The same energy that crackles in Maria Torres’ choreography is present whether she is in the classroom, the director’s chair, or gazing toward future projects. Alongside that energy is a technical precision and fierceness that mark her work as grounded, clear-eyed, and vital. And she’s excited to keep sharing those gifts. “I’ve always been everybody else’s secret weapon,” she says. “I’m gonna be my own secret weapon now.”
Torres’ career spans a wide range of media, though all her projects are united by an undercurrent of joy. Following appearances in the 1998 film Dance with Me and the 1999 Broadway musical Swing!, she emerged as an in-demand creative voice, choreographing the off-Broadway production Four Guys Named Jose… (2000) and contributing to the choreography for films like Enchanted (2007) and Idlewild (2006) and Broadway’s On Your Feet! (2015). Torres gained wider recognition working on “So You Think You Can Dance” and with Latin music icons Don Omar and Enrique Iglesias.
Torres has been instrumental in shaping more than one globally practiced dance technique. Drawing on her Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban roots, she pioneered Latin jazz, fusing Latin rhythmic movement with jazz fundamentals; the style is now taught around the world. She was also an important voice in the spread of Latin hustle, and is a frequent advocate for the genre. Recently through a residency with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, she has been documenting her experiences with the hustle in its heyday as a club dance and throughout its subsequent transformations.
Beyond her impressive array of credits, Torres has deeply influenced a rising generation. She has inspired countless students with her classes and workshops. She has stepped out of the choreographer’s chair to direct and co-conceive projects centering Latine voices. Her Maria Torres Emerging Artists Foundation has helped train and create space for up-and-coming artists, especially those who have too often been excluded.
“As an educator, a producer, a choreographer, a director, somebody who’s an advocate for our people and the performing arts in general, for me, it’s been a lifelong journey of always giving back, never forgetting where I’m coming from,” Torres says. “I’m only going to be doing more now that I have the opportunity to spread joy, and also spread knowledge.”