- Orville Small
- photo © audio visions
When did you start dancing Salsa ? What was the ’click’ that made you say : I’ve got to learn salsa ?
I started dancing salsa about five years ago, back in the day when I was a pure hip-hop head, because some of my home girls used to drag me out to this joint called Copa Cabana on De Maisonneuve Boulevard in Montreal. The club would switch between Latin music and Hip Hop/R&B sets, so during the Latin music, because I had no idea what to do, I would hold up the bar. At one point I saw a man in this grey suit looking so pimpish and wicked, tearing it up. By then I was pretty much a regular at the club and the music was sinking into me. When a group was organized through my work to take a 13-week salsa lesson, everything seemed to be falling into place, so I rolled with it and now it’s parquet for life.
Who inspired you to start teaching Salsa, and when ?
That’s tough to say. Through my life I was always involved in sports (when I was little I wanted to be Pélé, or a cowboy) where I had to look within myself for inspiration. I am very competitive so looking to other people to inspire me never was something that I was very good at ; the one thing that gave and still gives me inspiration, is music. My man (from Atlanta, Georgia) Gordon Neil would feel me on this one. I would bump a little Mos Def, Kwali, Saafir, Fat Joe, Roots, Biggie, Common, Boogie Down Productions... Don’t even get me started on the old school hip-hop joints.
How do you remember your moves and shines ? Do you write them down or film them ?
I don’t. Well, that depends on whether it’s social or show. For social dancing, I don’t think at all, for either shines or patterns. Sometimes people would be like, ’yo O ! what was that ?’, and I’m not going to lie, I have no idea. I just let the music take me, while maintaining my head on my shoulders. For shows, I basically go through repetition and filming. It’s the only way to be almost perfect. The way I construct my routine is totally backwards from most people. A good part of my routine is constructed prior to even finding a song. It takes me a long time to put out what I want, what I really want.
Which is your favorite type of dancing : preparing for competitions, shows at congresses, or social dancing, and why ?
I view preparing for competition or congress shows the same. For me it’s like preparing for battle. Probably the only difference is you try to take no prisoners during competition, whereas in shows, you set one prisoner free to run around and talk about your wrath. I can be whatever I want to be during shows and competitions, it’s like acting. No one can tell me anything on my two minutes. Social dancing is the complete opposite though... It’s mister nice guy... not that I am pretending or anything but I don’t feel like there is a challenge against me, like I need to fight. Everybody is cool with each other and we are like family. There’s a big difference in the way I feel between social and battle.
What styles of dance are your main influences ?
Break dancing and hip-hop. In salsa, I started out with L.A. style which I love to push when performing, it feels explosive but controlled. Even if I am performing on2, I’m out to slap that ’6’ like a pimp (he laughs). Then there is dancing On2 which I usually find myself doing while social dancing. Afro Cuban is also another big influence, and probably the most out of all is Orisha dancing, which is powerful stuff. Why ? Well, I just find it more self-satisfying. It’s hard to explain, it’s something that I feel inside.
Who is your main influence ? Who were your first teachers ?
My main influences.... music, Roy Jones jr. and little kids that I see tearing it up in whatever they are doing. It’s hard for me to name dancers as my initial influences because for the longest time, I was totally naive when it came to ’stars’ in the scene. I remember being in Montreal and hearing about all these big names but I never saw anything they did because people would keep all that information for themselves. So I influenced myself through the music. Only when I moved to Toronto did I start becoming more familiar with the salsa scene. I had been dancing salsa for over two years when I first heard about the Vasquez brothers. As for my first teachers, I only had two. The first was basically where I started dancing. The second was actually the first dance group I was in. If there is one word of advice I can give to dancers coming up, it’s that they should be aware of what goes on at the business table. When dancers first start up, they are so happy to actaully be performing that they miss a lot of the dealing. Do not let yourself be taken for granted. There is a fine line between paying dues and being taken for granted.
- photo © dancepix.net
What do you try and communicate when you teach ?
