When people watch the In The Heights movie and ask me “How did you guys DO THAT?”… I’ll spare myself the struggle to explain it, and simply send them the link to this episode.
I’m thrilled to be joined by the film’s choreographer Christopher Scott , my fellow associate choreographers Ebony Williams and Emilio Dosal, the associate Latin Choreographer: Eddie Torres Jr., and his assistant Princess Serrano AND our choreo team assistant (AKA the glue that kept us all together): Meghan Mcferran. This episode is more than a peek into our process… It is a seat at our table. This is a time capsule of memories and lessons learned that I will cherish forever. I hope you enjoy this episode and if you haven’t yet, be sure to catch In The Heights in theaters and on HBO Max!
New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/16/arts/dance/in-the-heights-dance.html
BTS Video Package: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNbvu5gIVfY
Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.
Dana: Hi friend, welcome to the podcast. I’m Dana and this is it. The time has come and the time is now the moment that at very least I have been waiting for. The rest of the, In the Heights choreography team will be joining me on the podcast today. And I am so, so, so excited to share this conversation with you. Um, I’m hoping that you’ve seen the film already In the Heights so that you have a bit of context for what we’re going to dig into. If you have not seen In the Heights. No worries. No judgment. And also, I don’t think there are any spoilers in this episode. So do keep listening, but please get to a theater or support on HBO Max, please, please, please go see this film period. I’ll leave it there. And I’ll, I’ll um, leave you on the edge of your seat to hear this conversation for just one more second, because before we get to the conversation, uh, we’re going to do wins. If you are new to the podcast, I do wins. I start with wins. This is something that I do. So I’m going to celebrate something that is going well in my world. Then I will yield the floor to you. You will take it away. Um, I think this is, this is something that is important. So I go, you go, um, let’s see. This week, yeah, I think this is it. This is, well, I know this is it. This week, I am celebrating the New York times article featuring the, In the Heights choreography team written by Gia Kourlas , um, Man oh man. I could talk about it forever, but, um, I’m about to let the choreo team speak for themselves so I will leave it at that, that article is so beautifully done. It is a beautiful peek into, uh, the family that is the, In the Heights choreo team. I think you’re going to really, really dig it. If you are interested in checking out the article, I will 100% be linking to it in the show notes of this episode. So check that out and enjoy. All right. That’s my, when New York times no big deal. Very,
I’m stoked for you. Keep it up, keep winning. All right. Are you ready for this? I hope so. But before we dig in, I’m giving an audio disclaimer, here. As I’m sure you can imagine. It is not easy to get the seven of us in one place at one time, let alone a quiet place at one time. So we are welcoming you to our zoom room and we appreciate your understanding of the less than stellar audio quality. Uh, we aren’t the audio or music department after all. We are the dance department and we are so, so, so proud of that. So pull up a chair and enjoy getting to know the choreo team from In the Heights.
Dana: What the heck In the Heights choreo team. Welcome to Words That Move me.
Um, this is the first time I have ever podcast interviewed more than two people at once. So number one, thank you for that. But number two, y’all are on the heels of one of the biggest films of the year broadly. So I know we’re all in different places, doing many things. Thank you so much for being here right now. I’m thrilled to talk to you and I’m thrilled to share a little bit of what our experience of making this film was about. Um, I do have, I have two goals for this episode. Number one, it is my goal to create sort of a time capsule, a place for us to put our most precious memories of this time and these people and these places. And just kind of talk about what happened because it happened really fast. Um, and that does feel sort of like a lifetime ago. So that’s a very selfish thing of me. I just, I want to have that for myself and I want to have that for us, but I also know that I have so many people listening, maybe some listening to the podcast for the first time that are simply dying to find out how we did that. So I do want to talk shop. I want to talk a little bit of the nuts and bolts of how you make a movie musical, how you Chris, assembled this team, how we all showed up, how we might do our work differently in the future. Now having added a whole lot of tools to our tool belt. So we’ll get into that. But first probably the hardest part of this whole thing is going to be this. I’m going to ask each of you to introduce yourself and simply tell us what, what you want us to know about you. It doesn’t need to be your credits. It could be. Um, but we’ll start with Chris and then, uh, I’ll just call them out from there. Chris, what do you want us to know about you?
Chris Scott: Oh man. Um, I want you to know that I am, um, changed from this movie. I think, I think the most, and I know that we’re going to talk about all that stuff. And I was like, well, maybe I’ll say something more personal about like my personal life, but I’m like, no, really, you know, this movie really changed me and affected me. And, and, and I’m looking at, everybody’s face on this zoom moment. I know you guys will just hear our voices, but it’s like, you know, it’s just really cool. Like, like seeing everybody’s face that, you know, helped to change and shape me. Um, so, you know, I think that’s what I want people to know about me is I’ve been shaped. Every job you do, kind of shapes you. And I really feel proud to have been shaped by every job I’ve done and none more than this one. Um, and I’m just really grateful to be here to talk about it.
Dana: Word, Yes. Eddie you’re up.
Eddie Torres Jr: Hi, my name is Eddie Torres Jr. But my real name is <inaudible>. Okay. So yeah. Um, I’m, I’m blessed. I am blessed to know each and every one of you it’s been, it’s been, uh, almost two years since we’ve been United, right? I mean, it’s just really, it was a blessing to have crossed paths with everyone on this team. And I tell Chris, and I tell all of you all the time, but for those who are listening, meeting them has just really changed my life. And we’ve become family since then. And everything has changed for me in the best possible way. My dream was to always represent, um, cultural arts, not just of course street dance, but cultural arts and just get that as respected as any other form of dance, because we really deserve that. And that’s what my passion was for In the Heights is really putting everything on the map, representing everything authentically and, um, yeah, just pouring my heart out to each and every dancer to all of you that are listening. And again, thank you that I’m Eddie Torres Jr.
