As most of you in the Casino Community already know, Yanek Revella and Karelia Despaigne are currently touring the United States and giving workshops and performances. They just visited the Pacific Northwest.
For those who aren't aware of who Yanek is... let's use basketball analogies here:
- Mike Eskeldson is the Larry Bird of Casino*. As the longtime director of Rumbanana, he is putting his teammates first, using his people skills as well as his skills as a dancer to nurture the growth of his students and charges. This has been most evident here, where he had no issue passing on calling duties to not one, but two other team members at a major performance.
- Duane Wrenn is the Scottie Pippen of Casino. Able to do many things very well, his versatility is practically unmatched. Duane is the only instructor I've ever taken private lessons from.
- Yoel Marrero is the Kobe Bryant of Casino: he may be tremendously skilled in a way few are, but he is also a polarizing figure who thinks his way is the best and only way - even after seeing evidence to the contrary. This attitude ultimately prevents him from being as admired/respected/revered as he'd like to be.
- Yanek is the Michael "Air" Jordan of Casino. An innovator in his field who is changing the way Casino is danced, he is capable of things that no one has even thought of. To borrow a metaphor from Phil Jackson (Jordan's coach while he was in Chicago): Yanek is Michaelangelo moving in sync with a clave.
So when I found out Yanek and Karelia were visiting Oregon, I was definitely looking forward to the experience. After a 2-hour drive through the rain to Springfield, Oregon on a late Friday evening, I finally made it to Plank Town, a restaurant in "downtown" Springfield, where the two of them would appear to put on a quick performance, and hang out and dance with the community.
I saw Yanek and Karelia walk in. Yanek was about an inch or two shorter than me, but with a similar build to mine. Karelia is about 5'5" or so, very slender, with the trademark long arms that I first saw in countless YouTube clips; it's very easy to see how she's capable of all the complex pretzels that she and Yanek invent.
Many of my other peers had already met them previously. They all greeted each other with smiles, bro-handshakes, and hugs; it was as if it were a family reunion. Thing is, they had all been hanging out barely two weeks ago in San Francisco.
Of course, I definitely wanted to get in at least one dance with Karelia; par for the course when very special guests like her appear once in a very blue moon. If it was 5 years ago, I would have been very fan-boyish about it, like if I was actually meeting His Airness for the first time. However, it was never like that. After watching them interact with everyone else, it was obvious they were just people, just like you and me.
I waited for a good hour before asking Karelia for a dance; I wanted to hear the right song, which finally played. I figured that everyone who danced with her for the first time would try to pull off the most complex moves possible; I decided to go the other way and keep it simple (in a good way). I wanted to enjoy the moment more than anything, as I knew I'd probably never get the chance again. I did have a second dance with her. I caught Karelia as she was sitting down after a dance. It looked like she wanted to rest; when I asked her, she hesitated, but then looked at me and nodded. Yes... I consider myself very lucky.
The workshops with the two of them were what I thought they would be: three hours' worth of a very challenging workout, with stuff I can apply on the dance floor. After the last workshop, I went up to both of them separately, thanked them, told them I appreciated them teaching here, and walked away. I sat down in my Dri-Fit sleeveless tee, shorts, and running shoes, head down and elbows on my knees, more mentally drained than anything else. I didn't get the chance to hang out or converse with them, but that's okay. I know they're both very busy and would probably like time to themselves so they can decompress; after all, they still have Atlanta and New York to visit and teach at.
Overall, I finally have met them and am happy about it. It was a very different experience than what I thought it would be. Although I will never know them personally like others in the community have gotten the opportunity to do, I'm glad to have seen Casino from their unique perspective.
*2014-3-6 Edit: I originally likened Mike to Magic Johnson, but Mike messaged me later, telling me he hates the Lakers. Unsurprisingly, he was pleased about the Yoel/Kobe comparison.