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Edwin Ferreras and Daniela Grosso are Co-Directors of the New York based dance company, LFX Dancers. Together they form one of the most talented professional Bachata duos on the scene today. Edwin is from the Dominican Republic and Bachata was born in “The D.R.”, so it makes sense that they are leading the way in schooling the world on the real meaning of “Traditional Bachata”.  Daniela was born in Argentina and moved to Miami at a young age.  She brings an impressive set of dance skills and knowledge to the table as well.

“Traditional” Bachata is often confused with it’s more popular cousin, “Dominican Fusion” Bachata, but Edwin, Daniela, and a handful of other dancers (like Carlos Cinta and Adam Taub) are helping set the dance community straight.

Check out some of their great vids below!

Below: Edwin dancing with his girlfriend and dance partner, Daniela Grosso

Below: Ferreras dancing with his mom.

Below: Edwin Bachata Solo shines.

To see more great vids of Edwin, Daniela, and LFX check out their YouTube Channel: LFX Dancers YouTube Channel.

Also, check out Dance Planet Daily’s Interview with Edwin Ferreras.

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A great person in history once said “The more things change…the more things stay the same.”

Take a look at the performances below.  One is from circa the 1950s-60s.  The other is from 2014.

The first performance/interview clip features Augustin “Augie” Rodriguez and his wife Margo.  They were national dance sensations (particularly with Mambo) through the 1950’s and 60s.  They performed on the famed Ed Sullivan Show (which was a Jimmy Fallon-like show talk show for you youngsters), and for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.  They mixed many styles of dance with Mambo including Flamenco and Jazz.  They were contemporaries of early Mambo dancers including Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar and Millie Donay (born Carmela Dante Di Stefano), The Mambo Aces, and “Killer Joe” Piro.

Augie recently passed away in July 2014 from cancer. He was 86.

The second performance features two of the top professional Salsa dancers in the recent decade: Alex Da Silva and Alien Ramirez.  Alien Ramirez has won several top dance competitions (such as various categories of the World Latin Dance Cup) both as a solo performer, and as a partner with another dancer.

Enjoy.

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Bachata music and dance has a rich yet controversial history.  It originated in the Dominican Republic and was censored for decades by the countries former dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Bachata music has only seen significant strides in popularity since the early 1980s, and Bachata dance has flourished post-2000 thanks to the music becoming more mainstream across the latin dance community.

There are several instructors and organizers who have led the way for dancers to learn Bachata dance, but there are only a select few who are helping to educate about the history and roots of the dance. Carlos Cinta, Adam Taub, Daniela Grosso, and Edwin Ferreras (pictured below) are among the small group who are filling in the educational void.Group Bachata BEATS

All four will be present at a new event being held in Toronto this October called Bachata B.E.A.T.S.

B.E.A.T.S. is an acronym for “Bachata Education About Traditional Style”.  The event is being organized by Caryl Cuizon (Co-founder of iFreestyle.ca Latin Dance Company) and veteran Bachata instructor, Carlos Cinta.

We spoke with Carlos about the upcoming event.

CarlosCinta20First, give us an overview of what BEATS is and how it will be unique and different from other Bachata events/congresses?

It’s a small weekend event. The entire weekend will be spent strictly dedicated to educating people on the culture, roots, history, and music.  We will focus on the traditional style music and not the modern style music which is at played at most festivals.  There are going to be classes on Bolero, which was the predecessor to Bachata.


Adam will be doing a class on how Son has inspired Bachata movements while dancing.  We will also be offering classes on the different kinds of Merengue.  I’ll be talking about the music and instrumentation for both traditional and modern Bachata, but focusing on traditional style.  This event will be different in that most other festivals focus on other styles of Bachata and dips, tricks, flips, etc.  We won’t be doing any of that.  Adam Taub

This is an event for us.  The traditional style lovers.  The current direction of Bachata is seeing most events focus on everything except the traditional style.  At socials you may only hear two traditional songs played, so for most of the night dancers like myself are sitting down or not enjoying it.  So this event is for us and the music we like to focus on.  We’re going to be partying all night to what we like to hear.

Caryl CuizanWhat prompted you and Caryl (pictured left) to collaborate and organize B.E.A.T.S.? Why do you think this event is important to the Bachata community as a whole?

We both love the traditional style.  I’ve known Caryl for a while and I trust her judgement and believe what she stands for as a person and dancer. I know the value of what we want to bring will be an honest, sincere effort to push the traditional style and not have a lot of different acts just to make money.

It’s important to the community because there are many, many events that advertise traditional style, but it’s not an accurate representation of how they dance on the islands, or in the Caribbean.  Everywhere I go I ask people about their stereotypes or perceptions of “traditional style” or “Dominican style”, and they always say ‘fast footwork and fast music’.  Well guess what? It’s not either.  Those are elements of it, but there is so much more to it.  I believe Adam, Edwin, Daniela and myself will focus on the feelings and connection to the music rather than focusing on footwork or patterns that people never do in the islands.  We will try to make it as island like as possible, so when you go and dance there no one will look at you and say, ‘Yes, you’re a YouTube dancer ‘ or ‘Where are you from?  Because you’re not from here.” …We’re going to break all the stereotypes.

