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March 17, 2011 / HJD

LAVA leaps into 11th year with gala

(Published on Prospect Heights Patch)

The award-winning acrobatic dance troupe LAVA kicks off a benefit with a performance that somersaults, literally, into their 2011 season. The event also marks the 11th year that the Prospect Heights-based, all-female troupe have been defying gravity.

Tickets sales will help support this locally-grown dance troupe. The $111 price tag for a seat at the benefit pays for artists’ fees and make LAVA’s new projects possible.

“It makes it sustainable working with the same artist for many years,” said Sarah East Johnson and who founded LAVA in 2000. “And we can deepen its quality.”

The benefit will feature a 30-minute performance recreating the intensive training the dancers go through. It will be held at Dixon Place in Manhattan on Sunday at 2 p.m.

A LAVA performance is a high-energy and athletic mix of gymnastics modern dance, contact and improvisational movement, theater, capoeira, yoga and martial arts. But more than anything, its performance looks like a lot of fun. I saw a 2009 performance at the Brooklyn Lyceum and wanted to jump in.

LAVA offers adult and children classes at its 524 Bergen Street location — a well-lit renovated warehouse space with floors of wood and cushy mats and rope swings that hang from the ceiling. Kids’ and adult classes include beginner acrobatics, tumbling, trapeze and handstands and the instructors are trained in Chinese acrobatics. For those who want more of a challenge, there’s a company class that is based on company training. Every Wednesday, from 5:00 to 6:00 PM, LAVA has a drop-in free community class.

LAVA also has a junior troupe called Magma.

East said the response from adults and children has been positive. “For parents, and especially for girls, class they can take they can feel good about themselves,” said East.

Sarah East Johnson came from California to New York as a teenager and trained with the contemporary dance company, Merce Cunningham. She also trained at the San Francisco Circus Center. East, who made the Official Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2010 by online magazine and social media site, Velvetpark, promotes a positive and supportive philosophy towards dance, movement and the concept of the “ideal” dancer’s body.

The dance groups’ website states that unlike traditional dance and gymnastic classes, the LAVA method focuses on a connection with our physical, social, creative and intellectual selves.

The LAVA dance troupe returned from a circus festival in Tasmania, Australia earlier in February. They will performing at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

March 4, 2011 / HJD

Miguel Vargas returns to NYC

Charismatic Miguel Vargas returns to New York and will give classes at Flamenco Latino. Though born in Venezuela, he spent much of his life in Spain and is gifted with a sixth sense about flamenco.

I took a few weekend classes with him and count the experience as one of the most demanding, yet instructive. In fact, more than just teaching, Vargas shines when he imparts the flavors and textures of flamenco — of its different palos, styles and voices.

Click here for info on Miguel Vargas’ classes in NY, Mar 7 – 20, 2011.

Below, Vargas and the Flamenco Dance Theatre give homage to flamenco’s multicultural roots. Love it!

December 2, 2010 / HJD

Farruca with Joaquín Cortés and his fine, ahem, footwork.

November 9, 2010 / HJD

Frankie Martinez’s Afro-Latin Funk Heats Up Brooklyn School

Abakuá dancers Keren Ashri, John Piazza and Lori Ana Perez

Originally published here in

Despite the November chill, an Afro-Latin dance troupe called Abakuá made a Prospect Heights school stage sizzle last night.

Free tickets were available and students, parents, administrators and local residents filled much of the beautiful auditorium at The International High School at Prospect Heights. The performance was part of Abakuá’s Tour of Schools, an effort to inject arts education in underserved schools in New York City. It was the first show in Brooklyn.

“You don’t expect a performance like this at a local high school. They’ve perform at Lincoln Center,” said Marlene Veras, 27, a local resident and a salsa dance instructor in Brooklyn. “It’s a gift.”

The first piece, “Children of the Groove,” opened gently with the theme of birthing, then revved into explosive roar of salsa music. Sharp, heavy angles broke into quick-stepping, twirling partner work, mid-air corkscrew spins and jazzy footwork.

“The Life and Death of Suzy Q” was infused with boogaloo – a dance and music style that was popular in the 1960s considered a fusion of Puerto Rican and Cuban mambo with African American doo-wop.  In bright costumes that flared at the leg, the dancers recreated the ambiance and vibe of night clubs, and contrasted a flurry of salsa dance with the body waves, and accented lyrically complex, genre-straddling rhythms.

