Being a something-slash-something else is usual these days. Someone's a writer-slash-painter, or a filmmaker-slash-composer. But an opera singer-slash-salsa dancer? This is the first time we've heard of that combo. Raúl Orlando Edwards, artistic director for the Foundation for Modern Music and founder of both FLAMÁRT (Featuring Latin American Music and Arts) and the Strictly Street Salsa dance studio, knows that being both a professional opera singer and a professional salsa dancer is unusual. "People always ask me, 'How do those go together?' And I tell them, 'Just fine.'" He admits it wasn't a career path he planned out, but serendipity prevailed.
While he studied at other universities, including Conservatorio Nacional de Panamá in his native Panama and the University of Houston, he credits his time at Houston Community College with providing him with a strong musical foundation. It was there that he met voice teacher Lois Alba. Edwards continues to train with Alba and the two have since become friends.
Edwards was already singing when he tagged along with a friend to ballet class in hopes of improving his posture for the stage. Since he had a background in martial arts and soccer, he thought ballet class would be easy. "I was sore for days!" he laughs. "I thought, 'This is really hard.' After that I was hooked. I couldn't stop going to class and dancing."
One night Edwards went salsa dancing with friends. Throughout the evening, people repeatedly asked him if he was a dance teacher. "I thought, 'Hmm, maybe I should look into that.'" Soon after that, he went to his first lesson. "I was shocked at what I saw, and I told [the teacher], 'This is not Latin dancing.' She told me, 'Oh, this is international Latin dancing.' I told her, 'Look, I'm international and this is not how we dance.' Edwards left the lesson thinking, "They're destroying my culture, they're teaching people something that has nothing to do with Latin dancing." After fuming for a bit, he decided to turn his anger into something positive and launched the Strictly Street Salsa dance studio. "It started literally out of anger. I thought, 'I want people to know that when they come to this school, they're seeing how we dance in Latin America.'" And his career as an opera singer-slash-salsa dancer was born.
What he does: "A lot of people that have seen me dance don't know that I sing. And a lot of people that have heard me sing don't know that I dance. So when they find out about the other, they are always very surprised. So if someone asks me what I do, I just tell them I'm a performing artist. Once they find out I do both, they always ask me which I like better, singing opera or dancing salsa, and I can't ever say. I really love them both."
Why he likes it: "Dancing is a marriage between your body and the music. You take your body and express the meaning of the music. Also, you have your partnership with the person you're dancing with, how the two of you communicate and move together. That fascinates me in dancing. In singing, what fascinates me is how I can tell a story, how I can include the audience in the experience without their getting out of their chairs. One is physical, one is more mental."
What inspires him: "For me, the passion for what I do keeps me inspired. Also, changing and learning. Through all of the different things that I do, I learn about people, about life, about myself. And for me, as a teacher, it's exciting to see my students get it. That moment when they understand something for the first time, it's a wonderful moment."
If not this, then what: "I love public relations. A former neighbor told me once, 'You know, Raúl, you're a PR whore.' I just said, 'Thank you, dear neighbor.' And it's true, I am. So if I wasn't doing this, I would be doing something in marketing, in public relations."
If not here, then where: "There are three places I would want to live. One is New York, obviously. The city fascinates me. Another one is Paris, and then Spain. Either Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia. I want to be near the water. Growing up, the ocean was just ten minutes away. I miss that. And I miss not driving. If I could just drop my [car] keys, I would never drive again. You can't do that here, but you can in New York, in other big cities."
What's next: Edwards started professionally dancing at 26, an age he admits is "old" for a dancer. Now in his mid-forties, he's still able to do 95 percent of the things he did in his twenties, but he knows that won't last forever. As a singer, he has much more time left in his career. For an opera singer, 45 isn't old.
Edwards has had to cut down on his singing schedule because of his producing and organizing duties. He hopes to start performing more as a singer after the new year. "I'm pushing hard to get these events and organizations set up and training other people to do them so that I can dedicate myself to singing."
He hopes to concentrate on rarely performed Latin American classical music. "You know, there's this little country called Spain. And there are 15 other countries in Latin America. All of them have rich, diverse musical histories that are for the most part overlooked, ignored. Every time I do some Latin American music in a concert, people ask me why it isn't performed more often. I want to change that."
Raúl Orlando Edwards appears at the Foundation for Modern Music's holiday concert, Navidad Latina: An Evening of Spanish and Latin Carols and Dance at 7 p.m. on December 20 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit the Foundation's website or call 713-529-3928. This is a free event, but tickets are required.
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Jeremy P. Kelley, kids' pop artist Bear Wilder, Filmmaker, Jewelry Artist, DJ, VJ Antoine Plante, conductor Chuy Benitez, photographer and arts organizer Robin Kachantones, illustrator Libbie J. Masterson, artist, curator and creator Leighza Walker, theater owner, actress, writer, theatrical everywoman Macy Perrone, costume designer Elsa Briggs, Painter, jewelry maker Baldemar Rodriguez, film director/producer and actor Linarejos Moreno, photographer Heather Rainwater, artist, jewelry maker Detria Ward, actress and entrepreneur Justin Cronin, book author Mark Ivy, actor Lauren Luna, painter and shoe designer Sarah Cortez, writer Kent Dorn, drawer, painter, artist Lillian Warren, painter Carl Lindahl, folklorist, UH professor Sutapa Ghosh, film producer and Indian Film Festival of Houston organizer Tom Stell, actor, writer, director Gregory Oaks, teacher and Poison Pen co-founder Oliver Halkowich, dancer and performer Lupe Mendez, poet and poem pusher Jason Nodler, artistic director, playwright, director Ana Treviño-Godfrey, musician Matthew Detrick, classical musician Travis Ammons, filmmaker Florence Garvey, actress Julia Gabriel, artist, designer and backpack maker Rebecca French, choreographer and FrenetiCore co-founder Kiki Neumann, found object folk artist Flynn Prejean, Poster Artist JoDee Engle, dancer David Rainey, actor, artistic director and teacher Geoff Hippenstiel, painter, art instructor Jessica Janes, actress and musician Dennis Draper, actor and director Mat Johnson, novelist and tweeter Orna Feinstein, printmaker and installation artist Adriana Soto, jewelry designer Domokos Benczédi, Noise and Collage Artist Robert Boswell, Book Author, UH Prof Patrick Turk, visual artist Elizabeth Keel, playwright Bob Martin, designer Mary Lampe, short film promoter and developer Nisha Gosar, Indian classical dancer Jeremy Wells, painter George Brock, theater teacher Radu Runcanu, painter Ariane Roesch, Mixed-Media Sandie Zilker, art jewelry maker Philip Hayes, actor Patrick Palmer, painter Ana Mae Holmes, Jewelry Designer John Tyson, actor Jerry Ochoa, violinist and filmmaker Raul Gonzalez, painter, sculptor, photographer Roy Williams, DJ of medieval music Laura Burlton, photographer David Peck, fashion designer Rebecca Udden, theater director Donae Cangelosi Chramosta, vintage designer handbag dealer Paul Fredric, author John Sparagana, photographer Damon Smith, musician and visual artist Geoff Winningham, photographer Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright