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For video of the event please visit:  Albert Torres TV

Salsa On1

1st Place – Omar Munoz & Nina Bermudez (Mexico/Puerto Rico)
2nd Place – Cristian Oviedo & Alien Ramirez (El Salvador/Cuba)
3rd Place – Francisco Junior & Josmarly Cordero (USA/Venezuela)
4th Place – Darlin Garcia & Vera Rowe (USA)
5th Place – Rodrigo Guzman & Nayara Nunez (Mexico/Cuba)
6th Place – Deivy Zuniga & Jenny Illera (Colombia)

Salsa On2

1st Place – David Zepeda & Paulina Posadas Dagio (Mexico)
2nd Place – Sergio Jasso & Bianca Chapman (Mexico/USA)
3rd Place – Luis Bautista & Lorena Lopez (Mexico)
4th Place – Andy Contreras & Tamara Pacheco (Chile)
5th Place – Dimitris Psychogyios & Stella Koutsoulidou (Greece)

Salsa Cabaret

1st Place – Ricardo Vega & Karen Forcano (Chile/Argentina)
2nd Place – Jefferson Benjumea & Adrianita Avila (Colombia)
3rd Place – Johana Vazquez & Jon Jairo Rodriguez (Colombia)
4th Place – Uriel Garcia & Vera Rowe (USA)
5th Place – Luis Enrique Solano & Xiomara Andrea Rivas (Colombia)
6th Place – Sebastian Cofre & Sandra Gonzalez (Chile)

Salsa Teams

1st Place – Alma Latina Mexico (Mexico)
2nd Place – Alma Latina USA (USA)
3rd Place – Estilo De Vida (Argentina)
4th Place – Amicitia (USA)
5th Place – Tropical Dance (Ecuador)

Salsa Team Acrobatics

1st Place – Constelacion Latina (Colombia)
2nd Place – Estudio Nacional De Baile (Ecuador)
3rd Place – Grizzly Dance Company (USA)
4th Place – BNF (Colombia)
5th Place – Baila Con Migo (USA)

Salsa Men

1st Place – John Narvaez & Andrew Cervantes (USA)
2nd Place – Baila Conmigo (USA)
3rd Place – David & Javier Padilla (Spain/Mexico)
4th Place – Bryan Vargas & Danny Perez (Colombia)
5th Place – Rumba Latina (Colombia)
6th Place – Brandon Ayala & Benny Ayala (USA)

Salsa Ladies

1st Place – Modus Vivendi (Australia)
2nd Place – Baila Con Migo (USA)
3rd Place – Camila Velazques & Manuela Velasquez (Colombia)
4th Place – Alien Japan Project (Japan)
5th Place – Lady Mambo (USA)

Soloist Men

1st Place – Rodrigo Jimenez (Argentina)
2nd Place – Arieh Alexander (USA)
3rd Place – Csaba Szirmai (Australia)
4th Place – Simone Sanfilippo (Italy)
5th Place – Deivy Zuniga (Colombia)

Soloist Women

1st Place – Simona Petric (Romania)
2nd Place – Monica Dobroiu (Romania)
3rd Place – Keiko Saksamoto (Japan)
4th Place – Yuko Tsugana (Japan)
5th Place – Keesha Roberts (USA)

Salsa Amateur

1st Place – Derek Marrero & Keesha Roberts (USA)
2nd Place – Ozan Anac & Paulette Bleam (USA)
3rd Place – Umesh Laksman & Marianela Calonje (USA)
4th Place – Alan Capetillo & Guadalupe Venegas (Mexico)
5th Place – Noriaki Watanabe & Chihiro Watanabe (Japan)

Salsa Amateur Teams

1st Place – Alma Latina Amateur (USA)
2nd Place – Projecto Mania (USA)
3rd Place – Diana Sanchez Dance Company (USA)
4th Place – Salsako Dance Company (USA)
5th Place – Tropical Dance Plan B (Ecuador)

Junior Couple

1st Place – Adolfo Mauricio Romero & Natasha Silva (Mexico/USA)
2nd Place – Gian Nicolas Varela & Anyi Nayibe Camargo (Colombia)
3rd Place – Lisandro Perez & Amy Bayoma (Colombia)
4th Place – Juan Camilo Rozo & Lina Paola Fino (Colombia)
5th Place – Carlos Begazo & Ellen Delgado (Peru)
6th Place – Juian Tellez & Isabela Gomez (USA)

Junior Teams

1st Place – Baila Con Migo (Colombia)
2nd Place – Chiqui Babie (Colombia)
3rd Place – Estrellas Del Swing Y Sabor (Colombia)
4th Place – Son Del Luz Kids (Colombia)

Soloist Kids

1st Place – Kevin Gallego (Colombia)
2nd Place – Jordynn Lurie (USA)
3rd Place – Brandon Ayala (USA)
4th Place – Gian Nicolas Varela (Colombia)
5th Place – Juan Camilo Rozo (Colombia)

Salsa Over 65

1st Place – Noriaki Watanabe & Chihiro Watanabe (Japan)
2nd Place – Randy Kish & Karen Calustro (USA)
3rd Place – Kensaku Oguchi & Hiroko Hashimoto (Japan)
4th Place – Wayne Melton & Sandi Rocco (USA)

Bachata Couples:

1st Place – Andrea Bosonotto & Silvia Accossato (Italy)
2nd Place – Cristian Oviedo & Alien Ramirez (El Salvador/Cuba)
3rd Place – Javier Campines & Kathy Reyes (Panama/Guatemala)
4th Place – Simone Sanfilippo & Serena Maso (Italy)
5th Place – Rodrigo Guzman & Nayara Nunez (Mexico/Cuba)

Bachata Team:

1st Place – Extravagance Dance Company (Italy)
2nd Place – Grupo America (Canada)
3rd Place – Latin Rhythms Bachata Legacy (USA)
4th Place – Saoco Dance Company (Peru)
5th Place – Ochun (Japan)

Cha Cha Cha:

1st Place – William Carpenter & Kali Keller (USA)
2nd Place – Simone Sanfilippo & Serena Maso (Italy)
3rd Place – Ivan Zappetti & Genny Godano (Italy)
4th Place – Lester Marin & Tracey Savary (Trinidad & Tobago)
5th Place – Joshua Soto & Maria Humphrey (USA)

Casino Rueda

1st Place – Grupo America (Canada)

Albir Rojas (from Panama) is one of the most sought after Kizomba teachers and performers in the world. Kizomba is immensely popular in the African and European Latin dance sphere and is gaining popularity in the Americas.  Albir is helping to lead the way.  He seamlessly combines the Angolan born dance with hip-hop, ballet, jazz and an assortment of other dance styles to form what Albir calls ‘Kizomba fusion’.  Google the term ‘Kizomba’ and you won’t get far before you encounter a Youtube video or webpage link in which he is featured.  Dance Planet Daily caught up with Albir at the Austin International Latin Dance Festival in Austin, Texas.   He graciously stepped away from the swarm of ladies waiting to dance with him at the Saturday social.

UPDATE: (Sara Lopez was Albir’s primary dance partner until September, 2013. As of 2016, his new dance partner is Sara Panero. This interview was conducted prior to that date. His Facebook post concerning the duo can be found here: Albir Rojas/Sara Lopez statement. Read our most recent interview with Albir…Albir Rojas Interview 2014.)

You’re from Panama but you have an Indian name.  What does your name, Albir, mean and can you tell us the story of how your mother chose your name? My name in India means ‘brave’.  I think I have a little of that (laughs).  Everyone tells me that going by myself to Spain at 22 years old (to study cinema directing) took a lot of bravery.  I love that my mom chose that name.  My aunt lived in New York and my mom asked her about it.  There are many, many people from all around the world there.  She found it.  That’s it!

You were working as a staff accountant in college and decided to leave to pursue a career in dance.  What lead you to that decision? I loved accounting, but being in an office for eight hours was horrible.  I love to dance.  I was studying, working and dancing.  I remember that I started my job and 8 a.m. and I had to wake up early to get to work.   I left my job at 5 p.m.  Then I went to the university and left there about 10 p.m.  Then after that I went to rehearsal.

You were a hard working man! Yes! It was very hard.  I decided I had to leave and stop doing something.  I didn’t want to stop my studies so I decided to leave my office job.  Everyone was complaining! (laughs).  They said, ‘You are going to dance? That’s not a real job.’   They didn’t really support me at the start.  They thought that I would like it early, but later that I wouldn’t feel it anymore.  But then I started to work in plays, theater and be on television and they realized that I really wanted it.  They began to accept it.

You’ve been a dancer and actor in many popular musicals such as Grease ,Fame, and West Side Story…of the musicals you’ve performed in is there a particular role you enjoyed more than the others? Why? There are two.  The first one was Fame.  I was playing Tyrone (Jackson).

AlbirRojas2 I remember that. (singing) “Fame…I want to live forever!” (laughs).  Yes. (laughs) In Panama the musicals are not like the ones on Broadway (New York).  They are very small, but I love to do the interpretation of the musicals and the acting. It was a very good experience.  The other musical was The Fantastics.   It was antique or old school theater.  I was ‘mudo’.  I don’t know how to say it in English.  Some people are deaf.  Some people are blind.  Some people can’t talk.  How do you say that?

I think you mean ‘mute’.  Yes.  My role was to be mute,  so I had to express everything with my body.  It was a good job and fun role to play.

That’s interesting.  What lessons did you learn from performing as a mute character? I learned to relax.  For people who are mute it is complicated to communicate.  You want to say something, but you can’t.  You have to make people understand what you want to express.  You have to relax and think of the best way to express it with your body.  We can talk with our body and there are many ways to communicate.  You have to relax and find a good way to interpret what you want to express.

When you first heard Kizomba what did you think of it? I was a latin dance teacher and one student asked me, “Do you know about Kizomba?’  I said, ‘No. I have no idea about Kizomba’ (laughs).  He told me he’d bring me some music and he did.  I fell in love with it.  I remember the first song he brought to me.  (Sings part of the melody).  I liked it!

You loved it! Yes! (laughs).  So I began to do some research on Kizomba.  I found that in Lisbon there were many, many teachers.  So I went to Lisbon.

How did you meet your dance partner Sara Lopez (Spain)? I was teaching hip-hop and her cousin was in the class.   She went to see a show that her cousin was in and the cousin introduced me to Sara.  One year later I went to a salsa disco and Sara was there.  She was an instructor there and was paid to dance salsa with people.  We talked and she told me she knew ballet, modern, etc.  So a promoter asked me to do a bachata show with hip-hop fusion and I thought about her.  So we did one show, but we still weren’t a dance couple.  Then there was an international kizomba competition and we decided try to be in that.  After we won second place we were like, ‘Ok.  Now we are a dance couple.’ (laughs). AlbirRojas4

Why do you all dance so well together and have such a great connection? I think because we love what we do.  It’s very hard to be a dancer and break with society.  They say that you can’t dance for a living because it’s not a good job.  We really fought for this and we dance well together because of that. Photo by Joel Correia.

You incorporate different styles of dance into your performances…hip-hop, jazz, ballet…How would you describe your dance style when dancing Kizomba? Fusion! (laughs).  I think that’s what we express.  Sometimes we mix kizomba with hip-hop.  In our last show we mixed it with dub-step.  In the future  we want to mix it with reggae.   It’s all about how we feel about the music and what we can express with the music…and we mix that with kizomba.

What’s your methodology for putting together a performance? We both like to hear and listen to a lot of music.  Then we pick a good song to mix with our style.  For example, dub step.  We both love dub step.  It’s getting very popular.  There is a Brazilian couple that dances Zouk, Leo and Becky (Neves).  They fusioned LambaZouk with dub step.  We were like, ‘Wow!’  Tatiana Mollman and Jordan Frisbee are West Coast Swing dancers and they also mixed dub step in their routine.  So we said we can do that in kizomba too! (laughs).  Kizomba is very nice for social dancing because it is very soft and smooth.  But for a performance it’s very boring! (laughs).  So we have to incorporate different things to make it a very good show.  It’s about how we feel about the music and what we can express with a song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BffbNfXLlk&feature=player_embedded

You and Sara are widely considered the most popular Kizomba dancers/instructors in the world…how has all the attention changed your life? I’m very lucky to have this opportunity in my life to do what I love.  I don’t feel like I’m famous.  I’m just a teacher.  It’s nice when people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for teaching us this.  You are famous!’.   I say, ‘No.  I’m just giving back what I love’.  Sometimes I’m on the dance floor at a disco or at a party and I see someone dancing and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness…what am I doing teaching? That guy is awesome!’ (laughs).  I really appreciate the love people are giving to me in the world of kizomba.

Do you have any specific goals related to dance that you’d like to accomplish over the next few years? I had a dance school and because of the travelling I’ve had to close it.  In the future I want to have something for the students.  Another is that I want to dance some place in Asia.  I have accomplished many of my goals.  My first goal was to dance with popular artists and I’ve done that.  Second, was to mix kizomba with other dance styles.  I also found Sara as a dance partner and she’s very good.  I’ve traveled around the world and met people who think I’m a good teacher.  I appreciate that.  I’m happy.

AlbirRojas5

You’ve performed all over the world, are there any particular places that stand out because of the people or atmosphere? I love to dance in France! There is a high, high level in France.  There are many immigrants from the French Islands, or from Africa…they have a very good culture for Kizomba, Semba and Zouk.  They have the dance in their body and its great to see people from Martinique, Guadalupe and Nigeria dance.  Sometimes I just stand in the corner of the dance floor and watch them dance.  It’s great how they can express the culture while dancing.  I am like ‘Wow’.  It’s great.  But kizomba is growing and there are many great dancers all around the world.

 For more information on Albir please visit his Facebook fan page: Albir Rojas Uno.      

Barack O’Bama may be the President in the White House, but Shaka Brown is the Commander and Chief of the Washington D.C. salsa scene.  Shaka was born in Washington DC and has risen to become one of the premiere salsa talents in the world.   He hosts and promotes the annual Capital City Salsa Congress which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014.   He has taught salsa in over 20 countries and is also co-founder of the ClaveKazi dance studio in D.C.   He is named after a Zulu warrior and leader, Shaka Zulu.  Fortunately for the dance world, Shaka Brown will not kill with a spear through the chest, but may make your heart skip a beat with a smooth as butter salsa shine.   Dance Planet Daily caught up with Shaka while he was in Miami.

Like so many men before you, you were inspired to begin salsa dancing by a woman.   In your best estimation, what is it about women that make men want to learn salsa dancing? 

I don’t think its just about salsa dancing.  I think women inspire men to just about everything that they do.  It’s the desire to please the opposite sex.  It’s what makes men own companies, try to take over the world, and buy houses and cars.  In my case it turned out it to be learning how to dance in order to gain the favor of a young lady.

You initially started with casino (or Cuban) style salsa.  I read that you liked it, but got bored with it.  You learned On1 style, but got hooked on On2 style…can you talk a little bit about how you discovered on2 style and why you prefer it?

I wouldn’t say I got bored with the Casino style, but that’s just what I started with.  After I did that for a while, my job took me out to L.A. for four months.  Once I got there I basically took a lot of ‘On1’ classes.  I took a lot of private lessons and a lot of group classes.  When I got back to D.C. once again there was a woman (laughs).  She told me that if I was going to spend any time with her that I was going to have to dance ‘On2’.  I did it quite begrudgingly, but it worked out for the best.

ShakaBrown4

Do you remember the first salsa class you ever taught?  Were you nervous?

Yeah, but I’m nervous every class I teach.  The first class I ever taught was as an assistant at a salsa congress in Toronto.   The SalsaWeb convention in May of 2000.   I helped Jami Josephson with the class because she needed a guy.  That was the first salsa congress I ever went too and was the first congress I ever got to assist as a teacher.  The first congress that I taught under my own name was at a Chicago salsa congress (West Coast Salsa Congress) in 2003, I believe.  That was a great time.  I don’t remember how many times I’ve taught since then, but I know I get nervous every single time I’m about to go teach.

Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

It depends on where I am.  When I’m out at an event or out partying I’ve observed that it’s the introverts that tend to group up sometimes.   Its harder to move around and meet with a lot of different people and groups.   That’s more of what I do.  However, if people come and hang out with me in Miami they’ll see I’m definitely not a party animal.  I’m in the house.  I work.  I listen to classical music.  You might even get bored if you hang out with me.  I like to drink coffee and just chill.   When I’m off work then I’m by myself at the house.  When I’m on the job (dancing) then I’m all over the place.

I read the articles you’ve written for your website ShakaBrown.com.  It’s very apparent that you’re an excellent writer.  In addition to your writing skill you also speak three languages, English, Spanish and Portuguese and you’re an entertaining public speaker as evidenced by your hosting the DC Salsa Congress… Why is it important that you (or dance instructors in general) be effective communicators?

Dance is communication.  Having the ability to speak different languages doesn’t help me that much when I’m teaching classes.  For the most part, every where I go when I teach a class I’m counting 1-8.  What helps me more is learning how people communicate and learn because people learn in so many different ways.  That’s critical to me.  If you aren’t able to adapt to the way that people are understanding you then you aren’t going to make it very far.  You can’t force people to learn your way. You have to meet half way between what they can do and what you believe.

ShakaBrown6

You’ve written articles on how someone can improve as a social dancer and performer…what are your thoughts on how someone can improve as a dance instructor?

I’m actually in the middle of writing an article about that! It will hopefully help some people.  The biggest thing for instructors is not showing people what you can do because that’s what you do as a performer.  As an instructor you have to be able to show people what they can do, and show them what they have within them.  Sometimes I see people teaching classes and they try to come up with a turn pattern, or shine that is really hard even for themselves.  If they’re losing people in the class then I don’t consider that a successful class.  I’ve seen some classes where they teach very simple things, but they get that light to come on in people’s eyes.  Those are the types of classes I’m looking for especially when I’m booking instructors for my events.

I have a few friends in the salsa scene who have met and danced with you (Katie Seamans and Lily Vasquez)…and the one word they all both  agreed upon to describe your dance style was ‘smooth’.  How would you describe how you dance?

It’s a mix.  I never started out with the goal of being smooth.  If some people were to complain about my dance style it would be that they might not know what I want them to do.  That’s probably a big part of being smooth is that I don’t know what I want them to do (laughs).  I just like to move and feel the music.  As I start moving…I make adjustments to how they respond.  Some used to say, ‘It was confusing dance with you because you don’t have a strong lead’.  I realized all had to do was just relax and whatever happened was what my goal became.  So if I’m opening up for a cross body lead and she doesn’t go, then I’ll just do something else.   Or if she does do it then that’s what I’ll go with, but it’s not like I have more than 2-eight counts planned in advance.  I have an anecdote, if you don’t mind.

Sure!

There was a guy interviewing two chess players and he asked, ‘How far in advance do you think of your moves?’.  One of the players said, ‘I think eight moves in advance.’   The other player said, ‘Well, I pretty much think about one move.  It’s the best move!’.  (laughs).  That’s how I approach the dance.  It’s not really all planned out.  You keep going with the best way to make an adjustment and take it from there.

One thing I’ve observed from watching videos and reading articles about you is that you’re very thorough in your teaching and choreography.  I read that as early as 8th grade you were writing and studying hip-hop dance counts…why is it important to you to be meticulous in preparation and training?

The devil is in the details.  Everything for me is about what details there are to make someone accomplish what they want.  If I’m teaching a beginner class I try not to overwhelm them with details.  What I find is that as people advance they want to know the difference between what makes something work well, and what just makes something work.  I try to make sure I’ve got enough grasp of all the details in anything that I do.   So if a person wants to know exactly where their weight is on certain count then I can describe it to them, instead of telling them just keep moving and it will work out.

ShakaBrown7

The 9th Annual Capital Congress (or DC Salsa Congress) was held a couple of weeks ago (from June 13th– 16th).  As we mentioned before you hosted the event…Can you talk a little bit about what it means for you to be such a big part of the event and why its special to you?

Oh my gosh! It started out as the DC Salsa Congress.  But we started getting complaints from people because only in the first year was the congress actually in Washington D.C.  It was still called the DC Salsa Congress for six years when we had it in Virginia.  I knew that I wanted it to be the Capital Congress and it helped us to be able to promote the event as well.  If we told people it was the Washington DC Salsa Congress then they felt it should be in Washington, DC…as opposed to if we told them it was the Capital City Congress then it includes the entire DMV (Acronym for DC Metro Area. DC, Maryland and Virginia).  The event really started as a house party!

Really?

I used to do house parties in DC with my roommate.  One day we didn’t have any food in the house so we said let’s have a party! (laughs).  We’ll tell people to bring food and we’ll provide music and dancing, and everybody will be happy.  We did that and it took off.  It started out as a joke.  I would write-up these long emails describing how awesome the party was going to be, and we would do recaps of the party and take pictures.  It really grew way bigger than we expected.  Our entire house was packed with people who were dancing, having fun, and eating.  There would be people from the neighborhood that we didn’t even know.  They would just walk in the house just to see what was going on.   We never had any trouble with anyone.  David Melendez  took a look at how we were promoting the parties.  He said he wanted to do a congress in DC and he wanted me to be his partner! I told him I didn’t know anything about how to do a congress and that he should talk to a promoter.  He told me that I knew how to do what he needed.  It’s a great feeling each time people come to the congress because it feels like a big house party!

