Marcos G Punto, Courtesy de Los Reyes

Meet The First Dancer Ever To Win A Grammy for Dancing

Dancers are usually seen and not heard. So the idea of a dancer winning a Grammy sounds impossible. But that is exactly what happened at the 2020 Grammy Awards when American-born flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes became the first-ever dancer to win a Grammy.

As one of the band members, de los Reyes made dance history when the album Antidote by Chick Corea and The Spanish Heart Band won the 2020 Best Latin Jazz Album. We recently caught up with him to hear about what it's meant to him.


Tell us about your experience at the Grammy Awards. What was it like to perform?

It was incredible to be able to share with all these giants of music. It's an experience of a lifetime, you never know if something like that will ever happen again. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, even with all the nerves.

For me being a flamenco dancer, it was all new, even though I had recorded several times, this was a totally different environment. I remembered some advice that Chick shared with me: "If you don't take advantage of the environment you are in, you become a prisoner." So that's an idea I have used ever since; it helped me to own the experience.

What was your process of creating music through dance for the album?

Since I was a kid, I liked to play with rhythm, mostly percussive, that was my game. I always tried to get together with musicians and dancers from other art forms, to try and absorb as much as I could and blend it to my own; I consider myself a thief! (Laughs) My way of expressing myself as a dancer is with the body, I express my internal rhythm.

Mark John, Courtesy de Los Reyes

Tell us about the dancer's role as a musician in flamenco.

As a flamenco dancer we are always creating sounds, even with silence. The only thing lacking is that we don't have pitches, but that's something I'm working on. In my last show TIERRA, I loop rhythms live on stage, with objects that give me different tones and try to create my own music live. As a dancer, I like to get close to musicians on stage and share with them; I sometimes avoid being the primary visual focus for the audience.

Jaime Massieu, Courtesy de Los Reyes

What are your thoughts on being a winning contributing musician as a dancer?

It's an enormous honor to be the first dancer to receive this recognition. Sometimes we dancers are behind the scenes, secondary to the music, specifically in these events, even though we create music with our body. I will always be proud to be a dancer, but I also consider myself a musician and percussionist from my soul. In this case, music gave me a gift that I'll never forget, demonstrating how music and dance are one.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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