Over the last few years, San Diego has experienced a surge of interest with the dance known as bachata. Indeed, many clubs in San Diego now cater to this dance exclusively by hosting bachata nights and playing music for this growing group. Amidst these changes a number of individuals have emerged to help San Diego move further into this genre. One of those leaders is Anthony Umina who has taken it upon himself to spread the gospel of bachata dancing here in San Diego. I had a great opportunity to meet with him and talk with him about these changes concerning bachata. I hope you enjoy the interview below.
Ritmo Bello: Anthony, thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview. Let’s begin. Originally you began as a salsa dancer and found your way into bachata dancing. How did you go about making that transition?
Anthony Umina: Thank you for having me and expressing interest in Bachatamante Dance Co. Yes, I began salsa dancing in Fall of 2006 and slowly started social dancing bachata at the clubs near the end of 2008. It’s funny, because before that I had heard bachata played at different socials and clubs in the Bay Area, but never really knew what it was or how to dance it. I actually remember a specific incident where I told the DJ (DJ Jazzy Jez – aka Jesse) who is a good friend of mine, that he was playing too much bachata, nobody knew how to dance it, and it wasn’t any good! I’ll always remember his response to me, “Dude, You don’t even know. Just wait, Bachata is going to be the next BIG craze.” Little did I know, he was SO right! Within a year after that incident I took my first bachata class with Nestor Manuelian at the 2008 West Coast Salsa Congress in Los Angeles, CA. At first I thought it was alright and it was just another dance and another 8 count of steps. It wasn’t until I was exposed to wide spread Bachata Scene in Sydney, Australia did I realize how beautiful the dance actually was. From my experience, Sydney’s Bachata Scene was almost equivalent to Salsa in terms of popularity and performance teams! It was then that I wanted to experience more bachata and grow as a dancer. I kept it to social dancing while I was living in the Bay Area (San Jose, CA) , but after my move back to Los Angeles in November of 2008 I met an amazing couple who had their own Bachata Team. Jorge Contreras and Leslie Ferreira welcomed me in to their “Bachata Caliente” family with open arms! After dancing with them for a few months and performing at the San Francisco Bachata Festival I was asked to partner with the world renowned Josie Neglia and conduct workshops at the 1st Annual California Bachata Congress. And the rest is history!!
Ritmo Bello: I understand that you developed your dance skills in the Bay Area. Could you share with me what that experience was like?
Anthony Umina: Yes, San Jose to be exact. I was first introduced to “Latin” dance at San Jose State University. I took a curriculum class there for the sole purpose of covering one of my GE area’s. My very first dance teacher ever was the wonderful Joelle Maletis. I ended up falling in LOVE with it and I started going to all of the classes in my spare time. One of the best parts of the class, which I believe is the biggest aspect that sparked my interest, was the “field trips” we had to go to for homework. Joelle sent us to local clubs and studios to take outside lessons. After being with Joelle for about a year I joined Pretty Boys and Girls (aka PB&G) with the infamous Ricardo and Michelle! I was on their training team “Rising Stars” for about 8 months and at the culmination of that season they offered me a spot on the Pro Team! I was so honored to have danced with world class dancers. PB&G won the 1st Annual ESPN World Salsa Championships in the Team Division. My level of dancing progressed exponentially training with them. What also played a big part was the social dancing. The Bay Area has an amazing social dancing salsa scene. The median level of dancers as a whole is way up there! There are many trained dancers there and it’s a great place to learn because you’re constantly being challenged.
Ritmo Bello: I’ve heard that along with relocating to San Diego you also now co-direct at the popular Deseo Dance Co. How did you go about meeting Serena Cuevas and agreeing to become co-director with her?
Anthony Umina: Well just like the rest of the world I had known OF Serena for quite some time, but never really met her. It wasn’t until one night at Prospect when a friend of mine introduced us and told her to dance with me! We ended up dancing the next 4 songs in a row! Then we met again on Wednesday at La Jolla Marriott and that’s when she dropped the question! She asked if I would be interested in moving down to San Diego to be her partner and Co-Directing Deseo with her or at least commuting down once or twice a week for rehearsals. I was extremely flattered by her offer and that is an understatement. Immediately, I told her I was interested and that we could definitely talk more about it. By that next week I was living in San Diego!!! And it has been one of the best decisions of my life thus far and I am so grateful for Serena giving me this wonderful opportunity. I have been truly blessed with all of the people in my life and how far my endeavors have taken me. When everything falls into place so smoothly and perfectly you can only be assured that they’re meant to be!
Ritmo Bello: Given that you’re focusing more on bachata dance now, what is it about the dance that sets it apart from other Latin dances like salsa or cha cha cha for you?
