San Diego is home to many of the nations’ top talent when it comes to salsa dancing. Some of the best dancers developed their dance skills and became professionals here in San Diego through years of hard work and determination. Juan and Erica Hernandez from Juan Two Three best exemplify this in their unique approach as not only dance partners but also as life partners who share in their love of salsa dancing in their married life as well. The duo recently opened a new salsa venue here in San Diego, The Mambo Rooftop, and are busy starting new dance related projects as well. I had a great opportunity to sit down and interview both of them about their salsa life, their experiences and how their marriage plays a role in their dancing. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Special thanks to Roman Castro Photography for providing the fine photos you see throughout the interview of Juan and Erica.
Ritmo Bello: How did each of you begin your careers in the salsa dance world?
Juan: I used to be a regular at the “E-Club,” which was a famous salsa dance club located inside the Miramar base back in 2001. By this time, I was becoming known for being a smooth social dancer. A lady approached me at the club and asked me how much I would charge her to teach her how to dance. She became my first paying student and the lesson took place in the middle of the dining room of my apartment.
A couple years later, I started dancing with Majesty in Motion. David Stein, the director and eventually the best man in my wedding, began to let me assist him with his group classes, and then handed some over to me. This gave me the knowledge, experience and ability to eventually start my own group classes and my own dance career with Juan-Two-Three Dance Entertainment.
Erica: I became Juan’s salsa dance partner in January of 2006 and would assist him with his group classes. If Juan got hired for a party, he would bring me along with him to do a performance and help him out with the group lesson. I loved it! The students were eager, dedicated and hungry to learn how to salsa dance and this fueled my passion for teaching salsa. My day job as an Engineer for Qualcomm became less of a priority and by January of 2007 I made my choice and became a fulltime Professional Salsa Dancer. I started teaching progressive beginner level group classes and worked my way up to teaching intermediate level. Eventually, Juan joined me and we started a performance dance training team for Qualcomm employees that we still teach to this day. You can find their first performance ever on YouTube.
Ritmo Bello: Juan, I understand that you served in the Marine Corp and you were exposed to the salsa scene in Okinawa. What was that experience like and how did it influence how you look at salsa dancing today?
Juan: When I got stationed in Japan, I was still at a beginner level with salsa dancing. It’s funny, because I thought that joining the military and being relocated to Japan would, with time, make me forget about Salsa dancing. To my surprise, I became amazed to see how a culture so different to mine also shared this same love for Salsa music and that the salsa scene in Japan was so prominent. In that dance scene, I was more like an advanced salsa dancer, and this gave me the confidence boost I needed to continue salsa dancing.
My experience in Japan reminds me of how salsa dancing unites cultures from all around the world, which makes me that much more passionate about teaching people to dance today.
Ritmo Bello: Majesty in Motion played a large part in your development of salsa dancing, how did that association affect your salsa dance development?
Erica: David Stein was my first salsa dance instructor. I think one of the greatest things Majesty provided for me was an environment that fostered motivation and dedication, propelling the development of my dance skills. I teach my students the same principles I learned from Majesty; go out social dancing, practice the basics, and always strive to be the best!
Juan: Majesty in Motion offered me a great foundation for salsa dancing. I knew I had my own style, but I didn’t know how to teach it. Once I learned the rules of dancing through Majesty, I was able to build on that foundation to define my style and be able to intricately explain it to others. That, along with the eye for attention-to-detail my mom instilled in me and that the military reinforced, helped to better acknowledge all the small-intricate-little-details and boundaries that go into social dancing, which one must truly comprehend in order to become better dancer and/or teacher.
Ritmo Bello: Erica, I know that you met Juan through salsa dancing but how exactly did you get introduced to Juan?
Erica: We were introduced on the day that I auditioned for Majesty in Motion Dance Company in August of 2005. He was one of the judges and co-directors of the dance company at that time. Over the next five years, our relationship grew from a teacher-student one, to dance partners, to best friends, and then to life partners.
Ritmo Bello: Juan as someone of Colombian descent like myself how has that aspect of your background influenced how you dance salsa?
