Dance Spotlight – Serena Spears

Serena Spears is featured in this edition of Dance Spotlight!  Serena is a dance instructor and performer in New York City and she was nominated by Carlos Cinta.

Carlos said, “Serena is an incredible and very well trained dancer.  She dances everything: bachata, modern, ballet, timba and every form of salsa. She has a bright mind and is a very strong minded woman who has a lot to offer.  She taught a body movement class at the Amargue Fusion Weekender and I was very impressed.  I even got up out of my chair and started practicing!  She’s dope.”

Check out a few fun facts and information about Serena including her thoughts on woman supporting each other in the dance community and her first latin dance memories.

Want to nominate someone to be in the Dance Spotlight? Contact us!

What are your first memories of Latin dancing? (A class? Watching friends or relatives dance? etc.)

My very first memory of Latin dancing is of going to a dance club on the “wrong” night when I was about 19. I had meant to go to the hip-hop and house night, which is what I was dancing socially then, but when I got there it was salsa music. I don’t know how I screwed up the day but I figured, I’m already here, why not go in and try something new? I had fun that night but I was young and headstrong and I didn’t yet appreciate the concept of following, so I didn’t seriously pursue Latin dancing until many years later.

My second first memory was after accidentally winning a free pass to a festival called TIPDI, the International Partner Dance Intensive, run by an amazing dancer/event organizer/human being, Paula Wilson. It was 3 days of classes in salsa, tango, West Coast swing, ballet, modern, and Afro-Haitian. I had a bit of a dance midlife crisis and meltdown afterwards wondering what I was doing with my life, but it was an incredible experience for me. It was the first time that partner dancing was taught to me as a collaboration, an exploratory conversation between equal, willing, and engaged people. It blew my mind and completely changed my impression of partner dancing.

I read a Facebook post of yours and you recently did your first Latin fusion solo performance in front of a Latin dance scene audience. I watched the performance and it was great! What did this performance mean to you?

Thank you so much! I’m really happy with the way it went. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to do things publicly until I feel over-prepared. And yet somehow my solo performances have always ended up being improvised. I find it strange knowing how I am but I also enjoy that thrill of making something on the fly. I didn’t actually mean for it to happen this time though!

For years, I had actively refused to perform a Latin fusion solo for the Latin dance community until I felt I could really do it justice. That I wasn’t just throwing together movements that I couldn’t complete correctly or didn’t understand. At the beginning of the year, I was finally feeling like, ‘ok I’m ready.’ I picked a song and was going to give myself a few months to choreograph and clean it up before presenting it in NYC. And then Andrea “Ace” Arenas and Ciara Morales asked me last minute to teach and perform at Amargue Fusion to fill in for a couple that had a medical emergency and couldn’t attend.

I knew there wasn’t enough time to choreograph so I decided to make it an exercise in social dancing. The audience would be my partner and I would just try to have an incredible connection so we could all have a fun time. I was nervous but the attendees at the event were so open and supportive all weekend and their energy while I was performing made me so happy and wild. I went nuts! I think we all really enjoyed it.

So although it wasn’t how I pictured my first Latin fusion solo would go, I think it was actually better this way. It was certainly more raw, vulnerable, and interactive than I imagined, and I am so honored that Ace and Ciara included me in their stellar lineup of artists. It was a really beautiful event.

Why is it important (as a woman) to support other woman to be successful in the dance community?

I really love this question and I apologize in advance for the long, intense answer you’re about to get.

For over a decade, I’ve been deeply involved in the American belly dance community. I got used to nearly everything being run by and for very strong, mature, and outspoken female and non-binary dancers. So when I started with Latin dance, it was a bit of a rude awakening to see the power dynamics in the scene.

From what I’ve seen, the women in almost every partnership tend to be the stronger dancer when compared to their male counterparts. But they also tend to be younger than their partners, their company directors, and the men with power and authority in the community, and even though they’re incredible dancers, they don’t get much of a voice. That makes me sad.

