(photo by Jackie Roman)
In Memory of Carlos Alvarez
By Jonathan Toubin
Sunday night, hundreds crowded into a balmy Glasslands Gallery to pay tribute to Carlos Alvarez who tragically passed away the weekend before at the all-too-young age of 29. A wide assortment of friends and acquaintances danced and sweated for eight straight hours while an unprecedented assemblage of DJs, both behind the booth and on the dance-floor, did their thing. There were rookies, veterans and retired dance party lords of all yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s parties big and small: Fine Wine, Steve from Shout!, Josh Styles, Michael Rafalwich, Mr. Robinson, White Shoes, Jumpy, Das Booty, J Stratcher, $mall Change, Lone Wolf and Jason Andrews to name a few… We were all there. This epic quantity and quality of New York DJs wasn’t only due to the fact that Carlos was a friend to many, or a fellow DJ under the pseudonym “Paw,” or even that he was one of the only folks in town who knew everyone’s repertoire’s well enough to make a reasonably informed and plausible request. Nope. We were all also there because he happened to be the most exciting, prolific and beloved dancer any of us have ever known.
And perhaps you knew him, too. If you’ve turned up at any of the last decade or so’s local rock and/or soul dance parties with some amount of frequency, from Shout! in the late 1990s all the way up to my New York Night Train Soul Clap and Dance-Off today, you would instantly recognize his wide grin and wide vocabulary of James Brown-inspired mid-’60s spins, slides and turns hovering above the gliding blur below his knees. As someone who plays records for hundreds of dancers every week all around the world, I can assure you that Carlos Alvarez remains my absolute favorite I’ve ever witnessed in his divine combination of style, soul and electricity. But don’t take my word for it; not so many years before Joe Strummer’s death, the Clash’s frontman bowed down to his hands and knees to kiss Carlos’ feet, proclaiming the teenager the best dancer he’d ever witnessed in his entire life. Carlos was the real deal.
Enrolling in martial arts hip-hop dance classes over the years, Carlos continued to broaden his horizons and brought new outside elements into his dance-floor laboratory. Like a greatest of soul 45s, his dancing hit you so hard with such immediacy that you didn’t always notice the creativity and excellent craftsmanship behind his art as you were too busy getting lost in it, bobbing your head along with it, and feeling its force. And, despite his obvious over-abundant talents, Carlos was one of those rare virtuosic dancers who wasn’t an ego only concerned with himself, but a kindhearted person and team player who was all about the party and everyone’s participation. He danced with the entire room, following, leading, complimenting, teaching. Far from intimidating, to be on the floor with Carlos was an exhilarating experience rivaling that of playing records for him.
And any and all of the DJs present Sunday night will tell you it wasn’t a party until Carlos exploded onto the floor. His ability to transform even the blandest of nights into an ecstatic riot with both his thrilling footwork and sparkling spirit is evidence of what every good DJ already knows: the dancer both fuels and accelerates the night. The DJ merely steers. Carlos didn’t only get the party started but twisted, stomped, and hollered until the last record faded out into tomorrow, at which point, like an athlete at the end of the game, shirt soaked through and through, breathing heavily, he’d casually chat with remaining dancers, DJs and club employees.
Since this is a love letter from a DJ to his favorite dancer and not an obituary, I will stick to my field of expertise and refrain from eulogizing this infinitely multidimensional person on any other level. But, without overstepping my bounds, let’s just say that Carlos Alvarez was hands down a very kind wonderful person who was many things to many people well beyond what could be conveyed here or perhaps imagined. My Carlos, and perhaps your Carlos, Carlos the soul dancer, taught each and every one of us in the room Sunday, and perhaps you too, to live and to dance with all of the passion and energy in your entire body and soul. I hope that we don’t soon forget him and his shining example. New York and its dance floors will never be the same without him.
Click here to see the article in the NY Press.
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