Juan: It makes me feel very proud to be Colombian but it also humbles me a lot. Proud because, as many dancers may already know, Colombia has been declared undefeated champions at the ESPN World Salsa Championships. Their superb social dance skills, daring acrobatic tricks and lifts, along with their fast lighting-speed footwork has swept away any competition that’s stepped onto the stage. That’s something to be proud of. Hopefully one day I’ll learn how they do it.
The part that humbles me is seeing how these dancers, mostly teenagers or under 21, have achieved the merit of being called “the world champions” under such horrible conditions. I went to Colombia 4 years ago to participate in the 50th Anniversary of the Cali’s Music/Dance Festival. I walked into one of their dance studios to realize they did not even have a dance floor; instead they practiced on a concrete floor the size of my living room, with broken mirrors and windows all around, along with the taste of dusty air and car exhaust due to the local highway that runs 5 feet away from the studio. The music came from an old little CD player, which was rigged into an amplifier, which projected music into one big speaker. YET!! The shelves that surrounded their small studio were decorated with a multitude of dance trophies. Now imagine how much more would they be able to accomplish had they had the luxury to practice at a studio like the ones we do.
Seeing how hard they worked under those conditions motivates me to work harder to reach my dance goals and not to complain or make excuses along the way.
Ritmo Bello: Erica, from your experience with dancing with the Salsa Divas what is your best memory from that time?
Erica: The Salsa Divas was such an awesome group of strong women. Laura Mendoza was like our big sister coaxing us out of our shells to embrace our sexy, sassy side and bring more sabor to our dancing. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it felt so good dancing her routines. When I think of the Salsa Divas, I remember how much fun our practices were and how much fun it was to bond with the women on the team. My best memory from that experience is going to a Salsa Diva practice after a stressful day of work, laughing with the girls, sweating our booties off, Laura telling stories that inspired and empowered us, and leaving relieved of the stress of the day with the windows completely fogged up with steam.
Ritmo Bello: What is married life like being married to someone who enjoys salsa dancing as much as you do?
Juan: It’s incredible. I went from hating the music to finding my best friend and life partner because of it. It was our chemistry and connection on the dance floor that got us mixed up in the first place, which led us to start flirting, to then dating and eventually tying the knot. Its great to connect the way we do. It’s awesome to be able to communicate with your wife verbally, but to also be able to connect non-verbally through dancing: Priceless!! Dancing is a great hobby for couples to enjoy and learn from. It teaches you to be team players and that for the dance to work and have fluidity; both the leader and the follower must work together. There needs to be a perfect balance between both dancers for if one over powers the other it would loose its gracefulness, just like in a marriage.
Erica: Like Juan said, it truly is priceless. Since we both love salsa dancing, we make it a point to include it in our lives. We make sure salsa is a priority, from teaching and going social dancing on a weekly basis to planning big fun trips to salsa congresses every year. I love that we can have an amazing night salsa dancing, where we might only dance with each other one or two songs, and we can talk about all the amazing dances that we had that night.
As dance partners, we learned how to communicate with each other and compromise to improve our connection on the dance floor. Now, as life partners, we know how to communicate so we can continually improve our connection in our marriage as well.
Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to people that are new to salsa dancing?
Erica: One of the biggest questions I get from new salsa dancers is “How long will it take before I can social dance?” I know this was my main question when I first started. The best thing about salsa dancing is that ANYONE can do it! All it takes is practice and dedication. So to answer that question, learning to salsa dance is a journey. You choose how quickly you take that journey. Minimally, you would go social dancing at least three nights a week, take the free group lesson at the beginning of the night and pick up one new move every time you went out. To speed things up you might add taking some group classes at a dance studio a couple times a week. Want to move faster? Continue social dancing, taking group classes and add a package of private lessons. Make sure to take advantage of the free workshops offered throughout the year. You will reach your goals in no time!
