Dreams & Defiance: Latin Dance Vs. The World
Artists around the world are re-thinking what “Latin dance” means in a time of a global pandemic. Dancers have adapted by turning living rooms into private studios, teaching isolated young people cultural heritage through online classes, celebrating connected roots, or even leading protests for social justice. Some people believe Latin dance reminds the world of their hips; a metaphor for enjoying life. Others laugh at the term “Latin dance”. They believe their Indigenous and African inspired traditions transcend dance. The connecting theme among dancers is that their art is the sabor that the world needs.
Our first journey visits an eclectic group of people, asking what their dance/music means to them. Just as important, showing us! While there are dozens of dances commonly labeled as Latin dance, this journey will focus on dances unified by improvisation, syncopation, partnering, incorporating jazz dance movements, or have sparked social change.
Palladium mambo at the Savoy and Palladium Ballrooms
Cuban rumba & son
Salsa suelta (energetic freestyle solo movements)
Latin Dancing Sin Tocar (without touch)
Future journeys will include Brazilian samba, Peruvian danza de tijeras, bachata, and New York salsa.
This curated, defiantly joyous experience is an exercise about giving space, taking space, and holding space. It helps expand the idea of a “conversation”, who’s invited, whose opinions matter, and ways of presenting knowledge that speaks to diverse ways of learning.
Derrick León Washington
Curator of this event, Mr. Washington is a cultural anthropologist, curator, dancer, and Senior/Regional United Nations Human Rights Fellow at UN Headquarters specializing in museum curation, experiential education, and expressive arts of the Americas. His curatorial and dance related work have been reviewed positively by media outlets such as the New York Times, British Broadcasting Company (BBC), New York Post, UN Web TV, El Especialito, Huffington Post, and National Broadcasting Company (NBC). He first began to train in dance as a sophomore in high school. He learned the fundamentals of curating music & dance professionally at the Smithsonian Center of Folklore and Cultural Heritage. Mr. Washington curated the ground-breaking exhibition and program series, Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York, at the Museum of the City of New York. He was able to create interactive programs where thousands of people could enjoy live music and dance with musicians such as Joe Bataan and Andy Montañez. He’s the co-editor of the book, Rhythm & Power: Performing Salsa in Puerto Rican and Latino Communities (Centro Publications). Later, Mr. Washington led an evening-length lecture/performance about the connections between mambo and swing at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He also helped create the arts-education organization, Urban Stomp-From Swing to Mambo. His most current artistic/professional endeavor relates to facilitating strategic partnerships between UN Human Rights and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Born in Puerto Rico in 1931, Carlos Arroyo is one of the few living people that can say they’ve performed at both the Savoy and Palladium Ballrooms as a professional dancer. Carlos’ dance innovations helped propel mambo dancing into a global phenomena. With his artistic fusion of jazz dances and tap, he received the nickname, “Cha-Cha Taps”. His successful dance/comedy acts at the Palladium Ballroom gave him his other nickname, the “fastest feet at the Palladium”. Dancing at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, Carlos and his partner Ramoncilla were the regular weekly dance contest champions. They won so much that they were banned from competing, but promoted to judging. He has performed with Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Pérez Prado, Sarah Vaughn, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Ray Barretto, Machito and His Afro-Cubans, and performed on the Johnny Carson Show. Carlos has continued to share his love for dance and wisdom broadly.
Misha M. Morales
Misha Morales was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, but her dance journey began once she moved to South Florida. Throughout her high school and college careers, under the direction of Michelle Grant-Murray, she excelled in formal training in African Diasporic forms, modern, jazz, and ballet. As a young artist, she began performing at memorable events, such as Jazz Under the Stars Honoring Jon Secada. After graduating, Misha continued to train at various institutions in Miami. She had the opportunity to move back to New York City in 2016. Since then, she has continued her training in various dance forms, including international training in Latin dances. Misha has been featured in works choreographed by Ronald K. Brown, Joya Powell, Nathaniel Hunt, Lyrik Cruz, and recently finished an apprenticeship with CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theatre based in Los Angeles, California. Misha is currently dancing with Borinsura Dance Company and Latin Soul Dance Project under the direction of acclaimed performers/ choreographers, Amneris Martinez and Adolfo Indocochea. As a creative performing artist, Misha aims to create works which will honor the female body, not only showing what it means to be a strong athlete, but to show cultural appreciation and ownership of one’s spirituality.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Carlos has resided in the United States since 1997. He completed his formal art education at the renowned San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts. He calls his style Pop Geometric. His paintings fuse graphic elements with realism, using straight lines and perspective to create a geometric and three-dimensional effect, while subtly deforming the images. He was selected as one of the 60 Masters of Contemporary Art by Art Tour International Magazine in 2014. His great grandfather was Obdulio Villa (nicknamed Pabellón), a pioneer of Jazz and Cuban music in Austria who played worldwide with Moises Simon’s band, composer of the internationally known song, “The Peanut Vendor.” Carlos learned to dance to Cuban music (danzon, son, chachachá, etc.) from his grandparents. He dedicated himself to the study of the history of Cuban music, and participated widely at UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba). Carlos has been invited to share the stage through dance with Septeto Nacional de Cuba “Ignacio Piñeiro”, Conjunto Chappotin, Septeto Santiaguero (Grammy Winner), and Orquesta Los Van Van (Grammy Winner).
