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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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