Juan: To be patient and enjoy the journey. Anything worth learning in life should not be easy, for it will go unappreciated. We tend to take a few dance classes, to learn a couple moves, to then realize that we don’t have nearly as many moves as the dancer next to us and so we get discouraged and quit after only a few months. “When will be able to dance like them?”, we ask ourselves. I did, and many times. This is why encouragement is always good.
As we get older we seem to want to do things faster. “Time is money”, “time is everything”, “I need this now”, we remind ourselves daily. We lose our patience which then kills our drive. It usually takes a baby over a year to simply learn how to walk on a straight line, yet we expect to be social dancing in no time, which requires- all within fractions of seconds- to constantly be moving forward, back, left, right or to spin, as you stay connected with another person. Not possible. Dance is a journey and with no shortcuts. Even a dance prodigy has hours of experience under his/her belt. It requires time and lots of practice, but remain determined and goal oriented. Just as you once were as a baby, when it came to learning how to walk, you fell but you got up and tried again.
Lastly, never stop taking dance classes and try other dance genres but most importantly: Go social dancing, even if you’re brand new to Salsa. The sooner you get out there the sooner you’ll improve. Don’t be that person that doesn’t go out social dancing because they feel like they need to learn more moves or styling before hitting the dance floor. That’s like saying I’ll go to the gym when I get me some muscles first. Go dancing and go as many times as possible. The more you go out, the more people you’ll meet and the easier it’ll become. It worked for me. I went from hating Salsa to teaching it.
Ritmo Bello: What projects do you have ongoing and is there anything you’d like to share concerning those and future plans?
Juan: Lately I’m very happy to still be successful at making a living out of what I love doing: Salsa dancing. I enjoy taking the time to devise new monthly lesson plans for my weekly group classes at Synergy Dance Zone and Qualcomm students. My years of teaching have made me realize that if you formulate the right curriculum, people would learn and improve on their dance skills at a much faster rate. A well-formulated syllabus mixed with a little bit of humor, have seemed to be the right combination for learning.
Nowadays, I’m branching off to planning and coordinating Salsa events. I’m starting with small successful events to eventually work my way up to a music & dance festival here in San Diego. I’m currently building a new dance venue for the working professional who loves to dance but also need to wake up early for work. I’ve teamed up with the Inn at the Park to bring San Diego a new dancing venue at the enclosed rooftop of their hotel. I call it the Mambo Rooftop and it only happens on the 2nd Tuesday of the month. Last month we had the great grand opening with over 230 attendees. A lot of people loved the location, its awesome views of San Diego and also that they had a place to go Salsa dancing with a free group class that starts at 7pm instead of 8:30pm. February 14th, Valentine’s Day, is our next party and its FREE to get in so I hope come out and enjoy. You can join Erica and I for a delicious 4-course meal with your choice of Lobster, rib-eye, oysters or venison. Be sure to also join us at 7pm for a complimentary beginner salsa group lesson and then social dance till midnight to the music of LA’s finest, DeeJay Rumbero!
Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?
Juan: Anyone out there interested in group classes, private lessons, and free workshops to speed up your salsa dance journey in a way that is simple and effective, call me or email me. You can also visit our website to join our Salsa Newsletter for salsa events and information, and see more of what we have to offer by “liking” us on Facebook and YouTube. I’ve included all my information below. I hope you will join us every Monday and Thursday in Miramar at Synergy Dance Zone for our group classes. Discover how to dance with confidence in a social atmosphere and develop a strong understanding of core dance patterns. Come alone or come with friends. It’s always FREE to first-time students.
Juan’s cell: 619-840-6213
Via email: Juan@Juan-Two-Three.com
Visit our website and sign up for our newsletter for Salsa News & Updates: www.Juan-Two-Three.com
Juan & Erica’s Facebook: Juan & Erica Salsa Dance
YouTube: Search “Juan & Erica Salsa Dance”
Ritmo Bello: Erica and Juan, Thank you both so much for your time and I hope to see you soon on the dance floor.
Erica: Thank you John! It was a pleasure and it’s an honor to be included on RitmoBello.com.
Juan: Thanks right back to you John. Thank you for taking the time to want to interview us and get our salsa stories out there. We hope to catch you out dancing soon!