Although San Diego has many different dance companies, each one shines in their own special way. A good example of this is Alma Latina Dance company. Directed by Gabriela Equiz and Sergio Jasso, their dance company is known in San Diego and throughout the world as one of the best around (they are currently ranked #5 in the world in the On 1 division of the ESPN World Salsa Championships).
Apart from world class salsa dancing, Alma Latina is also known for its great work with dancers of all levels, including kids. I recently sat down with Gaby and Sergio to discuss their dancing, what motivates them, and what they have in store for San Diego salsa dancers. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Ritmo Bello: Sergio and Gaby, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community. Let’s begin.What would you say is the main focus of Alma Latina Dance Company?
Alma Latina Dance Company:We focus on helping salseros dance better than they ever thought they could and even helping them get to competitive levels while enjoying the process. Many people have told us that they really enjoy our sabor and the attitude that our dancers project on stage!
Ritmo Bello: What are the origins of your dance company? Why did you choose Alma Latina Dance Company for your name?
Alma Latina Dance Company:As a child, I went to a performing art school in Mexico City and loved it- all I wanted to do everyday was sing and dance. I realized that Tijuana didn’t offer anything like that, so I decided to start a performing art school in the summer of 2005. Later, I asked Sergio to come and help me instruct the boys in salsa dancing and we became partners. Then we expanded into teaching salsa to adults in 2006 in Tijuana and in San Diego in January 2008. We just started teaching in Los Angeles as well.
Ritmo Bello: What type of salsa dancing does Alma Latina perform? What types of influences have impacted how you both dance salsa?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Unlike other salsa companies, our dance teams aren’t exclusively On 1 or On 2- we focus on the musicality and that means we train our dancers to easily switch into whatever timing the music calls for. You’ll see that our salsa choreographies usually incorporate many other dance influences: hip hop, ballroom, modern, flamenco, ballet and tap- it gives our routines their distinct style. On top of that, both Sergio and I contribute different aspects of what makes us so strong: Sergio has a strong sense of musicality ( & humor) and that comes through in our choreography and I have a good eye for lines and details and tend to polish and perfect things.
Ritmo Bello: Does Alma Latina Dance Company have a particular focus on teaching certain age groups to perform?
Alma Latina Dance Company:We don’t like to limit ourselves to any age group: We have people 3 years to 70 years old. But we do earn a lot of attention for the accomplishments of our young dancers: Our kids couples took 1st and 2nd place in three age divisions in the first Annual Kids Salsa Convention in LA, and Albert Torres has invited our kids to be featured in a showcase at the 2009 World Salsa Championships in December! We’ve recently decided to form a non-profit around our kids dance troupe. Our Mission statement is to connect kids to culture using Latin music and dance to promote discipline, pride, health, and the history of Latin culture all while having fun. If you or someone you know would like to make a donation, please contact us at Info@AlmaLatinaDanceCompany.com
Ritmo Bello: Are you taking on new dancers now? How does someone audition to be a part of your salsa performance team?
Alma Latina Dance Company:YES!!! We are always taking new dancers for our Amateur & Intermediate teams. We also have Semi pro and Professional levels that do require a private audition- but we can do that anytime- just send us an email: Info@AlmaLatinaDanceCompany.com. In addition, we have members of each team learn the routine of the team above them so they are always challenged and so they can get ready to step up a level.
Ritmo Bello: I understand that your dance company operates out of Tijuana , Mexico as well as San Diego, California . How has this impacted the types of dancers you train?
Alma Latina Dance Company:I think it has made all our students really happy and inspired- there is such diversity in the dancers! The San Diego students always comment how they love the warmth of our Tijuana studio culture (we all kiss hello and goodbye to everyone at our TJ Studio). And our Tijuana students love the enthusiasm of our San Diego dancers! Also, a big plus is that all our dancers can come to the Tijuana studio and practice for free whenever, and there is always a Social going on at Alma Latina … I am not joking, there is a party every night…. And then TACOS at a stand by our studio :) We’re working to bring that same atmosphere to San Diego- starting on November 14th, we’ll have a monthly Social in San Diego too. Our new studio, The Woodroom, is in Northpark, which has a big neighborhood party called Ray At Night. As part of that event, we’ll be offering a free beginner lesson from 7:30-8:15 and free social dancing open to the public from 8:15-10:00 (just in time to head out to the other salsa clubs and socials)!
