World renown artist and instructor Garry Portugal chats with Vanessa Wang about his professional career, ambitions and why he likes Asia.
Vanessa: Welcome back to Asia! How does it feel to be back?
Garry: Thank You Vanessa. It feels great to be back in Asia. I always have a wonderful time here and I have made some really great friends. I can honestly say it feels like a homecoming of sorts every time I return.
Vanessa: Garry, you have a long track record, but how did you begin your Dancer career?
Garry: Well Vanessa, I have quite literally been dancing since I was a very young kid. I still remember the times when my parents had me and my sister dance in front of people as entertainment while they were visiting. A very embarrassing memory now that I think about it. Now to be more specific, this was just family home style dancing that many typical Latino families do. It is a very cultural thing for us. I grew up dancing Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and some other traditional styles as well. It wasn’t until the late 90s when I was first introduced to the more technical style of salsa that we know as On1 and On2 came about. Growing up I had always been viewed as the dancer to all my friends. One day a friend of mine that had started taking classes asked me to go check out this new dance spot with him. It turned out he wanted to show me his new dance skills. This place had many people dancing On2 and it was quite amazing because they didn’t dance the way I did. It intrigued me so I decided to jump in and find out as much as I could about the style and the instructors in the area. After that, everything else is history.
Vanessa: Tell me about your New York studio and work?
Garry: I’ve been working now professionally as an Artist/Dancer for well over a decade. Maybe 13 to 14 years if you want a number. It isn’t an easy career. Many identify us as starving artists because it is a constant hustle of staying current with the times as well as consistent and relevant within the dance community. Not an easy task in these days. I’ve been blessed that over the years work has continued to grow and my drive for new ventures has yet to fade. A few years ago, I did open a dance studio right in mid town manhattan as a way to maintain a home base for students and dancers training with me, but this created a big problem for me as an independent and more importantly traveling artist. It was difficult to maintain classes when I was not around and also to keep the interest of students when I am away working in other states and countries. I opted to shut down my classes and focus on my career. Presently, I do run my 2 companies, Los Pachangueros and Alma NYC with dancers in New York City. These are groups of dancers that train under me in a structured rehearsal setting to grow and perform. Not in a class by class like a school would normally be. So even when I am away traveling they know exactly what needs to be done and the work gets put in.
Vanessa: Of all your successes, which one is your favourite?
Garry: I can honestly tell you that it is way too difficult for me to label any one particular moment that I could identify as my favorite because I have enjoyed so so many over the years. However, I could say that a notable one would be a performance I shared with a past dance company I was a member where we performed for the President of the United States, Barack Obama. It was exciting to be in a stadium full of thousands of people in a rally with the President sitting and watching us.
Vanessa: You’ve been to Asia, what are your thoughts about that region?
Garry: Asia is so wide spread and thats one thing I love so much about it. Countries can be so close to each other but yet so different in so many ways. I also appreciate how much interest and passion they have for something like Latin dance that isn’t common for them. It is a beautiful thing to see.
Vanessa: Lately you’ve been performing quite a bit. What is your next move?
Garry: Next I will be in Mexico with the Alma Latina company teaching workshops for a summer camp they host followed by the Rosarito Festival the hold near Tijuana, MX. After that I have some big events in the States. For example, the Boston Salsa Festival and the New York International Salsa Congress. I will also be in Japan in October and a little birdie is also convincing me to be back in Singapore & Bangkok sometime during November/December. All that is still being worked out but I am very much looking forward to all these upcoming trips in 2016.
Vanessa: You’ve been touring all over the world. Is there some place you still want to conquer? Why?
Garry: I have had the privilege of traveling to so many countries over the years and many of them mean so much to me, but still there are still other countries that I would love to visit and work in. A few would be Germany, India, Dubai and Australia. Not in any particular order.
Vanessa: On your trips have you discovered elements of other dancing styles that you want to incorporate in your routines?
Garry: I always keep an open mind when it comes to dancing and I am always seeking out ways to train and broaden my own style. When I travel, I do tend to find my self more busy than not so I don’t always have time to enjoy certain things so I would have to say that I wouldn’t say that discoveries necessarily have to happen while on traveling. With everything these days being so readily accessible through the internet it is easy to find sources for dance to be inspired by right in the comfort of your own home. haha
Vanessa: You are very dynamic. What is your next project?
Garry: I’ve never really thought of myself as superstitious but for some reason I am always hesitant about talking aloud about upcoming projects before they are ready to be put out for the public. So I can only say that I have a few things in the works and I’m hoping that people will continue to enjoy and support the work that I do and trust that I do it all with all of my heart and take nothing for granted.
Vanessa: Finally, a tip for the new Latin Dancers?
Garry: Something that I have told my students over the years is that the only way to improve and see results in your dancing is to stay consistent and don’t let your own insecurities hold you back. Often times we, ourselves, are the obstacle that hinders our own progress. If you put in the time and effort into something every day in order to be better than you were yesterday, there is no telling how much you learn. “Learn, train and practice, but above all, let your dancing reflect who you are!”
Vanessa: Thank you very much for the interview and COLADA is at your service!
Garry: Thank you Vanessa, and I am looking forward for this remarkable event you have in store for us in 2017. I’m very honored to be a part of it and I can’t wait make history with you and the entire COLADA Organization. See you soon.