- Writing down the steps for a shine in progress. November 2005.
He laughs : You notice how important your voice is when you’re about to lose it ; and tonight, now that it’s almost gone, I notice how important it is to make people to focus on things, so that people can use my counting to execute a move well.
What were your first experiences in sports/dance ?
I always used to dance, even as a kid, dancing to video clips, Greased Lighting, like John Travolta. At the time of electric boogie, I did a lot of breakdancing too. I was brought up in a neighborhood with a lot of different cultures, and my first girlfriend was from Suriname, and I picked up the Surinam dances pretty quickly, it’s a little like Merengue, we danced it at parties. When I met my first wife, Martha, who is Colombian, we went to Colombia together and I learned the basic steps, and started to listen to the music, and so when we came back I started going out. This was about 12 years ago - in 1993.
How developed was the salsa scene in Holland at that time ?
Salsa in Holland at that point was a mix between something we call Cuban, and dances from Curaçao, because Curaçao is a Dutch colony with dances that are similar to Cuban style, they had their own ’salsa’ which incorporated Cuban moves on the local music. They dance on the three and the seven, with no dilequeno, but dance with the right foot forward, left foot back. That was the style that I first learned, when I came back from Colombia - I learned to dance that way. Salsa was being danced in small clubs, but it was nothing as big as 5 years after that. Luis and Joey Vasquez were among the first professors invited from the outside to Holland, and then we found out that we weren’t dancing salsa the way other countries were, Luis Vasquez said "You guys are advanced, right ? Ok, let’s start with a cross body lead" And everyone said "what ?" No one knew what it was. He explained it, and that’s when we found out we were behind. More and more international teachers started coming, and that’s how I met Marlon Castillo and Annetje, who organized the First European Salsa Festival. They are the ones who taught me cross body style, when Marlon invited me to join his show team, five years after I learned to dance salsa. I began teaching in 1996 - and I didn’t know cross body lead. When I learned CBL, I started practicing a lot, and there was a lot of confusion in Holland, because they wanted to protect the old style, to protect their market. I changed all my classes from one day to the next, because I was really attracted to the CBL style. I said, we’re going to start with left foot forward, and we’re going to do cross body lead. No one else changed for about a year or two, and my students were on an island, they couldn’t dance with anyone in Holland… But more and more international teachers came, and suddenly, people realized that they couldn’t dance with anyone outside Holland if they didn’t dance CBL, and they switched over. I always tell my students, it’s like the right foot forward dance is MS_DOS, and CBL is Windows, and the rest of the world is running Windows. You have to learn to be compatible. I still believe that the success of our school today is based on the fact that we went with CBL back in the beginning. Now everyone is dancing left foot forward, and we now have a very high level of dancers in Holland. If you stop to watch me dancing here, back in Holland, no one even looks at me. People come from New York and they say the same thing - I think the reason is that we have a lot of people from Curaçao and Suriname, and they’re very talented dancers, we have a lot of show teams, and a very high level of dance.
What did you do before ?
I used to be an accountant. I stopped five years ago, to teach full-time.
Do you come from a musical/dance background ?
I was brought up with popular music. In my family salsa started with me - I taught my sister how to dance, and then she started assisting me, from my first class on, and she still helps teach my classes.
- Teaching in Rennes with Adrienne, November 2005.
What are you listening to these days ?
It depends - right now, I’m buying a lot of new music, there’s a fight that goes on where you go through a phase of accumulating lots of new music, and then you saturate, and can’t listen to anything. Right now I listen to salsa and mambo all the time. And then I can’t listen to it anymore. I listen to the news a lot too. I can listen to the news for hours and hours on end, hours on hours of people talking. I focus on what they are saying, but also, how they say it. This is probably a result of teaching. In my car, I listen to Salsa, Mambo, reggaeton, to bachata, and the news. If I watch TV, it’s the news, too. Other music, it’s anything - real jazz, Elvis Presley, Lenny Kravitz, anything.
What do you listen for in salsa music ? Who are the artists that you admire ?