Anthony Umina: Well, the main and most obvious difference I would have to say is the music. It has a very distinct and noticeable arrangement. With some of the same instruments such as the piano, bongos, congas, bass, and clave’ the addition of an amplified guitar is a huge difference. The way the bongos are played in bachata allows for more syncopation. While salsa, cha-cha, and merengue can be danced sensual nothing can compare to the connection of bachata. With all the body and hip movement that can be incorporated into bachata it is very easy to dance with great musicality. It also feels really nice when you can connect with another human being so well and be able to lead somebody with any part of your body, whether it be your hands, hips, knees, feet, shoulders, chest, etc.! You really “Dance as one” when you dance bachata. The difference in terms of music is that bachata is played in an 8 count where the split is 4/4 and the 4 and 8 holds are replaced with a tap of the foot and “pop” of the hip, if you will. Now, although bachata is typically danced side-to-side it is also danced in a circular motion and can essentially travel in any direction you wish as long as you are stepping on the correct counts. As we continue to push the boundaries of bachata and create new styles, hits, steps, and moves there will always be different ways to dance bachata. Dominican, Moderna, Urbana, Tango, and Traditional are all different styles that are danced nowadays.
Ritmo Bello: I heard that you are creating San Diego’s first 100% bachata dance focused dance troupe. What can you share with the Ritmo Bello readers about this endeavor and what we can all expect?
Anthony Umina: YUP! 100% Bachata Team! I wanted to move down here to spread the fire, passion, and bachata craze. It started when Serena put me in contact with Evelio from Rumba Entertainment and our first conversation must have lasted almost 3 hours! Evelio and I threw around a lot of ideas and that’s when I decided to make my move full-time and more permanent, instead of just once or twice a week for Deseo practices. As stated before, I danced with Bachata Caliente in Los Angeles and I absolutely loved everything they were doing with their team, performances, and traveling. It felt really good to have a tight-knit group that shared the same passion and interest. I thought it would be cool to create something like that of my own and with San Diego having an untapped bachata market it made my decision easy. Now, as for what San Diego can expect…there will be a new breed and expansion of Bachata dancing. With mixes of Moderna, Domincan, and Urban, Bachatamante will create its own unique style and contribute to the already vastly growing bachata World. We will have training and performance teams that will be required to learn choreography, timing, technique, and body movements. Performing is always an option and not a requirement. We welcome people that want to become better dancers, but feel group classes can only get them so far, and privates are way too expensive! It is open level progressive so we don’t turn anybody away that wants to learn the Domincan dance of bachata. No experience or training necessary! For those that have a goal of performing and traveling, Bachatamante is already booked and confirmed for a few of the Bachata Congress’/Festivals around the world! San Diego Bachatero’s are very quickly getting put on the map and this is only the beginning!
Ritmo Bello: I know that you’ve been involved in a number of competitions for both salsa and bachata. Could you share some of your best memories from these competitions?
Anthony Umina: Actually, to tell you the truth, I have only been in 2 official competitions in my life! Other than 2 or 3 Jack and Jill’s I have entered in to at small clubs my very first competition was with Espie Hernandez from Laguna Rhythm. I met Espie one night at Stevens Steakhouse and 2 weeks later we competed on Television at the Conga Room Latin Dance Champs! We qualified and progressed to the semi-finals, but were eliminated in the first week. My 2nd competition was with Serena Cuevas and again, with only 2-3 weeks of preparation we found ourselves competing at the 1st Annual Mayan World Bachata Championship Finals where we ended up taking home 2nd place! I would say my favorite memory thus far was coming off the stage at the Mayan knowing that we nailed it! It had been our best performance yet, and it was so exhilarating having the entire Mayan crowd in front of us. Serena and I showed up with the mindset just to do our best and just have fun! I wanted to feel no pressure and I think it eased into us very well. Taking 2nd place next to Christian Oviedo and Alien Ramirez was an honor, but at the same time it was a bit bittersweet because a lot of the competition were good friends and peers of mine, many of whom I really look up to and admire. So it was a bit difficult to take in. Healthy and fun competition is always good though!
Ritmo Bello: Do you think bachata music is going to outgrow salsa dancing in popularity?
Anthony Umina: I wouldn’t say bachata will outgrow or replace salsa in any means, but it is definitely becoming much more popular all over the globe. Slowly, but surely people are transitioning and learning bachata in addition to their salsa, cha-cha, merengue etc. For the beginners, I believe bachata is much more distinct and predominant with timing and hits that it makes it easy to dance when first starting out. Not to mention that the speed of bachata is much slower, which makes it less difficult for those with 2 left feet. ;-) So, I can see how appealing it would be to beginners and maintain a steady growth.
Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to people that are new to bachata dancing?
Anthony Umina: Listen to the Music! And work those hips and shoulders! You really got to loosen them up. It’s a dance of sensuality and one way for me to express sensuality with someone is through body movement and not only worrying about myself, but connecting your body movements to compliment your partners. Like I mentioned before, “Dance TOGETHER” literally, it’s like your bodies are glued together and are on the same heartbeat! Other than that I think bachata is much easier to adapt to than a few of the other Latin dances.
Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo
Bello audience wants to contact you?
Anthony Umina: Yes, email is best.
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Ritmo Bello: Anthony, Thank you so much for your time and good luck with you bachata dance plans for San Diego.
Anthony Umina: Thank you for sharing the interest and allowing me this opportunity to share a bit of my story and background with others. Hope to see you and your readers out on the dance floor soon!