Nelida Tirado: The Heart of Her Dance
By Natalie J. Maniscalco & Photos by Chasi Annexy
**Scroll down to view more photos of Nelida Tirado
A gleam of light streams down onto the stage, creating a silhouette of immense energy around a petite, yet powerful figure. Her foot digs into the wooden floor with force and conviction, while her arms gracefully curve to the strength of the music. Her body beats to the heart of the musicians, captivating the audience with her every move. Her face entwined with the passion and vitality of the dance.
Flamenco, in its purest form.
“Dancing in general has been my passion but Flamenco especially, for many reasons. It's an art form where purity and truth are essential, where life and death are revered and celebrated. It’s empowering and gives legitimacy and validation to everyone's personal life experiences,” explains Nelida Tirado, one of the most dynamic American dancers, who was recently hailed as “magnificent” and “utterly compelling” by The New York Times. The differences between flamenco and Salsa are immense, from the very style of the dances to the origin of its intricate history, but perhaps they share a musical equality that reflects on life’s personal sentiments of loss, love, death, pain and even joy. For Nelida, the comparisons are distinctive, but the personal connection between the two lead to the clearest of life’s gems, her son Eddie Torres Jr.
“For years, while always dedicated to flamenco, I slipped in and out of Salsa. My son has always been a backstage child spending long hours at my rehearsals and performances and traveled often with me out of necessity. Naturally, he picked up a lot of what he heard and saw as a child. We were always very close and would "play" a lot with movement and music.”
Her son’s natural ability not only as a dancer but as a musician mirrors the very product of his environment, with a father as one of the greatest Latin dancers, Eddie Torres, to a mother whose fluency is impeccable. It is clear that now at the early age of 18, Eddie Jr was born to live, love and breathe music and dance. “Growing up, we had a good time, but I would have never thought that my son would have ended up dancing and that we'd eventually be working together, putting me back in salsa costumes,” laughs Nelida. “I feel so blessed to be able to share this part of my life with my son. My son and my career have always been my life. Now both in one, it’s amazing!”
Like her son, Nelida was exposed to music and dance at an early age. At six she began classes at Ballet Hispanico where she learned classical ballet, graham technique and Spanish dance/flamenco. Her diligent training and natural draw to flamenco intrigued many dance aficionados including the Jose Molina Bailes Espanoles where she toured the US for several years. Flamenco became her purpose, but it wasn’t until she started teaching at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club that she met Eddie Torres and became rapt in the technicality of Salsa dance. “I taught in the studio next door to Eddie and I’d always peak in to see what was going on. I loved it!” She’d often jump into his class and was immediately noticed for her natural ability to dance. Soon after, Eddie hired her for a gig at the Apollo Theater in tribute to Nelson Mandela with featured artist Miriam Makeba and Latin legend Tito Puente.
At the time she was only 16 years old, and although Salsa became a new found love, Nelida continued on with her flamenco training for the next five years. It wasn’t until her early 20’s that Eddie reached out to Nelida in pursuit of training her to partner him. “We started rehearsing right away and within two or three months we had our second performance for President Bush Senior at the Ford Theater in Washington DC.” Over the years, she had the opportunity to perform with Latin icons such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Tito Nieves, Jose Alberto "El Canario", Santitos Colon, Ismael Miranda and Tony Vega. She traveled throughout Colombia with Tito Puente's 100th album tour and was featured in Orquesta de La Luz's "Somos Diferente" video.
Always leaning towards her true passion, she went back to flamenco once again and was immediately picked up by Carlota Santana’s “Flamenco Vivo” company where she starred as lead soloist and dance captain. At the same time, she was juggling her life as a young mother and professional dancer, and received notice that one of the top flamenco companies in Spain was looking for new artists. Unable to try out in person, she took a chance by sending in a video clip. “They chose me!” she gleams. “It was totally wild. I was flying over the moon. To work, train and perform in Spain as a flamenco dancer is like Major League baseball here, it was a world of a difference.” She packed up her life in New York City, and she and Eddie Jr moved to the south of Spain to join Compania Maria Pages as soloist and repetidora (dance captain), performing at the most prestigious flamenco festivals throughout Spain including the Bienal del Arte Flamenco, Festival de Jerez, Festival de Otono, Festival de la Guitarra in Cordoba and the Flamenco Festival USA.
She was at the height of her career, and although life was not always easy living in a foreign country and raising a child on her own, she had to make a decision as to whether or not she would move back to the States. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back. I always had one foot in New York and one foot in Spain.” In the end, she chose New York. “I have my reasons as to why I am where I am today, what it has made me, why I desired more culture for my son,” she says. “Being a young, single NYrican mom from a humble background, being a flamenco artist (not being Spanish or even gypsy) living in Spain, was a bit strange. Being a NYrican, as a minority here in NY regardless of being born here was strange. Being in Puerto Rico, but not Puerto Rican born or raised was strange. It seemed as if I didn't fit in either place entirely. Upon my return, I really wanted my son to identify with his roots for his personal well being, to have a sense of self, and pride in his language. It just so happened, that he fell in love with this dance, its history and Latin culture, and I couldn't be happier.”
Looking back, Nelida may have never thought that dance, both flamenco and Salsa, would be such an intricate part of her life. Her accomplishments top the charts, from performing in the Broadway production of "Riverdance," working with Noche Flamenca, being the opening act for Buena Vista Social Club to being featured in Dance Magazine’s "25 To Watch,” receiving the BRIO award twice from the Bronx Council of the Arts, producing concerts in Symphony Space, Joyce SoHo, an original member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Spanish Ballet and performing in Franco Zeferelli’s “Carmen” at the Met. Nelida’s beauty and intimate essence of the dance shines through in every way possible, whether she’s onstage and determined or off-stage with her contagious smile and magnanimous laugh. And although life as a dancer has its ups and downs, it’s quite clear that her love for her son remains constant.
“To watch him, he always surprises me, always makes me wonder what will pop up as he's dancing,” she says. “I react spontaneously from an honest place and vice versa, not studied, nor choreographed, pure sincerity, joy and pride. He has the ability to make me fly. Being able to share my passion, language and expression with the love of my life and best friend is an experience beyond words. What I most desire for him, is to continue developing and growing his passion to be the best to HIS ability; to never stop learning and work with integrity. And if he's really smart, he'll always save his mom a dance.”
For more information about Nelida Tirado & her schedule of flamenco classes, please visit www.nelidatirado.com