News Column

Dancer Gilbert Saldivar relishes the opportunities his career has given him

October 1, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 01--Gilbert Saldivar has toured with Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, performed at the Super Bowl with Janet Jackson and Madonna and hoofed it up at the Olympics with Aguilera and Ricky Martin.

But now, the dancer is ready for his TV close-up.

Saldivar, 34, is one of the featured dancers on "A Step Away," a reality show premiering on NuvoTV that chronicles the backstage happenings during Lopez's 2012 Dance Again World Tour. The Houston native serves as the singer's dance captain and has worked with her for more than a decade. ("A Step Away" also features Dallas native Jimmy R.O. Smith, a former Houston Comets dancer.) Lopez is chief creative officer of NuvoTV.

"The beauty of this for me is that we find ourselves a lot, as dancers, trying to get somebody to pay attention to us," Saldivar says. "Dancers are really, really appreciated in the entertainment industry -- but forgotten about as well. We're not the actual artists, and we're not considered athletes in a sense. It's finally a moment for the world to see what it takes to be a backup dancer.

"People spend their entire childhood training for the careers that we have. It's not just a good time. It's dedication. It's hard work."

Saldivar moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and gave himself six months to find his footing. In less time than that, he landed a spot in Lopez's "Ain't It Funny" music video and her 2001 Puerto Rico concert special.

"I was really green, really nervous," he says. "She had done the Selena movie. Of course, I was a big Selena fan. I was like, 'OK -- I'm home.' Everybody took me in, showed me the ropes."

He also was one of the primary dancers during a 2009 American Music Awards performance that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Lopez fell after jumping off Saldivar's shirtless back. He sees her multifaceted career as an inspirational blueprint. (Lopez returns as a judge on "American Idol" in January.)

"Just to see what she's done, coming from being a dancer, it drives me," Saldivar says. "She's still really grounded, really humble, and she works her butt off. I try to do the same. I can see what you can become with hard work and determination. It was like she planted a seed in my brain and in my life."

Saldivar grew up in the East End, attending Deady Middle School and graduating from Milby High School. He spent two years at the University of Houston and danced with the Houston Comets' and Houston Rockets' troupes before leaving home. On his frequent returns home, Taqueria Del Sol on Park Place is one of his first stops.

Before sharing the stage with A-list pop stars, Saldivar spent his childhood years training and performing as a ballet folklorico dancer. He performed with various groups throughout Texas, Mexico and even France. He's co-founder of A.D.C. Studios in Houston, which celebrated its first anniversary in September and includes a ballet folklorico group, ballet, jazz, hip-hop -- and a quinceanera group that gets hired out for parties.

"Every time I have a birthday party, or Cinco de Mayo or 16 de Septiembre, I pull out my sombreros," he says with a laugh. "I have two charro hats, one of those big, crazy sombreros, some maracas and some serapes. I'm like the proudest Mexican you'll find, and it's because of everything I experienced (dancing) as a child."

Saldivar's next steps include a full-on attempt at the multifaceted career of his superstar boss. He landed a lead role in a salsa film about two Mexican brothers at war over a girl. It's due to begin shooting soon. His previous credits include small parts on "Dexter," "The Closer" and in the film "Stomp the Yard." ("I'm the cholo at the beginning that kills Chris Brown.")

"It's what I love now. It's my passion now along with dance. I'm also an older dancer. Thank God I'm still being asked to do the big-hitter jobs. But it's time to start thinking of the next step," he says.

"I remember in prayer circle with Madonna for Super Bowl, she said something that really stuck with me. To this day, it's what I say after every big performance. She said her life consists of so many moments of, 'I can't believe I just did that.' It's literally the career that I've had. It's a pretty cool journey."

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(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle

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