*Note.  David Melendez was founder of the Starlite Dance Studio in the Bronx.  He was a noted Mambo instructor/promoter in the NY/NJ area.  He passed away in 2007.  

What experiences or feelings do you want people to take away from your events?

I want them to come away with the feeling that they are welcomed no matter where they’re from, what style they dance, or what language they speak.  They feel like they can come and feel comfortable being on the dance floor.   My only gripe about my event is that I don’t get a chance to party.  I’m working the event!  I make sure that anyone we hire for the event is going to contribute to the party in the same way that I would.  There going to be there social dancing, giving fun workshops and giving great shows.  There is very little of the stuck up attitude at our event.  That’s what people say they like the most about our event.  Everyone is really down to earth.  They have fun on stage and they teach well.  And you spend time with them at the party and that’s critical to keeping the feeling behind the event.

It’s interesting that you brought up the attitude you wish to foster at your event.  I’ve talked with other dancers, instructors, and promoters who feel that the overall attitude at salsa congresses is ‘stuck up’ or ‘clickish’.   I’ve never heard these terms used to describe dancers at bachata congresses.  Why do you think the opinion exists?

Well, believe it or not, salsa as opposed to bachata is a lot harder, and because of that salsa attracts a particular personality.  It generally takes guys about two years two feel comfortable about what they’re doing in salsa.  For girls it might take a little bit less time, but you can see the difference between someone who has been dancing two years and someone who just got started.  I think it takes so much work, and the ‘Type A’ personality becomes more dominant at a salsa congress.  People are a bit more driven, so people will say, ‘No, I don’t want to dance with you because I’m trying to get to this point’.  It might take them three or four years to get to a certain point.  Once they get to that point then they can chill out a little bit more.  They get to the event and are more relaxed, and they know people who they want to dance with.  It creates a different ambiance.  If someone has been taking two weeks of a bachata class then they can go to a bachata congress, and be ok.  They know that they will be fine and people will dance with them all night.  They don’t have to be particularly good at it, but they just need to have the basic step down and know how to do a left turn and right turn.   Maybe have some basic styling and a few tricks.  I think because of that you get a wider range of people, and so people aren’t as concerned about being shot down or rejected.   It makes things easier in that respect.

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What are your thoughts on performers/instructors dancing with students/attendees who attend the congresses? It is important?

I think that can make or break your event.  It’s important to have instructors who understand how important the social aspect is to a congress.  The event is going to come up short if the instructors feels their job is to just teach and perform, and they’re not on the dance floor socializing and giving people a chance to connect with them.  That really is the difference between salsa and anything else.  If you want to see a great performance you can go to a concert and probably spend less money.  You can go see Chris Brown perform and spend less money than you would to go to a salsa congress.  It’s going to be a greater performance and it’s going to be more organized, but you’re not going to get a chance to hang out with Chris Brown!  You’re not going to have a drink with him and then him ask you to dance.  People put so much energy into salsa and sometimes the instructors seem unreachable.  However, when they find out you can actually talk and hang out with them, it snowballs and gives them more incentive to keep going to events that a particular instructor attends.

Whats your biggest thrill that you get from dancing? Is it teaching? Performing? Perhaps meeting new people through dance?

The traveling is probably the biggest reward for me.   Every time I get the chance to go someplace that no other job I’ve ever had has afforded me…that’s something that makes me feel really appreciative of what it is that I do.  Being able to travel and see the world was always an important thing to me growing up.  I never thought I’d be able to do that.  People ask me to come to Japan, China, Singapore, Europe, or South America and I realize it’s special.  It gives me a rush every time.

 

You wrote on ShakaBrown.com that one of the 5 ways to improve your social dancing skills was to be ‘goal oriented’.  Have you set any goals pertaining to dance that you’d like to accomplish over the next few years?ShakaBrown2

I feel like I’m always working on something new.  I’m excited because I’ve got the chance to perform and travel with Maria Ramos from New York.  It’s reinvigorated me in terms of what I do with the dance.   Also, next year will be the 10th year that we do the Capitol Congress and so I want to make sure that’s something people really enjoy.

Who are dancers that you love to watch perform, or dance socially?

There are people I love to watch social dance, perform and teach.  It’s a range.  Performance wise, I really enjoy watching Adolfo (Indacochea).  I love watching Gordon Neil perform.  These are folks I see perform on stage and they have ‘it’.    I enjoy watching anyone social dance when I see a connection between the partners.  I see how two different people are connecting and it may be dancers who are famous in the salsa scene, or it may just be two dancers.  I like to see the energy build up.  It’s like talking to someone without actually talking.

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Last question for you and I was somewhat surprised when I ran across this story…apparently one night you were briefly taken to the other side by the grim reaper and tried to eat a girls head while dancing Kizomba? Is this true?

(laughs).  That was a joke that I wrote.  I was dancing Kizomba in Portugal.  The dance is very much about the connection, and you can dance it in a room that’s pitch black.  People get into a zone when the dance begins and a lot of times girls just close their eyes and feel out the dance.  So I was dancing with a girl when all of a sudden a buddy of mine came around the corner  with a huge camera and I just made a crazy face.  The girl still had her eyes closed and she didn’t even know what was going on.

For more information about Shaka please visit his website at ShakaBrown.com.


Rodney Aquino is The Godfather and creator of the first bachata congress in the USA (2009). His events  draw large numbers of dancers who want to experience bachata culture, music and dance at its finest.  Few others have done more than Rodney to bring together and facilitate unity among bachateros.   He is currently planning a bachata competition, The Bachata Gold Cup.  Dance Planet Daily talked with Rodney and he gave a very candid and incredibly eye-opening look into the bachata world that he has helped shape over the past decade.

You are Filipino, correct? 

Yes.  My parents are from the Philippines.   I was born in San Francisco. When I was 12 years old they sent me to the Philippines for school.

Did you have any exposure to Latin music and dance growing up? 

My parents danced Tango.  They were the stars in their generation I think! (laughs).  It was kind of weird to look at them dance, but we had a lot of salsa and mambo music when I was a kid.  Generally speaking Filipinos are influenced by Latin and Spanish culture, and that’s how I got exposed to it.

Although you’re widely known for your involvement in bachata, your early days in the Latin dance scene were spent teaching and promoting salsa.  How did you initially get into salsa dancing?

I was into Latin ballroom.  I was competing with my partner and one night I saw this guy doing some cool moves at a club.  He would almost kiss women, or brush their hair while dancing certain moves.  I said, ‘My God! He can actually get away with that! (laughs)’.  That was about 18 years ago.  I pursued salsa and I left ballroom because I really did not enjoy a restricted type of dance (ballroom).

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When did you begin teaching dance and did you have any mentors who helped guide you?

I had several mentors.  I had Eddie Torres as a mentor for mambo.  I actually had the Vasquez brothers in L.A for salsa.  At that time they were really big!  I did the salsa thing but I was not really good at it.  In the bay area back then if you weren’t latino, no one would want to dance with you.  They would want to see how good you were as a dancer otherwise they would say no.  Whenever I asked woman to dance, they would look me up and down, and say ‘No!’.  That really offended me.  I said to myself I’m going to start a website and gather email addresses and we’re going to go as a group!  And that’s exactly what I did.  We used to have a website called Salsagang.com.  We’d grown to 500-600 people.  In the bay area back then people could not believe that a bunch of Asians ruled the club! (laughs).

Talk a little bit more about that…So, did you find lots of resistance and discrimination when you initially started dancing?

Absolutely.  It’s been that way even to this day.  I call it “Dancism”.  It’s that way even if you go to the Dominican communities.  Lets say you go to Washington Heights in New York.  You should go visit as that’s a predominately Dominican scene when it comes to dancing.  If you’re a ‘gringo’ they want to see if you can actually dance their dance.  Some of them are really, really purist.  They say, “Hey, you’re not dancing bachata, you’re dancing this…’  You’ve got to hang with them and appreciate their culture, and then they’ll begin to look at you differently.  It’s the same thing with any other dance like Cuban salsa, Rueda, or Casino.

You’re a certified Personal Fitness Trainer and you hold a 4th Degree Black Belt in the Martial Arts?

I wish I was still practicing, but I’m not practicing anymore! (laughs).

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Do either of those accomplishments aid you in dance instruction? If so, how?

Yes. Absolutely!  In my salsa and ballroom days, the best instructors I had were martial artists or martial arts teachers.  I didn’t realize it until I started teaching.  They were dynamic and skilled at being able to explain techniques.  The what, where, why, and how come.  These skills were applied to their presentation to a point where you don’t forget it.  Its ingrained in you.  I picked that up when I started teaching.  You don’t gain students by the way you look.  Whether you look flashy or not…You gain students through great teaching and a great class that they can actually retain.  Jorge Elizondo (Also interviewed by Dance Planet Daily) is a living testimony to that.

Jorge is a great guy! I’ve met him on several occasions.  I’ve taken several of his classes and he is definitely a proponent of being fundamental before you become flashy.  

When were you introduced to bachata dancing and what did you think about it initially?

I lived in New York for two years.  I was going to school there.  Often times I would go to Washington Heights and go to Dominican restaurants.  Every time I would go to a restaurant they would be playing bachata music, but I didn’t know it was bachata at the time.  One couple danced it.  Very simple.  They weren’t doing any patterns or any turns at all.  I thought, ‘They can actually dance to this music!’  I asked the waiter what kind of dance it was and he said it was bachata.  I started getting curious about it.  I’m a guitar player so for someone to play a guitar in that manner…I was like ‘What in the world is going on here…?’ (laughs).   It was a totally different format, but I began to like the music.  When I got back to the bay area I went to the Acapulco Night club.  There were two ladies dancing bachata, but they were dancing differently.  You know that side to side with the bump on the fourth beat…I thought it was interesting.  One of them danced with me.  Trust me, I couldn’t dance at that time (laughs).  I loved the music but I was really beginning to hate this dance!  One of the ladies taught me right there on the dance floor!

How did this love of guitar help you gain a better appreciation of bachata?

It’s more of the lyrics.  The blues or country type of format.  I travel a lot and whenever I drive I really get into the music.  Not because of the melody, but it’s really the lyrics.  I understand a little Spanish and these aren’t pleasant songs brotha! (laughs).  There are some tragedies, but for some reason I’m drawn to it.  It’s the emotional side to bachata.

Bachata music and dance haven’t always been appreciated by the public like it is today.  Can you talk a little bit about the history of bachata and where it came from?