Ritmo Bello: Where has Alma Latina Dance Company performed?
Alma Latina Dance Company:We love to perform locally as well as at all the big West Coast Congress events like San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Arizona and San Francisco. We have also regularly traveled to the Acapulco Congress, the Mexico National Championships in Mexico City, and the World Salsa Championships. We recently performed at the Mayan Team Competition and WON- we are so excited to have earned that distinction! We are also really pleased to have been invited to headline the Seattle Salsa Congress over Thanksgiving weekend. We are hoping to add Europe to our list of performance destinations in the next year!
Ritmo Bello: In many of those performances and competitions you’ve won a number of awards. Can you share with us some of your best memories involving winning those awards?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Yes- we are so proud of our many dancers who have done so well in competition! Just this year we have claimed 6 first places and 6 second places in competitions Nationally and Internationally.
Competing is really hard work but we love it- it is the best learning experience. Competing takes all the challenges of performing and adds judges into the mix! You learn to cope with your nerves and the pressure– and dance regardless. The challenge is doing it like it is a show even when you see the judges just in front of you. You want to think that they are going to be entertained!
Admittedly the competitions add pressure, but they also push us to grow as dancers and be the best performers we can be. That’s where the great memories come from: working together towards a goal and achieving it- and traveling as a group to perform for very appreciative audiences!
Ritmo Bello: Is is true that you’ve been ranked within the top 10 salsa dancers in the world according to the ESPN World Salsa Championships?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Yes, we are currently ranked 5thin the world and this year we want to go back and rank higher if possible! It is really hard because you compete with the best in the world and everybody is improving and getting ready- there’s no way to get an advantage…so imagine!!! But I think we could do something good this year…
Ritmo Bello: How was your experience at the San Diego Salsa Festival this year?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Great! We closed the show on Friday and performed the 2nd to last number on both Saturday and Sunday- just before Yamulee from NYC closed the show- and after great dancers like Adolfo Indacochea, Hacha y Machete etc.- what a compliment! We were incredibly flattered by the fact that we got standing ovations on Friday and Sunday.
Ritmo Bello: In your opinion, what is the best thing about dancing salsa in San Diego ?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Everything! The people are genuine and nice, there is a huge number of incredible dancers, and everyone has a good attitude.
Ritmo Bello: I’ve noticed that there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing your salsa dancing. How do you feel about being a virtual salsa celebrity for the YouTube crowd?
Alma Latina Dance Company:I think that YouTube has helped us a lot. We find a lot of people who have never seen us in person but they follow us on YouTube. We have even had people hire us based on that- can you believe it? We hardly can!
Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ritmo Bello readers about your dance company and yourselves that we haven’t covered yet?
Alma Latina Dance Company:We want to thank you and all of the San Diego salsa community for your support! We feel really blessed to be teaching here where people really believe in us.
Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?
Alma Latina Dance Company:Yes- please contact us- we are still growing and want to serve the needs of the San Diego Community!
1stWednesdays of the Month with Meetup.comis coming up again and with it a great opportunity to meet new people here in San Diego. This time the event will have a different twist in that we are asking people who attend to donate food to the St. Vincent de Paul Villages in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Pleasebring any NON-PERISHABLE FOOD ITEMS for donatingto theSt. Vincent de Paul Village and Food pantry. We will have a box on site at the event to collect any canned food and other non-perishables to help out the less fortunate during this Thanksgiving season. For those of you unfamiliar with St. Vincent de Paul’s Villages check out the videos here that explain some of the great services they provide to our community:
This monthly event held at Café Sevilla is a great way to break the ice with new people in a safe and friendly environment. Just like last month, Café Sevilla has eliminated the cover charge for Wednesday so it will again beFREEto attend!
The event is open to everyone so feel free to come alone or bring any friends. We’ll meet downstairs at 8pm in the VIP area of club that will be reserved for our group. Just look for the Meetup.com signs. Valeriewill give a free salsa lesson starting at 8:30pm.
