Life Partners in Dance: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Juan and Erica of Juan Two Three

Sunday, February 5, 2012

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.

John ;-)


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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:

Visit our website and sign up for our newsletter for Salsa News & Updates:

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

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!

Healing Heroes One Step at a Time: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Soldiers Who Salsa Executive Director Jennifer Ables

Saturday, November 5, 2011

San Diego is known around the world for its proud military roots and involvement with our nation’s troops.  What you may not know, though, is that San Diego is also the birth place of a unique organization that serves the military in a very unique way through dancing.  Soldiers Who Salsa provides an alternative physical therapy approach incorporating therapeutic social dancing  to address patients facing everything from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Traumatic Brain Injury.  Guided by Jennifer Ables, Executive Director of Soldiers Who Salsa, the organization is growing and reaching even more of our nation’s military who are benefiting from this type of program.  I had a great time talking with Jennifer about the organization and her own experiences with the organization.  I hope you enjoy and learn about a very special program that started right here in San Diego.

Special thanks to Roman Castro Photography for providing the fine photos you see throughout the interview of Jennifer Ables.

John ;-)

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Ritmo Bello:   Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community.   Let’s begin. What would you say is the main mission of Soldiers Who Salsa?

Jennifer Ables:   Thank you for the opportunity!   The quick answer to that is also our tagline: “Healing Our Heroes, One Dance Step At A Time”.   Officially, our mission is to enhance and enrich the lives of active and retired members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families through a unique program incorporating therapeutic social dancing with a variety of music and professional instruction.

It’s important to note that in the military community, the term “soldier” refers specifically to the Army.   To the rest of the public – mostly because of television news – the terms “soldier” and “troops” are typically thrown out as one and the same.   We want to be clear that we serve all branches of the military. Coming up with a catchy marketable name was a challenge.   We wanted to convey what we do and who we serve in a short easy-to-remember yet unique name – which wasn’t easy!

Ritmo Bello:   What are the origins of the Soldiers Who Salsa organization?

Jennifer Ables:   At the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, one of the therapists working with mainly amputees, Mike Podlenski, was holding “lunchtime lessons” in the PT clinic.   Mike himself is a great salsa dancer, and he wanted others to experience the joy of dancing, especially as these patients try to adjust to life with their new prosthetics.   Having been a dancer for so long but never a teacher, he asked his friend and former dance teacher, Mary Murphy (from Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance”) if there was someone at her studio here in San Diego who might be willing to come out for a 6 week session.

Ritmo Bello:   How did you get personally involved initially with Soldiers Who Salsa?

Jennifer Ables:   In January of 2010, I had recently moved to San Diego from the East Coast where I had been teaching and competing in ballroom and latin dancing since 1998.   One night I walked into Mary Murphy’s Champion Ballroom Academy just to dance.   I met Mary, we set up an interview, and she hired me the next day.   During the interview she mentioned she had been looking for someone to go out to the Naval Medical Center to teach a 6 week class and if would I be interested.   Being both a daughter and grand-daughter of Air Force Colonels, I have always been a huge supporter of the military, so I told her it would be an honor.   It took a while to get everything approved, but my first official class there was in April of 2010.

Ritmo Bello:   So far what has been the biggest challenge to your work with Soldiers Who Salsa?

Jennifer Ables:   You know, it’s funny…the challenges are the same no matter what the students’ background –helping people overcome their fear of dancing.   Somewhere along the line, somebody has told someone that they can’t dance, and that’s what they believe.   No one wants to make a fool of themselves.   Getting them to take that first step of just coming to class is the biggest hurdle.   Once they try it and see that if taught correctly, it really isn’t as hard as they thought, and they’ll come back for more.

Ritmo Bello:   What has been your greatest success since beginning work with the organization?

Jennifer Ables:  Our growth!   Working together with the two main therapists at NMCSD, Mike Podlenski and the Recreational Therapist, Marla Knox, we continued to think about just how many patients could benefit from our classes.  What started as a 6 week class for amputees has grown into weekly classes that can at any point involve amputees, patients with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), patients with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and their families.   We have also done classes with different patient populations now at Pt. Loma Naval Base and Camp Pendleton.   We will be starting classes in the Washington DC area at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.   We took an idea and expanded it into a non-profit organization in barely more than a year since the first class began.   We have an amazing Board of Directors, and are honored by all the support we have received thus far.

