Juliette Furio sits down with Sophie Fletcher Watson who shares her past, her future and the love of her life, talking all things salsa.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I find myself seated at the kitchen table of Sophie Fletcher Watson. Before us is a spread of fresh vegetables, dips and meats. My hostess, dressed for the workout to follow our interview, invites me to tuck in as we launch into the Sydney salsa scene, South America and the virtues of Dirty Dancing.
JLF: How would you describe yourself, as a professional dancer?
SFW: I am a Latin performer, which means you encompass traits of all the different Latin styles and perform it with your persona. I try to bring out the energy that I have absorbed through the time I’ve spent living in Latin America and learning these dances.
What lead you to go overseas? Was it just an independent trip, travelling for yourself?
I wanted to go overseas since my first big trip when I was 15, travelling with my parents. We were in Buenos Aries for four days and it just seemed crazy! As soon as I finished high school I went to Sydney, saved up and went straight back to see what I had in my head as this amazing continent that I wanted to explore. That’s when I spent the next 14 months travelling all around Latin America.
What is it about this dance style that has you hooked?
The people who get drawn into the Latin scene have a different kind of… “personality,” maybe. I started in the scene when I was 19, at the same time I would go out in Kings Cross and have a look around. I felt so much more comfortable dancing with guys in the Salsa scene because it is an interaction, a partnership. I know there is still a strong chord of the male being the dominant leader and the female as the follower, but at the same time I believe in the ying and yang of life. When I say equal for women I don’t mean the same. We’re not the same as guys; we have different qualities. And we don’t want to be the same, but we want to be equal in terms of how we are appreciated and that we want to feel safe.
Did you have any hopes that it might eventuate into something more serious, which it has now?
I was never encouraged to do dancing as a full time thing. When I studied contemporary in high school, there were a lot of really good dancers amongst that pool and I was not at that level. I could see that, they could see that, so it was never an idea that I should go and do full-time exploration or even teaching. I came to Sydney basically to work and go overseas. At the same time I also really wanted to dance, Sydney just seemed so exciting. So when I first came here I was doing different classes every night of the week. One was in Latin, one was in hip-hop, and one was in whatever I could get my hands on! I got a little taste of salsa and loved it – looooved it! And then went overseas and saw it was completely different!
In terms of the direction you are taking, what are the developments that have lead you to where you are now?
I have been on a very clear path as of what I wanted out of this year; I’m going to compete at the World Latin Dance Cup in in Miami this December! I have worked very, very hard to build teaching experience at the same time as finishing my Uni degree. Everything I have done this year has been that big step past what I’ve done before. To begin with, teaching a class was really nerve wracking. Then it was teaching three classes in a row; a private lesson; then a private lesson to someone who wanted a choreography done; choreographing for a group in Newcastle and then in Sydney, and then taking these groups to different events! Everything has had this build on it. I feel like this whole year, I’ve been in the deep end. I’m sick of the deep end – I’d like to get to the shallow water any time now! But it’s not my personality to let that happen.
Are you seeing any negative repercussions, as a result?
There has definitely been a lot of change happening within me, but in terms of having time to pay attention and figure out what’s going on back there, its been in the background. I need to figure out how it’s changing me but it can happen later . I need to figure it out so that I know the next step and if all the work I’m putting in is in the right place.
You’re not sure about that?
It’s not a choice for me to doubt it. With things like a world championship, if you have any doubt then you’re not putting your whole heart into it. But after something like that, it’s always good to reassess. It’s what I did last year; the first time was very different though as I was competing as an amateur so it was like, “It’s ok if I don’t do well, I’m just an amateur, what are you expecting of me?” Then I won my Salsa Solo and came 2nd in a partner Salsa division with my mentor, so the idea was that I would go back as a pro the next year. After this competition I will reassess. What is my new outlook? Where do I need to go next?
What is involved, when it comes to performing on a stage?
There’s the process of getting to an event – you do your tech rehearsal; you get all your hair and make-up done; get into costume and you’re waiting backstage… Then they call your name and you’re walking on stage and… It’s from that point that fascinates me, in terms of a performer. What goes through their head, what goes through my head when I’m onstage? What do I remember afterwards? The stage is a fascinating place. I explain it to people who’ve never performed before that it’s like a void. It’s not the past, not even the present or the future – you are in a void space. So, sometimes it can feel like it goes on for a year and sometimes it’s gone and you didn’t feel like you were even out there. You get flashbacks too. Like, “Did I really do that, did that really happen?”
Where does your look come from? Clothes, costumes, props?
Varied. One of my teams was doing an “Urban Street Style” Salsa routine, so I had them all wearing the same top but then we tied it, or we chopped it to make it same-same but different. We had a theme, but looked like individual people. It’s such a simple way to do a costume but so effective for this style – a Colombian street-style, which I learned in Cali called Salsa Choque. Para chocar in Spanish means “to crash” and when you dance this style it’s like you are crashing into someone else. With this style there’s PG and then there’s R-rated choque. So the PG-rated style is very fun, very playful and it’s fine for the stage in Australia. The R-rated version is more like full frontal banging into each other and it pretty extreme to watch, I’m not sure Australia is quite ready for that.
Would you like to talk about the influence of your background on your performance?
Sure. I think TV shows like Strictly Dancing and movies like Dirty Dancing definitely gave me that buzz before I got into it. I love all dance movies. People don’t like them but for the wrong reasons. They say, “It’s got no storyline!” I’m like – it’s a dance movie, that’s the beauty of it! If you want a good story, go and get a different movie. If you want some good dancing, then that is what that movie is for. Musical theatre too, like Hairspray and West Side Story. I did a little bit in high school and loved it. I’m not a singer but I would kind of sing along as I was dancing. But living in South America is where the love came from.
Is there a specific aspect of your travels that triggered this love?
One of the main influences when I was travelling was reggaeton. I LOVE reggaeton music and over there you hear it more than salsa, which is typified as the typical Latin music. Reggaeton far surpassed that. I would hear it on the street; in the garage of the guy who was fixing cars; at the gas station; on the bus; from all the ringtones and out of the doctor’s surgery. Other travellers would get annoyed but I would be dancing along to it. Don-do-do-do-don . That’s one of the reasons I started at the school where I teach now – Latin Dance Australia – because they do a lot of reggaeton there.
Lastly, is there anything you want your public to know about you as a person or as an artist?
That’s a big question. The impression of me that you see on stage, it is me. You can see a lot of different sides; a lot of characters, and it’s all a part of me. So when I put something out onstage, whether as a soloist, couple of part of a team, it’s not so people will say, “Oh wow, hasn’t she done well.” I know I’ve improved, I know I work hard. When I perform it’s for me, but to share me with them. It’s like that void. How do you explain that? It is all about personal development as well. There’s always the next competition or performance, but behind it all is the actual dancing that I love. All the time dancing. I love it. Get out there and move!
(Don’t forget to check out Juliette’s own blog also…)
Watch Sophie Fletcher Watson do her thing in these clips!
Sophie Fletcher Watson: Partnerwork video of Salsa Routine with Nestor Manuelian
Sophie Fletcher Watson: Solo video of Salsa Shines