Even when women are billed as headlining teachers at festivals, many times if they are teaching as the follower in a partnership, they can go through an entire class without saying a word. I find that bizarre. Watching performances, I sometimes feel like women are expected to be beautiful, sexy props to caress, pick up, throw, put down, spin… I’m all about expressing your sensuality, your artistry, your personality, your passion, but some performances feel very one-dimensional and fake, and I wonder if some of that is because of who is in charge of the scene’s direction.

I think the only way for women to have more of a vocal role in the scene is to publicly shout out the women who are making moves and pushing boundaries to try to help them get the recognition and power they deserve. If instead women focus on cutting each other down, we’re just making it that much easier to ignore us.

So in that spirit, I would love to just shout out some of my biggest female and non-binary dance inspirations:

  • Delia Madera, Isabel Freiberger, Michelle Garcia, Jahaira Fajardo and Angelica Amor Medina for directing strong dance companies that do partner work in performance (still a strangely rare thing to see from a non-male directed company)
  • Denisse Cambria, Melanie Castillo, Angela Pilar Vera Herrera, and Nayelli Valencia Turrent for being outspoken and technically excellent follower teachers in every class and workshop I’ve ever taken with them
  • Ace and Ciara, Jahaira and Angelica, Tina Cavicchio and Kyla Hallums, and Ana Masacote for being my inspirations of what non-binary, LGBTQ-friendly leader/follower, teacher/event organizer/team directors can do for the community
  • And finally, Liethis Hechavarria, Anya Katsevman, Desiree Godsell, and Maria Ramos because they have always impressed me with not just their teaching, performing, and choreographing, but also their love of openly sharing knowledge and their kindness

Social Dance Pet Peeve(s)? (Hygiene, No connection, People who teach while dancing, etc)

Nothing bothers me more than a rough leader who lacks connection. If a leader gives me no eye contact and it feels like they don’t care if I’m having fun and feeling safe, especially if they’re leading really complex patterns, I feel like I’m just a prop instead of a person.

Also, if I ask a leader to take it easy, (I’m not feeling well, I’m currently injured, they’re hurting me, they’re squeezing my hands, they’re using too much force, please don’t dip me or do excessive body isolations, etc.), and they don’t listen, I feel really disrespected.

Describe a moment in your dance life that has made you proud.

I’ve had the same moment with multiple people but every time it happens it really makes me emotional. I’ve been teaching movement mechanics and body isolations in one form or another for the last 10 years. My goal is to help people feel connected and at home within their own bodies, especially people who think they’re not “real dancers”.

To me, dance is therapeutic and healing. It’s a personal ritual and meditation. It’s what I do daily to relax and de-stress. Just moving the body releases chemicals that make the brain and body feel better and it’s so healthy for you if you’re practicing it safely. I think everyone deserves to have a physical outlet like this that makes them feel good, so it makes me sad when people tell me that they can’t dance, that it stresses them out, or that trying to dance makes them feel uncomfortable or unhappy with their bodies.

For years, I’ve taught both group classes and private lessons in the belly dance and Latin dance scene where students have come to me after to tell me that they felt more alive and beautiful and in their bodies dancing than ever before. I’ve also been lucky to watch the progress of some of my regular students as they took the information I gave them and ran with it. It makes me so happy and proud to see them moving freely and confidently, knowing how they felt about dancing when we first met. I think sharing the love of dance is one of my all-time favorite things.

What makes a social dance fun for you?

The most important thing to me in a social dance is safety. So before anything else, I want to be able to trust my partner to not hurt me or those around us. Gentleness, smoothness, and awareness are first priority. But after that, the floodgates open. I love a playful connection, having flexibility and freedom in our timing and movement, and being open to new ideas and dance styles in the moment.

I take my training seriously but when I get on the social dance floor I’m just there to have fun. If my partner is willing to goof around while dancing, I’m all about playing pattycake, doing contact improv, miming, or pretending to be a velociraptor. Been there, done all that. I love it! I also love a partner who lets our mistakes be an opportunity to play and explore, instead of getting upset or disappointed. Essentially as long as they’re friendly and careful, making good eye contact, and paying attention to our connection, we’ll have a good time.

What are your current favorite songs to dance to? Top two or three…

This is hard because I’m a music addict across many genres but I’ll try to pick one song per Latin dance style.

Favorite dance video(s) you’d like to share?

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