How long have you been dancing and what made you become interested in salsa?
I started dancing Salsa in 1994 and before that I was basically a hip hop and break-dancer, my mother would always try to make me dance salsa but I just wasn’t interested, I couldn’t even tell the difference in salsa or merengue but being a New Yorican we didn’t know too much about our culture, just the concrete jungle of the city. As I got older the music slowly started taking over, my mother and family always listen to and dance to salsa so when my mother would go to the store I would (without her knowing) pop in a cassette of Salsa (yes, cassette, this was before cds lol) so she convinced me to go to the salsa clubs and take me out dancing, I felt like such an idiot and couldn’t move correctly, but I just did my best.
Who did you learn from? Can you tell us something about your instructors?
We had a family friend that I couldn’t stand but he had classes in a dance studio called Fazils in NYC and my mother would always tell me to go to his classes and I would refuse, I was really good in hip hop and my ego would let me learn from others, “Someone teach MEEEE?!?!?” no way, I will just look at it and get it but to my surprise it wasn’t that easy, still my ego kept me from taking classes until a female friend of mine told me that she is dying to learn how to dance salsa so to show off I told her my friend teaches in NYC and she said great you take me! but you must come with me” so I basically used that as an excuse to take the classes, so my first teacher aside from my mother was Luis Zegarra, he was extremely confident and great at promoting, and I think it’s safe to say that some people didn’t like him very much but he taught me good and really pushed me to learn fast and to be ready for anything so you had to be on your toes, he would also have other instructors help him like Nelson Flores, he always had the latest moves and I’m sure he doesn’t remember but he would keep me doing basic and put me with basic beginners and I hated him for it but he was the teacher and in those days you had a lot more respect so you did what the teacher told you to do and I later realized that I was getting better faster than the rest because my body was getting used to the basic fundamentals faster.
I later heard the name Eddie Torres and whenever I would ask questions about him everyone eyes would get bigger as if I was asking what is the meaning of life lol, I thought I was good until Eddie showed me some videos of dancers back in the days and even though I was a little discouraged I was enjoying every minute of everyone’s classes. They were all differently the same, but aside from teaching me to dance and learn material I see Luis Zegarra, Angel and Addie Rodriguez, Nelson Flores and Eddie Torres and a very few others that I cant really think from the top of my head because I’m trying to not make it too long lol but I see them as my teachers in the development of the dancer I am today, I have always been curious by nature and always wanted to know everything so I would ask everyone a million questions and this one question changed everything, it was to Eddie Torres, I asked him “Eddie you’re the mambo king and your basically on top, so, Who do you look up to? And he replied that he likes people who are creative, creative? I asked myself, I was creative in hip hop, let me try to be creative in salsa because in those days everyone pretty much knew every move. I created my fist turn pattern and I showed it to Nelson Flores and he didn’t seem too impressed but told me to go home and add more so I did and I kept creating more and more and that’s when I started to get noticed, the here comes Luis of course and says you’re doing ok but you’re not dancing to the music listen to the song and hit the breaks improvise more so I did and here I am lol.
In your opinion, what qualifies someone as a good salsero?
To me basically embrace all the elements, evolutions and roots, like what you like whether it’s old style or new style NY, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, etc. On1, On2 but more than anything On Rhythm lol.
Listen what the song is about and notice the changes in the music, if a section goes into a guaguanco a son a bomba hip hop flamenco or whatever the musician puts in the song then you should be able to dance to those elements because it’s all part of the music and dance altogether.
Live music is also important even though today a lot of dancers complain that the songs are very long even though they can just wait a while or just stop when they’ve had enough, they can also just listen and take in the magic of live music especially when the band and the singers connect with the people.
What do you love the most from Caribbean Soul Dancers Dance Company?
Our passion and courage to dare to be different and push the boundaries of creativity, we changed the game many times while still being true to the dance, in other words sometimes we go way out there but we will bring it back to the original dance, we love to be different because there are many teams still holding it down in the raw form of mambo that I can venture out and try new things, what i also love is how different everyone is but when we get together we become one strong team, so we may not be the BEST at one thing but we are really GOOD at everything.
Who have been your best students?
Brenda Ramos, Griselle Ponce, my sisters Irene Otero and Yesenia Peralta, Alex Morel, Candy Mena, Jossue Torres, Guillermo Ayala, Danny Useche, Natalia Novas, Angel Perez, Pablo Munoz, Greg Taylor, Joey, Jamie Matos, Mario B, Jesse Yip, John Jay, Jose Luis Gomez, Luis and Lissy Matute, Arelis Beato, Manny Herrera, I’ll be here forever if I try to post everyone lol
Did you know other dances before finding salsa?
Hip Hop, House, Dancehall, Merengue, Bachata, Freestyle
What is your biggest achievement in life?
Changing Peoples life for the better through dance and Family
We know people call you the million moves man, how many moves do you currently know?
More than I can remember, the music, the flow of the person I’m dancing with and understanding and learning many dances always just makes things happen and after a while it gets to a point where it becomes second nature but to be honest I never counted.
What makes you such an extraordinaire dancer? How can we become like you?
I would think and hope that my creativity and connection to the music also bringing out the best of the person I’m dancing with.
To be more like me you would have to shave your head bald don’t drink or smoke say what’s on your mind, be nice but don’t take no crap lol, but as far as dance I just want to have fun and to do that you must be confident in yourself and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
Don’t wait for fun to happen, Be Fun and on a serious note, FIND yourself in dance, don’t try to be someone else you can copy and mimic someone you admire in the beginning but in the end it should be YOU dancing.
What is Salsa for you?
Salsa for me always changes, sometimes its my job, sometimes is my way of expressing how I feel, sometimes if helps me show people what I’m capable of, it has showed me many cultures, it taught me patience and understanding, salsa has made me feel happy, sad, angry, jealous, but we have to understand and control those emotions through dance.
One main thing Salsa is to me is even though its going to sound corny is Harmony, no color no race no religion no social class just harmony where were all on the same page for a few minutes
Thank you so much for taking the time to grant us this interview.
You can get to know more about Ismael Otero and also find more videos and interviews at www.CaribbeanSoulDance.com
Here is a video of Caribbean Soul Dancers in action