Get to know the dancers! This week we’re spotlighting Alvaro Montelongo, a recent graduate of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance who joined LINES Ballet last year. Read on for his in depth discussion of Mexican and American dance cultures, and learn how both inform his life today.
When did you decide to dance?
I can’t remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted to dance. However, I do remember feeling a sensation of complete power and freedom while exploring and creating movement and showcasing it during a first-grade art class. I also remember being a proud little gent who loved all the praise he got from winning competitions and traveling all over when I danced ballet from 4th to 6th grade. From these two memories, I can conclude that dancing felt empowering and freeing, and so did the praise that came with it. I decided to dance for these reasons. But to be completely honest, I think it is a past life unfulfilled desire that passed onto this one.
The second time I started dancing, I remember longing to be like the dancers I saw in big shows like Cirque du Soleil, Broadway, and the Disney Channel. I wanted to be a part of something as magical and wonderful as those shows. I did an amateur musical and noticed that I had some dance skills in the back of my pocket. Dance at the time seemed like a key to open the door to those shows.
Nowadays, I notice that I choose dance because it allows me to organize my mind and experientially understand ideas. I also like it because it is a fun challenge and because it allows me to express and communicate abstract ideas effectively.
Are you still interested in being a part of those shows? When did that idea change or has it?
I guess the idea of “being a part of something magical” at its core hasn’t changed. I strived to be a part of LINES Ballet for this reason and I still want to be a part of beautiful works that I come across. However, as far as being interested in big live or televised productions (like Cirque or Disney) goes, I would do it if it came to me, but I wouldn’t actively seek it anymore.
The idea changed when I learned that performing the same role night after night or jumping into a cookie-cutter role didn’t have room for what I had to say. Having said this, I would take one of those jobs for a short period of time if it was offered to me because I love the idea of new experiences and the idea of earning cool points.
Can you give a definition of dance?
Movement in time and space as a means to communicate or express ideas.
What is important to you?
Peace, a trained mind, hydrating, healing, laughing, smiling, shaking the body, not taking myself too seriously, clear communication, listening and observing, art, following my guide.
What could you not live without?
Pastel de tres leches, Spotify, singing, mom’s food, dancing, family, key lime cheesecake, Pad Thai, dolphins, gaga, family, and money.
What are your thoughts regarding the information of two dance cultures vis-à-vis Mexico and the United States and how they have informed you?
I think there are several levels of dance in societies so I have divided them to better express my knowledge of both cultures:
SOCIAL DANCE – In my experience of dance in social settings, dance is pretty similar in both countries. People enjoy dancing at parties. However, I must admit that the energy of dancing in Mexican clubs and weddings is greater than what I have experienced at US parties.
An interesting fact about my experience with dance in social settings here in Mexico (and let’s take into consideration that I move within the upper middle class), is that the movement of the pelvis is greatly condemned. If you go to a club or a party, you will notice that people are full out with their arms, FACES, and legs but the pelvis doesn’t have much motion. If a pelvic-centric movement happens to hit the floor it comes in the form of sarcasm. Whenever I come back to Mexico for vacation or family events, I feel like I am breaking social barriers when I feel like twerking or thrusting my pelvis. This sentiment stems from European customs that were introduced by Spanish conquistadors and clergy. It can be similarly observed in white culture in the US.
CULTURAL DANCE – In a cultural sense, dances are also quite different. They are different in the sense that Mexican folkloric dance styles have remained as artifacts of the past that showcase the cultural vibrancy of our history. However, they remain generally untouched and are passed down from generation to generation with the purpose of preserving our history. We hardly see an evolution of when they were created until how they are performed now.
On the other hand, in the US, we can still see an evolution of dances that date back to the beginning of the country. For example, many dances under the umbrella term “Hip-Hop,” whose ancestors can be traced back to some dances of the African diaspora, are continually evolving and developing because they still serve as a cultural exchange between the people (predominantly the black community).
CONCERT DANCE – In terms of dance as a profession, Mexico is far behind. I can count with my fingers how many companies employ dancers full-time. I always hear conversations about how there aren’t enough dance jobs in the US and how there is not enough support to the form – which I agree with – but when you put it in perspective, it is a highly stable industry compared to Mexico.
DANCE TRAINING – I can observe a similar landscape with training. There is far more accessibility to dance in an academic setting in the US than in Mexico. This is closely related to the large poverty level in Mexico. People in this category hardly have access to rigorous dance training or even to knowing they can make a living off of concert dance. Most people relate the word “dancing” to gogo dancers, Shakira, and dancers on TV. When I share that I am a dancer, I constantly educate people on what a dance company is and how it works. Dance as a living is not popular knowledge. Therefore young generations do not strive to become dancers and, if they do, they turn away from it sooner or later.
In the US, dance training is more accessible because more parents can afford to pay for dance classes and because there are more programs that offer free dance lessons to those who cannot afford it and those who possess special skills. In addition to this, arts high schools give students the opportunity to develop their crafts as part of their academic development. Arts high schools do not exist in Mexico. Lastly, since there are more local opportunities to make a living out of the art form, more people stick to it as they get older.
HOW BOTH DANCE CULTURES HAVE INFORMED ME – The dance culture in Mexico gave me my classical foundations and a first look into what the art form can look like. The dance culture in the US informed me on best practices to become a dancer, to build a company and sustain it, to get support from the community, to educate dancers, to apply dance to other practices, and to research movement. Ultimately, I want to take all of this knowledge and bring it back to Mexico to share it with the community.
Why were you born?
Because I have not yet finished learning all the lessons I need to learn in order to transcend the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
What do you want to bring to the world?
My mission is to bring peace and joy to the minds that I come in contact with through crafted experiences that remind them of their true selves.
Can you share a moment that changed your life?
A very simple moment changed my life. I studied abroad for two years in a small town in British Columbia. My host family and I would often go hiking to a beautiful park in the forest that overlooked a pristine lake – classic Canada. The day before my last day there, we went for a hike in that park. I knew I would miss it tremendously because every time I went there I experienced pure beauty.
Knowing that this would be my last time there, I took a moment to sit down and take a mental photograph. It was like one of those moments that you want to remember forever, and I still do. It was mid-morning, I was sitting at the top of a hill that overlooked an abundant forest, a clear blue sky, and a many-hued lake. I felt the wind refreshing the mild temperature of my skin. I smelled sublime clean air. I heard birds singing and plants brushing against each other with the help of the wind.
At that moment, I felt satisfied. Pure fulfillment. There was nowhere else I would rather be. I didn’t need anything else. I felt complete.
I didn’t know how handy that experience would come in the future at the time but it proved to be so. In the years that followed, I would refer back to that sensation when things got rough or when I wanted a moment of peace. I would simply sit down and remember that mental photograph. It brought me back to that state of being. With time I developed new ways to reach that state without having to think of that specific memory but for the time being, it proved to be a life-changing moment.
If you could only have three foods what would they be?
Rice, beans, and tortillas. Classic Mexican.
Is there a book that you refer to again and again?
A Course in Miracles. Learning is not over until it is over.
BIO: Alvaro Montelongo was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico and started his dance training at Academia de Danza Doris Topete, and went on to train at Fomento Artístico Cordobés, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School and The Ailey School. He most recently graduated cum laude from the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Aside from performing, Montelongo choreographs and performs dance evening works in his hometown. Montelongo joined LINES in 2019.
Photos: © RJ Muna
Your support keeps LINES Ballet thriving and is absolutely critical to our success.
To make a tax-deductible donation today, click here.