Dana: Yes. Eddie George Jr. Moving right along. To your right Eddie Torres Jr the lovely Princess Serrano. Princess, tell us what you’d like us to know about you. Hi
Princess Serano: Hi everyone. My name is princess Serrano. Um, a lot of people think that my running is a nickname, but it’s actually my real name. And what I want everyone to know is that I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m excited to see what happens with this movie. And I’m excited to see what happens with all the choreography team where life takes us and everyone that was in the movie and watching the movie so
Dana: Lovely. I love this. Um, all right. Ebony, what would you like us to know about you?
A thing that I think is important for people to know about me is that I feel like I’ve been in a space where as artists, um, we’re always giving so much of ourselves. We don’t always feel validated by the things that we have done, you know, or are doing, um, not in, uh, in the most genuine space. And I feel like for this, because it’s such a, uh, a big project that celebrates something more than just you it’s, it’s so important. It’s about a community about, um, a culture. It’s the importance is just bigger than just one person, um, or your history or your own past traumas. Um, I feel like I’ve grown so much from it and I feel like I’ve had to face so many of the things that have absolutely gotten in my way or made me afraid or made me doubt. And a lot of this gave me a huge sense of Paciencia y Fe, and I’m so happy and grateful for it and grateful for the room and the people that are a part of my life now based on and through this journey. So, um, I guess I want people to know about Ebony Williams, that Ebony Williams again, and still, and forever is growing, is changing and evolving and okay with that. And we’re grateful for every piece of that moment.
Dana: Let’s go. Okay. Emilio Dosal, what would you like us to know about you?
Emilio Dosal: Hello I’m Emilio Jesus Dosal um, you know, um, just, uh, I’m just a short little Hispanic boy from Houston, Texas, you know, I never, uh, I never found myself to have an identity and, uh, to be quite honest, when I, when I started this process with In the Heights, uh, I found myself seeing who I am and who I want to be. Um, and I feel really grateful to have been in a place like New York city to find myself, um, and now moving from New York city going everywhere, I go to find myself a little bit more, has been a wonderful experience. And, um, and, um, that’s what I would take as a me.
Dana: Thank you for that. I’m so glad you’re here. This is great. All right. Last, but certainly not least miss Meghan McFerran what would you like us to know about you?
Meghan McFerran: Hi everyone. My name is Meghan McFerran. I am a dancer and a celebrator of movement. The number one thing since I was so little is just to use movement as a celebration of life. And so through auditions, through classes, through dancing my whole life, that’s what I saw movement as a celebration of yourself that you’re here, that you can move your body, that you can inspire others by doing that. So through my experience and my passion of celebrating, I was able to meet mentors like Ebony Williams, who, um, brought me to this place where I was able to get this job with In the Heights and meet all of really special people who continued to use movement as a celebration of life. And that’s literally what we did every single day. And what I continue to now do as an entrepreneur every day is to use movement, to celebrate who we are as people celebrate our differences, celebrate dance.
Dana: Yeah. That was a beautiful wrap up. Okay. So, bye. Thanks. Um, uh, we’ll continue. Only because I know there’s a lot of good stuff to come, but I’d like to ask one more question to the whole group. Um, and that is, again, it’s a selfish thing, and this might be challenging to pick one, but I’d love to just drop in the time capsule, your favorite moment during the rehearsal process or shoot, or the, the premiere process, which was like a week long of parties and events and things. Um, but what’s, what is your favorite highlight from the, In the Heights chapter of your life?
Chris Scott: I could start. I mean, honestly, it’s not that hard for me in a weird way. It’s funny. It’s like there was so many great moments like that. The biggest highlight of the experience for me was shooting Carnaval del Barrio. Um, it was just surreal, man. It was like a crazy experience. Even the audition, the rehearsal for even rehearsing for, it was like really special, that that might even have topped actually shooting it just because it was such a beautiful thing. And, you know, I remember it being one of the scariest ones because it’s like a seven minute long number, like eight minutes long. It’s really long. And we didn’t have a lot of time for that. You know, John knew, he was like, okay, well, if we’re going to spend the time to do 96,000 at the pool, we’re going to have to give somewhere. And we looked at the calendar and I remember it was like, John was like, I think it’s kind of all. And I think we just have to keep it, make it raw. Like I think it’s okay to be raw. It’s okay to be a little like, you know, run and gun. Like we’ll figure it out if we have to on the spot, even for certain parts. So there was something about that freedom and that expectation, knowing that it was going to be raw and be real that ultimately kind of transcended everything. It became like not a rehearsal, but it really became, uh, like this crazy, beautiful moment in life, the celebration of culture and ancestry, and like just like spiritual. And it was like, you know, you couldn’t have called it from the beginning, I think. But when we were in that room, you know, I’ll never forget the moment we did. One of the, the tape we did one of the first run-throughs that we did really stands out to me. Um, you know, because we had two pieces, we had the beginning piece and then we had the ending piece, but the whole like, uh, you know, moment with Gregory, you know, um, with Sonny, we didn’t even rehearse, but when we press play on that, that, uh, you know, that track, he just jumped up and started doing it. And it was one of those things where you realize like, oh, this number is going to be incredible because these actors, they know what this moment is. And they’ve been dying for this moment. They’ve been waiting for this moment. So we got to live in, experience it with them. It wasn’t a rehearsal. It was really like this crazy, surreal moment in life that I remember thinking like, wow, this is what happens when music can really like hit you in the soul and, and, and push a story forward and just push actors to just be in the moment. And, um, it was like watching a improv. I mean, it was, it was really, really special. I mean, Lin’s like crying, everybody’s crying and, and, um, yeah, that was that’s my standout,
Dana: Mine is the same. And I’m going to guess everyone else’s is to show of hands, kind of all everyone in the zoom room. Yes. The, the shoot day was untoppable, but Chris, yes. I agree. The rehearsal process for that number, getting to spend time with, with each group that gets represented, getting to hear the side conversations, um, watching people wear the flag, hold the flag, share the flag. It was a truly, uh, a remarkable top to bottom. And I think I’m glad that we landed on this moment because this kind of segues nicely into a nuts and bolts question. I think one of the challenges that almost everyone who’s aiming to make a movie musical will face is the challenge of achieving a feeling of spontaneity when you absolutely must be planned. Like you must know where the camera will go. You must, you know, people don’t just spontaneously do the same steps at the same time. So how do you marry absolute authenticity and a feeling of spontaneity with preparedness like that? I think is one of the biggest challenges that we faced on this project and carnival in that, in the case of that number, the answer was in the music and in the people. Like the, the challenge of planning was more playful than challenging. And when you have a cast as talented as our cast, when you have music as supportive as the music that we had, I’m not going to say it was just like show up and it’s great because it was, we got very strategic. We could run that whole eight minute number top to bottom and we did, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t as challenging to bridge the gap of, and now we dance as some other numbers can be. Yeah.
