CONNECTICUT SALSA AND OTHER LATIN DANCE INSTRUCTION:
Back in 1998 I was interested in a woman of Puerto Rican descent. We went through the normal slow pace that parents of teens and tweens go through. Not rushing into anything too fast. Well she introduced me to a way of life that I had not dealt with or experienced in a long time (I grew up on the south end of Bridgeport with Latino families on both sides of our house so, I had lived it and knew about it). The feeling of family and acceptance was overwhelming and inviting. As a black man, who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s I knew about the bond families built to support one another. I was caught up in how they still kept the familial unit together, through the ups and downs.
I apologize for digressing … In 1999 we decided to give this relationship a chance. we would go to these family functions and there’d be food galore, drinks of all flavors and music. The music never stopped, only the level of the music would change. After the eating was done, the kitchen cleaned, everyone was full and well lubricated; the dancing would start. Some will have been dancing the whole time, but now the serious dancing and drinking started. Switching dance partners, genres of music, raucous laughter and feet being stepped on the party was in full swing. I would sit on the side and watch this symphony and be envious that I couldn’t do as they did (dancing wise that is – trust and believe I was holding my own with the drinking). They would try to get me to dance, but my feet and my head couldn’t grasp what they were trying to get me to do. I was lost. And the harder I tried, the more frustrated I would get. As an Alpha male, this couldn’t be happening to me. As a Navy veteran … this wasn’t going to happen to me. So, I tried harder … I would get danced around, but never understood what my feet were supposed to be doing. I got fed up and started asking around where could I get dance lessons? My questioning led me to Meriden. I knew of the dance instructors in Bridgeport, but they all knew my girl and I had hatched this plan to surprise her for Christmas with a dance. Once I found the dance school, I let another friend of ours know (who was in the same boat – except he had married into this family). This was late October and I had two months to get this down. As soon as the lessons started, I knew I was hooked. I’d practice throughout my day. On days I didn’t have class I would practice my new steps, patterns and turns. The Salsa bug had bit and its venom was now a part of me. Suffice it to say by Christmas I was ready. So I took her hand to dance, she went along dutifully (I knew she was doing it only because she loved me) the music started and bam! I was off. On beat, steps measured, in control of this beautiful woman and loving every moment of it. She went from dutifully to curious in the blink of an eye. She looked me in the eyes … I said Merry Christmas. This is an extra gift for you. The cool points I got for that one act was beyond belief. Between her, the family and friends could not believe or get over the fact that my fellow dance enthusiast and myself had done this for our ladies.
Fast-forward roughly 2 years. I’ve been taking lessons at Salsabor Dance Studio for all this time … the gift for my lady has now turned into a roaring fire inside of me. I couldn’t get enough … learn fast enough. I wanted more and in that hunt for more, I started correcting or assisting my fellow students. Evidently, my instructor saw something in me and asked me to assist her with the classes. I was all excited and I’m sure blurted out something about being honored and hell yeah I’ll do it! HAHAHA! That was 2001. I taught and danced with her for two years, learning the business of Salsa. The most important thing she taught me was, “If you’re in this for the money, get out now. This is about family … relationships. The best instructors build families.” I never forgot that and have striven to do that.
Fast-forward two more years. Two distinct and very different events took place that would continue to shape who I was becoming. First,I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ on April 20th, 2003. Let me fill in some blanks. The woman that I learned to dance Salsa for and I had broken up the year prior. I was not in a good place. Doing things I shouldn’t have been doing and living recklessly. I was still instructing and going out occasionally dancing, but I was not happy. GOD had been sending me messages I just refused to listen. During this time I met another woman and we started dating (for all the wrong reasons and that’s all I’m going to type about that). Late 2002, GOD turned the heat up on me. I was now being overwhelmed with messages. So, I started attending a church. I took her with me, because it made sense to me. She didn’t like the church I was attending so not long after that revelation, I stopped going. GOD didn’t stop … he sent another messenger. I started going to another church. This church was different. I felt at home. I invited her, she said no. I kept going. We started talking about getting married … she seemed ready enough. I thought I was … Uncle Sam sent me on a 30-day trip. I came back disillusioned, but still into this woman (we were supposed to elope on this trip). 30 days after my trip she dumped me. I was devastated. All I could do was turn to GOD. And through this process HE would let me dance the pain away.