Bachata came from the Dominican Republic…in particular the poor and rural areas.  There are two kinds of people in the Dominican Republic; the poor and the rich.  To this day, the ‘elite’ denounce bachata.  About three years ago some partners and I decided to start the first bachata congress in the Dominican Republic.  I inquired with the hotels in Santo Domingo (capital of Dominican Republic).   We wanted four or five-star hotels.  I told them we were going to have a bachata congress there and if they had any space.  They said, ‘Sorry Mr. Aquino we don’t have any space for you’.  We had about 12-13 hotels that we called.   I had an idea after about a week of calling them (hotels).   I called the very first hotel and said, “We’re going to have a Latin dance festival in Santo Domingo.’  They said, “Sure, Mr. Aquino, we have space for you!’ (laughs).  At that point I realized the Dominican has not changed at all.  When Rafael Trujillo was the dictator  there he really made sure that bachata was banned, and that merengue was king.  I know a club owner as I’m friends with his son.  They literally closed that club because they were playing bachata back in the day.

Wow!  That’s pretty amazing!

Even to this day people still hate bachata!  I was in South Korea teaching bachata and kizomba.  The Angolan embassy really liked it.  They sponsored me and paid for my flight.  We organized a VIP party.  The ambassador of Angola invited the ambassador of the Dominican Republic and his diplomats.  I was excited! I told the ambassador of the D.R. that we were going to be playing lots of bachata!  He wasn’t excited and he asked me, “Do you have any merengue…?” (laughs).  So, no matter what Romeo or Prince Royce do, it has not changed.

I can’t believe that!  What do you think it is about the music or culture that repulses them so much?

I’m almost 47 years old.  I’ve seen how hip-hop grew in the United States.  To this day some people like it and some don’t.  It’s the same thing with bachata lyrics.  It’s the lyrics.  There was a time when the lyrics had a lot of sexual innuendo.  Juan Luis Guerra is a very popular artist.   He has won a lot of Grammy awards.  He really tried to change the lyrics by creating the very first bachata album.  Its called Bachata Rosa (1990).   One particular song started as Cuban son, but it’s really bachata.  It was a test and for some reason he got a lot of awards for it.  He infused it with bolero, but bachata really comes from bolero.  Most of his lyrics are more romantic instead of tragedy.

I interviewed Jorge Elizondo a few weeks back and he credited you with being the creator of the first bachata congress in the USA.  What vision did you have for the first festival and was it difficult to organize?

It was difficult.  I did a lot of pulling teeth.  What influenced me to do it was that I participated in the first bachata festival in the world in Sydney, Australia (2008).  I got invited by them.  They said to me, ‘Rodney, we’ve only heard of you from Facebook and Google.  We don’t know what we’re doing…but let’s do this!’ (laughs).  It was a 14 hour flight there and it was storming (laughs).  It turned out great.  We had about 300-400 people from all over the world…New Zealand, Asia, etc.  I was the only representative from the United States at that time.  I told my guys I can see this happening in the United States.  The moment I do this, it’s going to spread out all over the world.  The minute it spreads in the USA you know everyone else will follow.  That next year I did it in a hotel called Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco.   About four years prior to this, I had been fighting the DJ’s in the bay area to play bachata and nobody would play it.    In November of 2008, I told Jorge and Juan Ruiz (co-founders of the first bachata festival) I’d like to talk to them about doing a bachata congress.  I said let’s go to Reno.  Of all places, Reno! (laughs).  We had about 150 people show up.  I told Jorge and Juan that 150 people was good enough.  We could multiply it in San Francisco.  Sure enough, we had about 300-400 people for the San Francisco festival.  Those 300-400 people were not locals! They were coming from all over the world, and to this day I still remember some of them.  They can tell you that was probably the best bachata festival ever.  Many popular artists started there…and they now probably have their own bachata festival! (laughs).

Thanks to you of course! 

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Your events are incredibly popular in the latin dance community.  The San Francisco Bachata Festival, Reno Bachata Festival, among others bring huge crowds because of the quality instructors and artists who attend…what experiences and feelings do you want dancers and participants to take away from your events?

That it’s a fun dance.  That it’s all about having fun and meeting new friends.  You meet new friends from all over the world.  Let’s say you go to Japan or Paris.  You can connect with friends you’ve met (from past festivals) and they will show you around like family.  It’s an amazing thing.  You have this commonality…almost like they’re your brothers and sisters.  Most people tell me that it’s a friendly festival and that its better than a salsa congress because there are no snobs here.  That really is whats making the festivals click.  Of course, the bigger they are the more you lose the friendliness.  We’re trying to keep that in tact.

Creating a quality festival must take an incredible amount of planning and organization.   What’s  the most difficult aspect of putting together a festival?

Money! (laughs)

Straight to the point! 

Hotels cost money.  Inviting teachers like Jorge.  Flying them, feeding them, and paying them for their workshops.  Sometimes I will get carried away and invite bachata bands…and, of course, that costs money.  Ninety percent of the time you have to pay them in advance.  Our customers usually purchase tickets at the last minute…and that can be a problem!  Initially when I did festivals it was fun and a party.   Now, it’s almost like an addiction (laughs).  A passion becomes an addiction to the point where you say, ‘Oh, I want to do a bachata festival here.  What? Colorado doesn’t have a festival? Let’s have one!’ Organizing is difficult.  You have to have a staff.  They have the same passion.  They’re not looking to make money.  They just want to have fun and they want bachata to spread all over.

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You’ve been deeply entrenched in the bachata culture for almost 15 years now, how has it changed since 2000 when you initially became involved with it?

The biggest change is that when we started no one knew what they were doing.  No one knew if they were dancing it the right way, or not.  They would such watch couples or look at Youtube.  They started creating their own moves based on the music.  Now its really getting popular and money is involved where people can take a piece of the pie.  Some Dominicans are getting involved now that have never taught bachata before.   In the Dominican Republic you might see three or four dance studios, but there are no bachata clubs.  If you were to say, ‘Rodney, I’m going to the Dominican to dance this weekend can you suggest some clubs?’  There are no bachata clubs there.  They all play raggaeton, merengue or some other beats.  If you really want to be hardcore there are some bachata clubs there…they are whore houses in the barrios.  They’re not advertised.  They are by word of mouth!

Really? That’s fascinating! 

That’s one thing the government of the Dominican Republic needs to know!  They could do a lot of business if they promoted tourism by emphasizing bachata.   We have to give credit to Aventura, Romeo, Prince Royce and urban bachata.  You can feel the difference in the beat.  There is more bass and instruments.  They’ve improved the lyrics.  That’s really getting popular among the young people which is really important at this point.  That’s how I think bachata has changed…and I think it has changed for the better.  Romeo hooked up with Usher to make a hit song.  That’s a good start!

In reading various articles about you from around the web I’ve found that you’re really big on keeping unity in the bachata community whether you dance ‘modern bachata’ or ‘Dominican bachata’ etc… I saw a quote from you on one of your events that said “No Judgement, its all about having fun”.  Why do you think it’s important to maintain this sense of unity?

Unity is always good in print, as everyone knows.   Having everyone gather together in one place is almost impossible, but doable.  I think unity is obviously important when you’re promoting something that is not mainstream yet.  I think its even more important when you’re promoting something that was hated or oppressed in the first place.  Unity would be a very strong weapon to all of those who oppose it.  The very idea of bachata is simplicity, therefore the new dancers who come to the festivals don’t need to be intimidated because everyone there is like them.   So if they can maintain that mentality and have the powers that be united it would really be great whether they are competitors or not.  Jorge (Elizondo) and I are friends, but we are competitors at the same time.  It’s a healthy competitiveness.  If we didn’t have both Coke and Pepsi then soda would never improve! (laughs).

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How did you get the nickname Rodchata?

I didn’t create it, that’s for sure (laughs).  I went to Los Angeles to this club called El Granada in Alhambra, California.  It’s a very popular club to this day.  We asked the DJ to play bachata…and he played merengue! I said, ‘No, no, no…bachata!’  (laughs).  The minute he started playing bachata I danced with a very popular salsera at that time…I think she used to be the partner of Johnny Vasquez.   We were dancing bachata and everyone was watching.   Someone taped it and then they posted on my site and on a site called Salserosweb.com.   A guy name Milton coined the phrase “Rodchata”.  He said, “We’re going to start calling you ‘Rodchata’!”  At that time I wasn’t teaching yet and when I got into the business of teaching, I said that I was going to use the name, Rodchata!

You were married to Isidra last year, correct?  

This Monday (July, 1st) is going to be our first anniversary of our wedding and our fifth anniversary of being together! I met her at the first bachata festival in Reno.  At that time she was just getting into bachata and she didn’t know me.  That’s where it all started.  There comes a time when you realize someone is the one! So far so good.

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How has she helped in your success up to this point?

She is the boss of the festivals! (laughs).   I’m not really a business man like I told you.  This is just a passion.  When it comes to business I’m not Donald Trump where you can have that magic touch.  She commands my festivals.  I do the pre-planning of the festivals, the negotiations and the advertisements.  If I were to do that I would be really good.  Professionally I’m a psychologist!  I can’t believe I left that out laughs).  During my festivals my wife is the boss.  I’m not even allowed at the registration area (laughs).

You recently created a new event , the Bachata Gold Cup.  Can you talk a little bit about that event and why you decided to create it?

Great question.  Glad you asked it.  There are a lot of bachata competitions going on in the world.  Some of them are sponsored by salsa events and I like that.  I judge in a lot of them, particularly the World Latin Cup.  I’ve judged there two years in a row.   I was the only bachatero judging salseros dancing bachata!   Most of the judges are either ballroom competitors or salsa instructors.  The bachateros always complain that every time they see video of the winner online, that its not really bachata and they blame the judges!  You can’t blame the judges because when they present the criteria for judging the competition, we judge it accordingly.  With that complaint, I decided to do a competition where every style (of bachata) is there.  We created  it so there we will have different divisions for traditional or Dominican…whatever you want to call it.  Then we’re going to have another division for bachata fusion and you can do whatever you want to with the dance.  You can do lifts or whatever.  In this way dancers will know the difference, but also people can participate and compete in both divisions.  And we will make sure that all judges are respected in the bachata community and are bachateros.  And as an incentive we are going to make it tennis or ballroom style where scores are accumulated.  Your world ranking will be determined by how much you compete and place.   So far I’m getting good responses!  I’m really excited about the Bachata Gold Cup…if it does well then we’ll do it all over the world!  It’s going to be apart of the San Francisco Bachata Festival and it’s going to be sanctioned by the IBCA (International Bachata Competitors Association).  Almost all of my festivals will have these types of competitions.

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Are there any goals specific to dance that you’d like to accomplish over the next few years?

There are two.  One is the competition.  I really believe it will maintain the presence of bachata.  A lot of doubters are still thinking bachata is a fad…like with Lambada and some other dancers.  That’s the reason I’m doing this competition is to keep it alive and inspire the students to do more and pursuing excellence.  The second is completely outside of bachata and its called Kizomba.  Have you heard of it? (laughs)

Yes sir! (laughing) Quite a bit!