Chris Scott: Can I shout out, Eddie Torres Jr and Princess? I mean, really when you’re talking about that, it was like their talent. I mean, they’re incredible. Like it jumps off the screen, the entire film, like you feel privileged to be in the same room with them. Cause they’re all just so they could do the whole movie on live if they had to, you know what I mean, from top to bottom, because that’s just who they were. Um, but you know, Eddie, I remember a big, big thing with this number was like, it was casting those dancers and you know, how important they were to it. And, and every single day we were casting up until really the day of rehearsal. I think even we haven’t rehearsed a little bit and they were still getting where people could make Eddie find, we need more. Um, I’ll pair that too. It’s just like, you know, Eddie’s and Princess, their knowledge in the different Latin styles, knowing what this, uh, moment really needed because in the music there’s stuff embedded. But then also I think Eddie went above and beyond with the Latin styles. Like when we all saw, you know, the Colombian style, the Caleño style, you know, it was like crazy. So, you know, Eddie, um, you know, that was really like a key factor. So I don’t know where that came from. How you, how you did it sometimes I’m still like, how did you find everybody? I don’t know
Eddie Torres Jr: Dana I’m sorry. I would love to just piggyback off of what both of you just said, going back to the actual, like making it work strategically, but free. I mean, it was easy when you’re under pressure to get things done quick, like we’re talking about, we didn’t have like a week or two weeks to call these people in. It was like Eddie call who, you know, now for tomorrow, they need to be here and they need to represent, and then it’d be down for the cause. And that’s who, everybody who showed up understood that from the get, and that, that, that energy walked through the door, like ready to go. That’s what really happened.
Dana: Thank you for bringing up the idea of, of a time constraint being a helpful factor. I think all of us in the room right now wish we had had more time, I think, relative to other films of the same scale, like the same footprint, um, rehearsal time would have been more, but we got so much done so quickly. How, how did we do that? Yes. A lot of it is like the right people, having the right people in the room, massively important, Eddie, your community, Ebony, your community like this, the right people came together. Um, but man, if I could have given us one more month, I really would have.
Eddie Torres Jr: It Would’ve just been fun.
Dana: It Would be just more fun. Yeah. Maybe not even better, Maybe not even better, but more fun.
Chris Scott: Um, and can I piggyback on that too? And just say, you know, for me personally, I knew very early on how little time we had with, but it’s weird. Cause I wasn’t like freaking out to be honest, like John might think there might’ve been like a lot of stress, but to be honest, getting you guys as a team was really everything. And I’m not saying that lightly. Like it was really like once I, when I knew I was like, okay, I got to have Ebony Williams, She’s going to be there for anything, contemporary ballet Afro like all those, all these styles, like we’re going to cool. We’re good. Emilio. I know. It’s like, you know, we’ve done this for how long now? Like, you know, when you have a team of people that you’ve worked with, like that, you know, Dana, you were a piece of the puzzle that walked into the room and it was like, oh, this is perfect. Like you clicked in like nothing, you know, from skeleton crew. And it was like, beautiful. We have a partner storyteller with us that’s versed in like, I don’t even know how many styles you can do. But every, every day I was like finding out a new one, you know? And then Eddie and Princess, like, I really do, you know, this, this whole kind of campaign afterwards, you know, I’ve always been like very passionate about making sure that you guys there’s light on you guys as well, because I know as like the head choreographer or whatever it’s, it’s, it’s been, uh, I’m going to have my shine at it. I’m speaking of shines, but you know, but I really do like, and it’s not lightly that I say you guys as a team, you know, really deserve everything because that’s how you do it. There’s no other way. It would have been impossible. If there’s one thing I wished outside world could get a peek into. It was really the, what, uh, what our dance studios look like. Um, you know, I think the amount of prep that we had being able to in, in, in like a divided way, and then we all come back together and it was really something beautiful that, that nobody really gets to see, you know, and it’s not, I don’t know to me, it was like, it was stressful, but I’m looking at these faces right now and having you guys, um, you know, and Meghan, even just having this piece of the puzzle, because coordinating this, that’s another thing too, like people will never understand, you know, I really do feel responsible to educate people on what a team does in the choreography realm, because it’s not often talked about and it’s not often seen. Um, but you know, like Meghan was brought on to this team is like a, you know, like, like a PA, but it’s not, it’s not what she’s doing. She’s coordinating these massive numbers. I mean, there’s over 200. How many are we at? Like 280 dancers or somebody that you told me the other day you can go through in that, because it’s, I was that many, people’s that much to coordinate, you know, we’re a department, we’re a huge department. Um, you know, and that that’s really a big factor I’m going off now. You know,
Dana: I’m glad that you mentioned that it’s something that I like try to talk myself through all the time, because I’m stuck between believing that time is this fixed thing that I cannot change or multiply or divide in any way. But when you stack talent, you actually do multiply time. Like that’s what having a team is all about. So it might feel like we don’t have enough time, but there are ways to multiply time. And it’s by dividing talent, it’s by stacking many things happening at the same time, um, in different places and, and, and towards different, uh, on different tasks towards the same goal. And that’s, yeah, that’s how, that’s how we did it.
Chris: What a bunch of talent we stacked, boy, cause there’s a team. Let me tell you something, the talent on the zoom right now.
