Luis (Maquina) Flores a New York dance legend continued...
By Marla Friedler (edited by StreetDance)
Marla: Back in the Palladium days, who was your favorite band?
Luis: Really, really, really my favorite was always Machito [Frank Grillo]. And I love charanga music. If you are a club dancer, charanga music is so simple that you can do a million things with your body, with your steps. As far as pioneers, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez and Machito, without a doubt.
Especially Tito Puente. He has carried this music on his shoulders from day one. Nobody can touch him about that. People have given him due respect but I think it is still short. People say, "Celia Cruz and Tito Puente." Should be "Tito Puente and Celia Cruz." He is taking the back seat!
I saw a program with Gloria Estefan on Cachao. Everybody believes that Cachao was the father of the mambo. Cachao was nowhere to be found. He was the father of mambo, yes. Cachao was a danzón musician. But as far as popularity, he did not have a damn thing to do with popularity!
Tito [Puente] is a good friend of mine. All these people - Tito, Charlie, Eddie - They called me Maquina.
Speaking of Tito Puente, one of the differences in my dancing was this. Let's say that Tito Puente is playing a mambo number but then he takes it to a point where it is either a timbale solo or it gets too fast to dance mambo. Now, if you consider yourself a dancer you know that after a certain point you can't dance mambo anymore. Now you gotta go into rumba.
I had that over all these dancers. I was the only Puerto Rican that could dance rumba. I am the only one that got in with Patato and all these Cubans that are very protective. To them, nobody can play drums like them and nobody can dance like them. But I did!
I am very serious about dancing. All these people who call themselves dancers don't know the difference between a guaguanco, a jambu or anything else but it is all inter-related because of the drum!
Marla: I know that you play congas. Did you started dancing first or playing congas first?
Luis: Oh no! I was dancing in my mother's belly!
I started playing congas in the late fifties because Cheo Feliciano, Pete El Conde, Caco, we all lived on the same block and we always had our drums. We used to go to 110th St. and 5th Ave., the start of Central Park and we jammed there. At that time, on every block it was like Africa. There was drumming on every corner. I feel bad because for the kids now, there is none of that!
Marla: When you used to go to the Palladium, part of the enjoyment I thought came from dressing up. What do you think about how people go in jeans, shorts, whatever?
Luis: Well, I am stuck with that because it is what it is. I can't criticize anything but, to tell you the truth, I liked my time best. I remember when I only had one suit. One suit! You couldn't go dancing in New York if you didn't have a suit and tie. You could not under any circumstances go with jeans or sneakers. Forget it! You were not getting in!
Well, I had this one suit and I couldn't afford anything else. This suit was so old that when you lifted the jacket up the pants were so shiny that you could take a shave looking at it. But, what I used to do was, well, I was in high school and I wouldn't eat lunch so I could buy a tie to give it another look. Now, we took pride in cleanliness. Okay?
You’d hit the street to hustle a dollar but by 6 o’clock you start taking a bath and putting on the same shit you had on yesterday but today it is clean because you washed and ironed it. It was the same old shit but it was clean!
In that time, there was honor. There was respect! Okay? Like if you wanted to dance with my old lady and you came to my table, you know, something like a bolero was playing. If somebody came to ask your old lady to dance - he would get killed. You understand what I am saying? There was respect!
Marla: You mean you only danced with your own boyfriend or girlfriend?
Luis: Or with their friends. Now you get these low lifes that come up to a woman who is with a man and say, "Can I dance with her?" "No. You can not dance with her! Do I know you?" Now if here comes my friend, of course he can dance with her but not a stranger!
There was respect, even among hustlers! I am an old man in years, but it isn't about that. I am in love with that kind of thing. I used to be a gang buster but if the other guy's mother came and said something, it would be "Yes, ma’am, yes ma’am." You understand what I am saying? Now these guys are animals. They’d say to someone's mother, "Hey, fuck you! Who the fuck are you?" I am in love with respect!
I am in love with Spanish Harlem because Spanish Harlem is a party 24/7 [twenty four hours a day, 7 days a week]. These people today go through a little adversity and they fall apart!
Want me to tell you how it used to be? Tomorrow they could throw you in the street because you didn't have your rent but you did it with a smile. Your friends would say, "How much you owe? Let's go hustle so we can buy a few bottles of wine and some chicken legs!