As many of you already know, I have a YouTube channel for Ritmo Bello that highlights some of the great dancing we see here in San Diego. What you may not know, though, is that you can now access these videos directly from the Ritmo Bello Website.
You’ll see on the right hand side of this website a small player that cycles through the videos on the Ritmo Bello YouTube channel. Let me know what you think (@reply me on Twitter at @ritmobello) and I hope you enjoy all the videos.
As any salsa dancer will tell you, it’s ten times better dancing to live music as compared to recorded music. The obvious reason for this is that the salsa dancer can really connect with the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement of the live entertainer as the performance goes on.
Johnny Polanco and his group La Conjunto Amistad are a prime example of how great live salsa music is to the dancer and listener alike. With years of experience in the salsa music world, Johnny Polanco is a rare gem that plays frequently in the Southern California area. I had a chance to talk with Johnny Polanco before his upcoming performance at Anthology night club this Saturday October 17 and learned that if something is to be done, you ‘DO IT WITH SALSA!’ I hope you enjoy the interview which follows below.
Ritmo Bello:Johnny, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community. Let’s begin. What would you say is the main focus of your salsa music?
Johnny Polanco:Hi John. The main focus of my music are two reasons. One is to make everyone dance. Secondly is to give the listener a great visual through our performances. Everyone listens to CD’s. But it’s a lot different when you actually see it “live”. The listener can actually feel and absorb the music. It becomes more versatile. And the most important issue about a “live” performance is that the number can be stretched out a little longer, thus letting the band be more creative. Especially during the solos.
Tito Puente once told me, “Live tells no lie”. AND THAT’S SO TRUE. In this age of recording and digital “Pro Tools” you can do wonders in the recording studio. But you can “clean it up live”!
Ritmo Bello:What are the origins of your salsa music career?
Johnny Polanco:My career begin in the Bronx, New York City. I performed with various bands, in the earlier days, but the first known band I played with was with JOHNNY PACHECO and PETE “EL CONDE” RODRIGUEZ. I was 17 years old.
Ritmo Bello: Why did you choose La Conjunto Amistad for your band name?
Johnny Polanco:I choose Conjunto Amistad because the band was composed of all of my friends.
Ritmo Bello: What types of influences have impacted how you’ve created your salsa music?
Johnny Polanco:The conjunto music of ARSENIO RODRIGUEZ, who is one of the most well known Cuban tres guitar players. Also the BIG 3 bands of the fifties that consisted of TITO PUENTE, TITO RODRIGUEZ and MACHITO. The sounds of trio music like LOS PONCHOS and TRIO MATAMOROS also played a role.
And believe it or not, the music of the big band era featuring FRANK SINATRA, TONY BENNETT, JOE WILLIAMS, SARAH VAUGHN and many others from that era were so musically rich for me to listen.
Ritmo Bello:How and where do you find inspiration for creating new salsa songs?
Johnny Polanco:The inspirations come to me in spurts. That’s why I always try to have something to write notes or my cell phone to record the moments. My song feature all different types of topics. If you listen to my latest CD, “AMISTAD PARA EL MUNDO ENTERO” you will see the many topics.
Ritmo Bello:What has your experience been like working withDimelo Records?
Johnny Polanco:My experiences with Dimelo Records has been an enjoyable one and something that I wish I would have done years ago. Nissim Baly is a great guy and is very business savvy in the direction that the recording industry has been heading. He possesses very strong marketing skills and that has contributed immensely in the success of the bands under his label. Not to mention his assistant Valerie Guzman. She is definitely on the ball at the office.
RitmoBello: Can you tell me a little about your CD’s that you’ve released to date?
Johnny Polanco: Absolutely. Amistad Para El Mundo Enterois my best production yet. It has 14 original, never recorded numbers. It features some of the best musicians in Salsa music today such as RAY DE LA PAZ, FRANKIE VASQUEZ, AZUQUITA, FRANKIE MORALES, JIMMY BOSCH, ARTIE WEBB, NINO JESUS and others. The production was great. It took a while but I’m very happy with it. I also put on it, my version of “Happy Birthday”. It has been very popular in all the clubs.
Ritmo Bello: Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon?
