Rosie Herrera is the founder and artistic director of Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theater. Her choreographic style is strongly influenced by her diverse background in multiple dance styles and cabaret, and it delivers a serious punch. After seeing her “Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret,” which left the audience about the rollercoaster emotional reactions, I wanted to find out more about her and her process.
Q: How would you describe your work?
Herrera: I think of my work as dance theater. “Drowning” was based on a series of dreams I had over 3 years, which I realized were all connected to water somehow. I wanted to create choreography that would serve the strong images from the dreams, and also capture the fleetingness of dreams. It’s a challenge to make that happen on the stage! I tried to blend sexuality, emotions, and characters that weave in and out of each other throughout the piece. As I worked on it, the story it told was a surprise even to me.
Q: You lead the audience through a series of strongly contrasting emotions. What gave you the idea to, at times, treat some of the more disturbing subject matter (like sexual violence and power imbalances) with humor?
Herrera: I want to avoid the trap of having my audience spend the performance trying to figure it out. Humor is a REALLY powerful tool. It’s a basic human impulse reaction that puts you immediately into your body. Laughing is physical. Once you have the audience in their bodies, they open up and become more vulnerable and able to react on an instinctual level. Also, my work is always an honest reflection of me and of my dancers, and they’re hilarious! If it weren’t funny, it wouldn’t be true.
Q: What’s your training background?
Herrera: I’m Cuban, so I grew up dancing! When I was 15 I started performing professionally in a Cuban folkloric cabaret. The performers became like family. I started studying modern dance in college, and I realized this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I started taking more serious conservatory classes in ballet, contemporary, Graham, and Limon, and I paid my way through school as a freelance choreographer and dancer.
Q: Do you have advice for aspiring dancers and choreographers?
Herrera: Be bold! To let your life be dominated by fear is just ridiculous. I’ve been so lucky to meet people in the cabaret world who have had to fight so hard just to be themselves. It’s taught me that you should always be fully yourself. Take risks. I wish I had taken more sooner. I started late and always felt like I was catching up. I realize now that I always did have technique—it was just a different technique. I was really lucky to have had such diverse experiences. It fed me creatively in a way more traditional technical training wouldn’t have. Also, go to class! Class has to be like food, and you need to remain a student forever. It’s the only way to remain relevant.
The Rosie Herrera Dance Theater will be premiering a new piece, ‘Dining Alone, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York April 18 and 19. More info and tix are available here.