That night there was a party. Everybody used to come and pay for the stuff and by the end of the night you had your rent. But we’d do it and everybody smiled. Then when we went to the dance, it would take you so much to hustle for the 75 cents so you went to dance to everything. Even "Home Sweet Home" we’d dance to that shit!
Marla: What advice do you have for people who are just starting to learn salsa?
Luis: My advice is go to the classes. Okay?
But remember there is a whole lot of people doing exactly the same thing the same way. What I am saying is to put in your head that once you learn the basics you are going to do your own thing. If this one is moving this way, you move the other way because really, really, I’ll tell you the truth. I love being different. If four guys in the corner are dressed in yellow I am gonna dress in black. Okay?
Because that is what it is all about! You are you and I am me! I respect your way and you respect mine. I don't want to dance just like everybody else! I have my own style!
Marla: If you always want to be different, what do you do when people start to copy your stuff? Do you have to make up new things all the time?
Luis: Well, I tell you, you can't keep making up things because sometimes you run into those dry places but what you do is like Liza Minnelli. When Liza Minnelli sings a song, she may sing the song 50 million times but each time she gives it a different flavor, a note here, a note there. So, that is what you do as a dancer. You take what you got and do it another way. It is just that you have to take pride in what you’re doing. If you don't take pride in what you’re doing, forget about it. It is like sex!
The dance is beautiful. The movements. You know what I wish I could do? I want to lend you a videotape to see what I am talking about - Columbia and Salsa. Columbia is drums, just drums. Jambu is all drums. But Jambu goes something like doom, ba ba ba - doom, ba, ba, ba. It is slow. Columbia goes something like, da-doom, bap - da-doom, bap. It is real fast. You’re telling a story while you’re dancing. Okay?
Now when you dance salsa the two of these go together. The changes in that rumba look more beautiful when you can make those changes with your body instead of just dancing mambo. If you don't, you’ll be going too fast and you can't do it. You have to break into either jambu or columbia. That is something people these days don't know anything about but it is all inter-related because it all started with the drum!
It started with the drum! It started with the Africans. Okay?
The Africans got to Cuba and since they didn't have any other instruments they had to play drums. So what happened is that all of this music is derived from the drum. If you see these people dancing you will see what I am talking about!
I always dance rumba knowing this! Once Tito Puente started playing and he got into the timbales, everybody sat down. But, you don't sit down! If you keep dancing mambo you’re gonna drop from a heart attack but when you break it down to rumba you’re gonna start tiptoeing - badam, bedee, bah. Even today, I never see anybody else doing that!
Marla: How long have you been in a wheelchair?
Luis: 22 years. I am a hell of a man though. Because the things I’ve done paralyzed - People that can walk can't do what I have done! I am proud because I am my own man and I refuse to just lay down and die. I’ve got this macho shit but I am happy that I have it because, you know - there were people taking bets when I got paralyzed, taking bets on when I’d blow my head off because the change was so drastic. All my life I lived as though I’d live to be 300!
When I say I am a macho, people think that means I am against women but that is all messed up. A macho to me is someone who can hold his own ground come hell or high water. Okay?
A macho is also a guy who knows when he is wrong and grows by saying "I am sorry." Out here, that thing that I did, the biggest hustler, you ask him, "Do you know who Luis Maquina is?" and he’ll have to open the door to you because he knows who Luis Maquina is!
I’ll respect you to death but I expect the same from you!
After the interview Marla related that "Luis Maquina is a true man of his word, a man who tells it like it is. He is a man of honor who deserves the utmost respect."
Let's hope her new film is a success, so that we can all meet the macho, Luis Maquina!
If you have any questions about Luis Flores - just email Marla, she will happily answer them!
Marla Friedler - email
Marla is both a director and producer of independent feature films and television series. Her credits include American Tigers, Ghostown, Rollercoaster and the television series Animal Haven Explorers with Dr. Jane Goodall. She is also Executive Producer/Associate Creative Director of numerous commercials and public service announcements.
Marla is not associated with "StreetDance Australia". However, it is through her generosity we have been able to republish her interview with Luis Flores. Thankyou Marla!
Oh! I almost forgot - it needs to be mentioned that Marla is absolutely addicted to dancing Salsa and is a staff writer for SalsaWeb. Have a look at some of her pages...
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