Christian Gutierrez (born in Peru) is the director, founder, and an instructor for the Latin Dance Factory in Houston. The ‘Factory’ was literally constructed in the living room of his house where he initially taught classes. These days Christian is on the cutting edge of taking latin dance instruction to the masses. He has created a mobile app called “LDF Hot Salsa” that gives you the ability to take salsa, bachata, and kizomba classes from the comfort of your mobile phone. Oh, by the way, he has degrees in Biology and Public Health. In addition to being an intelligent guy he also is an excellent dance instructor. We caught up with Christian between his workshops at the Dallas Bachata Festival.
First, can you tell us a little bit about the dance app you’ve created?
The app features beginner to advanced sections and there are 30 lessons for each. It is progressive. It is available for your iPhone or iPad. It received high marks by the New York Times in 2011. It is one of the few latin dance apps available that offer salsa lessons in the form of video clips. I did it so I can help spread salsa dance via a new medium of technology since people are shifting towards the mobile trend.. DVDs are becoming a thing of the past. I also offer a Bachata App, Kizomba App and Cumbia App. A new IOS 7 version will be available early next year. All these are available through iTunes.
When did you move the USA and what were the circumstances?
When did dancing become a passion for you?
I started dancing ballroom in 2000. I was dating a girl at the time and she loved ballroom, so she got me involved in dancing. I had never really danced before 2000, so those were my first structured lessons. I did ballroom for three years and then discovered salsa in 2003. Mike and Tali (Houston) were my first salsa instructors. Ever since that time I feel in love with dance and just kept taking lessons and improving.
What do you think makes a good dance instructor?
The passion to teach. That’s very important. The ability to break down every step so students can understand the figures. Being patient because there are students who have different levels of absorbing information and you have to stay patient even when you’re thinking, “Come on, why are you not getting
What experiences or feelings do you want your students to take away from your classes?
That they don’t need to know crazy moves to enjoy a fun night of social dancing. You don’t need to know tricks or complicated patterns to have a connection to the music or your partner. Just have a good time. Even if you only know a few basic steps, that is enough to get started and eventually you will get to the next level if you keep practicing. Don’t get discouraged.
I was reading your bio…you have a Bachelors Degree in Biology and a Masters Degree in Public Health. Those are very impressive disciplines! How in the world did you transition from that to latin dancing?
My dad is a doctor and throughout my childhood I grew up with the idea that I was going to become like my father. So, of course, I had to go to college and pursue a pre-med major. I liked Biology at the time, so I ended up doing that. I was supposed to go to med school, but my mom got sick and got diagnosed with cancer. I decided to stay in town. The doctors gave her 6-9 months to live, so I didn’t want to go straight to med school. She ended up living five years which was a blessing for the family. During that time I decided I wasn’t going to med school. I decided to go into Public Health. I got my degree in Epidemiology and started working for Baylor College of Medicine and later MD Anderson Cancer Center . Around 2007 I started my own dance company and began doing lessons. I gave it three years to build up. In 2010, I was doing really well and I decided to take a leap of faith. I decided to take a break from cancer research, medical charts, and patients who were terminally ill; and focus instead on people who have a desire to learn to dance. Sometimes going to work and seeing cancer patients affected me as well because I lost my mom that way.
Do you find that dancing improves peoples health?
Yes. Of course. In so many ways. It helps you maintain a healthy weight because you are constantly active. It gives you stress relief from your daily routine. It lets you try something new, and gives you the chance to discover talents that you never knew you had.
How would you describe your own dance style?
I’m not flashy. I’m not like L.A. style doing crazy moves (laughs). I want to take care of my partner and do gentle leads. I’m not forceful. I like ‘less is more’. I just try and show the girl a good time and hope she asks for another dance.
Do you have a dance preference? Salsa, bachata, kizomba…?
I started with salsa, so when I hear salsa I go there no matter what. After that I turn to bachata which is a little more sensual. I love it. Now kizomba is my new passion. I love the music. The dance is just an amazing experience. It’s a tough thing when you come to a congress where they have a salsa room, bachata room and kizomba room! I try to hit all three. Recently I found myself more in the kizomba room because it’s such a new dance.
Do you have a favorite dance memory?
Yes. I was hired for the very first time to do a summer camp with children. It was out of my comfort level because usually I teach adults ages 25 and up. The kids were ages 6-8 in one group and 9-12 in another group. It was such a chaotic experience because I don’t have any experience with children and they were running around! I would say get a partner and two boys would get together, and I would tell them, “No you have to be with a girl.” (laughs). I tried my best to show these kids the art of dance. There was one little girl who gave me a hug and said, ‘I really like your class. Can we please do the Suzy Q again?’ That touched my heart.
Are there any specific goals you’d like to accomplish over the next couple years pertaining to dance?
I do actually. I want to keep introducing people to the world of dance. The market that I like to focus on are the people who wish they could dance, so I want to reach out to them so they can take classes. My goal right now is with kizomba. To help introduce the dance around the US. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel around to different states, and show people what kizomba is all about. The dance, the music, and how to get started. To reach out to communities in hopes that they flourish into larger kizomba scenes.
You have a dance company in Houston…can you tell us a little bit about the company and when it started?
It’s called Latin Dance Factory. I started out of my own living room. I was going to the clubs around 2005-2006 and people were asking me if I taught because they enjoyed my style. They asked me if I could teach, I told them I don’t really teach and I was just there for fun. I got a lot of requests. One day I looked at the carpet of my house, and I said this carpet may have to go. (laughs). I took the carpet out and I put down a floor and started to teach out of my house. In the beginning it was kind of weird because people were not used to going to someone’s house to take dance lessons. One couple came. Then they brought another couple…and they brought another couple. It started to grow by word of mouth. I didn’t have any advertisements at all and everything was just by word of mouth. At some point I had to get rid of my furniture in my house (laughs). So, no more sofa…no more couches. It was open space. And it started to grow and it got to the point where I could no longer hold lessons in my house. My neighbors were getting pissed off because of all the cars were around my house (laughs). They were like this guy must be a party animal. I found a place near my area. One of my students owned a gym space, so I rented the area and everybody came there. That’s how we started.
For more information on Christian, please visit LatinDanceFactory.com!