Interview with Mel C from Carpe Diem

I'm with Mel Carpenter, founder of the Carpe Diem Dance Company out of Birmingham. I recently saw her second show (a two-hander with her and Alicia - Co-Director of Carpe Diem) which looks set to repeat the success of her first show (a five person Salsa show, with additional Missy Elliot moments). She premiered her new show at Latin Motion in Birmingham and is now taking it to London Salsa Congress and The UK Salsa Congress.

Mel, tell me a bit about Carpe Diem. When, why and how did you set it up?

Hi Ian!

Well it was actually Andrea Steward, founder of Duende, who prompted me to start Carpe Diem. I was originally invited to join Duende but I didn't want to let Andrea down as I didn't think I could commit to rehearsals living so far away. So she suggested I start my own group, so I did! That was March 2003.

I choose the name Carpe Diem because it means something to me. It's Latin for "Seize the Day" and that's the type of person I am. You never know what's gonna happen tomorrow so just go for it!

How much work is involved in putting together a show like this? How long do things like choreography and practice take?

Well the first show took about 5 months to complete. I chose girls that I liked, that I thought had great potential and most importantly could put up with me!!

I think the first show took more time because it was my first real attempt at Choreography and the girls had to get used to my style of dancing. I use a lot of body movement and they tell me my style is hard to mimic!! I heard the song for the first show almost a year before I started the group. I love Cheo Feliciano, he's one of my favorite artists! We practised twice a week and if the girls wanted any extra tuition, I gave them 1-2-1 lessons.

The second show took about six weeks, I heard the song when I was teaching at the Irish Salsa Congress. Mauricio was DJing and I grabbed him and I was like I want that song!!! I wanted the song so badly, I told him we'd debut for him if he gave it to me that week, and he did!! I called Alicia when I got back to the UK, we were in the studio a week later.

How do you choose the music for your shows?

I have to "feel" a song, you know. If it makes the hair stand up on my arms and the more I hear it, the more I want to let rip on the dance floor, then I think, I want to do a show to that song!!

Do you choose a piece and choreograph to it, do you come up with some ideas and then try to find a piece of music that work with them or does the music and choreography come together?

The music and the choreography normally comes together, if I hear a piece and footwork starts to flow into my head then I think quick I need to get into the studio!!

Both of your shows have had a lot of emphasis on bodywork and styling. Is this something you actively set out to do or is it more of a subconscious reflection of your own dancing?

It's definately a reflection of my own dancing. I love body movement, it's a great way to express yourself and I think more people should express themselves when they dance!

Your first show involved 5 women and your second 2 women. Is Carpe Diem a "women only" team or do might you do other shows involving men in the future?

I would love to have a mixed show but the guys are too lazy Ian (You know who you are!)!!! I think that the only way for me to improve is to perform, it's like the next stage in my dancing and I also want to show people that Birmingham have some bloody good dancers!!

Your shows seem to avoid "gimmicks". It's just full on dancing. This seems to be reminiscent of the New York styles of shows. Is that a fair comment? Who are your main influences, both in dancing and shows?

I just love dancing, the first time I watched a show that was just pure Salsa was at the first UK Salsa Congress. It was Juan Matos and Nancy Ortiz and I thought, now thats a salsa performance, I want to dance just like that!!

My main influences are definately Frankie Martinez and Aisha Koswara for styling. They came to stay with me a few years ago and they gave me so much inspiration, they're great guys and so talented! Nelson Flores is my favorite teacher in the whole world for footwork and the guy is so funny!!! I have a lot of fun dancing with Nelson, I actually smile everytime I dance with him, yes, me smile, can you believe it?!!! Last but by no means least has to be Eddie Torres. I am very fortunate that I got to spend 3 days with this guy, he taught me not to be afraid to express myself and he is an amazing lead, he makes you feel fantastic when you dance with him, he truly deserves the name The Mambo King!!

There seem to be very few dance teams in the UK, compared with Europe and the US. Do you think this is true? And why do you think it might be?

I think its a shame that there are not more dance teams in the UK and I honestly do not know why that is. We have so many talented dancers here, although saying that in comparison to two years ago, we do have more teams starting to emerge, hopefully this will continue.

I think maybe that more people in Europe are realising that performing is the way forward but then that's just my opinion. As for the States, well I'm glad that there are so many performers, theyre an inspiration to people like myself and I always look forward to seeing what some of those guys will come up with next!

What are your plans for Carpe Diem over the next few months?

Well we will definately continue to perform, and it won't always be the same people that you see in the shows either! I'm currently talent spotting shall we say and not necessarilly just in Birmingham ...

We've been booked for The UK Congress and Alicia (my Co-Director) and I will be performing in Belfast and Holland before Christmas.

Apart from Carpe Diem, what else do you do in the wide world of Salsa?

Well for those of you that didn't know it, I do actually teach!! Don't laugh either Mr Finch but I do a bit of DJing on the side! I get booked for quite a lot of gigs overseas and im hoping to tie in performing with my teaching gigs. I just want to travel, teach and dance as much as possible!!

Thank you for your time, Mel.

Thanks Ian!