Frankie Martinez, the founder and artistic director, leads the troupe in exploring salsa and Afro-Latin dance, with adding narrative aspects to it. Martinez is one of the most sought-after instructors in salsa dance worldwide, and teaches at You Should Be Dancing in New York City.

The performance coincided with the unveiling of a new dance studio at The International School @ Prospect Heights. Abakuá was one of the groups that offered dance education in the funding proposal.

October 26, 2010 / HJD

Manuela Carrasco por Soleá

Thanks to la Meira for sending this!

October 14, 2010 / HJD

Morning music

After a quick yoga session and ingesting the news, my morning ritual was made ten times funkier when my iPod cued up Daft Punk’s, “Around the World.” Reminds me how listening to music in the morning is the way to start the day, transforming the habitual into the Awesome.

Also, a piece of random trivia that makes this all relevant here on Danceabout: the choreographer for this video is Blanca Li, of Granada, Spain. She’s more of a contemporary/modern dance choreographer, having studied Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey, although she does incorporate flamenco into her work. Also by virtue of being from Granada, I suppose she can flash the badge of birthright and say that flamenco is in her blood.

Notwithstanding, Li is a dance generalist after my own heart, and embraces hip hop. I read somewhere that she lived in Harlem in the 90s and fell in love with the flyfresh B-boys and B-girls who made improvised “studios” out of a piece of cardboard on a slab of sidewalk concrete. (Good years to love hip hop, in my opinion.)

An excerpt of Li’s choreography in the French hip hop comedy, “Le Défi”:

September 20, 2010 / HJD

Rafaela Carrasco presents three faces of flamenco

Flamenco aficionados, mark your calendars! Rafaela Carrasco and her intimate company of dancers, vocalists and musicians will open the stage with Tres Movimientos for back-to-back nights in the 2010 Fall for Dance Festival, at the New York City Center.

In an e-mail, the Madrid-based Carrasco said that Tres Movimientos aims to show three different sides of flamenco. Festival audience will get a taste of Vamos a Tiroteo, featuring company dancers Jose Maldonado and David Coria

Resonant with flamenco’s past, one excerpt is based on the popular folk song by 20th century Spanish poet Federico García Lorca called Los cuatro muleros (the Four Mule Riders.) Vamos a Tiroteo won Carrasco the prestige of the Giradillo Award and the Press Award for Best Choreography in the last Flamenco Biennial of Seville in 2008.

In a percussive solo, her expressive footwork and nuanced movement will be at the center of minimalist performance—all aspects signature to Carrasco’s style. The Madrid percussionist Nacho Arimany will accompany Carrasco in a call-and-answer interplay of rhythms.

Part of a batch of young and experimental Spanish flamenco artists, Carrasco takes tradition and molds it to her personal vision with fluid, intuitive movement. In addition to classical and flamenco training, she also studied contemporary dance. But, she insists that her work doesn’t fit into the labels like contemporary flamenco.

“The work is always very musical whether with instruments or the body,” wrote Carrasco.  “It doesn’t conform to established stereotypes.”

The Fall for Dance Festival sells $10 seats for a sampling of some of the world’s most celebrated dance companies. On September 12 tickets will go on sale. The festival runs for 10 nights.

September 14, 2010 / HJD

What dogs teach me about dance

The Dog Whisper knows the magic of movement.

In What the Dog Sawby Malcolm Gladwell, TV’s Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan tames unruly canines using body language akin to a dancer. Or, so explained Gladwell, with movement experts to back him up.

Karen Bradley, University of Maryland dance program, analyzed the dog tamer’s everyday actions– head shifts, hand gestures, steps down stairs — and said that they were “beautifully organized intra-physically.”

“Bradley was watching Cesar with the sound off, and there was one sequence she returned to again and again, in which Cesar was talking to a family, and his right hand swung down in a graceful arc across his chest. “He’s dancing,” Bradley said. “Look at that. It’s gorgeous. It’s such a gorgeous little dance.”

The story concluded that Millan’s predictable, steady and coordinated “dance” disarmed dogs — and calmed their antsy, anxious owners, too.

