In a conversation about the people who nowadays define Salsa, we must certainly include KAREL FLORES as a top dancer, choreographer and instructor. Karel Flores stands out for her quickness and accuracy in her movement, elements that even the unskilled eye can detect. A closer look would certainly reveal her love for dancing and most of all, the way her career steps is progressing over time.
She has worked as a member of globally recognized dance groups, with partners, on ladies projects, solos etc. Karel seems to go with the flow, but from a point onward, she actually IS the flow. If you see her dance or teach, you would definitely say that she is quick and to the point, just like the way she talks.
You were born and raised in Mexico, a country in which Salsa is not traditionally mainstream form of music or dance. When did you start getting involved with dancing and when did you realize your attraction to Salsa?
Although in Mexico Salsa is not a traditional dance, we do have a strong salsa influence. After the Cuban embargo a lot of Cuban artists moved to Mexico, since Mexico is the biggest latin-American platform for artists. We had artists such as Celia Cruz and Perez Prado in Mexico for a long-long time. Salsa is danced differently in Mexico but there is a strong influence of it.
I started in 2004 as a cheerleader in my school and I went to a TV competition. My teacher added a bit of salsa in the choreography, and with my partner of that time, we loved it and we trained more. After high school, I moved to Mexico City and started training with the biggest dance company directed by Victor and Gaby, the biggest salsa representatives in Mexico for a long time. With my partner we flew to New York and to a few congresses and then I met Osmar Perrones (leader of the Yamulee Dance Company) who lent us a studio to practice. At one point he said to me “if you want a spot at Yamulee, you have one”.
After some back and forth, I accepted his proposition, but with a time limit. “I will try this out, but only for 6 month”, I said to myself. That was in 2005 : I started at Yamullee in 2005 and after the 6 months had passed, I decided I had to go back to Mexico go to college and follow my dream of saving the world… So I returned, but after a few months Osmar called me and asked me to join the team for a tour in Spain and Italy! I accepted and well, the rest is history. I was with Yamulee Dance Company for 10 years.
Was this a dream come true?
Of course it was a dream come true. However for a while it wasn’t really my life dream. I didn’t really make the decision to be a salsa dancer for the rest of my life. It was more like, “I want to do this for a while” but with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, opportunities kept arising and things kept working out. So I said to myself, “ I can go to college at some point in my life, but I can’t dance at any point in my life. I am young, I am going to dance and see where it goes-if it doesn’t work, I’ll get back to college”. So that was the initial thought… but it worked out.
You were born in an artistic family; did they support the idea of your dancing career, or did they try to orient you toward college and academic achievement?
I had that with my stepdad but not with my mother. My mother supports me with every decision that I make. Being too responsible is an asset and a curse also and I think that derives from my mother’s trust in me. So for me it was, “She’s always going to let me do whatever I want but I’m going to succeed in whatever I do”; it was always like that with my mother. Of course they weren’t thrilled that I was going to NY, all by myself. And I have to admit it was a hard time for me.; I really struggled with many things that led me to battle depression for a long time. However, my mom was always there for me, supporting me both in the good and bad times.
My stepfather on the other hand, wasn’t so happy and gave me words of wisdom that I should have listened to. What I think now and what I say to young people when they say to me “I want to go to NY and be like you” is:
“listen, it’s not as easy as it seems, be prepared, finish school and then do it- at least have a backup plan”.
I think that listening to someone older than you, is important when you’re young and wild, when all you want is just live life. And although I didn’t follow my stepfather’s advice, I do keep in mind everything he always told me. To this day, the things he said to me make sense. Even if I didn’t listen to him and study -I went to college in NY for two years, but didn’t finish my carrier as an environmentalist-his words come back to me when I face some hardships in my career or with my relationships.
In your career, you participated in various artistic schemas such as solo dancing, with a partner or as a team member, and simultaneously you were learning other types of dance as well. This knowledge you acquired, what impact does it have on you and your career?
One, I like to train; I genuinely like the physical activity of dancing. That’s why my choreographies are alwaysfull of tricks and turns, because I am a very hyperactive person who also likes challenges. But most importantly, and I don’t say this in a dramatic way at all, I say this in a very pragmatic way:
I don’t think I am enough.
What do you mean by that?
Recently I read a book titled “The subtle art of not giving a fuck” about the very interesting notion that “nobody is extraordinary”-“face that, face that you’re just an ordinary person going through a probably ordinary life. It’s when you face that fact that you actually start doing something about what you love, you start working really hard and that’s when you become extraordinary, that’s when you become unique”. What really makes you good is the time you spend doing something, not the way you were born, (of course we all have strong points and weaknesses).
It also has to do with the way I internalize criticism and what I do with it. For example, in Yamulee I was considered to be too focused in technique and the comments were that I didn’t have much flavor but then, to someone else ” I didn’t have enough technique” I was “just a salsera”… Wherever I go, for someone I’m missing something but I don’t take it personally. I say to myself: “maybe I don’t have enough flavor or enough ballet technique. Ok, let’s get it!”
And how did this help your career?
For me it’s like “ok let’s get it.” It helped me in a way that I am not an extraordinary dancer, because I was not meant to be a dancer, I was meant to be something else, so I didn’t train my entire life to be a dancer, although I always danced, I will continue training to take it as far as I can.
So, besides that I like training, I don’t believe I am the greatest thing in the world, I want to continue training to the point where I am content and comfortable with myself.
