"You just have to do it. It's so hard, especially if you don't have a space to dance. But honestly, just book something. Find a festival. There's tons of... Well, it depends where you live. But even here in Tulsa, the Exchange Choreography Festivals is a great step for me, and it allowed me to show my work and really see what I could do. And just for experience. And also record it, record your work. I would just say just do it.
Find as many things as you can perform in and go perform. Or if there's nothing, make one."
Thank you so much for showing me your space, Luis.
Of course. Things are coming up. I don't think I've shown a lot of people. Not even a lot of my friends come over.
Gotcha, Gotcha. Yeah, I always thought that you lived so much closer downtown. And I was just like, "Oh wait. You actually have to drive every time you come out." Do you drive, or do you have to Lyft, or something?
Oh no. I just drive, which keeps me from drinking so much, which is good. [chuckle]
That is good. But yeah, I always start off with the same question. As queer and trans people of color we're constantly boxed in when it comes to identity, or labelled. I would just like to give you this time to introduce yourself however you want.
I am Luis. I am my own, I dunno. I'm okay with being gay, but I also like girls sometimes, so it's like I have to come out in that way. 'Cause to my family it's not a big deal, so I never had to come out to them.
That makes sense.
No, we don't need to talk about my sex life with my family. But sometimes people are surprised when I'm like, "I like girls." But I don't know, I'm okay with identifying as gay or bi. And I love my feminine side, and my masculine side, and love my body. I love my clothes and my scarves.
Yeah. [laughter] And then you said it was pretty easy with your family. Was it always a conversation? Has it always been part of your upbringing?
Yeah. We have other gay family members and a lot of friends of my mom growing up were gay. And she's still not okay with me wearing women's clothes, but that's her own issue. But she's okay with these shoes...
Which are Target fabulous.
She's learned to just deal with it, I think.
But still I could not wear any women's clothes. I could not wear a dress, I could not wear anything like that. Even some women's blouses that I'm like, "It doesn't look like a woman's clothes." I'm not... It's not what you would do, I just like this shirt, you know? She still is not okay with that.
Ah, okay. I'm guessing that has to do with her reputation, and all of that?
Yeah. This is a woman's cut.
I didn't even notice, I just went shirt. I don't go gender shirt. And I wonder, how did you get started with the scarves? Because I feel like you rock the scarf so well, and many people don't don scarves anymore.
Yeah. Actually, it was my friend Blessing, she gave me two scarves for my birthday and I never wore them until... I think maybe I just got enough confidence. I just love it, it's so preppy, I just love that look. And I love the juxtaposition with... I might wear a track suit, and then tie this around my neck. I don't know.
I remember first seeing you at Living Arts at the old Tulsa bi-annual dance.
Can you talk to us about your background in dance, and where you wanna go moving forward?
Okay. So, I started dancing since I was out the womb. [laughter] But just for fun, and just in my room. And then I did theater. In high school and right after high school, I was doing a lot theater, a lot of ensemble work, just dancing and singing. And then I started to work with my friend Deena, who introduced me to the West African dances that I've learned. And so that opened up a whole new door of performance to me because we were performing at album release party for Bran-jay at a bar, or album release party for Green Corn Rebellion, which is another local band, at Fassler Hall, or we even were doing cultural stuff at the Greenville Cultural Center and the children's museum.
And it was so close and personal, you could see how we affected the people with the drumming and with the dancing. You know, everyone always wanted to join. Especially the kids, 'cause they have no inhibitions, so they just go up and start dancing with you. And then we... Deena and I created a piece together called Call of Nature, and we performed that last year at an Exchange Choreography Festival.
And so that was my first piece and I took that, 'cause they recorded it and gave us all footage of it. I took that and started applying for stuff; like the Living Arts, Tulsa Ballet, everywhere. And yeah, I booked a lot of gigs this whole season, I pretty much had the season. And I got to work with Portico, choreographing my own solo in there in a show, and I'm in the committee now. And I also got to work with... Through Portico, I got to work with really awesome people, like the Tulsa Symphony and Philbrook, and, yeah. And I love the process of creating dance production, as opposed to painting or other forms of art that I've done in the past because it's so involved, it's all the elements: Timing, lighting, movements, costumes. I love that. And yeah, I guess that's my background in dance in a nutshell.
And I'm wondering, what is your connection to the West African dance, do you and Deena learn from someone else, how do you get involved with the cultural aspect of it, and what does it all involve, what is the history of that?