The event has a high focus on the history of Bachata and the finer points of the dance such as classes on ‘Rhythmology’ and ‘Interpretology’. How will classes such as these benefit people who attend?

carlos cinta 3It will be beneficial because once you have a better understanding of the culture, people, and what Bachata means to them, then you may start to think and feel differently about the music.  You will dance and feel the music differently. Many times events are just about circus shows and pony tricks, and not about connecting to the music or partner.  There is no emotion to it.  You can mute the music and still do the dance steps. The event will be less about learning steps and learning more about connection and feeling.  Deeper connection and feeling come when you understand what, why, and when to do something.  In my opinion, it really helps as a dancer and you’re not just doing razzle-dazzle.

You have some excellent co-instructors. Give us a brief synopsis on why Adam, Edwin and Daniela were included in the event, and what they bring to the table.

Like Caryl, I trust in what they stand for as people and instructors, and they all bring something unique. I’ve seen Edwin teach various classes.  Edwin is from the Dominican and studies music.  He has a lot to offer and information that I don’t have.  I could watch him dance all day.  He and Daniela really work well together.  He will be talking about the different styles that are danced across different regions.  This is very common even in New York.  Adam is my sensei.  He is a (Bachata) guru. He knows a lot of musicians and studied in the Dominican. He has a lot of first hand knowledge about the culture and has respect from the musicians. In my opinion, these guys are the most knowledgeable dance instructors in the United States about the traditional style.  Obviously there are other dancers that I wanted to invite, but since this is the first event I wanted to keep it small and the budget affordable.  All three of the instructors offer a bag of tricks that I don’t offer. There is going to be a lot of useful information, applicable knowledge, and dance technique for every dancer.

You, Adam, Edwin and Daniela also had a June 2014 event in New York called Bachata 101. You guys seem to be leading the way on educating the masses about the roots and history of Bachata. Why is this mission important to you personally?

Bachata 101

I feel very strongly about the music and culture.  I feel a lot of it is being misrepresented.  The stereotype is that the dance is super fast and played to super fast music.  There is never connection, flow, or vibe.  There is just a circus show.  All of us want to try to bring it “closer to home”.  With all of this “evolution” of the dance, as some people might say, it just get’s further away from the truth.  Some of the stuff I see isn’t recognizable as Bachata anymore if you watch it on mute.  We are just trying to do the best we can to educate people properly on the dance.  At festivals some people look down on the style and cry about, ‘there is too much Dominican music’.  I feel that people say that because they truly don’t understand it and it’s been misrepresented to them.  That’s why they don’t like it because they don’t know how to dance it.

Carlos cinta 2When it’s presented to them properly and people understand how to hear and connect to the music, then they will have a different appreciation for it.  At this event we’re not trying to get dancers to come to the dark side and not appreciate modern Bachata. We’re trying to get people to accept and be open to the traditional style.  If they like it, then that is up to them, but we at least want them to be properly educated. We want the traditional style to be accepted at the adult table and not be pushed aside to the kiddy table.

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Toronto BEATS

So grab your knife, fork, and your dance shoes…and get ready for a traditional Bachata buffet unlike any you’ve ever seen before!

If you’d like to read Dance Planet Daily interviews with Adam Taub, Edwin Ferreras and Carlos Cinta then click on their names below.

Interview with Adam TaubInterview with Edwin FerrerasInterview with Carlos Cinta

 

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.

Magna Gopal 2We 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.

Angelina JolieLet’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.

What?!?Deepak Chopra

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?

Magna Gopal 3In 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.

Magna Gopal 5What 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.

Magna Gopal 1Really?!

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).

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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.

I’m not going to lie…Terry Tauliaut is my Salsa role model.

He’s suave and stylish.  He has a cool French accent.  He has a mini-afro that my slightly receding hairline no longer can support. And, most importantly, he’s an amazing Salsa dancer.

Terry was born in France (near Paris), but his family moved back to Guadeloupe (their Island of origin) when he was young.  He developed a passion for Salsa at age 19 and soon was winning dance contests in Guadeloupe.  He was invited to join as a teacher in the prestigious Isis Figaro school in Paris.  At Isis Figaro he met his dance partner Cecile Ovide.

Terry was kind enough to spend a few minutes speaking with us at the BIG Salsa Festival in San Antonio, Texas.

This is your first trip to Texas and it’s one of the hottest times of the year. This weather isn’t anything like Paris. Are you enjoying the heat?

I definitely enjoy the heat. This is summer so I’m searching for places where I can find heat like this. I really love the weather, and the people are really welcoming and very nice.  Everyone is really taking care of us and its great.

Terry Tauliaut 1When did you and Cecile Ovide meet and how long have you been dancing together?

We met in January 2006. I was living in Guadeloupe and thinking about going to Paris to teach (Salsa).  I went for a one week vacation in Paris to see how the education would be there, and I met Cecile in the school where I was going to teach.  She was a teacher there. In April 2006 I moved to Paris and became friends with her. We started dancing together and we felt we really had a good connection.

Why do you think you have such a good dance connection?

I think because we are really different.  It’s funny because our dance styles are really different. Cecile is receptive to every kind of dance and meter. I saw her dancing with a Colombian dancer, and she didn’t know how to dance Colombian style Salsa, but she looked like she could do it.  She is really a pro. She really understands my way of dance and she tries to give me a lot of her style too. This allows me to get better with my own dancing.

Terry Tauliaut 2Now you actually started with hip-hop dancing correct?

Yes.  I danced hip-hop for two years before I started Salsa, and it really affected my dancing.

Really? How did it affect your Salsa dancing?

The energy that we use in hip-hop and the energy in Salsa are very similar.  When you hear the percussion in Salsa it’s very easy to mark the beats and hit them when dancing.  It is the same with hip-hop.  It’s very natural and I never thought about it.  It just comes natural.

Do you still dance hip-hop a lot?

Not really, but I love watching hip-hop dance. I really have a good time watching a lot of hip-hop dance, but at the moment I’m only dancing Salsa.  When I can learn other dance styles it’s a pleasure because I really love to do it.  We have something to learn in every kind of dance.

You all gave an incredible performance here at the BIG Salsa Festival.  You also thrive in social dancing as well. Which do you prefer…social dancing or performing?

My favorite part is social dancing, and I know that for Cecile her favorite part is performing.

I’m glad to hear that because I really love watching you dance socially.  How would you define your own style of Salsa dancing?

My style is a mix of styles that already exist in Salsa.  I pattern myself after people like Juan Matos, Adolfo (Indacochea), Maykel Fonts, and Oscar (Perrones) from Yamulee…There are a lot of people that I like to see dance and I watch different parts of their dance to put in mine. Those are the origins of my Salsa.

We saw you in the elevator earlier today and you commented that you were very tired. What’s the most challenging aspect of being a traveling dance instructor? 

The flights. Being in the air for hours and you have a tiny seat (laughs).  It’s really the hardest part of my job.  I’m still waiting for the invention of teleportation!

You could incorporate teleportation into your shows! You could teleport from one part of the stage to another!

Thats it! (laughs).

Tell us a little bit about your dance school called Salsalianza.

Cecile and I created the school in 2007. We are growing little by little in Paris.  We just moved to the center of Paris because we were a little bit out of the city. This will be our first year in the center of the city and it will be good for us. We currently have ten teachers in the school. Cecile and I are traveling a lot so we need people to teach while we aren’t there. We have a good team and working with us and it feels like family for us.

Terry Tauliaut 3What’s the most important lesson that you try to communicate to your students? 

There is a lot. If they could take everything I know about dancing it would be great. When I teach at my school there are times when I spend ten minutes talking about my own life. I want them to get a little bit of my experience so that it doesn’t feel like a routine factory.

I want them to get that it’s more than a dance but a lifestyle.

Do you have a favorite dance moment? One that sticks out in your mind?

I remember at the Marseille Salsa Congress and Jimmy Bosch told me to dance onstage during his live concert.  He is a really good friend of mine.  That was my first time dancing in a live concert on stage. I went to find Cecile while Jimmy was playing with the Orchestra del Solar. That’s a group that is from Spain.  They started singing “Terry and Cecile” during the song! For me that was my favorite moment because it was like I was on a cloud.  That was great.

What dance goals do you have that you’d like to accomplish in the next couple years?

When I moved to Paris I had goals of becoming an international artist, having my own school, and things like that.  Actually my goals aren’t really for dancing.  I want to keep going and improving myself. My goals are more in my personal life right now.

Here is a fun question for you.  If a movie was being made about Terry Tauliaut, what actor would you want to play you in a movie?

(laughs!) Sam L. Jackson! Because I look like him! (laughs).  Sam Terry

Perfect! I would’ve said the exact same thing! Especially from his character in Pulp Fiction.  Who would you pick to provide the music for the movie soundtrack?

There are a lot. I’m a fan of all the Fania music.  Larry Harlow performed (at the BIG Salsa Festival) yesterday. My two first big performances on stage at congresses was with him.  For me they were the best of Salsa.  I’m a big fan of Victor Manuelle and Marc Anthony. I don’t have a lot of favorite artists, but I have a lot of favorite songs.  Every time I hear a song, I could say ‘Oh, that’s my favorite song’ (laughs). If all the greatest Salsa artists could do the music for my movie that would be my dream.

LTerry Tauliaut 4ast question.  You have a really cool hair style and I wish I could grow it like yours, but I’m receding way to much.  What’s your secret for having the cool hair that you do?

(laughs). Basically, it’s luck. I was getting my hair cut regularly, but I got a really bad hair cut once in Paris.  I don’t think they really cared about what I was asking for.  So I said I’m not cutting my hair anymore!  It’s not a natural style and I’m going to do waves.  So, basically that’s why my hair looks like it does because I didn’t want any barber shop to cut my hair anymore.

For more information about Cecile and Terry (and his awesome hair) take a look at their Dance Planet Daily profile: Terry and Cecile.

Albir Rojas (from Panama) continues to be one of the most popular and contracted Kizomba instructors in latin dance festivals across the globe.  

His upbeat classes are a huge draw at every festival he attends, and his friendly, laid back persona make him incredibly easy to approach.  We interviewed Albir last summer in Austin, Texas (Interview Here), and he was kind enough to sit down with us again.  

This time we caught up with him at the B.I.G Salsa Festival in San Antonio, Texas. We discussed several topics includingKizomba, Carola Tauler (his new dance partner), and who would play him in a movie.

 

Kizomba has exploded in popularity over the past couple years…particularly at Latin dance festivals.  Why do you think it has become so popular?

I think Kizomba brings a different feeling.  When you dance with your partner, whether it’s a girl or a guy, there is a different kind of energy and communication.  With Salsa you are a little more far away and the lead is with the hands.  Same with Bachata.  With Kizomba the lead is similar to Tango.   Kizomba is deeper with the energy and connection, and the music is different as well.

What is one of the most important lessons that someone needs to learn in order to master Kizomba?

There are many, but they really need to learn to relax and enjoy the dance.

Albir Rojas 1What other dances do you enjoy besides Kizomba?

I love to dance hip-hop!  I love Bachata as well, but mainly hip-hop.  The energy between Kizomba and hip-hop is different. Kizomba is more relaxed, and hip-hop is really strong.   Kizomba music is also much more chill.

Talk a little bit about your performance at the BIG Salsa Festival.  You were asked to perform a few hours before show time. What did you want to bring to the stage?

The performance (with Brittney Vega) was a demo.  When I normally do choreography with my new partner (Carola Tauler) it is much different. Kizomba in social dancing is really nice, but for a show it’s kind of boring (laughs).  I have to be honest.  We fuse Kizomba with different styles of dance in order to create a story, and make people enjoy it.  We put in different themes so we can present them like actors. We want people to be entertained so we try to be creative with the music, backgrounds, and other things.

Speaking of Carola…you two have been dancing together since December (2013).  How did you all meet and why do you all work well together?

We met in Madrid.  Carola has a really good background in dance from ballet, jazz, and latin. She was a beginner in Kizomba when we became partners.  When I first asked her to be my partner she said ‘No’. (laughs).  She has been working in television and other things, so she didn’t know if she was going to be to busy.  But we talked and reached an agreement to dance together.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a traveling dance instructor?  You all have so many different things to manage while you’re constantly on the road like your health, food, sleep, finances etc. 

That’s a good question.  I think, for me, it’s keeping a personal life.  I would like to have a girlfriend, for example, but it’s hard because of the time and always traveling.  If we wanted to go see a movie on the weekend…I can’t do that.  I miss that.

Albir Rojas 2What keeps you motivated to continue pursuing this career?

I really love to dance! I really love Kizomba! I love dance in general.  I love when you dance and see how people give you so much love, and all the applause when you’re onstage.  The energy the people give makes me want to keep going because I really love to share dancing with the people.

So what is one thing that our audience would be surprised to know about you if you told them?

I love accounting (laughs).  I graduated with a degree in Accounting.  I love mathematics…but I don’t like to be in an office!  When I tell people that they are always surprised!

This might be an odd question…but is there anything from your accounting background that transfers to your current career?

Yes! (laughs). Some organizers and promoters might try and confuse you when dealing with money…but you have to be fast! You have to say, ‘No, no, no…that’s not correct’. (laughs)  I’m very fast when it comes to that.

So is there any advice you would give to someone who wants to do what you do for a living?

Work from your heart and be humble.  You need to be good at communicating as well, but work with love and show the people your true heart.  Those are important things.

Albir Rojas 3Do you have a favorite dance moment? One that sticks out for you? 

Yes, but it’s not from Kizomba.  I started to dance in 2000.  There is sometimes the belief that if a guy dances, then he’s homosexual. Many parents put their girls in ballet and dance classes, but not the boys.  I grew up dancing on the streets.  When I started taking classes and improving my technique I had the chance to dance at a big event.  In 2000 the Panama Canal was taken over again by Panama from the United States (The Panama Canal Treaty).  They had a really big event for that transition and there were a lot of big artists, like Ruben Blades.  We danced in a big, huge stadium and the energy was amazing.  That was really fun to do.

You mentioned the attitudes that some have in regards to dance….Do dancers in Europe and the Americas approach Kizomba differently?

Yes.  For example…if you go to a disco in the USA and ask a girl to dance.  If she has a boyfriend then I can’t do that.  He might try to kill me (laughs).  Same if a girl tries to ask a guy to dance if he has a girlfriend. There is going to be a fight!  In Europe you can ask anyone and there are no problems.  You don’t have to worry about fighting on the dance floor, or dancing to close.  Someone isn’t going to hurt you (laughs).

Here is a hypothetical for you.  Pretend that someone is going to make a movie about Albir Rojas. Who would you want to play you in a movie? Why?

Will Smith! (laughs).  He can be really funny or really deep.  He can do a funny TV show like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or a serious movie like Pursuit of Happiness.  He has that perfect balance.albir will smith

So let’s say you are acting in the movie now. Who would be your female co-star that you dance Kizomba with? Your leading lady?

That’s a hard one.  Maybe…Julia Roberts.  She was good in the movie Dying Young and I loved her in that movie.

What two musicians would you pick to do the soundtrack for your movie?

Ennio Morricone.  I love him.  He did important music for the movie Seven Pounds with Will Smith.  He really touched me.  The other would be Kenny G. (laughs).  He did some of the music for the movie with Julia Roberts (Dying Young).

-END-

So, of course, we have to present you with a song that would be featured on Mr. Rojas’ soundtrack about his life. Enjoy.

For more information check out his Dance Planet Daily profile…..HERE!

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The award winning short film, Mano, is set to be made into a feature film as early as the summer of 2015 according to the films Director and Co-Writer, Anthony Nardolillo.

It tells the story of two childhood friends (Victor and Machito) who are separated as teenagers after the death of Victor’s father, and reunite years later under less than auspicious circumstances.   Upon returning to New York and the underground Salsa scene, Victor finds that his friend has followed in his fathers fatal footsteps.

In 2008 it won the Sol Award for best cinematography.

It also starred a few current Hollywood notables including Laz Alonso (Avatar), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), and the late Lee T. Young (Rizzoli & Isles, The Famous Jett Jackson). Anthony stars as Victor in the film.

ManoMano is not a Salsa film or a musical in the sense that the plot revolves around its presence, but music and dance certainly play a role in character development, and the overall vibe.

Andy GarciaThe script has been rewritten for length and content purposes and will be renamed TOCA – Our Latin Thing.  The revised script reached the finals of the prestigious Sundance script writing competition. Anthony indicated that as soon as financing is confirmed the film will begin shooting, which could happen later this year.

Hollywood heavyweight Andy Garcia as well as Zulay Henao have committed to participating in the film. Zulay is best known for her role as Channing Tatum’s girlfriend in the movie Fighting.  The musical director for the film will be Bryant Siono. His impressive resume includes working with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Marc Anthony.

Mano2Mano was completed in 2007, but Anthony has continued to strive towards the goal of turning the it into a full-length feature.  He has a significant financial commitment from a financier in Los Angeles, and he recently traveled to New York to screen the film for potential investors there. His good friend and superstar Salsera Magna Gopal tagged along for the screening.  The movie was shown using Dolby Digital sound. On the surface that may seem like a small accomplishment, but it’s a big step considering Dolby Digital is the audio technology used by the majority of big budget studio films.   Dolby Labs (the creators of the technology) have agreed to provide this feature for TOCA.

A self-professed ‘drama fiend’, Anthony wanted to capture elements of emotional intensity and surprise in his film.  Tragedy strikes during the latter stages of Mano and the pivotal final scene (I won’t give away the ending) speaks cryptically about the main message of the movie. Anthony talked about the films message and the role of Salsa in the short film.

“You never want to live with regret.  Choose your words carefully because you never know when your last moment will be…it’s not necessarily a Salsa message. The characters were connected through Salsa when they were young.  Salsa is the through line, but even in Salsa we’re all still human.”

Anthony was born in Brooklyn, but moved quite a bit as a youth due to his fathers involvement in the military.  He comes from a family with a deep appreciation for Salsa music.  His mother was a big fan of the legendary Salsa musical ensemable, the Fania All-Stars, and other relatives formed connections to the group.  Anthony admits that acting and directing were not on his radar growing up, and he focused on sports.  He played college football at Virginia Tech.   At age 16-17 he became immersed in the music and dance, and eventually became a Salsa instructor teaching across the globe.  He credits Salsa for leading him into the entertainment industry as an adult.

“A lot of salsa lyrics deal with politics, love, pride, who we are and where we come from…and what the streets smell like. You know, those kinds of things.  I love that.  If it wasn’t for the music, I wouldn’t have danced, and if it wasn’t for the dance I wouldn’t have become a film maker.”

Francisco VasquezThe short film featured an impressive list of  Salsa professionals that helped give the dance scenes an air of authenticity. Salsa sensation Kimberly Flores and LA Salsa legend Francisco Vasquez (of the famed Vasquez brothers, pictured left ) choreographed the film. Magna Gopal and Gordon Neil served as assistant choreographers. Cristian Oviedo also danced in the short.  Hopefully dancers with similar skill will be able to participate in TOCA, if needed.

Although Anthony played one of the lead roles in Mano, he says that directing definitely gives him more of a thrill.

“I love the acting side, but I really love directing.  To be able to take something in your mind, create structure, art, characters, and make a visual out of it is amazing.  Then to sit back and watch the audience react is the ultimate reward.”

Anthony had no prior directing or acting experience before making Mano. His initial training came from the back stage access to movie making techniques he observed while working on Stomp The Yard.  There he met and formed a friendship with fellow actor Colombus Short (pictured below, right), and the seeds for making Mano began to be planted.

Colombus Short“I saw all the love that was going into the film, and I told Colombus that it would be great to do something like that for the Salsa world.  He told me I was a business man and had access to money…and that all I had to do was write the script.”

In addition to gaining inspiration for future projects, Anthony was surprised how uncomplicated the process appeared to be.

“I noticed that movies aren’t as big as we think. When we think of movies we think of millions of dollars, and cameras, and crew, and an almost untouchable world.  (On Stomp The Yard) There were two camera operators, about 40 extras, and a lighting setup.  I was like, ‘This is it’?”

He took a job in finance, but kept his mind focused on the film industry.  A short term assignment to the Netherlands proved beneficial as it afforded him the opportunity to write in his spare time. Fortune smiled upon him when he returned home.

“I told my uncle about my project and he had a friend who knew a producer.  When I came back from the Netherlands I met the producer.  I told the producer I had an idea to shoot a trailer for the film that would serve as a concept to the film.  He said if we were going to shoot the trailer, we might as well shoot a short film.”

"Under The Same Moon" Los Angeles Special ScreeningThis epiphany on Stomp The Yard gave Anthony the confidence and experience he needed to produce his own projects, and the shoots he directed proved more complicated than any of his previous gigs.  Mano was filmed over the course of three days with each day requiring 16 hours of shooting.  The interior scenes of the film were shot in Los Angeles, while the broader establishing shots were filmed in New York.

“When I walked on to my own set it was bigger than Stomp The Yard! We had a crew of 35, trailers, and two panoramic cameras.”

Anthony cut his teeth on the set of Mano and he gained experience on not only how to be an effective director and actor, but also expanding his knowledge of production techniques and terminology.

We at Dance Planet Daily are excited to see a talent from the Salsa world grow and bring exposure to a dance community that is very underrepresented in today’s mainstream culture.

Stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming film TOCA – Our Latin Thing.  A movie created and directed by one of our own dancers in the Salsa community!

 

 

 

 

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Interview and article by Stephanie L. Pham.

Michael Kielbasa is one of today’s top Champions on the West Coast Swing circuit.

West Coast Swing dancers and spectators know Michael for his unique and smooth style of choreography and freestyle dancing (which is a key element in the style of dance).

Kielbasa won several 1st place titles in swing competitions, and continues to travel domestically and internationally competing and teaching. I spoke with Michael on what makes this dance so loved around the world, and how he got his start.


wild wild westie02How did you get introduced to West Coast Swing? 

My family has been in the Ballroom Latin and Swing dance communities for quite some time.  I was introduced at a very young age and pursued it following my sports interests.
 
What’s your favorite part about doing Jack and Jills/Strictlys**? 
The creativity and spontaneity…the ability to act quickly to whatever changes in the movement.
 
The genre of West Coast Swing is heavily rooted in social dancing. Is that a huge reason why this is such a global community/dance?
Swing dancing as a genre is heavily based in social roots. People can connect with one another no matter what language is spoken.
 
Why should more people look into dancing WCS? 
West Coast Swing is all about the connection with someone and the music.  The music is fresh and continues to change…as does the dance.  It is a popular dance amongst many people because of the social aspect and passion for music.
 
Give us your six word memoir on the life of a dancer. 

Life is a dance…live life!

Interview reprinted with permission. Visit Stephanie at StephLPham.com for more great WCS interviews and blog posts!


** Jack and Jills are competitions in WCS where the leader (or sometimes followers) draws the name of their partner and both dancers have no knowledge of the music beforehand. Everything is improvised.
Strictly Swings are competitions in WCS where the partners know each other, but the dance is still improvised.

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Ben Morris (Kirkland, Washington) is one of the most popular and influential West Coast Swing dancers on the scene today. His performances are  fun, and infectious and he brings a fun vibe to his classes.

He began dancing at a young age after his family moved to Denver, Colorado, and first learned WCS is 2002.

He began teaching shorty thereafter in 2003.

ben morris interview1He has won multiple awards and dancing championships including; the World Swing Dance championship, U.S. Open Swing Dance championship, Spirit of Lindy Hop award at the National Jitterbug Championships, and is in the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Southern California.  Dance Planet Daily caught up with Ben at the WCS swing event,Wild Wild Westie, in Dallas, Texas, and we talked about his career, life as a dance instructor, and performing on stage with Leann Rimes.

Why did you choose to pursue teaching West Coast Swing as a career?

ben morris interview3It wasn’t on purpose.  I was doing both Lindy Hop and West Coast.  It was never really my intention and I didn’t like one (style) more than the other. For a while it was almost exactly 50/50 until I stopped working with my Lindy partner.  Things alternated between West Coast and Lindy, but started to tip towards West Coast simply because I had a partner, and we started to compete (in West Coast competitions).

I started to get so busy with West Coast stuff that I didn’t have time to pursue Lindy. That was on the road…back home I started to do more West Coast because I felt I was needed more in that community. There weren’t as many good classes or dancers bringing in new people in Southern California, and there weren’t as many good dances in the area at the time.  I felt like I could contribute more.  The Lindy community already had many successful events and I would’ve been struggling to compete against them and not contributing to the community in a positive way.

Do you have any favorite cities that you enjoy dancing West Coast?

wild wild westie01Yeah, when I dance at home! I have a regular event that I do (in Orange, Calfironia) and when I put on a special event I always have a blast. Elsewhere in the USA? The people in Texas are really enthusiastic and I love the energy here.  I feel like the people in the northwest have great energy.  I love going to Oregon and Seattle.  So-Cal is probably my favorite, although I admit that I’m biased.

I love the people in San Diego, although I don’t get down there as much.  They come up to my events a lot, and they have a great vibe too.  There’ s a bunch of different places, but those are a few.

Whats your favorite thing about being a travelling dance instructor?

It’s fun!  It’s great to do something that’s fun for a living. It’s exhausting sometimes, but for the most part it’s something that’s fun to do.

What challenges are there with the job?

Sometimes you get stuck in a hotel where there is nothing to eat, and nothing is close by.  And the only place to order food is from the bar (laughs). I’m not the most versatile eater, so sometimes I’ll bring a Balance Bar with me if I don’t have time to eat what I want.  Very often I find that I’m eating one real meal a day, and the rest is snacks that I squeeze in. Some of the events have hospitality suites where they have home cooked meals. That’s really awesome.  The challenges can be a pain in the butt, but its not really too bad.

What do you want your students to take away from your classes?ben morris interview5

It depends specifically on the class.  Some things are a little more theoretical.  What I try and do is give them some concrete material that they can take away, but within the material I want to convey some new element. On occasions where I just teach patterns I try to teach it in pieces so they get a really intuitive understanding.

Not just the final result, but all the pieces so they can take the final result and simplify it, or complicate it how they want.  I want them to take away something they can use…but also extra elements beyond that.

Do you remember your first class you ever taught?

I can’t remember the first class I ever taught.  I do remember the first workshop I ever taught at a big event.  It was Boogie By The Bay, and was a really big, crowded class.  It went fine and was fairly entertaining…I think I conveyed the material ok, but I wasn’t very efficient.  I think I got my point across,  but I hadn’t learned how to teach very efficiently yet.

ben morris interview7Do you have any dancers that you like to watch?

I love watching most of my peers in the West Coast world.  But, I really love watching Benji (Schwimmer).  He’s so good at all the things I feel like are my biggest weaknesses.  I love watching how every part of his body is involved with the dance.  I feel like no corner is unpolished in his routines.

 

 

In 2010 you had the opportunity to work with Leann Rimes and perform onstage with her at the Country Music Awards (CMA’s) as well has dance in the video for her single, “Swingin”…what was that experience like?

That was so fun!  That was setup through Benji…he was the choreographer for the video and got a bunch of us to do it.  Originally I was just going to be in the video and perform.  I had never had the chance to do a video, and it was a completely different experience.  It was a total blast! It was exhausting and a lot of work, but really, really fun.  They then decided to have us come perform, and that was an out of this world experience.  Being in front of…I don’t even know how many people were in the stadium.  Maybe twenty or thirty thousand?  I walked out onstage and I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is a lot more than I’m used too!’  I don’t normally get stage fright, but that was intimidating.  She did a cartwheel type maneuver over our legs and we had to hold her going down the stage and into the audience…and I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, I’d better not let her fall!’ (laughs). I could just imagine Leann Rimes falling off stage or tumbling over me in front of thirty thousand people. That was nerve racking experience, but really cool. She is super nice to work with. Really friendly and nice.

What future goals do you have in regards to West Coast Swing?

I’m pretty happy with where things are.  I want to get better and keep putting out better routines, and cut out things people don’t really want to watch.  I want to keep improving.  That’s a constant goal.  I’m enjoying the travel.  I’m not sure how much longer  I can keep going full throttle…maybe 5-10 more years.  I’m not sure.  But I’m really happy with what I’m doing right now!

For more information on Ben visit Benmorrisdance.com!

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West Coast Swing (WCS) is alive and well in Dallas.  The 3rd annual ‘Wild Wild Westie’ took place July 3rd – 6th at the Holiday Inn Express in Dallas. It was organized by a trio of veteran West Coast Swing dancers: CJ Caraway, Tracy Wang, and Jay Tsai.  All three started and dabbled with other partner dance styles before transitioning to WCS, and the Dallas dance community is better off for it.  This years ‘Westie’ featured 18 workshops, socials that lasted well beyond 4am, high energy Jack & Jill dance competitions, and a pool party.

wild wild westie01The Westie is the brain child of Tracy (pictured left, in orange) who approached CJ (pictured left, baseball cap) about doing a WCS event in DFW.  She knew popular WCS instructor Ben Morris from her time living in California and wanted to involve him in the event as well.  Initially they thought about holding a workshop weekend with Ben, but they nixed the idea and decided to do something a little larger in scope.