Salsa should not give you grey hairs. It should be fun and at the same time somewhat challenging. Let yourself be free. Stay positive.
What makes a good teacher ?
Bottom line, a good teacher is someone who can communicate the material that they are teaching to any kind of student. There are a lot of different ways that people are able to learn. Be skilled in all of them.
Is there anyone in the world of salsa who you’d like to meet ? Who are your favorite salseros (dancers, the music question comes later) in the world ?
Wow, I feel like a groupie. Not really ; I mean I am curious to meet new people all the time and see their skills but no one in particular. Favorite salseros ? Guys : Gordon Neil, Ismael Otero, Frankie Martinez, Super Mario, Al Espinoza, Juan Matos... I could go on forever. Girls : Magna Gopal, Carol Cuizon, Ana Hovanessian, Sabrina Buis, Olivia Dasso, Griselle Ponce, Samira.... my mouth is starting to water. (He laughs).
Do you prefer dancing on the one or the two, which feels the most natural to you ?
Anything. I always let the person that I’m dancing with choose, so I have to be tight in both.
What do you think of the dancers in Canada ? How would you compare them to the rest of the world ? What defines "Canadian style" ?
It is hard to label dance over here as ’Canadian’... there are too many influences from the outside. Some may put their little twist on it but basically it is a mix of a whole bunch of influences. What’s nice about the whole thing is that not one specific style dominates. Compared to the rest of the world, I think that the level of dancers in Toronto is pretty up there, especially some of the T.O. girls I’ve mentioned.
What are your future projects ?
Wow. I really don’t know what is in store... I do however want to start up a group. We will see how that goes. I don’t know, maybe make a movie on the way I see salsa.
Do you have a favorite pass ? Is there a type of move that characterizes your style ? How would you characterize your style ?
I don’t really have a favorite pass. Doing things in reverse use to be my little ’catch phrase’ but now I think it is time to show people that there is a little more than that. That got me in, but now I have show people that I can dance. My style is whatever people want to call it. I concentrate more on what I want to see my body doing rather than a specific style. If people feel it, more power to me.
How do you perceive the difference between Cuban style and Mambo-New York style salsa ? Which do you prefer, do you dance both styles ?
Cuban style is a more gyrating, aggressive body movement, circular dancing type of style where New York Mambo is more of a controlled ’I’m too sexy’ type style. (he laughs). Most of the time it is danced on a line. Though I feel they differ in those aspects, I’ve seen some crazy intricate patterns come out of both styles. I haven’t danced much Cuban style but I can bust out a whip turn once in a while...(laughs).
How much do you practice every day/week ?
I don’t practice social dancing, I don’t even go out that much ! I’m always in the lab working on beats or choreography. Social dancing is a "no thought" process for me. My practices for routines may last from 30 minutes to 1 hour and a half. The shorter the practice, the more intense it is.
Do you have a favorite salsa group/album/song ?
I don’t really have a favorite group that I listen to more than others but Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Joséalberto El Canario are second to none in my heart. I toured Japan with them for close to three weeks and have never been able to get what they made me feel out of my body. I think about that at least once a day.
Where will Salsa be in 25 years ? Where will you be ?
Where will salsa be in 25 years, or should I say, where will it not be. This stuff is taking the world by storm. It will be awesome to see where it is in 25 years. I hope I am still a part of it somehow. As for myself, well, that’s a long way from now.... it’s actually scary.
Is this your first time in Paris ?
Yes ! I can’t wait to chill over there… and speak French ! (Orville was born in Montreal and his first language was French).
What will you be showing us in Paris on Friday night ?
We’re not going to say - we’ll decide before going on stage. (laughs). It’s hard though because everyone always asks us for Blade, even though we have new things to show. We have something new that we’ve been working on since November 2004, and if it’s ready to go, we’ll do it, and it will be a world première.
The answer to the question ? Come to the Pavillion Baltard on Friday night, June 10, 2005 to see what Orville and Sabrina have in store…