Deena asked me to start dancing with her. So we started rehearsing together one-on-one, and she learned in Africa she went to Guinea and Senegal.
And so, that's where she learned, or where she was introduced to it. And then in LA, and all the other places she's lived, she would take classes, 'cause masters would come and teach classes there. And yeah, we really tried to keep the traditional stuff traditional, and with more contemporary dances, like a Sabar which it's really old but it's also people are dancing it now and making it their own, it's evolving. With that I take more liberty but with Guinea dances, since a lot of them are very ceremonial and have a specific dance to the specific rhythm, and all that we always try to keep it traditional.
I feel so powerful doing it, and so visceral, and like I'm tapping into this ritual that's been performed for so long. And we all do come from Africa, so I guess that's as close to Africa as I get, 'cause I'm from Mexico. But yeah, I don't think you'd have to be from there to learn their dances. It's just so stigmatized, everyone is so careful about that right now, especially... But think about samba, or rhumba, or salsa, you never question why someone is... Why all these white people are taking ballroom classes?
And then, you mentioned Mexico and I know you have the Day of the Dead performance coming up, can you talk to us a little bit about that, and, I guess, your Latinx Pride and what that means to you?
Yeah. Well, I'm born in Mexico, I'm Mexican, and I love it. I love the culture that I come from. I feel like it's so such a warm culture and so rich, like great. And I'm very happy about doing this performance for the Day of the Dead at Living Arts, which my concept for it is not... So my concept for it is to, is called "La muerta el ego", so the death of the ego, so it takes you to... Through what it's like for your ego to die, so you start with like this big ego and then there's a prologue, a procession, a transformation, and then death. So it's in four parts with mixed media in-between each piece.
And, yeah, so the Day of the Dead is traditionally about celebrating your loved ones that have passed away. And it's about celebrating their life and what you did with them, what you enjoyed about them. And I'm expanding that to include any kind of loss. Like loss to... I can think of 100 different things you can lose someone to. Just this effect... You fall out of love with them, or they move away, or you lose them to drugs, or you can lose someone without them dying. So I'm expanding that a little bit for this performance. And it is dance, so in general, it's very abstract. It definitely won't get a total narrative. Don't expect that. [laughter]
We'll feel an emotional narrative! Then the sense of ego. At first when you said ego I was like, "Oh, the bird." And then I was like, "Oh no, it's the ego, the self."
Which is so destructive, yet really necessary. Like when you're introducing yourself, you're like, "I am my own." And that's so beautiful and powerful. And that self-love is not seen in many people, so I was like, "Yea! Go Luis, for loving yourself!"
And I'm wondering, what is a dream project for you? Or if you had all the funds in the world, or have you been conceptualizing a project that you've really been meaning to actualize?
I would love to do the half-time show at the Super Bowl.
What would it look like?
Fire dancers. It's a lot. It would look like a lot of me.
A lot of screens. I don't know. I don't know what that would look like fully. I feel like I am making my dream work.
Even though I'm a one-man zero dollar budget show.
And I've had all this year to dream of these pieces. 'Cause that's how I work. I like to book myself, and then make work for that. So then I'm forced to present it, otherwise it just kind of stays in my head as an idea.
I think there are many people who, I guess, want what you have but are so hesitant about chasing it. And what advice do you have for dancers or artists that are trying to live their dream life or incorporate their work seamlessly into their lives?
You just have to do it. It's so hard, especially if you don't have a space to dance. But honestly, just book something. Find a festival. There's tons of... Well, it depends where you live. But even here in Tulsa, the Exchange Choreography Festivals is a great step for me, and it allowed me to show my work and really see what I could do. And just for experience. And also record it, record your work. I would just say just do it. Find as many things as you can perform in and go perform. Or if there's nothing, make one.
I think that's so important, realizing we need to make our own opportunities. Especially as marginalized people, it's just not going to be offered to you right away. And then when did you move to Tulsa, and how has that transition been?
Oh, well, I moved 12 years ago, so I was pretty young. Initially... So before the big move, before I moved here and stayed here, I had been here before. We were here when I was six for six months, then we moved back, my mother and I, and my dad stayed here. And then we would visit, and then finally I was ready to move here. And I loved it. I thought it was such a big opportunity for me to go to school here.
And yeah, now I'm not so sure how I feel about living here. But I still love it.
Yeah. Do you wanna talk more about that? Just because I feel like I've had so many experiences in Tulsa. I come into any city with high expectations, but I've been beaten down so much by harassment, or realizing the history and how complacent Tulsa can be.