We stacked. Uh let’s um, I’m coming to you then Meghan, cause I would love to know your answer to this question you probably received if, okay. So if we hired 288 dancers, you received at least 10X times that emails, while you were working on this project, you were, uh, like helping us rent space. You were coordinating people’s schedules. You were looking to see if anybody had aunties and uncles or, or grandmas that were available to come shoot with us. Like you did a lot of, um, uh, structural work and helping all of the pieces fall into place. And what I would love to know is what you think the hardest thing for you was to do and how you did it.
Meghan McFerran: The hardest thing for me to do was probably honestly keep communication with Chris on everything while he’s working so hard in the rehearsal room with all of these dancers and I’m on the phone with Warner Brothers, coordinating everything on our end agencies, production dancers. And when me and Chris found time, it was awesome because we were like, boom, boom, boom, get this done, get this done 15 minutes. But then when he’s doing his thing in the rehearsal room and I am doing my thing here, it’s hard to connect the pieces and be like, wait, but we need this to happen tomorrow. And I’m like, well, I’m going to need a few hours. Cause this I, the processes happening. And I am out here out at my computer and we just can’t make this happen right now. We can make it happen. Oh, trust me, our team’s going to make it happen. But it’s not at that very second. So that was hard day in and day out because it was like a daily thing. There’s a dancer that needs something. Production has a question about what props we’re using. And I’m like, great. And what I learned and what kept me going through is just to keep calm because it’s like, you know what, yes, we believe in this team from day one, we’re like, we’re going to make this happen. We are fine. But being able to stay calm when I’m getting texts at two in the morning when I’m getting emails post 12 hour rehearsals emails about this and that I’m happy to answer because we’re here and I know that this team is going to get it done. But I think that that initial connection of phone, emails, computer versus dance, rehearsals counts, choreo, and trying to fuse those two together was hard. But we did it.
Dana: Yeah, we did. I think that was something not a lot of people consider. Like when you have an eight hour rehearsal day to get steps done, where do the magical hours where you have to be communicating with wardrobe team, communicating with music team at communicating with studios to find rental space, talking with casting over at Telsey. Yeah. Like where you have to make time and find time we are time multipliers. This is what we do. Um, okay. Emilio, I’m coming to you next because holy smokes, you are in damn near every scene of this movie. And you had your hand on the choreography of, I mean, I think we all really did hands-on all pieces. At some point there was nothing that none of us were involved in, right? That’s not how this movie got made, but you’re in almost every scene and you were in every single rehearsal with us for all of the other scenes. So I guess what I am wondering and what I am assuming, people who are listening are wondering are, what are the tips? What are your tricks for being on both sides of the camera? How did you wear both of those hats at once?
Emilio Dosal: I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a trick. I can just tell you that on my end, I just didn’t put a lot of pressure into it. I feel that in many cases, even though I’m a little older now, I still have a very naive sense. And so I try not to look at things as like they’re so, um, you know, huge. And if I fail this and I failed everything right. And like, oh, I have to get this done. I have to get this, I gotta do this. I gotta do this. I don’t apply that sort of pressure. I just kind of like, it’s kind of what I say to everybody. And everybody knows the saying, it’s like, it’s too easy. Right? Because technically what I’m trying to tell myself is is that if this is as hard as it gets, that’s pretty good. And so being on camera was the easiest part of my day If I’m gonna be quite honest, because that’s where I get to perform. That’s where I get to do the thing that I, I absolutely love doing. That’s what I went to into dance for I’ve always been a showman. I’ve always been a performer. And then being behind camera and, and running back and forth, um, actually was exhilarating. Um, I enjoyed the process. I wanted to do it more. Um, and yes, there was, there was stress and, you know, there was a lot of times where I felt overwhelmed. Yes. But that would always come back to it being just too easy. You know, again, it’s, it’s, it’s what you make it. And so I’ve just found myself really in a good place when I would go back and forth to each one. Um, if I wasn’t behind the camera watching to help safeguard and make sure that it looks right. I knew that my job being in front of the camera was to make sure that spirits were up, that we were good to go. I kept every dancer enlightened, ready to like move forward and keep it pushing, you know, because it does get exhausting, you know, as you, as you’ve heard, we do, you know, eight to 10 hour days on concrete and grass and train stations and all the elements. And I just found myself being that person that, you know, what, I have this infinite amount of energy that I need to evolve to my peers so that they can feel enlightened and remember what they’re doing, you know, we’re, we’re on a film showcasing ourselves. I would, I would suggest to everybody who is going to participate in that sort of work, um, bring a little bit of naivety into it, you know, have fun, be, be that inner child that was naive throughout the whole thing. It’s not a bad thing to be naive in those circumstances is actually quite exhilarating. Um, and it gets the job done job done really well. And honestly so much more exciting to be honest.
Dana: Too easy. Thank you for that as an important moment to like call on perspective. Right. Um, and that can a perspective shift like that could really take something from feeling impossible to actually feeling easy by shifting the way that you’re thinking about it, a more childlike, uh, approach. I appreciate that. Um, okay. So, uh, Chris, we have done a few, um, screenings for like dance community and there’ve been Q and A sessions at the end. You and John, You and John talking together is one of my favorite things to eavesdrop on you understand the way each other make. And I think you’ve grown to be making in really complimentary ways. I think this film is a huge testament to that. Um, but one of the questions, uh, one of the questions that has come up, I think in both of those screenings is how did you find this team? And you spoke specifically about the first conversation you have with Eddie and how it, it turned into an education. Like it didn’t, it didn’t, it wasn’t an audition or an interview. He sat and he, and more, he, more or less schooled you. I mean, stop me if I got the wrong interpretation of that.