Ritmo Bello:   How has this work changed your perspective on dancing and the impact it has on people?

Jennifer Ables:   I’ve always known how powerful dance has been in my own life and in the lives of my students – it’s the fire that ignites my passion for teaching. I didn’t think it was possible to have any greater appreciation for the power of dance, but I do.   Seeing the joy on a wife’s face when she is dancing with her husband for the first time since their wedding and after sometimes multiple deployments… That just melts my heart.   I’m such a softie…I cry with joy about things like that nearly every week!   I would get so excited to share the events of class with my friends and family, that I started posting to Facebook a weekly “TGM: Today’s Great Moment” – my #1 take-away from that day’s class.   Whether it’s been working with a wedding couple, watching a father and daughter dance together, or each week seeing a participant become more and more confident, there is always something that qualifies for a TGM post!

Ritmo Bello:   What has been something that you’ve learned about yourself from your working with the soldiers in the program?

Jennifer Ables:   Perspective.   No matter how rough my day might seem to me, it’s nothing compared to what some of these folks have gone through and the challenges they will continue to tackle.   It really helps to put things in focus.   Also, that none of us should ever miss the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Ritmo Bello:   What groups benefit most from the Soldiers Who Salsa classes?

Jennifer Ables:   Each participant benefits in a different way.   From a physical standpoint, they gain balance, control, and increased coordination.   From a personal standpoint, they gain self-confidence, a much needed stress release, and perhaps an outlet where they feel comfortable expressing themselves.   One of the most important pieces is that sense of connection to others that dance inherently creates.   It’s also important to point out the potential benefit to someone’s significant other or a family member – as one wife said to me, she was always driving her husband to appointments and then sitting and waiting for him.   With our classes, she gets to be a part of the therapy process – it’s something they can do together in a fun and romantic way that they may not get from other activities.   I believe that we may never know the full impact we are having – music and dance are more powerful to the human psyche than I think any of us give them credit for.

Ritmo Bello:   I understand that you are always accepting volunteers to help run the organization.   What type of volunteers are you seeking and what types of skills are you looking for in those volunteers?

Jennifer Ables:   We can use help in a variety of ways.   In classes, we are often short on female partners – but in order to participate in the classes held on base (as all of them currently are), the volunteer would have to have military ID to get on base.   Since we are a very new organization, we are also looking for help from grant writers who may be interested enough in our cause to help us get funding to expand our current offerings and also to expand to other military medical facilities across the US.   I also know there are people out there who are great at organizing and planning events and fundraisers – I’d love to talk to them all.

Ritmo Bello:   What type of feedback have you received from the salsa dance community here in San Diego?

Jennifer Ables:   Everyone has been extremely supportive.   I would especially like to thank the Miami Grille in UTC.  When we’ve organized outside events, our “Salsa Night Out/Noche de Salsa” we have gone several times to the Miami Grille.   It’s just the right mix of music, available space, and the service has always been spectacular.  We also recently had a great time at Café Sevilla, and are looking forward to returning there as well as venturing out to other spots around San Diego.

Ritmo Bello:   Have you had an opportunity to help anyone connected to the attacks of 9/11?

Jennifer Ables:   Well, if you are from the school of thought that we might not have entered wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan had 9/11 not happened, then nearly everyone I have worked with is connected to those attacks in some way or another. One of the most important parts of doing this kind of work is respecting the patient’s privacy. I do not ask anyone’s medical condition or their background – they all deserve to be treated equally regardless of how they came to be in my class.

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to military service members and veterans who want to take advantage of what your organization offers?

Jennifer Ables:   Try it!   If you risk nothing, you gain nothing!   If you are afraid or think that you can’t dance, you are not alone.   I always tell people, “if you already knew how to dance, you wouldn’t need me and I’d be out of a job!”   If there isn’t already a class near you, email me, and I’ll get to work to get one there!   And if you don’t like salsa, stick around, as I’ve been known to throw in a little Bachata, Merengue, Country Western, and even Foxtrot!

Ritmo Bello:  What’s next for Soldiers Who Salsa?

Jennifer Ables:  We are currently working on getting classes started in the Washington, D.C. area at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and we’d like to be able to offer classes at other military medical facilities throughout the U.S. and eventually abroad.  We will definitely be looking to interview interested teachers, so if you know of someone who might be a good fit, please let us know.   On a personal note, I’d like to see if we can get J.R. Martinez (from “Dancing With The Stars”) as a spokesperson!

Ritmo Bello:   Is there anything else you’d like to share here that I haven’t covered so far?

Jennifer Ables:   I get requests all the time for pictures and videos, and out of respect for the patient’s privacy, we will likely not have many forms of media in that way.   Its one thing to go out dancing at a club, but a patient may not want to advertise that he or she has a medical condition for which they are seeking treatment by being in pictures.   The last time the word got out that there might be a photographer present, less than half the class showed up regardless of the fact that they have the right to not sign a waiver allowing their image to be used.   Also, each base has very strict policies and procedures involving images at military bases .

Ritmo Bello:   Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello dance community wants to contact you?

Jennifer Ables:   Absolutely!   My personal email is, and I can always be reached at (301) 529-9431.   Our website is and you can also “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @soldierswsalsa.

Ritmo Bello:   Jennifer, thank you so much for your time and good luck with your mission for the troops.

Jennifer Ables:   Thank you! This has been the most rewarding work of my entire career and it is an honor to give back to the military community, who give so much of themselves but have to struggle so often when they return. We appreciate the opportunity to share with you what we do, and look forward to meeting many more members of the Ritmo Bello dance community!


About Jennifer Ables:

Jennifer relocated to San Diego from the Washington, D.C. area in January of 2010.  When not teaching salsa classes, Jennifer helps guys who hate to shop look good as a Style Advisor with J. Hilburn (, enjoys playing ball with her dog Ella, and grabbing some great Vegan fare at any one of San Diego’s fine eateries.

Keeping Latin Grooves Alive: A Ritmo Bello Interview with KSDS Jazz 88.3 FM’s Chris Springer

Friday, July 8, 2011

San Diego is blessed by many things.  Great weather all year around, a great Latin dance scene, and of course the wonderful people who share their passion for Latin music with the world.  One such person is Chris Springer, host of KSDS Jazz 88.3’s Latin Grooves.  Chris’ radio program promotes and educates the world about Latin music every week  from a studio here locally in San Diego.  I had a chance to talk with Chris about his experiences on his radio program and how he helps keep the Latin groove alive.

Special thanks to Roman Castro Photography for providing the fine photos you see throughout the interview of Chris Springer.

John ;-)

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Ritmo Bello:  Chris, it’s great to finally sit down with you and to learn about what you do here in San Diego. Let’s begin. What led you to start working at KSDS Jazz 88.3?

Chris Springer:  Well , I was going through a transition of my life.  I was going through a divorce and did not know what I was going to do.   So I decided to go back to college and I enrolled at City College.

One of my friends was doing a project in his radio and television class and needed an actor for his final, which was a commercial.  I have an acting background from doing commercials on television so he asked me to help him.  Well he got an “A “on his final , but the professor asked “who was the other guy”?   That was me and he told my friend “hey that guy was really good and he has a wonderful voice “.  It got back to me and I decided maybe I should try it so I enrolled in radio and TV classes and started doing the morning sports on KSDS Jazz 88.3 at  7 am and 8 am.  KSDS  began giving me little stuff like reading spots on the air.  Joe Kocherhans was our program director at the time and offered me a 9-12 am morning  jazz show.  I was let’s just say raw, cause i was not very good but Joe stuck with me.  He thought I was playing really good music because  I do have a jazz background, he always told me to let the music speak for itself…the year was 2000…

Ritmo Bello:   I understand that you first started “salsa hour” back in 2003. How did that come about and what was the listener response?

Chris Springer:  I was doing my jazz show now for 3 years now and things were going good, but Fred Ubaldo was doing a latin jazz show from 11-12 am on Mondays called “Jazz Latino”.  Fred is a amazing bassist and composer who really knows Latin music.  Fred was not happy there so he decided to leave the station and being a Latino myself with knowledge of some of the music they asked me to develop a Latin show.   So it was Joe Kocherhans again who said “well let’s call it the salsa hour and see what happens”.  I said yes I would love to even though I thought to ‘myself how am i gonna do this?’ …So the listener response was slow at first because I was playing a lot of Latin jazz even though it was the ” salsa hour “.   I went out and started to buy as much salsa music I could find, I knew the people like Puente and Palmieri but I did a lot of research watching documentarys and so on…..thats when people started responding in a big way.

Ritmo Bello: For people who may want to tune into your show Latin Grooves on Saturdays what can they expect to hear?

Chris Springer:  Latin Grooves is on Saturdays from 12-3 pm.   After the salsa hour the station decided to give me another hour so they came up with another name for the show, Latin Grooves.  The name sounded good because I wanted to cover all types of Latin music.  My idea was to play Afro-Cuban, Salsa Classics, Mambo, Boogaloo, Cuban Salsa, and Latin jazz. It turned out to be a great ideas since that format took off like crazy!!!  People were calling and listening to the show saying how much they were digging the Latin grooves.  As a result the station decided to give me that third hour based on the public calling and e-mails that were coming like crazy.    So on Saturdays expect to dance your ass off!  It’s kind of funny because I have a lot of women listeners who tell me that they are at home cleaning the house and dancing at home.  So it is dance oriented…

Ritmo Bello: In your opinion how is Latin Jazz different from what people identify as salsa music today?

Chris Springer:  Salsa music is really different in many ways from Latin jazz.  With Latin jazz you would most likely sit down and listen to all the music.  It’s a more artistic, creative and a beautiful musical art form.  Salsa music is street ! In your face!   Dance, sexy, it’s very powerful and you just can’t sit down and watch.  I love it!

Ritmo Bello: I know that part of what you do for the public is to educate on the history of Latin music. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned and shared with listeners on the radio concerning this music?

Chris Springer:  I love to share some of the amazing stories about the people who really were innovators of this music and there are some great stories about this art form we call salsa music from the Fania days in NYC to today.  The most surprising thing that I have learned actually happened about a year ago.  I was watching a documentary about the great Cuban bassist “Cachao” on KPBS and found out that the song “Oye Como Va”, the song that Tito Puente and Carlos Santana had big hits on their own,  was actually Cachao’s  song.  Puente and Santana were both saying they wrote the song but it was actually Cachao who created the song first.

Ritmo Bello:   Being a radio personality here in San Diego I know that you also interviewed some key figures in salsa and Latin Jazz. Could you share with me some of your most memorable interviews and what about them you remember?

Chris Springer:  Wow, I have been blessed to interview some of the biggest names in Latin music like Eddie Palmieri, Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, Jack Costanzo, Pat Rodriguez, Oscar Hernandez, Angel Lebron, Johnny Polanco, Jose Madra., Pete Escovedo and so many more I can’t remember all of them.  Poncho Sanchez was really cool because he did 3 hours on my show with me!!!  But one person that sticks out in my mind is Arturo Sandoval because he has an amazing story about how he had to leave Cuba.  About 1 minute before the interview he tells me NO questions about Cuba so I had to throw away all my questions and just wing it.  It turned out pretty good despite what had happened…

Ritmo Bello: On a personal note Chris, what’s been the most rewarding aspect of working at Jazz 88.3?

Chris Springer:  Working at KSDS  Jazz 88.3 FM has been so amazing because I get to play this wonderful music all the time and go to concerts for free!!! Ha ha…no but all kidding aside this station is a Marconi award winning radio station.   I get to meet and hangout with some amazing artist.  The station let’s me have the freedom to play whatever I want and to make this show the best in San Diego and around the world. I guess it is like being on a championship team in sports and knowing your organization is number one every year.

Ritmo Bello:   Apart from your DJ duties I understand that you are asked to emcee many events. What are some of the venues and events you’ve been asked to lend your talents?

Chris Springer:  One of the perks of having a very popular show is being asked to make appearances everywhere from San Diego to LA.  I do get a lot of that, some of the places like Anthology where I emcee all the Latin shows there.  One of the shows I recently emcee’d was the Dia de San Juan Salsa Festival in Point Loma on June 25th. Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Conjunto Costazul were great.  It’s always a lot of fun to meet my listeners and sometimes have a drink with them…

Ritmo Bello:   In your opinion, what is the best thing about the salsa and Latin Jazz scene here in San Diego?