The first time I tried to dance it I was in Europe.  The woman was doing everything and I panicked! I like this dance! Its Tango with hips.  Last year I did the second Kizomba festival in the USA in San Francisco.  Jorge (Elizondo) did the first.  I’m going to do it again this year.  That’s another vision of mine.

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For more information about Rodney you can email him it “Rodney@Rodchata.com’  or his Facebook page here:  Rodney Rodchata Aquino.


Roberto Lay is one of the most popular latin dancers/instructors in the burgeoning Dallas dance scene.  You will never mistake him as just another bachatero or an average, bland dance teacher.  Whether he’s sporting a dyed feau hawk for a performance or wearing his Bachateez line of dance gear at a festival, Roberto is very much on the cutting edge of style in the latin dance world.   I talked with Roberto while he was traveling to Oklahoma to conduct auditions for his dance team.

You were born in Panama City and moved to the USA at the age of 10.  When did dancing become a passion for you?

Dancing became a passion for me around the age of 15.   I participated in a group from Texas that was composed of dancers from my native country, Panama.  So it was a Panamanian Group.  We danced to Panamanian Folklore music which is the traditional music of Panama.  That’s what got me started in dancing and where I developed my passion for it.  The group was called Panamanian Folklore Dancers of Colleen.

When did you begin teaching dance and did you have any mentors who helped guide you?

I started teaching dance when I moved to San Antonio.  I was roommates with Lee Rios from Semenaya (Dance Company).  I would consider him the person who guided me, and mentored me in teaching.  It actually quite funny.  There was a day in which Lee double booked himself for a private (class), and he said, “Robert I’m gonna need you to cover this private for me.”  I was like, dude, I’ve never taught before!  Lee said, ‘Man, you know how to dance…teach em!’ (laughs).  That’s how I started teaching.  Lee just threw me in to it, and I’m glad he did!  Once I started teaching that’s when I started developing more as a dancer.  I can’t remember for sure…but I was between 18-20 when I started teaching.

Do you remember that first student you taught and were you really nervous?

I do remember the first student I taught and I was nervous!  I can’t remember his name, but I remember he was a doctor (laughs).  Actually, he continued taking lessons with Lee, then he decided to take some lessons with me.

What do you think makes a good dance instructor?

A good dance instructor is someone who is able to recognize and understand the needs of the students.  Being able to pin point small details that can fine tune the student.  If I’m working with a student on a particular turn, there might be that one minor detail that will help them become a better dancer.  You have to put yourself in your students shoes and understand what they need to understand.

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I’ve seen you dance at various times either at a club or at an event….How would you describe your salsa dance style?

I’m a very musical person.  I love all styles and genres of music.  I like to put in a little urban touch to it.  A little bit of hip-hop.  Growing up in Panama we listened to a lot of reggae and raggaeton…so I’ll throw in some moves from those dance styles.  Its funny, when I first started dancing, people would ask me what kind of style of dancing I do.  Is it L.A (on1) or New York (on2)?  I was like ‘I’m neither! I’m Texas style!’ (laughs).  Lee Rios and I had our own style.

You and Sandy De Lara are the parents of a young, talented, 9 year old boy named GianCarlo …This past March you and Sandy performed with him at the Texas Salsa Congress.  Talk a little bit about what that performance meant to you not only as a performer but as a dad?

That was one of the most memorable moments in my life.  It was an honor to share the stage with them.  It was very emotional for all of us, and it made me very proud.  He was very proud because that’s something that he’s always wanted to do.  He’s always looked up to us as adults, parents, and as dancers.  I think it meant a lot more to him than it did to us, but it was a very special moment and very memorable.  It’s something that I’m going to always cherish for the rest of my life.  Sharing the stage with my son…that’s not something a lot of parents can say that they’ve ever done.  It’s huge for me.  His birth (laughs)…and sharing the stage with him have been the two most special moments in my life.

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How did GianCarlo feel going into the performance? Was he nervous…or was he like,   ‘I got this!’?

Man, he’s a beast! He owned it.  He’s fearless.  It’s kind of funny because even myself and Sandy sometimes get stage fright before we perform.  He goes out there, does his thing, and it’s like a walk in the park for him.  I think we were more nervous for him than he was (laughs).

Do you encourage GianCarlo to follow in your footsteps and become a professional dancer?

I encourage it, but I don’t push it.  I tell him to do whatever he feels he wants to do.  I tell him to follow his heart and follow his passion for whatever he wants to do.  He said he wants to be a game developer or a scientist….and then he’ll do some dancing on the side (laughs).  I will definitely support whatever he decides to do.  He’s extremely gifted and very talented which is something that I’m very proud of.

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You and Sandy are no longer a couple yet you still remain friends and even perform together (as previously mentioned).  Most people don’t want anything to do with their ex’s let alone dance with them…How have you two managed to maintain such a healthy relationship?

Sandy and I consider each other as one of our best friends.  She’s always there for me and I will always be there for her.  We think about the most important person who will benefit from our friendship and, of course, that’s our son.  We both benefit as well because she’s a wonderful human being and a great friend, and we do it for the sake of our child.  He looks up to us and admires us both as parents.  Its one of the most wonderful things in the world to say that my son’s mother is one of my best friends.  The three of us do all sorts of things together as a family, or Sandy and I will each bring our significant other…it’s a wonderful, healthy relationship.  It’s not easy as parents, but we continue to work on it everyday and it gets better and better.

You are Director of the Seduxion Dance Group (based in Dallas).  Talk a little bit about what lead you to begin the dance team and what your vision is for the group?

I love to choreograph and I love to teach. I love to work with people and help them become better dancers.  That’s how I started with the dance team.  Actually, the first dance team that I had was with Sandy De Lara.  It was called En Fuego Dance Company.  That was about ten years ago (laughs).  After En Fuego, we parted ways and I decided to go with Rumba Y Fuego.   Delissa Ortega was the co-director of that team.  After Rumba Y Fuego broke up I decided to start Seduxion.   Seduxion is the first all bachata team that I’ve ever done.  We’re like a family.  One of the visions that I have for Seduxion is to share the experiences I’ve had traveling as a dancer and to help people perform.  So they (team members) can say, ‘I’ve performed at the New York Salsa Congress.  I’ve performed at the DC Bachata Congress.  I’ve performed at the San Francisco Bachata Congress.’  Another vision for Seduxion is to continue to push for them to be even better.   Right now we’re expanding to Oklahoma.   Oklahoma Seduxion is the name of the group.  I’ll have an amateur team and a semi-pro team.   I’m even considering expanding to Austin, Texas.  There has been some interest from people there about joining a bachata group, so you may see Seduxion Austin coming up in the next few months!

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What qualities are you looking for from someone who auditions for the group?

We recently had auditions (Dallas team) and I told them that I’m not looking to see how well you dance.  If you’re a good instructor any new individual can be trained to be a performer.  Maybe not a great performer…but everyone can be trained to be a good performer.  I’m looking for people with great attitudes and are down to earth.  Get along with everyone.   Positive individuals that have good energy.  I want people who are passionate, dedicated and committed.  Everything else…that’s what Tamara and I are here for.  To train them to be where we want them to be.

What should the audience expect when they see Seduxion perform?

As the name of the group implies, something very seductive (laughs).  Our routines are different from any team in Dallas.  We’re a bachata team.  Nice choreography. Maybe a little bit of hip-hop.  We like to incorporate difference (dance) elements just to make the routines more unique.  Definitely sexy and seductive.

You’ve performed both in the USA and internationally at various events.  At the Unity Festival of Dance in Florida you and Tamara Valle performed a “Snake Charmer” routine.  It was very creative and sensual. It combined a few styles of dance including bachata, jazz, and urban isolations… What’s your methodology when choreographing a routine for a festival?  What important in a routine when performing at a festival?

Tamara has an extensive background in dance.  We like to think outside the box.  We like to think about what has and hasn’t been done.  What’s out there right now.  I watch a lot of videos on Youtube and see what everyone else has to offer.  One of the things that really inspires me to do a routine is the music.  I have to find a song that really moves me to do a certain style of dance routine.  For example, one of the songs that I listened to for our last choreography was “Egyptian in the night” by Nuttin’ But Stringz.  It has a real Egyptian beat to it.  Tamara is an amazing dancer.  She has great body isolations and flexibility…so, I thought to myself that we should do a snake charmer routine.  The routine is still in the works.  That was actually the second time that we performed it.  It’s not finished. We still have some polishing up to do.  I still have to work on my dancing.  Partnering with Tamara has introduced different styles into my dancing.  She’s technically trained so I have a lot of catching up to do! (laughs).

How do you judge whether you’ve had a good performance or not?

It’s funny…the way a performer feels and looks are two completely different things.  There have been nights we’ve performed and said, ‘Wow! That felt great.  It was awesome!’  Then we get home and watch the video and we’re like ‘Ugh!…not to impressed!’  And vice versa.  Sometimes we come out of a performance not feeling well about it , but then we watch it on video and feel completely different because it was actually a good performance.  The performance from The Unity of Dance Festival I’ve watched about 30 times.  I like to pin point little things I’d like to correct about myself.  Sometimes we take notes and write down things that we’d like to make better, or things we should change.  Perhaps moves we’d like to transitioned into differently or make more musical.  Those are the things we’re looking for.

How would you compare social dancing to performing?  What are the differences for you?

Social dancing allows you to be a bit more free within yourself.   You feel the connection with your partner and its a lot more freestyling.  With a show you’re performing for the audience.  So you have to worry not only about connecting with the music and your partner, but also with the audience.  You have to pull them into your world and make it believable for them.  There is a lot more restriction to what you can do when you’re performing on stage.  There is a lot of technique involved…but its still a lot of fun.

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I’ve always wondered this…what’s your mindset when you’re social dancing?  Are you dancing with the knowledge that future students may be watching and you need to be technically correct?  Or do you dance just to have fun?  As a teacher it would seem that you have to cognizant that people are watching.

Actually, a little bit of both.  I’m not gonna lie…Dancing and teaching is what we do and it’s how we make a living, and so sometimes we go out with the mindset of recruiting students.  We go out and put on a little bit of a show so people will be interested and want to take classes from us.  But there are other times when I just want to go out, and let loose.  To dance, do as I feel, and just do my thing…and be myself.   And it’s not that I’m not being myself when trying to recruit people, but I can be more relaxed when I’m just having fun and dancing.  But, to be honest with you, when you’re out there and just free styling…those are the better dances.  When you’re just out there and you don’t care! (laughs).  When you’re just having fun.

When you’re out social dancing and going to go kick it…what style do you like to dance the most? Salsa? Bachata? Hip-hop?

Bachata.  The reason I like to dance bachata so much is because of the music.  It’s so passionate and intense.  It can be mellow or fast paced.  It’s definitely the style that I get into the most when I’m out social dancing and free styling.  It moves me the most. I also appreciate the fact that its slower so I don’t get tired! I’m getting old! (laughs).

*Note*  Roberto revealed his age…and much like Lebron James he still has plenty of years left in his prime, and will not be getting senior citizens discounts at IHOP anytime soon!  

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Are there any particular events that stand out to you and that you get excited for every year?

Yes, there are three in particular that I get excited for.  The San Francisco Bachata Festival which happens in July (July 17th-22nd).  The DC Bachata Congress in August (August 8th-11th).  And the Aventura dance cruise which happens in November (November 8th-11th).   Both the DC and San Francisco events are for bachata and I love being able to dance with people from all over the world.  They have beautiful stages that I love to perform on.  It’s non stop bachata dancing.  They do have rooms for salsa and kizomba…but I go for the bachata.

Are there any specific goals pertaining to dance that you would you like to accomplish in the next couple years?

Yes, I do have some specific goals.  Whether those are attainable or not I’m not sure…but you can only reach for the stars, right?  One of my goals is to either dance onstage with an artist, or be part of a music video for an artist.  One of my other goals is to place in the top three of a well-known (dance) competition.  I know they have the World Latin Dance Cup in bachata.  They have them twice a year.  My last goal is to travel to teach and perform internationally.  I performed internationally with Tamara when we were in France this past March, but my goal is to both perform and teach internationally at a big salsa or bachata event.

If you’d like to contact Roberto and learn more about his classes or the Seduxion dance team, please visit his Facebook page:  Roberto Lay Facebook Page

 

James Brown was the hardest working man in show business.  Jorge Elizondo may be the hardest working man in bachata.    Jorge’s philosophy is to create opportunity, and not wait for opportunity to fall upon you.  If there were a Mount Rushmore for the founders of the bachata congress in the United States…Jorge would definitely have his place amongst those chiseled into sculpture.  Bachata has swept across the world like wildfire, and Elizondo’s ‘World Bachata Tour’ continues to be instrumental in spreading the word of the Dominican born dance.  The World Bachata Tour (created in 2007) is a series of festivals and dance boot camps designed to educate, and instruct the world about bachata one city at a time.  Dance Planet Daily caught up with Jorge while he was in San Diego.

Musically you’re very gifted.  Actually you’re a classically trained musician.  Can you tell us what instruments you play and how your interest in music influenced you growing up?

I’ve been playing saxophone since the sixth grade when I was about eleven years old.  I played all the way through college until I was 25 years old, and I studied music and music education.  I was inspired by Kenny G.  I was classically trained because the university I went to primarily focused on classical music.  I didn’t get to focus to much on jazz.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

I was inspired by the saxophone.  Arists like Charlie Parker, Dave Koz..but Kenny G was probably my biggest influence.  I love how he would play something and move thousands of people with simple melodies, and make them sound beautiful.  You’ve got jazz artists playing very complex things and the vast majority of people don’t understand what they’re hearing, and don’t appreciate that art form.  Kenny G plays really simple things but makes it sound inspired, beautiful and moves people.  That’s what I wanted to do.  I wanted to do something simple that reached the masses, and inspired people.  That’s exactly what Kenny G’s music does and that’s pretty much the driving force behind me playing saxophone for such a long time.

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In 2002 you were working for Telemundo and a co-worker introduced you to Salsa.  At the time you weighed around 400lbs….Can you talk about the challenges you initially faced learning salsa and how you overcame them?

I didn’t have too many challenges to begin with.  I was already tackling the overweight aspect by going to the gym.  I had never been to a club prior to ages 23, or 24.  I was very nerdy…always on the computer and dedicated to my saxophone.  One day my friend saw me, I was a little sad from my breakup, and he told me let’s go out (to the club).  That’s when I saw salsa for the first time and fell in love.  As a musician I was never exposed to salsa, bachata or merengue.  I was always listening to classical or other types of music.  The biggest challenge for learning salsa was the instructor that I had back home (McAllen, Texas).   We spent four months on the basic before connecting with a partner.  That was very frustrating for me.  Taking classes for four months and not even knowing how to dance with a partner.  He was doing Zumba before it was ever popular, but he just didn’t know how to teach it (salsa).  He kept saying, ‘Follow me…do this, do this…’ and I was like ‘Can I learn how to dance with a partner?’.  (laughs).  That’s why my salsa is so good because he kept me on my basic for four months.   No instructor does that nowadays.

You were teaching salsa about a year after beginning classes…what factors helped you become an expert so quickly?

The challenge I had was just having a teacher that didn’t know how to teach partner work.  So, luckily, one day while taking a private lesson I saw his dance video collection and I saw something called Casino (salsa).  I asked him what it was and he said it was a style that they dance in Miami and in Cuba.  I was very fortunate that he let me take it home and that’s when I started to learn more partner work.  I watched the video that featured Salsa Lovers (dance company) from Miami.   I figured out one step.  I decided for me to understand it I have to teach it to someone else, and that’s been my logic and philosophy.  If you want to master something you have to be able to teach it to someone else.  So I learned every single step on the DVD and then taught it to someone.  The first thing I actually learned was Casino Rueda.  I’ve been a teacher my whole life and this is another aspect that got me dancing so advanced.  If I could do it and then explain it, then I understand it better.  I started teaching Casino Rueda in my hometown and that was the first thing I was teaching.  That’s how I started getting better at salsa.

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World-renowned dancer Edie ‘the Salsa Freak’  featured you in her DVD the ‘Worlds Best Leads’.  What qualities do you think makes a good lead in any latin dance?

I had a lady that I would dance with.  Her name is Rosie.  She helped me become a good lead because she wouldn’t do anything unless I lead it.  And she would have us do it again, and again.  There’s nothing like someone giving you instant feedback.  She wouldn’t do anything just to help…she wouldn’t turn unless I made her do it.  I was very lucky to have someone like her to give me instant feedback.  Leading is such a difficult thing.  You  have salsa leads, bachata leads, kizomba leads…each one is three different entities.  If you’re dancing kizomba you can’t do a bachata lead because kizomba is all chest and body.  You’re not supposed to use your hands at all.  With Salsa, you’re supposed to have loose hands and you get tension right when the turn is going to happen.  In bachata it’s all about connection.  You’ve got to have tension and connection through out the whole dance and be able to feel the body movement.  Each one requires it’s own specific way of leading.

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You were introduced to bachata by a fellow dancer back before the dance was even mainstream.  What did you think of bachata initially?

(laughs) True story. The first bachata CD I bought was at a local bookstore and it was $5.  I bought it and thought it was trash. I was like, ‘This is terrible.  What is this?’.  (laughs).  I didn’t know who the artists were and it said ‘bachata’ so I bought it.  Luckily, where I lived, we had six or seven bands that played bachata, salsa, cha cha and cumbias.   So, I began going out and listening to this music and watching people.  Several dancers took me aside and showed me the basics.  Side to side.  Forward and back.  What made it special to me was that there was no one giving rules, or saying to me that I couldn’t do this or that.  So, I basically started making it up.  It gave me so much freedom because in salsa all I got was rules.  It was frustrating.  It was liberating learning a dance that had no rules and I could do whatever I wanted.   I could take what I learned in salsa and put it into bachata.  No one told me that was wrong, or right because no one could justify it.

You and a few other instructors realized bachata had lots of potential as a dance beyond the basic 4-step pattern and began mixing it with other styles of dance… one of the innovations from this was Bachata Rueda.  For those who don’t know what is Bachata Rueda and how have you helped the dance develop over the years?

Bachata Rueda was what inspired me to start teaching bachata.  A dance company called Hips On Fire from Boston were the creators of the original Bachata Rueda.  They created their own series with over a hundred moves.  It was very popular in the Boston area, and they’re Casino Rueda lovers.  They were brought down to teach at the Rueda Salsa Congress.  We had one bachata class and that was Bachata Rueda.  I took that one class and I really liked it.   It was finally something I loved, but with bachata.  I took their one hour class and learned seven or eight things.  I went home the following Monday and called all my friends and told them I had something to teach them.  And that was my first bachata class.  I shared with them everything I’d learned in one hour.  The following week was my first weekly bachata class.  I was starting to make up my own stuff because I only got to experience one hour of Hips on Fire’s class and I couldn’t see the rest of their moves, so I made up my version of Bachata Rueda.  I took their core techniques and movements and made up my own calls.  So, I developed my own 50 or 60 calls.  So, basically, Bachata Rueda evolved from two things.  The originators, Hips on Fire.  And me taking the basics from their core and creating my own moves.  Unfortunately, I get credit for creating Bachata Rueda, but the truth is they invented it.  I was just able to travel all over the US and showcase it to more people.  On my website I give them full-credit for it.

You organize quite a few festivals, workshops and boot camps each year that take place all over the world…How did you get into being a festival promoter?  Do you remember your first event?

My vision was to spread bachata one city at a time, and along the way I met many other bachateros.  They were doing their own movements in their cities.  As I traveled from city to city I got to meet these individuals.  One of them was ‘Rodchata’ (Rodney Aquino) from San Francisco.  He’s a person that loves to gather people together, and he had the vision to implement the first bachata congress.  He saw that I was very successful with what I do and I had more contacts than anyone else.  So he asked me to join him, and we collaborated.  The first congress that was put together through advertising was the San Francisco Bachata Congress in July, 2009.  Along the way we said lets test this idea first.  Rodney and I did a sample congress in Reno in January, 2009.  The Reno Bachata congress actually was the first congress, but it wasn’t the first one we were advertising publicly.  It came out really well.  We had over 120 people come out.  We had invited all the bachateros that we had met along the journey, and they supported it.  It was crazy!  That was actually the first introduction into lap dance classes as well (laughs).  People loved it.  Ever since then somehow bachata congresses all have lap dance classes now.  Its an odd combination but that’s how it began.

Do you find the lap dance class is one of the more popular features of your festivals each year? 

People love it.  They don’t complain.  My dance partner and I (Summer Sando) collaborated for a long time and right before the congress she said she’d like to teach lap dance.  Summer believed she had come up with a way to inspire women to be more sensual and confident.  She felt the workshop would really bring women out of their shell and we decided to do it.  Summer is a very confident woman, and she has a lot of respect for herself.  Her husband is a Marine.  When we put this together is was all about respect. That’s the way they conducted and approached the class.  Her husband helped teach the men to respect the women before they even entered the class.  That’s all a part of the routine.  Men have to show respect before they even get near the ladies.  Its something sensual, but the guys were going to be respectful.  It ended up being a winner because no one felt they were in a ‘slutty’ class.  It was sensual, sexy and inspiring.

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You take a lot of pride in your events…What experiences/feelings do you want dancers to take away from your events?

I want them to feel the event was well organized.  When things fall into place like they’re supposed to then the dancers aren’t worried about this or that.  They get a sense that they trust the schedule and that things are going to happen on time.  I don’t like keeping people waiting.  The most important thing is the quality.  I hand pick all my artists.  I scout my artists.  If they can’t teach then they can’t be at my events.  They have to be at a certain level of excellence because at the end of the day I’m doing this to educate the public.  If I just have ‘any Joe’ teaching then my mission isn’t going to be accomplished.  I need my team to understand my vision and what I want to accomplish at the end of the event.  That’s why the main thing is that I get top artists who are on-time, and give excellent workshops.  I also want them to dance with the students.  I don’t focus to much on entertainment because that’s not my event.  My event is more for learning and practicing.  I give great workshops and dance time.  Performances are a bonus.  I want dancers to enjoy the shows, but then lets get back to dancing.

You travel quite a bit.  I read that you’re on the road for 280 days a year.  It would seem your popularity is one of the reasons you stay so busy…what are some of the positives and negatives of being a ‘dance nomad’ so to speak?

I’m on the road because I choose to be.  I choose to educate the world.  I don’t wait for someone to hire me.  I pick a city and I go…and let the people and the community know I’m there.  Otherwise bachata never would have grown.  There’s only a few artists in the world right now who get invited everywhere, and I’m not one of them.  I still continue to do business the way I did in the very beginning.  My current tour I’m doing 15 cities and six countries.  I decided this ten days ago.  I’m teaching in San Francisco, Taipei, Tokyo, Vietnam, Bangkok, Bridgemen (Australia), and Sydney.  All of this is happening because ten days ago I was inspired to go teach in those cities.  I arranged the tour and bought all my plane tickets.  I contacted the promoters and they’re all happy to have me, but a lot of them don’t have the funds to bring talent from outside places.  I’m creating the movement and not waiting for the movement to invite me.  This is what I feel bachateros do and I’ve been doing this for seven years.  The only way to grow the movement is not to just visit once, but to go back and push the movement so they really appreciate it.

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You mentioned you’ve been promoting/teaching for seven years…how do you maintain your passion for dancing?

It’s just in me.  One day you can come follow me and experience what happens in just one hour with beginners.  When I get them and what I can accomplish with them is really inspiring.  I’m really working hard to become a better instructor.  In one hour I can make them seem like they’ve been dancing for months.  That’s what inspires me.  The challenge of giving them the knowledge quickly and getting dancers moving forward, and seeing the results at the end.  That’s what makes it worth it to me.

What s your favorite dance style when you’re dancing socially? 

Bachata.  I don’t like salsa.  I’m trying not to dance that anymore. (laughs).  The truth is I put everything I can give from my salsa into my bachata.

In an interview in 2007 you said that you believed one day bachata will grow and be considered as important as salsa…Do you still believe this to be the case?  Why?

Its pretty clear it is now.  Every salsa congress has to have bachata in it.  It did exactly what I thought it would do and it continues to grow.  It’s not just because of the dancing.  You have artists now that are coming out with amazing music. They’re mixing modern and urban music with bachata which is grabbing young artists and students.  The music itself is inspiring.  For Kizomba I don’t see it growing because they don’t have the artists that bachata does.  Bachata has Aventura, Romeo, Xtreme, Toby Love…these artists move people.  I love listening to Kizomba, but I don’t think there is an artist out there that is going to move the masses like bachata has.  I think thats why bachata keeps on moving forward.

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Do you currently teach Kizomba and, if not, do you think you’ll ever teach it?

No.  I’ve been promoting Kizomba for three years and I do one thing and I like to do it right.  Thats why I focus so much on bachata.  Honestly, Kizomba would destroy my bachata.  All my techniques for bachata don’t work for Kizomba and I would have to forget everything that I know.  They’re just two different monsters.  As a professional I think that people who take their art seriously focus on one thing and be great at it.  So I focus straight on bachata.  The year I stop being a professional I will dive into everything and be so-so at everything (laughs).

For more information on Jorge and the instructional DVD’s he offers, visit his website : Bachatafusion.com


 

 

 

Carlos is one of the true innovators in the world of bachata.  His dance style , commonly known amongst his students as  ‘Cinta Style’,  combines a unique brand of footwork with the traditional form of bachata.  His musicality class offers students a valuable lesson in not only how to dance to bachata music, but also how to listen to it as well.  Carlos was born in San Francisco, but grew up in Chicago. He has Afro-latin roots as his mother is Mexican and his father is Ghanian.  I caught up with Carlos a day after he had returned from a bachata festival in the Dominican Republic.  He was moving residences that night, and departing early the next morning for yet another country to teach.  So, a midst the moving boxes and randomly strewn masking tape, he patiently and graciously answered my questions.

When you first heard bachata music you hated it.  Considering your passion for it now that’s pretty surprising.  When did you discover bachata music and why did you dislike it?

I first discovered bachata music in 2003.  There was something about the sound. It was kind of boring to me. It was annoying.  I didn’t like it at all.  But then Aventura came out with the song, ‘Obsesion’ (sings a verse), that’s when the fusion of the R&B and pop music sounds were added to it.  So, around that time, that’s when I started to dig it.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

When I was younger I listened to what I guess you would call rock music.  Skid Row, Guns N Roses…that kind of stuff.  My mother was always at work, she worked three jobs when I was growing up, and my moms sisters would baby sit me.  Rock was the kind of music they were into, so that’s what I grew up listening to.  When I was in 6th grade we moved and that’s when I got into rap and R&B music, but my mother always had New Age/easy listening music playing.  So we would listen to Yanni, Cirque Du Soliel, Acoustic Alchemy, and smooth jazz.

How did you get into teaching bachata?

It was never really a plan of mine.  Of course I initially started dancing because of a woman.  Long story short, she knew how to dance everything and I didn’t know how to dance anything.  We would go out and she would be on the floor dancing all night long.  I would be on the couch waiting to at least say ‘hi’ to her, but she just wanted to dance.  Needless to say, I didn’t care for her getting dipped in my face all night long.   Her getting turned and sweat splashing me in the face, but it wasn’t me making her sweat it was some other dude.  I didn’t really like that, so I learned how to dance.

When I first saw bachata it was boring to me.  All people did back then (2004) was the basic step.  I enjoyed bachata more than salsa and at the time there were a million salsa teachers, but no one was really teaching bachata.  I found a partner that was as passionate as I was about doing something different with bachata.  We would practice a lot all the time.  We would create all these moves and turn patterns, and then do them at the club.  I had a few friends who would say, ‘hey, show me how to do that…teach me how to do this’, so I would show them.  They said I should start teaching.  I told them they were crazy because I didn’t know anything about bachata, and I just did it to have fun.  My friends and I had a mutual friend who was teaching salsa at a little Mexican restaurant.   She wanted me to teach with her.  I told her I didn’t know anything about salsa, but I could do bachata.   She said ‘great’ because she wanted to do half-bachata and half-salsa.  So, that’s how I got into teaching and I started to like it.

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You started out teaching ‘modern’ style bachata, but switched to the ‘Domincan’ style.  Why the change? 

That didn’t happen until 2009.  I was at a club in San Diego and I danced with a Puerto Rican lady who was one of the best dancers on the planet.  She just jams.  She was so much fun to dance with and that opened my eyes to a whole other side of bachata.  I got intrigued.  And with San Diego being a big military town there are a lot of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who come here from New York, New Jersey, or straight from the Dominican Republic.  So, hanging out with them I was exposed to how they dance, and how they listen to their music.  And even with merengue tipico and the guitar merengues…just listening to that with them and seeing how excited they get.  Its addicting and contagious so I started to really like it, and it took off from there.

Many people don’t know the history of bachata.  Can you talk a little bit about where bachata originated and why its important for your students to know about the history?

I don’t know everything and I’m still learning a lot myself.   I do know that it didn’t start off as a dance.  The term ‘bachata’ was used to talk about a certain class of people who weren’t accepted.  The Dominican dictator  (Rafael) Trujillo didn’t allow bachata to be played.  Merengue, Son, and Bolero were allowed, but bachata was for lower class people.  It was the ‘poor peoples music’.  Bachata is influenced by Cuban rhythms.  It wasn’t allowed to be played until Trujillo was assassinated in the ’60s (1961).   I think knowing the history is important because I didn’t like bachata until I started hanging around Caribbean people, and being exposed to the Dominican culture.  Seeing how they respond to the music, their people, and their culture makes you appreciate it more.  This past weekend I got back from the Dominican Republic for the ‘BachaTu’ Bachata Festival.  Seeing all those (music) legends on stage through out the course of the weekend was just (pauses) there are no words to describe how important and amazing it was.  It’s the birthplace of bachata. All the (bachata) artists that people listen to now, these were the artists that their parents listened too when they were growing up and dancing. These were the people who inspired them. It’s important to be aware of the past no matter what style of music you prefer, and I think its important to know where something comes from.

What do true Dominicans think about the modern style of bachata?

The younger musicians like it because its their generation.  The older musicians and singers…I don’t think they like it too much (laughs).  Its nothing like how they sing or  music they play.   Back then the musicians actually had to play instruments, but now a good amount of music is generated on mixing boards and computers.  Back in the day you actually had to sing, but now there are pitch correctors and so many changes can be made with electronically.  They hide your flaws.

Would you equate it to old school hip-hop versus new school? Back in the day you had turntables and it was more of a street vibe.  There was more originality.  

(laughs) I can’t even listen to it (hip-hop) now.  All you have to do is have a good, catchy beat and you can talk about whatever and you’ll be famous.  I don’t see the artistic skill it in at all.  All you’re doing is rhyming words…and sometimes the last words in the sentence don’t even rhyme!

Your teaching style is really laid back and humorous, but its also very clear, organized and informative.  You don’t have a formal teaching background.  What helped you to develop your teaching skills?

Sports.  Growing up I was fortunate enough to have coaches that paid attention to detail.  I played football in college, and every little detail made a difference.  That’s how I was coached and that’s how I played.  If I was running through a certain drill and I accidentally touched the cone, I would stop, and start over again because I wanted to make sure I went through it perfect.  I think teaching has to be that way.  For me, as a teacher, I’m really strict on knowing all the ‘ins and outs’ because people are going to have questions, and if I don’t have the answers it isn’t going to look good on me as a teacher.  I try to go through every possible scenario.  If I’m going to teach a new move I will practice it first…then ask a dance partner if its comfortable for them.  I’ll ask questions because I want it to be user friendly, and I want to fine tune everything before I make it ‘go live’ in a workshop.  I’ll test a new way of explaining something to my friends and say ‘hey, does this make sense?’.   Actually, I like to try things on people who know absolutely nothing about bachata because if it makes sense to them, then it should be even more clear to someone who does dance bachata.  I definitely test everything in ‘the lab’ before I put it out there.

CalosCinta06

I’ve taken your bachata musicality class and the way you breakdown each instrument within a bachata song is a pretty genius teaching method.  Why is learning musicality so important in bachata?

