elements topped with Etta’s brazen singing which made for a fun and inspiring time choreographing. In this song, Etta sings about qualities that she prefers in a man and that’s where I had this idea for Heriberto and I vying for Etta’s attention as we danced. Who does she prefer? Heriberto or me? 😉
What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
This performance piece was mostly inspired by the song, so I couldn’t say that other dances influenced this one. But in putting this together, I incorporated movement ideas I saw in other performances by The Temptations, Bruno Mars, and a group called Purple Haze led by Darius Crenshaw.
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
Heriberto and I had talked about performing together for the past two years. Prior to this, we’ve been hearing about each other through the “news feeds” and through other people who have been comparing our movements. Occasionally, we would meet at dance events and eventually began our friendship. I have much respect for what he does in the Latin dance scene and admire his own movement. Plus, he’s a very nice and down-to-earth guy. And so we talked about performing together. Once we had the song and concept for the performance, it was just a matter of choosing a date/event to perform it at, then scheduling choreography and practice a few months before. We were planning on performing it for bluesSHOUT last year (in St. Louis), but Heriberto had a conflicting gig that same weekend. Fortunately, there were no conflicts during this year’s bluesSHOUT in Chicago.
For this performance piece, I choreographed most of it with Heriberto choreographing his own movements in the beginning where we trade off and at the end where we do a “free-for-all.” I started choreographing in March in between the teaching and traveling I was doing. I went about choreographing the song sporadically and out of order, choreographing the points in the song that stood out strongly to me and then filling out the rest later. Once I had finished the choreography, I sent Heriberto a private YouTube link for him to practice and review which was followed by scheduled practices via Skype. He was a good sport in my critiquing his movements and getting him to change (or at least tone down) the “Latin” in his movement and making it more “Blues.” 🙂
As for the blocking for this performance, I found myself having to continually move forward in my choreography which, in the context of how performances are typically presented (with the audience in front), made this piece challenging and exciting at the same time. Immediately, I was hit with the idea of dancing up and down a “catwalk” which, in the spirit of the song, only enhanced the theme of Heriberto and I “vying” for Etta (and everyone’s) preference. I went ahead with the “catwalk” blocking of this piece thinking that I could change it later if it wasn’t possible in the venue or if it would be too much trouble to move people around. Fortunately, Sara Cherny (bluesSHOUT head organizer) supported this idea and with the help of Kelsey Nadine Ballance (the MC) managing the crowd, made it possible for us to perform it the way I had envisioned it. I’m really happy about how easily this was accomplished. And as far as I know, and please correct me if I’m wrong, this is the first time that a Blues dance performance has been presented this way.
Having performed this twice (at bluesSHOUT Chicago 2014 and Toronto’s Blues Battle 2014), several people have commented that it was refreshing to see more examples of masculine movement in Blues Dance performances, an area which is currently dominated by female performers and female groups. It pleases me to hear this as I have always believed that knowing how to solo dance (whether you are male or female) makes you a better partner dancer and an all-around stronger and capable dancer in general. But ultimately, I hope that this performance inspires men to do more solo Blues, feel confident in their own dancing, and not feel limited in their movement because of “labels” (feminine or masculine) that are traditionally applied to movements. I’ve often argued that people who are able to do smooth and sharp, angled and curved, and fast and slow movements in their dancing show a mastery of the movement in their bodies in spite of the traditional “feminine” or “masculine” labels. If you ever get a chance, take my “Masculine and Feminine Movement” class with Heidi where we try to address these issues and show you how to change the character in your dancing.
Beyond being some great dancing and a clever use of the audience’s space, there is one thing I and some other people I’ve talked to were wondering … is there a little bit of self-parody here – consciously poking some fun at people who objectify you as “That Hot Dancing Dude” through exaggeration? It’s hard for us to tell, because either way, you’re clearly dancing really honestly in the piece.
The self-parody was not intentional and it’s interesting to hear that impression. One thing that I immediately realized (and perhaps Heriberto as well) was that we had to keep a straight face and remain focused with all the screaming and wild reaction we got from the crowd. So, maybe it looked like we were parodying ourselves in our attempt to remain focused and cool. Honestly, the choreography was inspired because of the energy of the song and of Etta James’ spirited singing. I heard it and said, “This is the song to my next choreography piece!” After this performance, I’m now telling people that my next one will be a more “emotive” piece. I’ve got to stretch out my performance muscles, you know?
Another question I’ve heard asked – was the panty toss at the end planned or spontaneous? Or would you rather let it be a mystery?
It’s not something we planned. That would just sound too egotistical of us to have that planned as part of our performance. Heidi Fite knew that I was putting together a performance with Heriberto and, just like most of the female audience, was excited about seeing our performance. While catching us discreetly practicing in Chicago, Heidi (in her own “devious” way) hinted that she was going to bring “something” to our performance later that night. Knowing her, I trusted it wasn’t something that would deter our performance. It’s funny that people in the audience were screaming at us to “take it off.” Eventually, someone did take it off and it was Heidi. 🙂