Back in 2015, the internet fell in love with a pair of overexcited sharks. The two, who were in truth dancers underneath their shark-ish costumes, were part of the ensemble that put on the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show alongside Katy Perry. As she sang, the duo of sharks kept pace behind her, flanking either side. The shark on the right matched Perry’s dance moves beat for beat during the chorus of “Teenage Dream,” while the shark on the left danced a bit more loosely.
The dancers weren’t given strict choreography, and because of it, the performance was more lifelike and practically overshadowed the New England Patriots’ come-from-behind win over the Seattle Seahawks. But even more notable is that half the choreography duo behind the now iconic “Left Shark” cut his teeth in Dallas, well before Perry transitioned from gospel to pop.
“I grew up in rural Kaufman, Texas, and was obsessed with dance while most kids my age were in Little League or the 4-H … I was a total Billy Elliot, but the country version,” Nick Florez writes in an email. “I made my way to the Big D for dance conventions, and that’s where I heard of Kitty Carter.”
Florez joined the Kitty Carter Dance Factory at age 14. He says his family drove him into Dallas four times a week, a hectic schedule even without having to contend with middle and high school responsibilities. But after a chance viewing of the 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare, Florez says he discovered what he wanted to achieve for himself.
“Living the MTV dream,” he says. “I was a kid of that MTV generation, so anything pop-related always fueled my creativity. I also loved watching the various award shows for the elaborate performances: MTV awards, Grammys, Billboards, AMAs, all shows that I eventually danced on and then choreographed and creative-directed for.”
Florez would eventually leave for Los Angeles during his senior year of high school. His skills as a dancer quickly got him work with Britney Spears during her first major run in the early 2000s, including dancing backup in her "Oops!... I Did It Again" music video. In 2006 he began to make a name for himself when he choreographed Madonna’s 2006 Confessions World Tour. Under the tutelage of Carter, Florez learned how to orchestrate cohesive performances. Fusing props, costumes and dancers themselves, he says Carter’s eye for detail and conceptual style rubbed off on him, making it possible for him to create lasting moments, as he and his partner did with the aforementioned Left Shark.
“I broke into choreography with my husband RJ Durell. We’re a team,” Florez says. He and Durell, collectively known as The Goldenboyz, have constructed choreography and provided artistic direction to the likes of Madonna, P!nk, Spice Girls, Ricky Martin and Celine Dion, to name a few. The duo has also worked on TV shows like Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and The X Factor.
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In 2011, Florez choreographed the MTV Video Music Awards tribute honoring Spears. Today, he appears on the 13th season of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Meet the Team. On the show, he’s been reunited with his former teacher, Carter, a former Cowboys cheerleader in her own right. She serves as a technical coach for the cheerleading squad, and Florez says working with her has been a full-circle moment for him.
“Yes, there are still times that I pinch myself and think, ‘This is my job,’” Florez says.
He adds that he hopes to work more as a director, after getting his first shot at the role on P!nk’s video for “Beautiful Trauma.” Billboard named it one of the top 10 music videos of 2017, so it’s likely Florez has found yet another avenue to express his creativity.