‘On Your Feet!’ dancer Joseph Rivera talks dance, touring and the Estefans ahead of the show’s Florida run

By : Jeremy Williams
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Dancer Joseph Rivera is heading to the Sunshine State with the company of the hit Broadway musical, On Your Feet! in both Orlando at the Dr. Phillips Center Oct. 17-22 and in Tampa at the Straz Center Oct. 24-29.

On Your Feet! is based on the life and love of 26-time Grammy Award-winning power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan. The show is packed with many of Estefan’s chart-topping hit songs, as well as some of the most intense dancing you will see on any stage.

Rivera, who is an open and proud gay man, spoke with us by phone ahead of the show’s kickoff in Orlando about what it’s like to dance across America with On Your Feet!

How’s the tour going?

It’s going great. Packed house, amazing audiences. Everyone just seems to get it and love it. Every line, joke and song the crowds go crazy for which is great for us.

Joseph Rivera at the Miami run of “On Your Feet!” (photo from Facebook).

This is your second touring production. You were in The Lion King before starting with On Your Feet! this past September?

Yeah, I was with The Lion King before On Your Feet!, the first time I was a part of The Lion King was in Las Vegas. Then I joined the Australian cast and was with them for two years. When I came back they called me again for the national tour, which I did for about six months before joining On Your Feet! So I was with three different productions of The Lion King, spanning about four and half years. That was my first traveling musical and it was a lot of fun.

You danced in The Lion King, but there’s a lot more dancing in this show and it seems a bit more intense.

[Laughing] Yeah, you could say quite a bit. That is an understatement. This show is a dancer’s dream. We are on stage dancing like 90 percent of the time, and when we are dancing it is hardcore dancing, which is good because we get to be featured and we get noticed and recognized. After the show we get people coming up to us and telling us how great we did and how they could tell we were dancing our hearts out, which is true [laughs]. I danced in The Lion King but it’s with puppets so it is a lot more puppetry than big dance moves, but with On Your Feet! you’re always yourself so you have a little more freedom in your movement to add in a bit of your personality.

What kind of rehearsal schedule did you have for On Your Feet!?

We did a month of rehearsals; learning choreography, getting in the theater and learning staging, and the first couple of weeks of that were eight to 10 hour days of dancing. The choreography for the show is set since the Broadway run of On Your Feet! but the choreographer wanted to make sure that we weren’t just a carbon copy of the original show. So we have our feelings and mood into the moves.

That kind of training must help to built the company into a family?

From the beginning you start meeting people and then after the first four hours of rehearsals you start to see people’s personalities, you see their frustrations come though and how they handle them. I personally get frustrated with myself because I’m a perfectionist and you develop relationships with each other and you talk each other through it. Especially on a tour, you are travelling city to city and the only constant is the people you are on tour with so you definitely become like a family. Plus we are mostly a Latin company and any Latino will tell you we are raised to carry that sense of family anywhere we go, and we take care of each other, we cook for each other.

Where did you grow up?

I am born and raised in Puerto Rico. I was there until I was 17 and decided to move to the United States, up to New Jersey for my last year of high school. Then I went to Philadelphia for college where I majored in dance, but Puerto Rico will always be home.

How long have you been dancing?

When I moved to the U.S. I wasn’t a dancer, it wasn’t something that I did while I was in Puerto Rico. Once I moved here I started to get into dancing and developed a real passion for it and decided this is what I want to do and went to college to study it. Right out of college I got a job as a dancer on a cruise ship and I have been dancing professionally ever since.

For those who are not familiar with the show, what is On Your Feet! about?

It’s about Gloria and Emilio Stefan, it’s there love story. It’s how they met, how they came to be who they are today and how they have carried their culture with them. They made sure that their culture stayed present in their lives at all times, and it shows how they overcame a lot of obstacles to not only become huge stars in the Latin community, but also in America and around the world.

Have you had a chance to meet Gloria and Emilio?

They are the nicest people and very, very hands on with the show so I have had opportunities to meet them more than a few times. They have come to as many shows as they can get to. They always say to us that they want this show to be an example of what the American dream is, and that the American dream isn’t dead, it’s very much alive. They have such a great story to tell and they have entrusted us to tell it so we all want to make sure we are telling it in the most honest and respectful way.

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