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Dance for a Dollar

Last week I had the pleasure and opportunity to participate in a developing dance theater project called Dance for a Dollar at Intar Theater. There were eleven actors in the participating cast including myself, and I was so excited to be working with a cast again! There is nothing like sharing creative space with other artists.

Dance for a Dollar is the working title for this theater piece, which brings the experiences of Latina women dancers in New York to light. Dancers…? you might wonder. Well, in the broken economy that we live in, we create the means to survive in any way possible. For the women in this piece, their extra side hustle is accompanying men for a dance and/or conversation at a local business restaurant in Queens. The customers, several who are regulars, are mostly Mexican and working class men in search of a place that feels like home where they can unwind and be treated with respect again, even if it means that they have to pay for it. In this place fictionally named Las Palmas, both men and women find a little bit of home through dance as a means of economic and spiritual survival in the belly of the beast.

I was blessed to be a part of this workshop, which not only spoke to the experiences of recent Mexican immigrants in New York but also included a very talented cast. As a dance theater project, we had to explore the identities and emotions of our characters through our bodies. With Philippina "Pina" Bausch’s work and various Mexican dances such as Duranguense, Folklorico and Cumbia as inspirations, we gave life to each of our characters through movement.

I played the DJ, the woman that brings this whole party to life through songs that take the guests back to their roots and closer to their hearts. It was a lot of fun and work as well. I went home and explored this character through research noticing that there are very few Latina DJs that are recognized in the media. Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by this fact but it made me acknowledge the constant plight of these women artists all the more. To work in a male dominated art form such as DJ-ing without succumbing to a hypersexualized image, especially in a business where sexuality sells, is no easy task for a person/character such as this woman. Her main job above these pressures including her personal struggles of identity and acceptance in her community was to stay positive in order to enliven the crowd and keep everybody happy. How would you explore this physically? The possibilities are infinite! And how does this body interact with all the others? Very exciting!

Every character in the play has a story to tell. Most of the characters are recent immigrants from various parts of Mexico where they left their loved ones to find the means to provide for them in the United States. As the Mexican population in New York continues to increase, so does the need to tell these immigration stories. This play attentively portrays the journeys and sacrifices that Mexicans endure not only to come to the United States but to survive and find community in New York.

Although the workshop was less than a week long, I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as an actor/performer. Being surrounded by great artists was key in this journey as each person’s ideas, style and approach to the work greatly inspired me. Above all however, I was reminded of the importance of living in the present, especially among those around us. I think solo performance does something to a person, demanding that you go into another world to imagine all the people that you’re talking to who all live in your imaginary world… (I’m laughing at myself in this coffee shop!) The essential element of being present however, this spiritual awakening, this opening to any and all possibilities, this root of all expression is precious on and off stage. I as many others, can live in my mind at times, deconstructing the content surrounding me including myself. This becomes a huge obstacle for our expression and our lives. Having a creatively physical experience to remind me of one of the greatest values in life was a blessing. And that’s why I love theater!

Dance for a Dollar, conceived by Mariana Carreño King and Daniel Jáquez is a project based on personal interviews conducted in various restaurant businesses in mostly Mexican communities in Queens and Brooklyn. This was its second performance workshop and it promises a fruitful full production with infinite possibilities for Latino Dance Theater in New York in the near future. I thank Mariana Carreño King, Daniel Jáquez and Intar for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

For more information:

Intar Theater

New York Times: Dancing Away the Headache, Tacos Included

New York Times: Houston Journal; In the Dollar Dances, Sadness Leads