Gladwell uncovers the magic behind the Dog Whisperer’s movement,  which translates well to the dance studio, stage, and otherwise:


“Combinations of posture and gesture are called phrasing, and the great communicators are those who match their phrasing with their communicative intentions…”


“…if you are going to teach a classroom full of head-strong ten year-olds, or run a company, or command an army, or walk into a trailer home in Mission Hills where a beagle named Sugar is terrorizing its owners, you have to have presence or you’re lost.”

Translating that into dance, intention has to be clear in my head when, for example, there’s a remate, or 10 staccato stomps with an accent on every third one, while the spine moves from concave to convex– in a second and a half. The intention has to be there to communicate it well, to pull it off. Conveying stage presence all the while is what every dancer aspires to do, and what the flamenco world refers to as duende.

For dogs or danceMillan’s movement “principles” stick.
August 15, 2010 / HJD

Salsa in the City

This article in the Times is a good segue for my return to New York and to highlight another genre that has me going loca.

In one post, I said that it was strange to study flamenco in Buenos Aires, the tango capital of the world. The fact that people from all over the world come to New York to take classes and get a taste of the local scene is a testament that if you like salsa and live in this city, you’re in the right place.

I started learning salsa in 2006, landing a work-study gig at a studio that has since folded, Empire Dance. My instructor was living legend Frankie Martinez, although I had no idea who he was at first. Soon I learned that he was the Puerto Rican Michael Jackson.

I was lucky– not only to have a great teacher– but also because he was one of the DJs who exposed me to classic salsa from the 70s, like Willie Colon, Ray Baretto, and Eddie Palmieri.

For my tastes, this music is perfection: polyrhythmic, melodically evocative and with jazz-inspired arpeggios. I helped out at socials and at the Salsa on the Seaport, dancing in between taping down speaker wires, or collecting entrance fees. Anything to be around that sound.

If you’re down to learn or want to know where to go, here are a few suggestions:

DJ Babaloo’s Mambo Mondays at Session 73 – smokin’ live bands, or classic salsa tunes spun by Babaloo in an intimate venue. Dancers of all varieties —  from clave in the cradle, to studio-trained– get down in this open atmosphere. Beginner lessons by La China and Hector starts at 8:30.

NY Salsa Fiesta Meetup & Dance Group. Classes for all, at every level, by the dynamite duo Cynthia La China and Hector Pena.

For salsa classes with Frankie Martinez, click here.

Salsa New York Calendar: the go-to site, bookmarked by every dedicated salsero or salsera looking to dance every night of the week. Links to Manny’s Magazine with articles like, “Most common mistakes for beginners.”

May your nights be dance-filled and salsa-spiced!

August 4, 2010 / HJD

Flicks I love: Carlos Saura’s Flamenco!

Carlos Saura's "Flamenco Hoy" in Barcelona

Spanish director Carlos Saura has a thing for showcasing top musicians and dancers on a stage drenched in color. I saw Flamenco! at the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre in 2008. Since then, I’ve been a convert to Saura’s intuitive use of light, color and shadow in his dance documentaries. It’s an aesthetic that allows even subtle movement of a dancer stand out and communicate, without competing with it. An example of how less is more.

Born in the 1930’s and raised in a family of musicians and painters, Saura dedicated himself to photography for many years. He moved into filmmaking and in 1994, he put out Flamenco! — considered the most important audiovisual record of the artform. A feast for the eyes and ears, the film presented the cream of the flamenco world like luminary guitarist Paco de Lucía, dancers Mario Maya and Matilde Coral, and singers Chocolate and Fernanda de Utrera.

In 2009, septuagenarian Saura made a sequel called Flamenco, Flamenco! In the same year, he directed a live show called Flamenco Hoy, bringing to life his dance documentaries and casts with current flamenco stars.

Interesting bit of trivia: While the lighting seems to be signature of Saura, it is actually the work of Vittorio Storaro, an Italian cinematographer whose artistry with lighting created the dramatic mood in Apocalypse Now.

Bulerías de Jerez in Flamenco! Features La Paquera de Jerez, Fernando de la Morena, Barullo & El Torta.

Sevillanas correales in Saura’s live show, Flamenco Hoy.