Instruments. A good melody. I like the conga very much, the deep sound of those drums, and the bongo : but my favorite instrument is the piano. I love Palmieri. I love Rubén Gonzalez. I like traditional music. I don’t like music with a strong campana, like the Colombian music. I like pure music, with highlights, beats - as soon as a song is constructed from different parts, with an intro, a montuno, I like that, I like that structure. The more I listen to music that I like, and the more I listen to music with strong accents, the more I can use it in my classes. I feel where I’m going - I’m finding a way to teach people to use music in their dance. Most people teach by showing a turn pattern, then showing a shine. I’m trying to go towards making people listen to the music. I want to try to find the way to teach them how to translate the music through their dancing, so that they love the music, so that no song will be danced the same, because the music is different. It’s a process. I try to keep the music as a headline through the class. We don’t just do a turn pattern, we talk about the skips in the timing, the highlights, the intro, so that people get a full sense for the salsa music in dancing.
- Putting the finishing touches on the Rennes Combo shine. November 2005.
Energy is a word that surfaces often in your classes. Tell me where this comes from ?
The energy thing that I teach comes from Aikido. I’ve studied martial arts since I was 14. You learn in Aikido to work form the center of your body, from just above your belly button, transcended out. You learn to use the strength of your opponent, and turn that energy around. You get a sense for how the energy can be controlled. That is what I noticed that you can use in salsa, first of all your partner, the lady, feels your energy. It has a lot to do with body directions : which direction do you aim your body ? That’s what the lady unconciously pays attention to, to figure out what you’re about to do. As a man as long as you confirm your posture with the right movement, then you get to the stage when you can really lead, and the lady will automatically follow you. On the other hand if you don’t master body positioning and you’re sending your energy to the left, before you want to turn to the right, the lady will feel the energy to the left, and her right turn will be unexepected : I call this broken rhythm. Unexpected moves can be very nice, if they’re in the right rhythm and with the right energy. People used to think it was spiritual when I would use the word energy in my teaching, as I do quite often, but they started to get a sense of what energy meant when they saw the effects in their dancing. It’s a whole-body posture - when I send the lady to the left, I look to the left, because my entire energy is sending her in that direction, to transmit the direction. If I want to do a copa, I will not look at the right or the left, I’ll look at the lady or right over her shoulder, to send her back.
Describe any differences or similarities in what you’ve seen in French salsa, compared with Dutch salsa ?
It’s the same. People make the same mistakes, and do the same things well, in the classes. In Holland, if I compare it to Paris, they’re as fanatic about dancing salsa as they are in the big cities here. In Rennes, it’s more relaxed, people don’t bother about the people dancing around them, there’s no showing off. In Denmark and in Germany in the small cities, it’s very relaxed, everyone has their own style, they don’t care. In my class I always try to make people conscious of the 1, the 3, the 7, because that’s part of teaching. But on the dance floor, if you’re having a good time, don’t worry about the 3 or the 7, just keep on having a good time.
Who are some French dancers that you’ve seen, in Salsa congresses or in Holland ?
I like the guys from Uforia a lot - it’s always about the music. When you look at people dancing, if they dance on one tempo, it’s not very exciting. But as soon as they play with the music, playing fast and slow, playing with the beat, it gets exciting. I like combinations. I really like Mathieu’s (Uforia) style, it’s sharp, it’s very clean, and he plays a lot with the music. Severine and Mouaze, for their styling. They have a clean dance and they play with the music - I look at them and think of one word, styling. As good dancers they work with energy, maybe they don’t say it but it’s very present in their dance. I’ve seen many good dancers in Paris, but I don’t know who they are. Cliford and Valérie, the Directors of Salsabor - they’re fantastic. With their shows they had a great influence on salsa shows thoughout the world.
What do you try to emphasize in your teaching ?
One thing is alternative counting : I think all teachers are using it, but I use it to an extent where it works like hypnosis. It’s hard to explain, but if you announce within certain counts what you are about to do, it can really help people to execute the movement, without having to think about it. A simple example : One - two - three, five cross body lead, (cross body lead on the six-seven and eight). Or One - change hands (pronounced on the 4 and the five). I teach this to my teachers, and it helps. There was a guy who recorded my voice once I did the whole move with alternative counting, and by just listening to the recording, he can execute the move back home. I make them do very difficult stuff in master class, but he could do the entire move without seeing me, just by listening to it.