Dana: Um, so what I would love to hear from you, Eddie is if you remember that conversation, if you remember for sitting with Chris, um, if you remember what you told him and if you would share it with us today,
Eddie: I mean, it’s something that I actually kind of repeat every day just to remind myself and keep it in shape. So I’m glad this is my practice today, basically. Um, you know, when Chris, when Chris and I first met, it was in Brooklyn and we met at this office where he was discussing me possibly dancing in the film, you know, and we just got into a good conversation, you know, first time meeting each other. And somehow we just, you know, we sat down and we were just talking about what I do. And I was saying, Hey, you know, what I do is something called Mambo. And it basically is the truth behind what we call salsa. What we know is salsa. And he’s like, what do you mean? And that led into a whole beautiful conversation, um, which we had to get a pen and paper and draw this triangular slave trade, which dates back to the 15 hundreds. So basically we were just talking about how the Spanish conquistadors, they went to West Africa, took these people and sent them to all different parts of the world, right? So basically you have two sides of the coin, the slaves that were sent to the Caribbean, they allow their music on Sundays. They allow their cultural practices. So out of that was birthed many rhythms, you know, on the, on the, in music. So that’s why we have Bomba y Plena, which is all singing and just drumming, you know? And so, and on the other side of the coin, you have the slaves that were sent to the new world, which just like the US they took away all of the drums. They took away their names, their religion, everything. And by that, we lost Africanism in general. So out of that, they put these slaves to work in plantations. And out of that was born the classic blues. So we had a full-out conversation with drawing with every single detail and showing how all of this evolution created, what we know as salsa, which again was created, by Fania Record Label in the 1970s, basically just to, um, market the music better, you know, they wanted better business and they wanted more popularity of this music all over the world, which they succeeded they did, that they did that 100%. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a success. The only problem is we lost a lot of that. You know, that pure knowledge, the roots. Each rhythm has a dance and you have to respect that. And not only that, but when you put it all into one, you know, it’s just not what it is. Salsas not a rhythm, Salsas not a dance. But on the flip side, we have cha cha, cha, which is a rhythm and a dance, Mambos is a rhythm and a dance that’s song, you know? So, and w why was this all important? Because this whole film needed a foundation to work off of. We needed roots in every single scene and the music itself, you know, you have the clave right from the beginning of the movie, you have the clave, which is an instrument that was born on the slave ships in the 1500s. So right away, there’s evidence of this beautiful history that we have, but it just never got the chance to be told in its raw form and its authentic form. Chris basically opened the door up to a whole culture that needed to have been seen and heard. I’m talking about specifically Mambo, you know, my family, they worked their whole lives for this moment. You know, my aunts or many of our ancestors have worked for this moment. And here it is, Chris gave me not only me, the opportunity and Princess, but he allowed us to cast you know, a lot of these people in Carnaval, which was so much fun, right? We had to call every Viejito, which is an old man and, or an old woman. We called every single old dancer that we knew. We call the youngest of the babies. And we called all cultures literally to come in to gather in one room. And that’s why it was so fun because I mean, now I’m going into carnival for a second. You didn’t have to really do much. And these people were just happy to be there. They were happy to celebrate their culture. We just, we just said, Hey, who’s Puerto Rican, boom, you have a group. Who’s Dominican. Boom, you have a group. And a lot of, a lot of them, I mean, we’re all related. We all have these, these bridges to each other’s culture. So anyway, just because it became a very natural, organic process and it was just so it was so natural, I would say. And not, not, not that we had to sit there and practice and technique and know this was just like a, Hey, I like that move. This is something we do at the house. Boom, let’s do it here. But again, it’s just, again, rewinding for a second. I know I went on a tangent, this, this film, and it means so much to so many communities, so many cultures who never, ever, ever felt represented. And I’ve gotten so many beautiful messages from people I don’t know people, I haven’t people, I do know who I haven’t heard from years to people that I speak to on a regular and just exchanges in the street. Honestly, just the other day somebody was like, oh my God. Yes, I thank you. And I was like, for what I think for, thank you for, you know, I feel I’m proud to be a Latino and proud, you know, I feel represented even my neighbor, I don’t even know her. She said, congratulations. And I’m like, and she’s Puerto Rican. She’s like, that’s what we need. You know? So it was we again, and this is just Carnaval but we have so many scenes, so many cultures that are represented in this one film. And that for me was all I ever wanted.
Ebony: Absolutely. But I think that’s what brought the authenticity. I think that was what it was because we had to rely on the spirit of the people because it does, that’s what makes up the community, you know, like if we had to literally take every piece in every inch of everything and say you be this, you know, like when it’s really in their soul, then it would make it, would’ve made it so dry and technical. It’s just, it’s in them. They were born with it. And so all we had to do was allow them to shine, you know? And that’s you, you say that all the time in the salsa, like, Hey, do the shines, what does, I mean, Eddie you can speak on that part, but like, you know, and I, I think that that’s what made it great is that we just had to really rely on the soul of the people.
Eddie: Ebony I love you, you know, how I feel, You know how I feel about you Ebony. I love you so much. And again, that’s, that’s even without Salseros, I would be in front of b-boys and other hip hop dancers and, and, and just telling them, Hey, listen, the undertone of everything, what we call Latin is African that’s. The, that’s what, that’s the full root of all of this. Basically I was telling everybody that I knew on set, listen, do you know that we’re, we’re connected? We’re not separate. Um, you know, the vision is just what that’s, it’s just by style, which I’m not a huge fan. I don’t like the idea of being divided by styles because at the end of the day, we all have the same root, anything that has a drum is African. Anything that has a beat is African. Period. Doesn’t matter, RNB, jazz, hip hop, whatever you Salsa, uh, Mambo. That’s what we all had to understand and bring to this film and through ourselves. So really we wanted this to be felt this wasn’t something that was always pretty, this was something that needed to be felt. And we fought for that. We went for blood
Dana: I love this notion that learning not need to be a cerebral thing, but a physical thing, a felt thing. And I did really feel like I was learning every day, learning from you all the time, Eddie learning from each of you every day. Um, and maybe this is a good segue actually, uh, Princess, you, I think you are the youngest of the choreo team and you were still in school while we were working on this film, learning so much in, in two different modes, right? Like in the, in the four walls of an institution and also in the real world, if we want to call the movie world of real world on a movie set. Um, so I would love to hear what were your most unexpected areas of growth?