They pondered over ideas and later brought Jay into the mix. The momentum continued.

Jay Tsai (pictured above…and VERY enthusiastic) actually came up with the title of the event, and he spoke about the naming process.

We were looking for a name that made it unique.  Other events have unique names like the event in San Diego is ‘SwingDiego’. One evening we were spitballin’ ideas and everyone had heard of the wild wild west. Our event is about West Coast Swing…so why not Wild Wild Westie?

wild wild westie02Initially Tracy didn’t like the title as it sounded almost too southern, but with CJ and Jay’s convincing (and a vote) the name grew on her.  Thus, the Wild Wild Westie was born.  A feature they wanted to make sure was incorporated into the event was ‘leveled workshops’.  Both Tracy and CJ agreed that dancers should take classes and learn with others who are on the same skill level. Therefore dancers who are beginners wouldn’t be stuck or tempted to take advanced classes featuring turn patterns or steps they weren’t capable of doing just yet, and advanced dancers wouldn’t get bored with being relegated to beginners courses. The organizers wanted it to be a fun experience, but also would grow their skill level.  Tracy said,

I want them to takeaway that this is a friendly learning environment and to encourage them, and get them excited about improving their West Coast Swing and enhancing their love of it.

The participants at the 2014 edition of the ‘Westie’ had an impressive selection of instructors to learn from. Ben Morris, Jennifer DeLuca, Michael Kielbasa, and Malia San Nicolas headlined the roster. Jennifer DeLuca managed to fulfill her commitment even with an arm injury suffered prior to the event. Tracy provided her with a sling so she could feel more comfortable. Tracy spoke about the instructors they contract for the ‘Westie’.

We have amazing pro’s that come out every year, and we appreciate the support from both local instructors and those that come from out of state….We consider them friends.

ben morris westieInstructors and students alike enjoyed this years ‘Westie’ because of the atmosphere that the dancers created. There was an incredible amout of enthusiasm, applause, and support for dancers competing at Jack and Jill contests.  Ben Morris is an extremely popular West Coast Swing instructor and performer, and has certainly been to his share of events across the globe.  He served as a judge at the ‘Westie’ J&J competitions and he talked about the environment.

It had ridiculously good energy.  The crowd was so loud at certain points I could barely hear the music.  It’s got a really fun vibe, and wild energy.


wild wild westie04The organizers feel that perhaps outside of California, the WCS scene in Dallas (and to a larger degree, Texas) definitely compares to other swing hot beds like Chicago, New York, and Florida. This year saw record attendance with over 200 people participating, and the crowd was a diverse melting pot of cultures and backgrounds.

Both national and international dancers (some from as far away as Australia and Russia) ventured to Dallas to experience what the metroplex WCS community had to offer.

An integral part of any multi-day dance ‘congress/festival’ are the DJ’s.  Helen Toco, Ruby Lair, and Cher Peadon definitely kept the dancers swingin’ and they received rave reviews for keeping the vibe upbeat, and (most importantly) playing what the crowd wanted to hear.

Tracy feels that the community of WCS dancers is special not only in Dallas, but through out Texas.

What’s amazing and unique about Texas is the support.  When people go out and compete you always have a huge contingent of people from Texas…it doesn’t matter what city you’re from.  When you’re nervous and competing, it’s amazing to have people from your state cheering for you.  Texas does very well in competitions!

CJ stressed that the people who come to the event represent WCS well.

It’s not about the quantity of dancers, but about the quality.  We have some really good dancers from novices to advanced.

wild wild westie05The ‘Westie’ triumvirate works well together, and one of the reasons is that they have specific roles and responsibilities that don’t overlap.  CJ handles the financial matters, Tracy the promotion and marketing, and Jay is the ‘foundation’ who fills in the cracks with technical expertise or other important details. With any event planning there are challenges. CJ talked about one of the biggest hurdles, finding the venue.

We have been in existence for three years, and we just received our World Swing Dance Council sanction this year…So we absolutely needed to find a hotel.  We were on a shoe string budget, and we were lucky to find a place in a good location.

The ‘Westie’ will continue to face challenges going forward (particularly if the attendance continues to grow), but it appears to be in very capable hands from both an organizational and community standpoint.  And if the success and excitement of this years event is an indication of the future, expect the Wild Wild Westie to be a annual treasured staple in the Dallas WCS community for years to come.

The winners of the J&J competitions are below:

Novice: Emma Richards & Eric Easthope.

Intermediate: Natasha Veal & Tyler Jones.

Advanced/All-Star: Rochelle Hoffler & Brandon Parker.

For more information on the event visit WildWildWestie.com