Jose Ortiz aka Dr. Drum
Dr. Drum is a nationally acclaimed, professional on-stage performer, educator in Pan-African, Caribbean and Latin culture and is a self-taught percussionist of Afro-Caribbean rhythms. For the past twenty years, he has been an adamant advocate for the cultural arts as well as an adamant activist, organizer and educator of Afro Puerto Rican bomba. Dr. Drum has furthermore been invited to perform at internationally known venues where the greatest world entertainers have performed such as: The Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, The United Nations, and the Broadway Theatre, MInskoff Theatre. Dr. Drum has also taught at numerous after-school programs throughout NYC since 1999, where has developed original curricula for teaching percussion to the youth.
LeAna Lopez & Mateo Gonzales, Senior Teaching Artists, Los Pleneros de la 21
LeAna Lopez is the daughter of bongo player Thomas “Chucky” Lopez, who played with Eddie Palmieri, Orquesta Broadway, Machito and Tito Puente among many others. Her paternal grandmother, Mary Lopez, was a Palladium dancer. She began with Los Pleneros de la 21 in 1997 where she was mentored by Nellie Tanco, Juan Gutierrez, and the Cepeda family, to name a few. Since 2004 she has performed with several Bomba groups and is currently a member of Legacy Women, an all-women’s group who specializes in Afro Puerto Rican and Afro Dominican roots music. Mateo Gonzales was first taught bomba and plena by his grandfather, and master plenero, Benny Ayala. He received a degree from the Harbor Conservatory, where he became an accomplished artist of all Latin percussion instruments, and is currently endorsed by Toca Percussion. Los Pleneros de la 21 (LP21), is an educational, performing ensemble, and non-profit community organization, was founded in 1983 by Juan J. ‘Juango’ Gutiérrez (National Endowment for the Arts’ Heritage Fellow, 1996) and the legendary master plenero, Marcial Reyes Arvelo. The ensemble has pioneered the road for bomba and plena performance around NYC, and continues to spread it globally.
Milka M. Rodriguez
Milka Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States in 1992. Growing up in Washington Heights, she was inspired to serve her communities, whether in the U.S. or the Caribbean. She served as a Dominican Republic Fellow with the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development where she traveled to the Dominican Republic to support a multi-year research study on watershed management. She works as a City Research Scientist at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability on initiatives around the intersections of youth empowerment, economic development, and climate change. She’s a member of the UNDGC Youth Steering Committee and the UN Global NGO Executive Committee. While traveling through Central America learning about sustainable development, she saw how dance and culture could help share complex ideas. She uses this principle in her daily work. In her free time, she enjoys social dancing, dancing in her living room, dance intensive workshops, cooking traditional Dominican food, cycling, and uploading content to World Travel from an Afro-Latina’s Perspective.
Central Park ‘Sin Tocar’ Latin dance voice-over narrators:
Renzo Gomez, born in La Plata, Argentina, is a descendant of Argentina’s proud Indigenous communities. His love for Latin dancing began at the age of 17. Traveling through Argentina searching for the most accomplished teachers and schools to learn the essential elements of Latin dances. His journey led him to study salsa, bachata, merengue, and Afro-Cuban popular dances. Since moving to NYC, he shares his joy for Latin dances as director of the Salsa Sabrosa school. Hoping to share dance inside and outside of the dance studio, Salsa Sabrosa dedicates Sundays to organizing free outdoor salsa classes for dancers at all skill levels, in Central Park. Melissa Mansfield is a Brooklyn-based dancer and filmmaker whose work centers on cultural immersion as the key to truly learning and embodying dance forms. Her most recent work includes the web series “Follow My Lead”, which reveals the personal transformation achieved through learning the iconic dances of Havana and Buenos Aires, as well as a deeply immersive short documentary that explores the nuance of traditional folkloric dances as relevant in the present. Ariel Cordova-Rojas began dancing before she could walk. Unable to sit still for a moment, she trained in many dance styles throughout her years at home, in her community, and in the studio. She pursued her love for nature and wildlife by obtaining a bachelor of science in environmental/wildlife biology. She is a nature renaissance woman, becoming a celebrated Wildlife Rehabilitator and Animal Care Manager. Never abandoning dance, her heart belongs to bomba, salsa, casino, and other Latin dance styles. The music runs through her veins, takes the reins, and makes her body shake. Her best days are spent hiking, singing, birdwatching, and dancing…sometimes all at once. Serena Spears is a fusion dancer, performer, teacher, and choreographer from Brooklyn, NY. With over three decades of dance experience and a diverse background in hip-hop, modern, West African, and ballet as well as Afro-Latin and Middle Eastern dance forms, Serena has a unique perspective on movement and dance as art, healing, and connection to community. In 2014, Serena started learning Afro-Latin and partner dancing, spending the last seven years exploring salsa, bachata, chachachá, Afro-Cuban folklore, tango, samba, and Brazilian zouk. This new direction in dance has brought forward her interest in the intersection of gender and BIPOC equity/ activism in the dance community.
Urban Stomp: From Swing to Mambo is the first multinational, interactive arts-education project that shares important artistic, cultural and historic connections between these two genres to strengthen relationships between communities. Live and virtual classes, the project includes the creation of a documentary short chronicling the first four weeks of an educational journey through some of New York City’s most culturally rich neighborhoods. The documentary short has been screened by educators in Los Angeles, Havana, Miami, Austin, Madrid, London, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and New York City. Shared at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, this film helps contribute to ongoing, multi-government initiatives to share the arts and culture through various mediums.