Luis (Maquina) Flores a New York dance legend
By Marla Friedler (edited by StreetDance)
As the Olympics get under way in Sydney, Marla Friedler hopes to begin production on her newest feature film about Luis (Maquina) Flores alias Lius "the Machine". A legendary dancer from the days of the Palladium. The days, when in Spanish Harlem, if you couldn't Mambo/Salsa, you were nobody!
Marla met and interviewed El Maquina in 1997, when she went to the 22nd Annual New York Salsa Festival. He made such an impression on her that, today it is her aim to promote the story of this man of honor and legendary dancer. With her permission I have edited and republish the transcript of her interview.
Twenty two years before the interview, Maquina was shot leaving him paralyzed from the waist down but his story isn't about a man in a wheelchair. It is about a passionate man!
He is called Maquina because of how fast his feet moved.
When Marla asked him if he accepted being in a wheelchair? Luis replied "To tell you the truth, I want to die right now because I can't dance but, Marla, there is another part of me that says "If you were to shoot yourself, you were a punk to start with" and that I don’t want! I don't want to leave that legacy to my children. Since I said that I was a macho - I have to go the whole nine yards, even if it means crying. Sometimes when I turn the light out my tears come out because what my mind wants to do my body won’t let me".
"Dancing was my old lady! My doctor! My everything! I didn’t dance for my ten minutes of fame. Now people call me a legend. I feel like a phony. I don't feel like a legend. It is just that I took so much pride in my dancing. I made it a point, to be an original!"
What do you think of today’s salsa?
Luis: It is systemised. Dancing on 1, dancing on 2, all that shit.
Marla: You don't count at all when you are dancing?
Luis: No! I follow the clave. You count when you are dancing on a stage and you have specific steps to do within a certain amount of bars. But when you are on the floor. What are you counting? You are listening to the clave!
Marla: You don't count the basic step?
Luis: No! When it is there, it is there! When I have you like this, you already know what you’re gonna do. I am guiding you by every touch. If you are a good dancer you know what you are doing!
Marla: Did you have a specific step?
Luis: Yeah, we had a basic step. It's like conga. The basic step is the conga. Da doom bop, da doom bop. That is the basic step. When you are dancing mambo, it is forward and backward. When I am on the stage I count but not on the floor and I’ll pay anybody to fool around with my timing!
I’ll give you an example. If I am dancing and I turn two or three times. If you take one split second to catch the timing then you’re no dancer. When you spin and you come out and you continue dancing, then you’re a dancer!
Forget about counting. It takes away from your concentration and it takes away from your inventing because you are so busy counting. Screw the counting. Dance to enjoy yourself and to invent. Like every trumpet player is looking for that one note, the dancer is looking for that one step that is yours!
Marla: Did you make up your steps and style ahead of time or did it just happen while you were dancing?
Luis: It just came. Let me tell you! There are some steps out there that are my invention. Like when the pachanga started in the United States, Pacheco took one of my steps, which is a sliding step, and made it into a Pachanga step.
Once I was out with my wife and we saw everybody doing this step and she said, "Luis, they’re doing your step. "And you know how that step started? In the Palladium, in the hot corner!
Every Sunday there was a circle and you came in with your partner and you did what you learned that week. You could not repeat something from another week. So I remember one instance when I was dancing with my wife and I slipped and I fell but I did it so fast that when I came up, I came up doing a little shuffle, right on time. I kept doing it and that is where Pacheco got that step!
Marla: It seems like a lot of people these days do lots of tricks but don't have a lot of feeling.
Luis: The dancing takes place in the body, not in the air, okay? I wish I could take you someplace where I could show you what I am talking about. The most beautiful thing in the world to me is a woman who knows how to dance salsa. To me the woman is more beautiful than the man. They do some moves that look so beautiful.
I am going to show you a videotape made in Cuba and there is this woman on it dancing rumba and I’ve never seen more beautiful co-ordination than this. Forget about it! One day you come to my house and I will pinpoint to you on the tape what I'm talking about!
Marla: What do you think of the way people dance today?
Luis: They dance like they’re riding a motorcycle! They’re all over the place! They dance flat footed. A million turns. And you don't dance that way! Everybody looks at the feet. They do a lot of steps and they forget about the body. Not me!
I got in an argument with Tito [Puente] because he came with a guy who did a lot with his feet and he said, "Isn't he a good dancer?" I’d say, "He is okay. Look at his body and look at those steps. They’re not going together! His coordination stinks." I have a problem with that!
Marla: What do you consider good dancing?
Luis: Less turns. Give me a certain posture. Don't give me slouched shit and your arms all over the place and a million steps if they don't go with your movement. Your body has to go with each movement! It is like when you talk, you follow with a gesture. Dancing is the same. You’ve gotta have that body discipline so that your body does justice to that step.
Give me someone who has control of their body and just give me the basics and to me that is beautiful!
A lot of times people see someone dancing on a stage and they want to dance on the floor the same way. You can't do that! These are two different things here. A lot of people like dancing, but that doesn't make them a dancer. They like dancing, but they're not a dancer.
Marla: What's the difference?
Luis: When I went to the dance, I went to dance. I did not go to bullshit. You understand what I am saying? When I walk in, I am gonna dance. So many people say they like dancing but they go and stand around and pose for animal crackers. I'm coming over here to dance!
If I want to talk to a girl, I’d do it some other place but I am here to dance! And I never got high to dance because my high was my music! Dancing is dancing. Even if I was 300 years old I could not sit and listen to Tito Puente and not get up to dance. That's the difference!
Hey, there isn't anything I love more than women. I love women more than food! If someone said, "You can have all the women but you’re never gonna taste food", I’d say, "Give me the women". But, when it comes to dancing. Forget it! Women would have to take second place!
It is something in my system, something that is there. I am in love with this feeling. I look at paintings and singers and I understand when they're good how they must feel. And I do it for me! It is for me! It isn't for anybody. I don't dance for anybody! I don't do it for women. I do it for me!
Once I got on the floor I forgot about everybody, about everything, about every problem. All that I thought about was trying to dance better. Every move that I made was like an orgasm to me. That's the difference!
That is what I don't see in people today.
Marla: Back in the Palladium days, did everybody dance on two?
Luis: I am glad you asked this. I hate when people talk about dancing on two. You take something raw and you systemize it. Don't talk that shit to me. When this dance came out, there was no such thing as dancing on two. You danced on clave! Period! People took this and bottled it, systemized it. What do you mean dancing on two? I am dancing on clave! Now, if you want to dance professionally then you have to dance with the numbers but I wasn't about that. I am the little guy's dancer!
I was never into counting because I was doing other things that were making me ten times more money than dancing. I went to dance because if I was sick, dancing was my doctor. If I was blue, dancing would take it away!
When I was a little kid, I never got a kiss from my mother. Nothing! When I found out that I could get this kind of attention from people - that I could do it better than most - I went into it with all my heart. I always knew how to dance because my whole family danced. My father was my king. I used to sit and watch my father. My father used to do things that I never could do. I didn't get to know my father very well so when I danced, I danced partly because it made me feel close to him.
I dance for love, not to show off. You know in the Western movies when there is a gun draw to see who is the fastest gun. That is what dancing became for me. I’d be in one corner and somebody would come to challenge me. I have trophies. I have plaques and all of that but that doesn't mean anything to me. What is important to me was that I was dancing and was doing something that was my own!
At the Palladium you had those who were styling us, and then you had the tables. You know! The money. So the professionals used to come out from there to the floor and we, we were like the contestants. We used to get into the contests from the side. Everything on their side was systemized. Over here it was crude. Okay?
We used to have more fun with those people. In one corner you had blacks, Puerto Ricans, Jews and Italians, in la esquina caliente, the hot corner. Now, a lot of credit has to be given to the Jewish people because the Jewish people used to go to the Palladium on Wednesday. Marlon Brando, Van Johnson and so and so would be sitting over there too. The Jewish people, they did a lot for the development of salsa.
I was born in Puerto Rico but I grew up in Spanish Harlem.
When the exodus started from Puerto Rico in the early 50s, the mambo was coming out of Cuba. It came via Mexico. Mexico was the Mecca of the Spanish movies so everybody in Cuba used to jump to Mexico to be in movies. All of us from Puerto Rico were so poor that all we had were movies. So everything was the movies and we used to go see the Cuban dancers and musicians. That is what we had!
We were hungry for it, buying everything, buying records. We put salsa on the map because when the music came to New York there was a club on every corner. This was Manhattan, the center of everything. All of this music in the barrio. There was a club on 110th and 5th Ave. The bands had to be good at the Palladium but when they got over here and performed in that club they really had to be good because we were the people. You know what I am saying?
Marla: Who was your favorite band?
Luis: Really, really, really my favorite was always Machito... click here to continue
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