I recently got the opportunity to interview Gordon Neil, a fresh and exciting dancer/ choreographer from Atlanta. Gordon performs with his partner, Laura Geldys, who relocated from Detroit to join his dance company, Revolu. I sat down with Gordon at the New York Salsa Congress, and we discussed his innovative dance style, Prince and the joys of dancing cha cha.
SOS: When Did You Start Dancing? How did you get started dancing Mambo?
GN: I've been dancing since I was young (Hip Hop, Breaking). I've been dancing Mambo for 5 years. I'm Jamaican, so I danced to Soca growing up. I was listening to salsa long before I began dancing. I saw Tito Puente live 12 years ago. After that I was in the music for years before I started dancing. Then a friend wanted me to go to parties and events with her and taught me meringue. I got interested in the dance and learned from there.
SOS: What motivated you to become an instructor?
GN: I got into teaching because that's what dancers do. I enjoy teaching people - watching the learning process unfold and seeing people excited about learning.
SOS: How would you describe your teaching style?
GN: I'm not very serious - I'm serious about what I do but not the way I do it. I break things down as much as needed and try to understand my students. I'm not happy unless everyone gets it - I'm a perfectionist and it carries over into my teaching. I wanted to be a teacher at one time, so it's only natural.
SOS: What do you hope to accomplish with your students?
GN: I enjoy teaching group classes more than private lessons because groups give out more energy. Even if it takes me longer to get a point across or I have to use an analogy, I will do whatever I have to do to make them understand. I don't want to quit until the students get it. There's nothing like seeing a student get it.
SOS: What advice would you offer to someone who is interested in performing?
GN: Try it out - see how you feel after your first performance. Research it to see how you can improve. Get familiar with all types of dance and performance. Keep it fresh and new - be different. Don't be afraid to try new things, and keep working until you can't do them any better. Lastly, don't put any limitations on yourself.
SOS: Which do you enjoy more, performing or teaching?
GN: I definitely enjoy performing more. I love to create a piece and tell a story with it, and I love being on stage.
SOS: How do you create choreography? What do you use for inspiration?
GN: Start with the song and go from there. I get a feeling for what kind of flavor I'm going for. I always get and listen to new music. My biggest inspiration is Prince - he's skilled, uncompromising and experimental. That's what's good about Mambo - it's not a rigid dance and lends itself to experimentation. I use the elements that are already in my head to convey the movement of the song.
SOS: How do you feel about using other forms of music in your salsa choreographies?
GN: I'm all for using all types of music in Mambo, especially if you have a theme. It helps create the mood of the performance. I think it keeps things fresh, but you don't always have to do it. I have to do me. I like to have a strong presence of blackness in my performances. Sometimes the Mambo song I choose does not convey the feeling I want to express, so the routine needs something extra. I used a Nina Simone song [in the New York Congress routine] to express the theme.
SOS: What would you like people to know about you?
GN: I want to be known for being different and being expressive.
SOS: Thank you so much for your time Gordon.