Who: Kevin Braxton
Where: New Orleans East
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: Monkey Monkey Coffee Tea
Q: What is one of the best gifts you’ve ever received?
A: I’d have to say, an eighteen-year-old bottle of whiskey. It was a bottle of Hirsch American Standard.
I got it from a friend from college for my twenty-sixth birthday. It was one of those gifts that doesn’t last long, because I drank it within a week of receiving it. I feel kind of bad because I didn’t even share it with friends. That’s how much I liked it.
And I also think that dancing is a kind of gift. The style of dance I teach is Cuban Salsa, and in 2007 I got to go to Cuba and go dancing down there. And Cuba is like December 31st, 1958 happening every day. It’s got the old cars, these beautiful houses; the buildings even look older than in the French Quarter.
And I got into dance because I watched this movie, Spanglish, when I was about eighteen years old. Paz Vega was the maid in that movie, and when I saw her I completely fell in love with her. And I thought to myself, ‘I gotta learn how to speak Spanish.’
So that night I downloaded a whole bunch of listen and repeat tapes from the Internet and started learning. I ran out of tapes, so I started taking Spanish classes at University of New Orleans and joined the Latin American Student Association. They started talking about dance performances, so I went to a dance class, and I was hooked. I dance a modern version of son called casino. They call it casino because in Havana they had casinos in the fifties; that’s where the dance halls were. So they’d say, ‘We’re going to go dance casino.’
Once I started, I’ve been doing it ever since. And it feels so good to know that wherever I go, like New York, I can connect with other dancers and have an instant community there. And since I speak Spanish, I can go to Central and South America and kick it. It’s opened up so much.
Q: If you could be any insect, which one would you be?
A: I’d want to be a pretty badass insect. The first thing that’s coming to my mind, though, is a butterfly because butterflies are so beautiful. I’d go around, pollinate the flowers — the most colorful ones, especially red ones — and then I’d fly to New York City.
I’d be a butterfly in New York City trying to find some flowers in Times Square or head to Central Park if I had to. And I’d make sure to go solo and try to meet up with some cool butterflies in New York. That way we could fly around together.
There’s something about New York that appeals to me. I’ve never been there, and it’s this huge city that I find interesting. I just imagine that it’s wall-to-wall people going a hundred miles per hour, and just from watching movies about New York it seems so glamorized. There’s a romantic feeling about it.
Q: Tell me about a scar that you have.
A: Oh, yeah, there’s this one that’s on my lip. It’s a scar that everyone asks me about. It happened when I was three years old. I was walking behind my dad. I think we were going to Home Depot or someplace like that. He didn’t realize I was walking right behind him, and he opened up the car door, and the door hit me right in the face.
I always tell him I’m going to carry this with me for the rest of my life. If I could grow a mustache, I’d cover it, but I just can’t grow a mustache. It grows in patches, and then I look like I’m thirteen.
And I’ve got some other scars, but I’m not going to tell you about those. [Laughs]. No, I’m just kidding. I don’t have any other scars. That’s the only one, so I tease my dad about it. Not only is it the only one I have, but it’s also so visible.
Q: What’s a food dish that reminds you of summer?
A: Lemonade and hot dogs. And on the hot dog I put chili, mustard, hot sauce, cheese and onions. I think of hot dogs with the summer too because there’s the hot dog eating contest that takes place at Nathans in New York around the 4th of July.
That’s now about the third time I’ve referenced New York. I guess I really want to go there.
Kevin Braxton is a Cuban Salsa dancer and will be a part of Bookoo Rueda’s weekend festival tat includes workshops, lectures and dance lessons from May 22- 25. He also co-teachesclasses Fridays at The Dragon’s Den, Wednesdays at the Ashé Cultural Center and Sundays at First Presbyterian Church. The free dance classes at The Dragon Den, Ashé Cultural Center, and First Presbyterian Church will begin again on August 2.