Princess: I love that question. Oh man. That’s I feel like there were so many, first of all, I just want to start off by saying that, um, since I was in school, Monday through Friday, and at the time I was a freshmen, I was at school Monday to Friday and I had to ask my professors, can I miss class? Like I won’t be in class the whole semester. Can I just turn in work? And this was like, I cannot believe to this day that I was able to miss an entire semester and I had to email everyone and tell them, Hey, I’ve been given this opportunity. And this is a dream that I would, I would be crazy to pass it up. Like, can you please consider me giving out, I would go the extra mile to show up when I can, and I will reach out office hours. I will do whatever I can just give me this opportunity because it’s something that I can’t give up this is my passion. And all of them understood that. And they were able to allow me to go to rehearsals and miss class, which I, I can’t believe it, you know? And so I went into rehearsals. I went into, you know, with you guys to practice and on set. And I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I was there for a reason. And I learned from every single person in this movie. And I think the most important thing that I learned was to was to no matter how hard something is just, you’ll never grow or learn how to deal with that until you throw yourself in the water. And so you throw yourself in the, in the fire, you’re, you’re never gonna, you’re never gonna learn until you, you just have to do it.
Dana: Thank you. Thank you for that. I really hope that all of my school goers listening are inspired by your story. And I hope that any professors or admins who might be listening can see the value of exceptions for exceptional people. And speaking of exceptional people, Ebony, you’ve been in damn near every pocket of the dance world, that there is from Broadway stages to concert stages, to music, video hall of fames. I’m referencing single ladies, but it’s not the only one, um, to on-camera in films and now behind camera in films. So what I am dying to know is what is your favorite place to be and where do you want to be next?
Ebony: I love this question because I don’t have a favorite. I wish I could say that I have a favorite, but really all of those things make up Ebony Williams. Um, I’m not one thing, honestly, I don’t think anyone in the world is one thing. So, um, yeah, I, I love a piece of all of that. And I have hopes to be able to make possibilities for younger artists to be able to do the same thing, um, to feel like they are able to jump into creative portals. Cause that’s, my goal is to make creative portals that set free and allow them to not feel like they have to be put in a box ever. Um, so that means chorea, choreographing, directing, um, acting more. That’s something that I really, really want to do. I am also an actor and I feel like most dancers are because we have to be. Um, and that’s something that I’ve been stepping myself into quite a bit. I’ve been training and acting classes and just doing all the things that will set me forth so that I can do new things, new challenges, and, uh, you know, be a new Ebony every day. I think it’s important for us to try to reimagine ourselves. And that means that Ebony yesterday is not Ebony that’s today this Thursday here with you right now. And I hope tomorrow is a new piece of Ebony. So yeah, that’s where I’m at.
Dana: Yes. I love that you loved that question. And I loved that answer. I know that a lot of people listening have subscribed to the idea that they need to pick one thing to be or one place to put their talent. And you’re such a, an exquisite example of that not being the case. You can put all of your talent in so many places, so congrats and thank you for that. That’s fabulous. Um, all right. Y’all I w I think we could talk for hours and maybe someday a part two will happen, but for now I want to do one more round Robin, the Twitter version, if you could, one thing that you did well, and one thing that you would do differently. If we got to do this all again, I’ll start. Um, one thing I did well, um, I, I did become a person who was better with names and it’s true. I don’t know as many as Meghan McFerran, but I did a pretty good job in the retention of names. I was surprised in my past has been a huge area of insecurity for me. And I knew that in making a movie that is about the people of a place, that it would be helpful to invest in the people of the place and to call them by their name. Um, one thing I would do differently, man, I Eddie, having you in a room for six months and walking away, feeling like I would probably still drown at a club, makes me feel bad. I wish I had practiced the social dance. We, we, we built a movie, we planned it, we structured it. We strategized, we organized, and I don’t think I walk away feeling like a better social dance partner. Um, and I think, I think, I think I got really good at listening to voices, but I would like if I did this again, I would like to get better at listening to my body to become a better partner. Um, and to spend more time with the social elements of these dances versus the, the organizing and the, the building, like we had to build it. And then in building this movie there wasn’t, or maybe this is just what I was thinking, but there wasn’t a — this isn’t the Twitter version. Let’s be honest there. I didn’t, I didn’t build, I didn’t build a technical foundation for myself that I wish I had, but we built a damn good movie. So that, that is what I would do differently. I would steal you away for at least 20 minutes every day and, and dance with you.
Eddie: Dana, actually remember we, we, although we were super busy, right? We had to divide and conquer like Chris said, We did have that beautiful moment of the waltz, and that was one of my earliest days. And I remember Emilio, um, but one of the first people, first people that pushed me into the, into the fire, into the flames, you know, between Emilio and Dana, you both really pushed me to like, you know, for me, my first movie, I want everyone to know that right now, it’s my first movie ever. This was something that I was looking at the whole choreo team. I was studying you all as I was choreographing and learning.
Dana: I know, that’s why I have to ask. I have to ask that I want to make an example that we should all be doing that and celebrating ourselves all the time. And I love that reflection. Um, okay. Ebony, what did you do well, what did you, what did you do that you loved?
Ebony: I do think that I listened well to the things that I need for my future. Um, I recognize a lot of the spaces in which I need work, and I think that was really important to me and for me. Um, things that I would do differently would be number one, be kinder to myself. I would say a similar to you similar to you. I would say that I, as someone who’s always been looked at as a versatile artist, because I have been in several pockets of the lands, um, I think I would try to investigate deeper some of those spaces, because I think that what I have done well is be a good chameleon in a space, but that’s because it’s out of survival, you know, I think living in the moment and finding spaces to enjoy it instead of just go and making it work and figuring it out, I think I would find more space of joy, um, in the moment, you know? So that, that also a part of the memory forever not taking any of those moments for granted
Dana: Well said. Beautiful. Um, okay. Uh, Emilio, what do you think? What did, what did you do well? What would you do differently if we got a second pass?