I also feel very grateful to the people who follow and admire me. I don’t take their love and support for granted. So I also do it for them. I don’t want to be that great dancer who got comfortable with success and stopped growing. I want to lead by example and not only say, but show my followers that in order to make your dreams come true and be successful at whatever it is you do, you have to work hard. And you will always see me working hard for my dreams
Since you mentioned your followers: There is an increasing number of new dancers who in their choreographies integrate elements that resemble your personal style. How do you feel when you see this happening and who where you affected by in your first steps?
Of course, I see it all the time. I find it flattering. For me it comes with the job: If you are a teacher, people will learn from you and if they learn from you they will dance like you. It is part of the deal.
In my very beginning, while I was still in Mexico I admired Jennifer Silvas. She is now a big time Bachatera, but back then I saw her in a video doing all these athletic tricks and I thought “I want to be her”. She played such a big role in what I wanted to be, and until this day I like that style because of her the strength.
Later, when I came to NY I used to watch Candy Mena, she had a really huge impact in the salsa world and she danced with a lot of people, including Juan Matos. In my life I was also strongly affected by Marselle Guerra and Jessica Ortiz both members of Yamulee.
Do you get inspired by active female artists at this point of your career?
Inspired yes, all the time! However, I try not to watch too many videos of female salsa dancers, because I find it is easy to be influenced by what you like. I want to stay true to myself as much as possible and always push myself to create. We have to remind ourselves that not only learning and taking classes is important, but finding your voice, your style, and making things your own is what makes you a true artist. And I encourage my students and dancers to find themselves all the time. When we are working on a choreography I say that to my students, to my girls, “I want the hands to go there” (in a choreo) but I want Imani’s hands and Silvana’s hands and Karina’s hands. I don’t want a thousand Karel’s hands. I say it goes there because we are a group and it has to go there, but I want to see YOU expressing a gesture. For me that’s important and that’s why I don’t watch female dancers.
What inspires you?
Every dancer inspires me in different ways, but now I find inspiration in anything that moves me. I’m very inspired by making a difference through dance, so I’m focusing a lot of my energy in being able to do that. I, of course, get a lot of inspiration from my teachers but even more importantly from my dancers and students. I love teaching something and seeing people make it their own. It helps me see things in a different ways and that continues to help me grow and stay motivated and inspired.
we asked what choreo recently blew her mind and this is the answer. I thing that Maya Angelou’s Voice is a song by itself.
Can you tell us the names of some of your favorite active artists?
A lot of people inspire me, but I’m lucky enough to call some of my biggest inspirations, friends. People like Tama Livolsi, Jorjet Alcocer, Amneris Martinez, Griselle Ponce, inspire me not only for their dancing, but also for their contribution to our community; for everything they are, both as people and as artists, and for everything they do and continue doing. These educated, brave and strong women, fought their way through hell and back, found balance in their lives professionally and personally and are still standing, still here to share their beautiful dances with us.
That’s what makes me admire someone, more than anything else.
Being a professional dancer includes the artistic side, eg. inspiration, training, improving gand also the business part, eg managing time, setting and carrying out shows and projects etc. How do you manage to balance these two parts of yourself?
Team. I couldn’t do it alone. I have two assistants Beth and Silvana, they are the loves of my life. They rule my entire life, and get very little out of helping me. They have changed my life, because it would be impossible for me to train and travel and perform and take care of all the things in the back end. They are the ones who support the business part and many other people who do many different things. I have an amazing costume designer Kathleen, and my directors all over the world help me with so many things. Don’t be fooled that one can do everything alone.
I noticed that you mostly mentioned women comprising your team. Do you work well with women?
I believe that we women are smart and tolerant with each other’s personality, when something goes wrong we communicate on how to fix it and working in harmony. Me with all my team mates, me with Beth and Silvana, me with all the girls around the world. Because we learned that tolerance is very important and even when there are cultural and/or personality differences; with efficient communication we can make everything work.
I think about my future and I want a balance between my congress life and my personal life. I want to be able to work very hard for my dreams and career, but at the same time being a better person every day. To procure my friends and family, to read, to keep myself healthy and to enjoy my life in different ways than just work. Finding a balance between your career and your personal life is not easy, but nevertheless, and in my opinion, necessary to be happy and healthy.
What are your plans?
For right now, I’m focusing on my KF World teams project, my ladies team in New York and teaching. I love the challenge and physicality of partner work, so I also plan to continue to do that. I want to reinvent myself for sure; I want to try to find something new to offer to the salsa community and congresses. And for now I’m working on myself, and trying to always improve as both a dancer and a person.
Karel’s list of Songs:
- She was born in a family of artists, her great-grandfather was the founder of the artists’ association in Mexico. Her grandmother, dancer herself, was a pioneer of mambo and a superstar dancer in old films in Mexico. Her grandfather was an orchestra director in Venezuela and the first to introduce boogaloo in Mexico.
- Even though Salsa was in her blood, she wanted to study either politics or environmental engineering. One of the top students in her school, represented Mexico in Washington DC and UN, her family and teachers had great expectations of her. She hasn’t let them down, since her vision is to change the world through dance.
- Today she travels around the world participating in festivals, designing shows, instructing, and organizing bootcamps. She will perform in Mamboland (Milan Italy 6-8th April) and Paris International Salsa Congress (Paris France 20-22nd April) and there are upcoming events in New York, Beijing, and so on… You can see all of Karel’s upcoming events on her website www.karelflores.com
- One way to be Karel’s student is through http://www.salsabachataonline.com or attend her classes in New York. For more information see her website.
Stay on the Dance Floor😉 for the second part of the interview.