Johnny Polanco: The last CD has only been out for 9 months and DIMELO RECORDS is going to release it on their label soon. My next CD is going to be recorded live on a venue to be announced later. I feel that this will really capture the true sound of the band.
Ritmo Bello: I’ve noticed that there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing your salsa music. How has YouTube and other types of social media like Facebook and Twitter helped you gain more exposure worldwide?
Johnny Polanco:It truly has. My music has reached places throughout the world that I haven’t traveled to yet. We have had the pleasure of working with Albert Torres, who has been my personal manager for 15 years. And he is helping create and participate at all these Salsa Congresses world wide. These types of social medias have been a blessing. Also non commercial radio has played an important part also. They play everyones music and we are very blessed to have Canto Tropical and Alma Del Barrio here in Los Angeles.
Ritmo Bello:What are some of your best memories from your performances? Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind?
Johnny Polanco: Oh GOD, there are so many because each of those have left me with something unique. Such as performing for our new L.A. Philharmonic conductor from Venezuela, Gustavo Dumadel a couple of weeks ago at the Hollywood Bowl. He is the first Hispanic to lead this great orchestra. Working with Prince in Las Vegas was great too. He is an extraordinary musician. Doing the 2007 Playboy Jazz Festival., the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Prix in Macau. Doing our Mayor’s Inaugural Ball. And the many Salsa Congresses throughout the world such as in Spain, Toronto, Japan, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver etc.
Ritmo Bello: I’ve seen you perform in San Diego in the past. How often do you make it down to San Diego and when can we expect to see you again in America’s Finest City?
Johnny Polanco:I don’t perform as much as I like but I will be performing Sat Oct 17th at Anthology. This is the premier venue to perform in San Diego. It is such a beautiful supper club with great sound, food and hospitality. I am so looking forward to it!
Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to up and coming salsa singers?
Johnny Polanco:The best advice is to listen to the old stuff from the early years. Especially from the 70’s. All those guys are now salsa legends now. PERIOD. I had the pleasure of working with many of them. Their sonero’s and deliveries are unmatched. Any vocalist after that era will tell you that they were influenced by them. If they don’t admit it, they are just plain lying.
Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t covered so far?
Johnny Polanco: You covered many of the issues that are important to me. But the final thing I would like to say is to please support live entertainment. It take an enormous commitment for someone to get musicians together and form a band. And a lot of work to get music and the administrative side of it in getting booked. It’s not easy. But we do it to spread the music, make you feel good, help you meet new friends, dance to great songs, see musicians do what we do best and let’s face it guys. The most beautiful women in the world are dancing to salsa and waiting for you. So if you guys aren’t Salsa dancing, you better get some lessons because you are DEFINITELY missing out. Most clubs offer lessons. So you have no excuse. Ever wonder where your best friends at? He is at a salsa club dancing away with the girl of your dreams Ha, Ha.
Ritmo Bello:Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?
Johnny Polanco:Yes. My website iswww.johnnypolanco.net Also we have a hotline where you can find out where we are at on a weekly basis at 562-220-4929.
Ritmo Bello:Johnny, thank you so much for your time and I hope to attend some of your salsa performances in the near future.
PBS tonight aired the first part of a two part series called “Latin Music USA” that gives a very good overview of not just salsa but all Latin music. Covering everything from Latin Jazz to Latin Pop, the series does an excellent job of explaining the roots and influences that created the wonderful music we all enjoy today.
The videos that appear here give but a glimpse of some of the great dancers that performed during this year’s festival. If you want to see all the videos from the Festival check out the Ritmo Bello YouTube channel. Hope you enjoy the videos!
The monthly event held at Café Sevilla is a great way to break the ice with new people in a safe and friendly environment.This month we are going back to basics and having a simple Meetup event without any overarching theme. Roman Castro Photography, a sponsor for our Meetup group, will be on hand at 8pm to take pictures of the event. As an added bonus, Café Sevilla eliminated the cover charge for Wednesday so now it will be FREE to attend!
The event is open to everyone so feel free to come alone or bring any friends. We’ll meet downstairs at 8pm in the VIP area of club that will be reserved for our group. Just look for the Meetup.com signs. Valerie will give a free salsa lesson starting at 8:30pm.