Emilio: Uh, I’ll keep my short, uh, what I did well is, uh, I just, I went hard every single day. You know what I’m saying? I left everything on the table. Um, um, I’m not that kind of person that’s going to come in and do, you know, the easy feed I’m going to go hard every single day. And I’m going to apply that because I want to be the example every single time. I want to be the smallest, the fastest, the most joyous and the most exciting every single time I step in the rehearsal space. And I did that. So I’m excited. I’m happy for that. Um, if I were to go back and redo it again, I would honestly go to more light feet events, but I I’ve only went to like two and I really wish I could go back and go to more events and immerse myself more into the culture of light feet and Harlem, and be a part of that because it is something that I truly love right now. And, um, you know, yeah, knowing that the Mecca is there, New York, I really wished I, I got to take advantage of that more.
I hear you, my friend. I hear you. Thank you for that. How about you, Meghan?
Meghan McFerran: Hmm. What did I did? Well, I know this one. Uh, I made sure that I gave every dancer a hug in the morning when they came in and I did it every single day. And I think it set everyone up for no matter what was going on. Like we were about to step into like a 12 hour dance day and people are freaking out. Like they might’ve just been called in at three in the morning by me and having no idea what they’re stepping into. Like, what are we doing today? I don’t know I’m here. And I was just like, hi, gave everyone like a good three second hug and was like, let’s go.
Dana: Um, and something you would do differently.
Meghan: The diversity of people that we worked with, and then me being on production side dancers, side cast side, I think I could have fit in one really important, special question that I could have asked each person that I worked with in order to learn more about literally everything, film, dance, cultures. I wished that I had written down just a single question every single day that we either rehearsed or once we’re on set and just was like, Hey, been meaning to ask you this. And I could have learned I think a lot.
Chris Scott: Yeah. You can ask the questions right now because you still got to text people. You gotta, you got everybody contact info, you can reach out. The movie is over, but the relationships are there forever. So get those questions together and then shoot them off.
Dana: It’s so true. Yeah. Yeah. Group, group texts, please. Um, okay. Princess, what do you think?
Princess: Um, something I did well would be just going with the flow every day. It was something new and you just have literally just go with the flow. And so something I would do differently would be to voice my opinion more. Um, I feel like I was a quiet most of the times and I wouldn’t voice my opinion. And then someone would say something I was thinking, I’d be like, damn it. You know
Dana: It’s one of the it’s, it’s one of the things that they don’t teach in school in any dance class is the knowing when to talk and knowing when to shut up and dammit, I am still learning it every single day and sometimes its the hard way, And y’all have been there and seen it. And, you know, but having your finger on the pulse of your voice and the temperature of the room is something that I think is a obviously very valuable, but B takes time to, uh, to really become sensitive to.
Eddie Torres Jr: I love that you said that is, can I go? I want to go, yay. Okay. I know I answered, so, okay. So something I know I did. Right, right. So I know for sure when it came to representation, I know I did a hell of a job representing every single part of the Latin choreography that I could, I would literally, cause I I’ve been, I’ve been preparing for this moment. And then when I finally get the chance to do that, um, and you allowed me also like really just go full out with all the dancers and in certain parts of the, of the process, I’ve just, I couldn’t be more proud of course of them, but just like, I never thought I would even do this. I never thought I would be able to lead a whole community to, to a glorious representation of our dance, you know? And, and that for me is it was beyond what I ever dreamed of to be honest, you know, and then something I know something I would, I would change. I would, uh, I would always bring, if I could, I would have brung swimming shorts to every damn rehearsal, because there was, uh, there was some mean ass times, man, I, it was rough for me. I did not have no swimming shorts and I could not flunk out of rehearsal. And Chris said, we all need to be there at the pool. You gotta be there. So I’ve, I remember every single time I would go to the pool and I would look at everyone and everyone’s so prepared. Everyone was so prepared when we got there, they had some nice, cute shorts, swimming shorts, and you know, I would just roll my sweat pants up, just slip into the corner. And my, my, my sweatpants look like, yo, it looked crazy on the water and nobody
Dana: Yo swim sweats. Yo that’s, that’s a, that’s a corner of the market. Eddie. You could be the first Kanye did leather, leather sweats, you got swim sweats. You got, you have an angle on the market. And the commercials, you know, would be fabulous. The dancing would be great. You know, stop it.
Chris: I thought this podcast was sponsored by NYC mambo swim sweats Is that right?
Dana: It is now we’re doing, I will be photoshopping flyers. Don’t you even use it?
Eddie: Well, the worst part was how it got revealed. That was the worst part. Like I was, I was okay. Rocky, my sweat pants on the water. Um, until one day we were in the pool. I think I had gotten away with it at least twice. So I’m like, this is great. And we’re all dancing in the pool. And for some reason I battment, my right leg up and then I put it back down and Chris looks underwater. He’s like, wait, what? And I’m like, shut up. He’s like, wait, nah, hold up, everybody what’s. And I’m like, bro, stop please. And he starts dying, laughing. And I’m like, you’re just, I’m giving him that look. I’m like, please, please do not do not. And everybody I’m talking about, like everybody looked under water just to look at what I was wearing. And there you go. I had a thick ass pair of sweatpants on that were rolled up to my upper thighs, suffocating my legs. It was, it was so embarrassing.
Chris: That’s so beautiful and so brilliant. And there was no way I was gonna let that go man. One of the highlights I was between that and carnival, I was like, I couldn’t really decide what you want to say. Um, I won’t count them all, but that was a close second.
Eddie: No, real quick, because this is also the ending of Carnaval was insane. Insane. We were all like, I think we were all bleeding, gut blood was gushing out of our knees from Rudy’s elbow and everybody was crying and laughing and celebrating and jumping. And, but that for me,
Dana: And that was after everybody got wrapped. Like nobody went home. It was the hottest day. It was the smallest area. There was the, the holding area where was holding area that day,
Eddie: 181st street.
Dana: So we, yeah. And just nobody left at the end of a what? 12 hour day, how long was that day?
Chris: It was the longest death that I was like 14 or 16. It was crazy. It was like, as long as they get a year with the sun, like the sun. Wow. It was crazy
Dana: That that is why that moment
Chris: When we were over time. And I remember the, you know, David and Nick say shout out to him to, you know, our producer, um, for letting us stay. Cause a lot of times they don’t want to do that because it’s like, well, we got a ton of money. Like, let’s go, you guys gotta go.
Dana: Um, thank you for saying that,
Chris: To stay on set to celebrate this huge moment. You know, it was worth every penny to him and I, and I’m just so grateful that he did that. He did let that happen as it was so necessary after a day like that. And you need those moments like otherwise, why are we doing this too much hard? And if you get shut down from those molds is so important to a film like this, when we so hard to make,
It was essential. That moment was essential. I’m so glad you brought that up. Thank you, Chris. What did you do well?
Chris: I think I Did this well. Um, I think it took me a while to really understand how important it was. And I think once I understood it, I started to do it even better. So I think listening was like a really big deal as a choreographer for this film, because like, you know, I knew, I already knew like when Eddie came in, like we talked about it when he came in with him, I knew like anything cultural is like, no, you, listen, you listen to, who’s telling you from a culture. Like I knew that going into it, there would be other incidents where it’s like, I would have an idea that I’d want to try And one of the actors, for example, well, I don’t know. I don’t connect to that or whatever. And in my mind, I’d want to just like, I just want to do it. But then like I started realizing, you know, what? These actors are like super brilliant. They’re really smart. They’re really talented. Um, so I, I like kind of, there was like a moment I remember shifting and I started every number I went from just like having my ideas and the ideas that even I talked about with John, you know, we’d have ideas together. Um, and I would just like try stuff or John would give me room to play and whatever. And I remember like around like No Me Diga, for sure. I remember being like, it’s really important to listen to the actors and give them room to, to, to explain to you what they think even before you really get into the rehearsal. So I started doing that everywhere. I didn’t make like a big deal about it. I wasn’t like, okay, this is what I decided doing it. And like, Hey, what are you like when you think, and you know, there’s gonna be moments where, like I had my thoughts that would, um, I’d want to, I want to have the space to try and everything. And then, you know, you just find the balance or whatever, but, um, you learn really quickly as a choreographer. Like when you’re in it with these storytellers, you know, everybody, all the actors, everybody’s a storyteller when you’re making these films and should treat everybody like that. And when you hear what they say, they will give you gold. Like there were so many times, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re sitting next to Anthony Ramos in a bodega, and you’re, you’re going to try to give him things to do in a bodega. Sometimes the last thing is just let him tell you what happens in about like, how he feels in a bodega, because Anthony Ramos knows what it’s like to be in a bodega, you know, more than I’ll ever understand. So I think that was one thing I really started to do better. As the, as the time went on, it’s something that I’m proud of eventually like, like listening to Abuela Claudia, you know, Olga explained Paciencia y Fe, you know, I’ll never forget that rehearsal. It was like a big one. I tell all the time, I’m like, you changed my life that I know. And, you know, I would just never forget that day of like, I started to explain the number to the dancers and like within 30 seconds I was like, wait, I just stopped myself because now here’s Olga her first day. So I’m like, oh the, do you mind, would you explain what the sensor that your face is about? And she’s like, sure, she goes into this thing. And she says, you know, I’ll tell you, Chris, when you get to be my age, you stop thinking about the future because there is no more future. Everything comes up, becomes about the past and the decisions that she made that led you to where you are today. And I was like, oh my God. I mean, well, that’s what the numbers I saw. I didn’t even understand really the, the root, the heart of this number, you know, and that’s what it became. And then, and then you just listen and you listen to me and just everybody, um, you know, but at the same time, it’s kind of the same answer to what I could do better. You know, I think in a, in a weird way as like now that I have that like, perspective and I’m like, oh, I’m proud of myself. Like having those moments of those revelations, you know, I, I would, I could go on, you know, if I could go back again, it would just be from day one. That’s all. I would just really start the process like that. And just, um, you know, because I think for me it was helpful. I’m, I’m a builder. Like I like to build off of things and build off of people. And the more information you have, the more you can build, you know, some people aren’t like that. Some people want to have their, their moment, their time of ahead to just create blank space and then, and then adjust as they need to. But I really do love, um, as much input from the beginning to really just shape and mold something that, that, that, that everybody kind of has a voice in, because I think, you know, that’s when one everybody’s invested a different way, you know, and, and everybody, um, it brings everybody to the same page a lot quicker because you can’t have somebody performing choreography that they don’t understand because it comes from your mind. It’s just beneficial. So, you know, that’s not too complicated. Does it say, you know, I think my, my something I’m proud of myself that I did well, I think ultimately is also the thing that I could go back onto it and even better. And there you go,
It makes so much sense. Yes, yes. 100%. This is what I wanted. This is what I needed. Uh, well, thank you all so much for a lovely walk down memory lane, uh, **** eating grin on my face from ear to ear for over an hour. Um, I really appreciate you doing this and it feels great to still be sharing this thing and still be learning from this thing. Like we learned every single day on the job. So many things. And now every day that the movie is out there in the world, we’re learning different things about how it’s received. We’re learning different ways about how to, um, how to do work moving forward. Like what a tremendous gift this has been. And you all are a gift in my life. Thank you so much. I don’t have words. Appreciate you all tremendously. I love you.
Well, there you have it. And there, I have it a time capsule of one of the most precious and important chapters of my life. Um, and also a peek into our world of dance in nights. I really hope that you enjoyed that. I hope that you watch the movie 180 trillion times, and I hope you get out there into the world, into your community and keep it very, very funky. Thanks everybody for being here. I will talk to you very soon. Bye
Me again, wondering if you ever noticed that one more time almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe, and leave a rating or review because your words move me too. Number two thing, I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye.