“If it ain’t sexy, don’t do it!” This simple, ‘sexy’ phrase coined by Jay Stylz appropriately sums up his teaching and dance style. Jay (from Texas) is one of the most popular latin dance instructors in Dallas, and he is often invited to teach at dance festivals across the USA. He is known for his smooth dance style and his ability to be humorous and entertain his students while effectively teaching. We caught up with Jay at the Dallas Bachata Festival. He served as the emcee for the event along with teaching several workshops.
When did dancing become a passion for you?
I started like everyone else, taking classes here and there just to see if I could do it. I auditioned for Salsa Passion (2003) and got in. I was with them for 2.5 years. I started travelling with them and got exposed to things that I hadn’t been exposed to in Dallas. It was things like someone using more body movement, or more footwork. It was beautiful and from that point, I said ‘I have to learn this’.
When did you begin teaching dance and who were your mentors?
I started teaching after Salsa Passion. I was actually going to quit dancing altogether! But people starting asking me if I would give them a class or travel somewhere and teach a workshop. I jumped on board with that and have been teaching ever since. My mentors are Joel Dominguez from New York…I was very much influenced by the New York Style dancers. Eddie Torres is a huge mentor, and I’ve loved everything that Eddie has shown me. I’ve studied a little bit of Frankie (Martinez), and a lot of other New Yorkers. I just really love their style.
(NOTE: At this point a student interrupts the interview and tells Jay that his class was awesome.)
What lessons did you take from Joel and Eddie regarding teaching?
You have to be educated. You have to know your material better than anybody because a student can smell B.S. a mile away. Too many instructors get caught up in the steps themselves that they don’t have fun with the actual class. Eddie stressed that big time. Yes, students will learn the steps, but it’s about the experience in the class that gets you to learning the steps. So an instructor should add humor to it and apply it to everyday life, and things they do every day. It makes the class more practical for students and they retain more.
What experiences or feelings do you want your students to take away from your classes?
Happiness. Joy. Passion. Even if a student couldn’t get the step, they should want to go home and practice it because they have so much fun in the process of learning it. I want them to get the experience as well as the knowledge. Even if they don’t get the step, they should get the technique down so they can go home and practice. If they get the technique down then they can practice the steps and makes getting better possible for them.
How would you describe your own dance style?
If it ain’t sexy, don’t do it! (laughs).
Do you have a favorite dance memory?
Last weekend! I’m sitting on a plane with Tamara Valle (a Dallas dance instructor from France), and everybody has been sitting in the plane for about 20 minutes. We haven’t taxied off yet. The flight attendant gets on the intercom and says, “Excuse me people. We have a couple special guests on the plane!”. So like everyone else I start looking around to see who it is. Then guy says, “Mr. Jay ‘If it ain’t sexy don’t do it” Stylz can you please raise your hand?” I raised my hand and everybody looks at us. The attendant keeps going, “Right here we have the world famous Jay Stylz and Tamara Valle. They’re world famous latin and bachata dancers. Can we give them a round of applause?” And everybody starts standing up and giving us a round of applause. Never had anything like that happen! Ever! It just blew my mind. I never thought when I first got into dance.
I haven’t in years. I was thinking I might get back into it, but I’m usually so busy I don’t have time to do choreography. I love performing, but I just don’t like the congress format. The congress format is where you put in a little piece of footwork, and move on to a turn pattern, and go back to a piece of footwork, then back to a turn pattern, throw a couple of dips and tricks in, and that’s what gets you your next booking or next gig. If you watch five shows like that back to back, it gets very monotonous. People are scared to express themselves and do things outside the box because they’re scared they’re going to get ridiculed, or somebody won’t give them another booking. Franklin Diaz is very good. He does performances. I’ve watched him perform and the audience didn’t know how to react to him. I watched him break down and start crying because he poured his soul out on the dance floor…and it’s not that they didn’t enjoy it, they just didn’t know how to react because it was so different than anything they’ve seen. That’s where you’re dancing from your heart and not your head. That, I love!
Who are some of the other dancers you enjoy watching perform?
Gordon Neil. Frankie Martinez. Juan Matos. Eddie Torres. Franklin Diaz. A bunch of the New Yorkers. Jorge ‘Ataca’ Burgos! Everyone knows Ataca from bachata, but he’s actually a really cold blooded salsa dancer!
He started out in salsa, right?
Yeah. He did a salsa performance in Atlanta and a few weeks ago while I was there. That performance, hands down, was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in salsa. He made it beautiful and classy. There weren’t a lot of big moves or tricks…it was just clean and beautiful communication between himself and his dance partner which was really great.
I want to go hit up Europe, or at least start doing overseas travel. That’s my next step is getting overseas.
Are there any places domestically that you enjoy going to? Maybe a congress?
New York has the best dancing on the planet. As far as events…I go to events every weekend and my favorite event is still the Dallas Bachata Festival. Everyone is so friendly and the atmosphere is different from other places. There aren’t a lot of really ‘clicky’ people here. Everyone is usually really open and friendly with each other. I love that.
What kind of impact do you think Kizomba will have on the latin dance scene? It seems to be catching fire here in the USA…in a similar way that bachata did a few years back?
This entire industry is driven by woman.
(NOTE: Another student comes up to Jay and tells him how awesome his class is…He’s a very popular man!)
Women decided they wanted to dance salsa…guys decided they better start paying for salsa classes. The reason guys are dancing bachata isn’t because they decided one day, “Oh my goodness, I want to dance bachata!’…they’re doing it because they want to dance with women, and all the women love bachata. Women nowadays are dancing kizomba. A lot of guys aren’t too keen on kizomba, but the guys who are now have all the dance partners that they could ever ask for. A lot of ladies don’t know what kizomba is yet, but when they see it they think it’s beautiful and they love the music. It’s a very sexy music and it makes them feel sexy when they’re dancing. The guys who don’t dance it are going to get left behind by guys who are willing to do it.
You have a daughter, Alexis…are you going to encourage her to get into dancing?
She’s already dancing. She’s getting into tap, ballet and the whole nine. I’m waiting for her to grow a little bit more before we get into partner dancing that way I don’t have to hurt my back trying to dance with a midget. Her name is Alexis Marcel Stylz…and she will say it with attitude too if you ask what her name is. (laughs).
For more information on Jay Stylz visit DFWSalsa.com. And, as Jay would say, “Stay Black-ish!”.