I found out that men have a hard time remembering moves, especially the beginning of the move. I make sets : a beginner learns five or six sets of three combinations. For example : one set contains : a single right turn for the lady, but in three different ways. I make a second set, with a single right turn for the lady, and a SRT for the guy. Again in three different ways. The combinations are very similar, but different. I can teach them this in one course. In this way, I can teach them a total of 15 moves , in the beginner classes. If I teach them this without any structure, they could never handle it - but I make sets, and everyone remembers it. All they have to remember is the number of the set, 1-5. On a higher level, I start with names, like paper clip, sombrero complicado, and try to make them evocative so that people remember things. I swear that I’ve seen people coming to parties with their sheets of paper with their number combinations - Once I printed out (I did this one or two times) the list of combinations and put it on the door of the toilet. I understand the stage where they’re in, it’s not nice if you know a lot of moves, but can’t remember them. As long as you’re not out on the dance floor with your paper, that’s fine. I know a lot of teachers don’t agree with me on this one, because they were born dancers, but I can really understand where the beginners are coming from because it took me three months to learn the basic step on the rhythm of the music, and another three months to learn to execute a hook turn.
- Rennes, France November 2005.
How do you position yourself in the on-One or on-Two spectrum ?
For me, the one and the two depends on the music. I don’t consider myself to be a one or a two dancer, it goes with the music. I must say that I do have the feeling that dancing on the two gives me just a little bit more than the one, because I have the feeling that I’m dancing deeper into the music. But then again, it does depend on the music. I teach both, but my teaching on one is definitely better than my teaching on two, because of routine : I teach much more on one. The two for many people is the satisfaction of the one - as soon as people can breathe the one, and they’re very satisfied with it, they’ll switch to the two, and find out that it is a whole new challenge and they eather love it or hate it. The only reason to hate it, is not understanding it I think and I must admit it is quite hard to make the switch from one to two. I personally think that if you’re dancing on one and you’ve not explored it completely, I don’t think it’s a good idea to switch to the two. On the other hand, if you learn from the very beginning on the two, go with the two, and it might be nice to learn the one later. But I think it’s great to be able to master both styles.
What inspires you ?
Good dancers inspire me. I remember a long time ago they would intimidate me, and I always say to my students, be inspired, don’t be intimidated. I don’t have a certain person of whom I’m a great fan, but my students inspire me. It gives me an incredible amount of satisfaction when I look out at the last class and I see my beginners performing everything that they learned, that helps me to go on. I get inspired by the music.
You were honored at the UK Salsa Congress for your teaching ; what was your reaction to that ?
Most of the great dancers in Holland consider me as a good teacher, and I know that they know that they are far better than me when it comes to dancing - they have great body movement, they have style, but some of those guys they consider me as a good teacher. They admire me for my teaching - and I admire them for their dance. I don’t consider myself to be a great dancer, but I think I’m a good teacher. I don’t think there’s a best teacher - the teacher is as good as the student considers him to be. There’s no such thing as best.
Where will you be with salsa in 10 years ?
I don’t know, I have a hard time planning life. Sometimes if it’s September, I have a hard time planning Christmas. I don’t want to know. I think life is a big surprise. Probably I will still be dancing, probably I will still be teaching. Just let it come, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I think in terms of the next course for example, what I want to change - but the more I plan, the worse it gets, my worst classes are the ones that are the most planned. I love the structure because I know that people need it, but I always like to add unexpected elements in my teachings and to try new things out. Otherwise, nothing would change.
How does salsa fit into European culture, and is it just a passing phase ?
With these cold temperatures, we need something hot, and it’s a good reason to dance salsa, and a good reason for its popularity. People like to get the South American sensations. We have a more technical approach - in South America, you don’t care about turning the lady, you just do your cumbia step and you talk to her. The techniques have brought salsa to a higher level, but they are two different worlds. I do believe that you can be at a party and do just the cumbia steps, and enjoy it very much, and you can dance to the same music with lots of moves and cross body and technical skill, and enjoy it too, it depends on the environment that you’re in. In ten years I think it will be as big as now, it will go on - 10 years ago, I thought, maybe this will last 1,2 years. I think there’s a great future for salsa dancing. Salsa music in particular.
More music will be made, and people will have more understanding of the old music. New people will come in, and evolve with the salsa scene. The salsa music is what attracts people, even though it’s not the easiest music, nor is it the easiest dance. Salsa’s variety is what makes it so exciting.
- Cross body lead. Rennes France November 2005.