The summer of 2003 the second event came to pass, I launched Baila Conmigo. I was still teaching at Salsabor, but had ventured out instructing for myself (mostly privates and small group classes). I knew I had found my second calling. The healing of the hurt that GOD was taking me through paralleled my launch and my continued learning to dance and instruct Salsa. What I mean is learning the basic steps in salsa was not easy. I was learning to listen as someone told me how to step, stand, hold, and lead in Salsa and Christianity … what a chore. Although, I was able to learn the basics of Salsa very quickly I had not mastered the many nuances of the dance. The things that no one else knows is going on, those little intricacies that took place behind the dance unbeknownst to the casual watcher or practitioner. It was the same with my walk with GOD. I thought I knew who HE was. HE quickly showed me that I didn’t. I was one of those lukewarm Christians. HE made it very clear that I had a lot to learn about being a follower of CHRIST. Sound familiar? You can take lessons from many instructors and still learn something new. Salsa like our walks with CHRIST is never ending. Just when you think that you’ve arrived, somebody will throw you a curve (new way of instructing or dancing). I was confused as to why GOD would give me this talent and then no way for me to express it. In my mind I thought that Salsa dancing would be viewed as a sin to the church. I started praying for direction, assistance and clarity of purpose for my life now that I was a Christian. I heard, “Wait.” I didn’t understand. I kept praying. My bishop (pastor) taught a message on waiting on the Lord. In that message he spoke about different gifts, talents and abilities and how those gifts, talents and abilities had been misused and abused by the world (those who choose to live their lives based on their own beliefs or beliefs that contradict the Bible). I realized that all gifts, talents and abilities were ultimately made to give glory to GOD. But man perverted them (turned them upside down; interpreted them in a manner contradictory to there intended purpose). So that meant that Salsa danced or taught with Godly principles is okay. I had to then learn what did GOD say about dance? What was the original purpose of dancing? Where was it listed in the Bible and in what context? What I learned took my dance to another level. Because of the foundational instruction I received at Salsabor (her desire to teach the respect associated with this dance), I had the baseline but not the history to piece it all together. Now I had both and embarked on what I call CHRIST-club style salsa instruction! Salsa dancing based on the original concept … respect for others first and respect for self-second. It’s all starting to make sense to me, my classes are growing … I’m growing. So naturally I start asking GOD what’s next? The message was clear and concise. “You’re going to teach Salsa for Me internationally.” I almost fell on my face. Because that was something I’d dreamt about, but never pursued. I had my own idea of what that would look like; it was the summer of 2004. Fast-forward 6 years to 2010. I’m teaching a class in Kandahar Afghanistan to a mixed group of about 50 or so military and civilian personnel. The Holy Spirit whispers to me … “Turn around, what do you see?” I answered, dance students. He says, “Open your spiritual eyes, what do you see?” I responded the same way. He then took the veil off and I saw what He was pointing out to me; there were people from all over the US, Puerto Rico, France, Belgium, Germany, Afghanistan, Mexico, England, Philippines, India, Haiti … you get the picture. I was overwhelmed and wanted to just leave and glorify Him. But I couldn’t. All I could do was thank and give Him the praise from deep within my spirit.
So, now you know the compressed story … if you have more questions feel free to ask. The LORD bless you and keep you; May the LORD make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you; May the LORD lift up His face toward you (like a Father lifting a child overhead) and give you and those that you love shalom (peace – from Numbers 6:24-26)!
Salsa Dance Instructor: Salsa On 1 and Salsa On 2:
A Connecticut native, I began dancing Salsa On 1 (LA style) in 1999 at Salsabor Dance Studio in Meriden, CT with Evelyn Cabrera. As I progressed it became evident that Salsa was not only fun, but also my passion. After two years of training and natural inclination to teach, the owner offered ME a job. By 2003 I was teaching beginner and intermediate level group classes in Meriden. My zeal for more led me to seek out new instructors and challenges. I ventured into the On 2 dance scene of NY and began increasing my skill and knowledge base, ever aware of the differences of the two styles. WOULD TAKE WHAT I LEARNED ON 2 AND CONVERT IT TO ON1, THEN TEACH THOSE PATTERNS AND SHINES.
attending classes in 4 of the 5 boroughs, I've studied under many On 2 dance teachers including: Mambo legend Eddie Torres, Joe Burgos, and Tomas Guerrero. i have also attended and taken lessons at congresses, seminars, and workshops across the United States.
In 2003 i started “Baila Conmigo” (Dance with me) a Salsa and other Latin dance instruction company. The mission statement of Baila Conmigo (BCM) is “to educate and affect a positive life change through quality Salsa instruction, building or renewing self-confidence in every aspect of the dancers’ life.” This endeavor has taken me internationally. Often times people of Latin descent would walk into my classes or call on the phone and say, "El, que es negro y americano. Que sabe sobre la ensenanza de la Salsa? ( he's black and American, what does he know about teaching salsa?) after taking the class, they would tell their friends about, El hombre negro que ensena.