If there was a Salsa dancing Hall of Fame being established, Magna Gopal would be an instant honoree.
For the past decade Magna has been inspiring tens of thousands of dancers across the globe with her unique style, perfect technique, and spinning ability. She was born in New Delhi, India but moved to Toronto, Canada at a young age.
A movie called Dance With Me starring Vanessa Williams initially drew her to Salsa and after attending only a few classes, the self-taught sensation propelled herself to the upper echelon of Salsa dancers thanks to her dedication to the dance and her work ethic.
Magna is small in stature, yet she is never overshadowed by peers, and upon meeting her you can feel that she brings friendly professionalism and mature confidence with her to any event.
In addition to teaching and performing she has also produced instructional DVDs entitled Spins By Magna and Body Movements By Magna.
Magna was kind enough to speak with us between her classes at the BIG Salsa Festival in San Antonio, Texas.
We interviewed one of your good friends, Anthony Nardolillo, after he came back from New York. He was there to screen his short film called Mano for potential investors. The film will probably be remade into a full-length feature entitled TOCA – Our Latin Thing as early as late summer 2015. You served as co-choreographer for Mano. Are you going to be involved with TOCA – Our Latin Thing?
I know the details have yet to be released, but I know I’ll have some involvement in it. For sure.
What was it like working on a set? I know it has to be a lot different from your normal work.
Working on the set was interesting. It was a two-day thing, if I remember correctly. Two or three days. You have a lot of hang time sitting around doing nothing for a long time.
Then they say it’s time to film. Everyone starts dancing and you do your shot. They then think about how many angles they need to get and they talk again. Most of the film (Mano) is not about the dancing itself, so they captured a lot of it in one or two shots, I think. I’m not certain. Most of it was based on the talking or dialogue which the majority of the people on set where not a part of. They were the dancers, so it was just a lot of hanging out.
I saw an interview on YouTube that you did several years ago (before Mano was made) and you said that you might have an acting role in the movie (or full-length version of Mano). I’m curious if you have acted before?
I’ve never done any acting before. I might be tooting my own horn, but I think I’d be good at it. I’ve been able to convince someone I eat human hearts before just by keeping a straight face. It’s all in the delivery, so I think I’d be ok. If it was for his (Nardolillo) film I think I’d do some training to make sure I delivered the best possible performance.
Let’s say there was going to be a movie about you. What actress do you think would be good to play you in a movie?
I’ve never got that question before. That’s a good one. That’s interesting.
I know you’ve been asked every routine question ever so I tried to come up with something different.
It’s funny because I like to consider myself like an action hero, but I’m not. I’d want someone who could do action and stunts, and fly off buildings, but that really wouldn’t be a movie about me. That would be a movie about my imagination (laughs). I would tend to gravitate towards people who I admire for what they’ve done beyond acting…like Angelina Jolie. She works with the UN (United Nations) and does a lot of humanitarian work as well. That’s a rule that I have myself, so I feel like she would represent me the best, but not to say she’s anything like me. Who knows if she can dance (laughs)?
Speaking of celebrities…have you ever taught a celebrity to dance?
No. I did have Deepak Chopra contact me.
There was no confirmation. I had ‘a’ Deepak Chopra contact me. I don’t know if it was ‘the’ Deepak Chopra, but ‘a’ Deepak Chopra had emailed me saying he wanted lessons. I don’t know how he found out about me, and he said he didn’t want to do the group classes as they were to public. I messaged him back…I don’t remember when it was. I got all excited and replied, ‘We could do that, but that I was curious are you ‘the’ Deepak Chopra?’ That was the last email that I got (laughs).
So let’s get back to Salsa…from your perspective has the Salsa festival improved over the years or has it declined?
In terms of the festival market it has declined in the U.S., and picked up around Europe and other places. The U.S. used to be the Mecca for all events and that has dwindled. Some of them are picking up, like this event (BIG Salsa Festival) is fantastic. It’s well-organized, has a good lineup of artists, very well attended, and has great spaces. I think the market is picking up, but it’s hard to say about the quality of each event.
That really depends on the scene, the marketing, and what you’re looking for. A lot of events are going into the direction of performances and student groups, so the emphasis is less on social dancing, and more on performing. Considering it (Salsa) is a social dance, for me personally, I feel that it’s taking away from what Salsa is. It’s nice to see great shows and to give people to opportunity to perform who might not otherwise get that opportunity, however I don’t feel like it’s an equal balance. That there is emphasis on classes that pertain more to social dancing, understanding the music, and being musical and connecting with your partner versus the amount of classes that are for student groups, performance teams, and challenges. Things like that.
Obviously you’re very popular and you get people like me pulling for your time at events. You travel constantly. What keeps you motivated to do what you do?
To be honest it’s the people. I feel like I owe a lot to the public. I’ve been able to do what I’ve done all these years because the public has supported me all these years. Festivals are the opportunity to do something I love while also benefiting others on an emotional and technical level by teaching them something, and sharing dance. It’s an easy way to pay back.
What do you find more challenging, performing or social dancing? Which do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy social dancing the most. I’m not going to say performing isn’t challenging. Performing is challenging in a different way, and requires you to pull from yourself especially as a soloist, and be able to own the stage, be precise, and deliver something that’s different or whatever the case may be. I find that social dancing really challenges you because there is nothing you can ever truly predict. It’s always going to be something different. If you have the mentally of approaching it as, ‘what’s new’, then you’re constantly learning and growing.
When you first began dancing you really didn’t take that many lessons. You basically went out and learned through social dancing. Are lessons or social dancing more important when someone is beginning to learn Salsa?
They’re equally as important. Not to say I’m special, but I think I’m a special case. That’s primarily because of my mentality and my approach to not just dance but everything in general, so I’m kind of a sponge for information. Not everyone is like that. Some people are a sponge for information in that particular setting. When they’re in the classroom setting they’re taking in the information, but when they’re on the social dance floor they don’t have that same intensity and mindfulness. I think the majority of people fall into that category, and being in that category it’s better to have an equal balance. However, I’m more in favor of social dancing because there isn’t really anything you can learn in a class that will 100% work, until you actually try it in an environment that’s not controlled.
Kizomba is really popular on the latin dance scene these days. Do you dance Kizomba? And what are your opinions of the dance?
I do dance it. I wouldn’t say I’m a professional of it by any means. I can follow a good lead as with most partner dances. Most of the instructors that I know and enjoy dancing with do put out good information out there (about Kizomba). Where it’s more about the musical aspect and connection as opposed to dry humping your leg (laughs). Unfortunately, most of the time when someone asks me to dance that I don’t already know…eight or nine of out ten times its dry humping and I don’t enjoy that. I don’t mind Kizomba, but I don’t think I personally can do it all night. I think I have too much energy that slower dances like Kizomba and Bachata would not allow me to release. I do enjoy it over the course of the night.
What would be one thing about you that someone would be surprised to know if you told them?
I used to rap.
Well…I was a poet. I was an online rapper, but basically a poet.
Did you have a rapper name??
I’m not telling you (laughs). You don’t get two things. You only get one. You have to phrase your questions better (laughs).
Magna went on to identify Mobb Deep, WuTang Clan, and Jeru Da Damaja as rappers she listened to growing up. Magna no longer raps, but we think she should refer to herself as ‘Magna Da Damaja’ for the way she slays other people on the Salsa dance floor.
For more information on Magna visit MagnaGopal.com.
Below is the full length short in which Magna both performed and assisted in choreographing. Mano contains some strong language and mild violence. It’s probably a PG-13 rating. If you’d like to read an article about Mano and its planned full-length release…click HERE.