I think its important for all dances and for all genres of music.  You can learn to get ahead of the music and you know what’s going to happen before it happens.  Rather than being late, you can learn to accent certain things in the music and you can play with different instruments in the music because you can hear it.  You react to the music instead of robotic ‘dancing to numbers’ or memory.  Thats another reason why I transitioned to the Dominican style of dancing because you don’t have to remember what move comes next and its more based off of a feeling rather than technical movement.  Its makes it more fun and enjoyable.  Being able to hear everything goes back to my days as a kid when I listened to music all day long, and I would pay attention to every little thing.  I’ve been doing that since 6th or 7th grade.  When you pay attention you begin to notice the little things that musicians are doing and its like, ‘Wow…that was sweet!’ (laughs).

CalosCinta10

You’re a big fan of the music thats produced from Cirque Du Soliel.  Do you have a favorite Cirque production and how does Cirque help with your teaching?

Oh man! They have so many CD’s out there.  Saltimbanco is one of my favorites.  Alegria is definitely one of my favorites.  Those are probably my two favorites, but there are just so many of them.  When you see the shows live its incredible.  The music fires you up.  There’s just something about the music.  Yanni too.  Yanni – Live at The Acropolis was one of my favorites growing up.  I would listen to all these CD’s before football games.  Some people put on rock.  Some people put on rap with all the explicit lyrics.  Me? I would listen to Cirque Su Soliel, Acoustic Alchemy, Everything But The Girl…(laughs).  I would listen to these soft kinds of music in my headphones , but I would get really focused.  I would get into another world and start to hear all the little sounds in the background, and the music was constantly changing.  I would get deep into the music.  That made the transition easier to bachata because there are only five instruments, sometimes a few more, but with these other styles of music there are countless sounds and noises.

You’ve collaborated with Joan Soriano on a variety of projects.  How did you guys meet and why do you love his music so much?

I have to give my friend Adam Taub all the credit for this.   In 2010, at the Reno Bachata Festival, Adam showed the documentary of Joan.  Just seeing how they live in the Dominican and how they grow up.  Its all about the music and there isn’t very much money out there…they still go on and become these great musicians.  So, I was really interested to meet him (Joan).   I remember I was at the DC Bachata Festival later on that year and I met the manager.  He was kind of spying on me (joking)…he was in one of my classes.  He introduced himself to me as Soriano’s manager and I was like, ‘Oh..wow!’.  I got all nervous (laughs).  It’s better that he told me after the class because I probably would’ve gotten to nervous to teach.  He liked that I was using Soriano’s music and we got along great from there.  He told me that in a few months Soriano was going to be playing in Chicago.  I was still living in Chicago at the time, so I went to the concert and got to meet him.  Man, that was…awesome.   I support him so much because his music is great and he’s such a humble person.  He just loves singing.  He loves performing.  He’ll wait and take every last picture, or sign autographs until everyone leaves.  I really respect that…especially in today’s world where its about being a superstar and wearing your sunglasses in the club.  Or you can’t come within twenty feet of me and I have to be picked up in a black SUV.   Blah, blah, blah.    With Joan’s group, they’re used to having nothing and they just love playing their instruments.  I met his family when I went to D.R. and he’s so welcoming…to anybody.  He’ll show you around Santo Domingo and take you to clubs.  That’s the kind of person he is.  I will support that any day.

CalosCinta04

In Joan’s biographical DVD “El Duque de Bachata” the very first thing he says is in the DVD is “I don’t have riches, but God gave me the riches of music…”  Through out the DVD you become very aware that he’s extremely passionate about his music…Its obvious you’re very passionate about dancing/teaching…How do you maintain that passion?

A few reasons.  One, I feel a responsibility to my students.  If they’re going to take time out of their day to take my classes, its the least I can do to give them my best effort and give them a good product.  Some teachers really don’t care.  They show up to class unprepared and could care less.  Their attitude is ‘When is my hour over?.  Ok. Cool. Pay me my money…see you guys later’.    To me, how I was raised as a person, I can’t do that.  I like to be there for my students because I am where I am today because of the people.  They motivate me.   Two, if you really want me to be honest…a lot of the promoters  that keep me out their festivals motivate me too.   There is a lot of politics involved.  A lot of promoters may not value what I do, but I think its money driven rather than out of respect for what I do.   I don’t have a school.  They (promoters) say I don’t have a dance team with twenty people, so therefore I’m not bringing paying customers to a festival…but, I’m the only person that teaches what I teach, the way that I teach it.  I would say the majority of people have found my classes beneficial, yet I’m still kept out of certain festivals…so that really fires me up.  That makes me want to go harder and harder, and constantly improve my product, and show them that this is God’s will for me no matter what.  You can keep me out of a festival, but I’ve got a product that people like.  So…here I is (laughs).

Some bachata teachers perform or have dance teams.  You haven’t gotten involved in those types of activities as of yet.  Any particular reasons?

I have stage fright (laughs).  No joke.  For people that don’t know me, I’m actually a very shy person.  Very, very shy person.  However, when I’m teaching or coaching its a whole different animal.  I guess I have two people living inside of me.  As soon as I’m done teaching, I’d rather be in the corner to myself.  I like to observe people rather than be the center of attention.  That’s just not for me.  I definitely get stage fright.   I forget choreography like its my job.  When you’re performing and doing routines you have to put on your ‘face’ and smile.  My face would be so concentrated on ‘this comes after this…’, and you would be able to see me thinking.  I’m not a performer, man.  I choreographed one routine and I forgot my own routine (laughs).   That was it for me.  One and done.  Everyone has a role, and I will stick to teaching.  That’s my strength.  I respect the heck out of performers…even the newbies and first timers.  It takes a lot of courage to do that, so I respect them.

CalosCinta03

You’ve taught workshops all over the world…what places stand out to you because of the dancing, people, or environment?

I like everywhere that I’ve been.  The new experiences and meeting new people.  New cultures.  Its awesome being able to travel and see different places.  I would say I’m more biased towards New Zealand, Poland, Finland and Australia because I’ve been to those places the most.  The foundation in those places is very strong.  People take classes…and then they take more classes.  That’s just what they do.  Not to say that other places don’t.  Over here (USA) they’d rather learn on YouTube or just go social dancing, but over in those other countries people actually take classes.   So their foundation and their understanding, in my opinion, is stronger.   In those four particular places the people really stand out but, again, its probably just because I’ve been there more often.  I’ve made a lot more friends and spend more time out there.

Carlos recently started a website called “BachatawithCarlos.com”.  The video below is a preview of what he offers to potential students.  Check it out! 

Last question…Barry Sanders or Walter Payton?  Who would start for you in your dream back field?  

(Deep breath).  Come on man, those are my two favorites.  (Pause).  I’ve got to go with Barry.

 

 

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Hello friendly dance blogger.  Below you will find a list of helpful dance related websites and blogs that you can use! These are some of the more popular dance sites on the net, but they may also help you find other lesser known, but just as valuable, dance blogs circulating around the internet.

Enjoy.

SalsaFreak.com

EdieSalsaFreak

Edie has a wealth of information pertaining to dance instruction, instructor training,  DVD’s, dance business management, etc. A valuable resource for anyone thinking of a career in dance.

AddictedtoSalsa.com

AddictedToSalsa

Addicted To Salsa is the premiere salsa blog/resource on the net. It features 100’s of free, quality salsa lessons via Youtube (taught by Anthony Persaud), articles on Salsa dancing, and a free salsa app. With over 95K likes on Facebook the site has a massive following. Get on board salseros!

DanceMedia.com

DanceMediaDigital

Dance Media Digital are the publishers of Dance Magazine, Pointe (Ballet Magazine), Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, and a host of other dance related magazines. Their website contains lots of information and articles concerning all things dance.

DanceAdvantage.net

Dance Advantage

Dance Advantage features articles and useful resources for adult dancers, dance instructors and parents seeking direction for their kids dance education.

SalsaByTheBay.com

Salsa By The Bay

Looking for Salsa information in San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities in the Bay Area? Salsa By The Bay is your definitive source! It is one of the most comprehensive and well maintained Salsa sites that covers a particular region.

If you have any dance related blogs/websites you’d like to see added let us know!

1950

(1) Teaches Musicality. 1194986541442028018ear_-_body_part_nicu_buc_01.svg.hi

Musicality (in dance terms) is simply the ability to connect with the music and ‘interpret’ the  rhythm you’re dancing to.  A good teacher can teach you the basic steps and a boat load of turn patterns, but a truly great instructor will teach you how to ‘listen’ to the music.  Knowing the basic step count is important, but you need to dance the them at the right pace and energy. The video below is a funny and informative introduction to musicality.

teacher_clipart_6(2) Communication.

Your teacher can be the greatest dancer since Turbo from Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, but if they can’t explain dance concepts effectively then you’re wasting your money.  Magic Johnson was one of the the greatest basketball players of all-time, but he was a terrible coach.  He had the basketball knowledge, but he couldn’t effectively communicate his ideas to his players, and he only coached one season.  The same goes for dance instructors.  You should definitely plan on attending one class as strictly an observer so you can get a feel for their communication style.  You will also see if their class size fits your needs.  Do you want to be in a large class where you can practice with more students, or a small class that is more intimate with more personal instruction? These will be important questions that you will solve by attending a class.  The clip below is a the type of salsa class you definitely want to avoid!

10095f855a05759f17e9da5b5f0b840b(3) Emphasizes the basics.

Your latin dance instructor should love teaching the basics as much as a kid loves Kool-Aid.  The ‘red’ flavor.  They should be a stickler for emphasizing the fundamentals and not let dancers get ahead of themselves.  The vast majority of female dancers prefer a guy who is an expert at leading a few basic turns over someone who knows hundreds of fancy turn patterns, but is terrible at leading them.  Guys prefer a girl who willingly follows their lead and doesn’t ‘back lead’, or do a lot of ill-timed shines that throw off his rhythm.  A dancer who is fundamentally sound on the basics is a joy to behold simply because you can connect with them, and you don’t have to worry about what surprises they have in store.

 

style-md(4) Fits your style.

What style of bachata do you want to learn; Dominican or a more sensual style? What style of salsa do you want to learn; LA On1, New York On2, Colombian, etc…?  Do you want to learn ballroom Tango or Argentine Tango?  Ballroom Cha Cha or Club Cha cha?  These types of questions should play a factor in your instructor decisions.

 

d3324a3d399fbde182ef6113fcfbd40c(5) Youtube.

Most dance instructors will have some videos available on Youtube.  They will either be sample instruction from their classes/website, or videos captured by students watching them dance at festivals, clubs, etc.  Youtube is an invaluable tool to preview who you will be entrusting your dance soul too.

If you have any tips that you’ve found helpful let us know!

Happy dancing!