Yeah. So it's never here in Tu... It's never on my face, straight racism or whatever, but it's always just like an underline of that. And that's what I'm like just tired of.
Especially with the new administration, and how like those people are getting a voice now and they feel validated. And that's what's scary like... That's what scary. And then you meet people who you know are Trump supporters, for one reason or another, but it just makes me wonder, "Do you agree with what he says?" So that's always pretty disconcerting.
Like for the Exchange... The Exchange Choreography Festival was held at Holland Hall, which is a preparatory school, a Catholic preparatory school, for the south Tulsa rich people, and that's where it was held. I was there at around 5 o'clock to load in and whatever, and so students were still leaving. And the first thing I see as I'm walking that parking lot is this red truck coming towards me and it stopped at the bump, and the front plate is the Confederate flag, and it goes broom, broom.
And I'm just with my braids, that I had just gotten. And I'm... I already was not happy about being there, just 'cause I know about the school and [chuckle] just that just... It was not cool. I was about to just say, "I'm sorry. I can't be here."
And I'm wondering, as artists, in this administration, what do you think our role is as creators and makers, what should we be doing?
I don't know. I don't like to say that, because I don't like to feel like I have to be the voice of my generation, and of my skin color, and of my senses. I wanna do the art that I wanna do because it's what I wanna do. I mean there is great importance to making political art, especially if you're into that. But I would have to say that we have to.
Actually, I like being the authentic self, and just thriving is enough sometimes. Yeah. And of course I've experienced that, so, of course, you might see it in my dance, my movement. Especially, in this next piece that I'm doing to Schubert's "Night and Dream," "Nacht and Traum," you might see some of that, but it's not so literal as a doom dance.
Yeah. I'm wondering, what is the one question you wish people asked you now?
I wish people took the time, after they ask, "How are you?" to hear your answer. "How are you?" Keep walking, I didn't get to answer. Why would you ask me that? Its just so disingenuous. I hate that.
Can you talk to us about some of your inspirations, your favorite dancers?
I think Nijinsky would be top, top one.
Why is that?
So he started out as a classical ballet dancer. The top composers were composing for the ballets he was in, and it was someone else's choreography, it was all traditional. Or yeah, traditional ballet, mostly for his work in Russia, in the early 20th century. And then he moved onto choreographing his own pieces with, which, also, he had top composers composing for him.
Working with him. Like Stravinsky, they made "Rite of Spring". And he was pretty much like... It was pretty much a big "fuck you" to the ballet world, to the Russian ballet institution, when he premiered his Pagan dance.
Weird music ballet. Riots started in the theater 'cause it was so out there.
And he does stuff like "The Evening with the Fawn," he humps the floor and comes at the end. And his other works were... He's also one of the first ones to show unrealistic scenarios in dance. It was usually a court of dancers dancing for the king at the ballet, or whatever. And he took regular daily life scenarios, like playing a game, in jeux. Look, I think that's how you say it. I'll try again, jeux? Jeux? It's called game, and it's Nijinsky and two girls dancing this game around a racquetball game.
The first thing you see is the ball roll down the stage. And then they come out and they have this threesome love affair in their whites. And he also embodied how like feminine, masculine thing that I love, and... Yeah. Other inspirations? I love just traditional rhythms from all over the world. Like tango, I love tango. I wanna make a tango for the Day of the Dead, actually.
And it'll be two man, dancing it side by side, but not touching. They might be touching for acrobatics, or whatever. Creating tension. And African, of course, like Tomar and Guinea rhythms. I love Gregorian dancing.
And I'm wondering, how do you define dance, personally?
Oh, God. I think any movement is dance. I think we are dancing through life. [chuckle] If you will. But no, really, I do think all that we do is dance. Especially in modern art, in modern dance, you could walk on stage and sit in a chair, and call that your performance. I don't know.
I think it's... Yeah. It can be anything. I thought about choreographing a line dance where I don't move but my eyes, of course that's just a silly idea.
If you think about dating, or nowadays it feels like a game, and then games are movements, and Tinder, even swiping is a movement. Tinder's a dance. [laughter]
Yeah, it's a tango.
Yeah, this electronic tango, you don't feel the other person unless you meet up. That could be...
And then, as I always close, like ask what advice do you have for your younger self, or the future generation of QTPOC?
My younger self. Oh my gosh, just be fearless, don't give in to fear. And just do what you always wanted to do. If you're listening.