Chris Springer:  The best thing about salsa in San Diego is that there is a major dance comunity here!  But I do have a small problem with some of the dancers here in San Diego.  Some of them don’t care if there is a band or dj, they just wanna dance.  I feel that they should learn the history of this amazing art called salsa music.  Back in the late 60’s and 70’s people only wanted to see live bands and they knew all the band members, what they played, who they played with and all the singers! As for Latin jazz there is not as good of a following here and a lot of places because it is really going through bad times when comes to Latin jazz.  For instance the Grammys eliminated the category of Latin jazz from its awards categories and that’s just not right  They are even having protests all around the country as we speak about this very change.

Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ritmo Bello readers about you and your work that we haven’t covered yet?

Chris Springer:  First of all I wanna say that what you are doing is fantastic here with Ritmo Bello.  You are keeeping this music alive! That’s what I am trying to acomplish, because I am not getting rich off this….  To the dancers, please learn how this music came about and who were the innovators of this music. Most of all this next fact is VERY important ! If it were not for the American art form called JAZZ this music would have never had come about.

Ritmo Bello: What contact information can I share with the salsa and Latin Jazz community in case anyone wants to contact you?

Chris Springer:  If you ever want to contact me it is very easy.  I have my own Facebook page and also a ” The latin Grooves Show ”  fan page as well. You can email me at,  say hi to me at any Latin show here in San Diego and of course through KSDS Jazz 88.3 FM here on the campus of San Diego city college…

Ritmo Bello: Chris it was great talking with you today. I’ll be listening to you on your Latin Grooves show.

Chris Springer:  Thank you John! The best guide to salsa dancing in San Diego is Ritmo Bello!! ” Keep it salsa dura”!

Capturing San Diego Salsa One Video at a Time: A Ritmo Bello Interview With Erika Briones

Thursday, June 30, 2011

If you’ve been a part of the San Diego Salsa dance scene for a while now, you probably know Erika Briones.  Deeply involved in the local dance scene and with connections to some of San Diego’s best dance teams, she has made a name for herself through her unique documentaries showing a behind the scenes view of a dancers life.  These “SalsaMentary” videos also allow those who have been a regular part of the scene to delve further into the genres and stories that make up this great San Diego dance community.  I hope you enjoy the interview.

John ;-)

@Ritmo Bello | Ritmo Bello on Facebook


Ritmo Bello:   Erika, thanks for taking the time to address the San Diego dance community. Let’s begin. How did you first become involved in the local dance scene?

Erika Briones:   I first got into the scene when there was an open house at the ARC which was SDSU’s local gym. At the ARC’s open house they had different vendors, entertainment, and food. My main interest was the entertainment portion so I recall watching a salsa performance by Positive Energy.  From that point on I fell in love with this dance called salsa dancing.   Soon after I began taking salsa lessons with Michael and Camille from Positive Energy for the first few months until I became part of their team around the fall of 05′. After a year of learning the salsa basics and a few fun dips and tricks I then became part of the Majesty in Motion family.   I started on Jennifer Stein’s ladies team and that led to being on the couple Amateur team to the Semi-Pro team and eventually Pro team. I believe a lot of my growth of a dancer came from Majesty in Motion.   From MIM I learned a lot of footwork, musicality, and to be good follow. Eventually around the fall of 2008 I then joined Son y Pasos directed by Iran Castillo.   Being on Son y Pasos helped me understand more salsa technique as a follow as well as how to improve my salsa spins.   In addition to training with salsa teams I have also taken a few salsa workshops from Jason Molina, Santo Rico, and Ana Masacote.   Learning as a dancer is never ending experience , there is either a new dance style one wants to learn or there is a new way your basic step.   With that said, I am now learning from Deseo directed by Serena Cuevas. So far, I enjoy Serena’s fun fusion of different Latin dances besides salsa like bachata and samba.

Ritmo Bello:   How did your initial experience dancing on Positive Energy’s dance team influence your current video documentary work?

Erika Briones: This is a good question John.   Even though the idea of videos did not originate from Positive Energy, however, it did introduce me into the world of salsa.   Something always originates from something. That being said dancing on Positive Energy has lead to other wonderful projects to originate like the San Diego Salsamentaries.   In addition, I also recall one of my other former teammates Ron, would always be into recording the practices and performances and making a video montages which I found fascinating.   I guess it never occurred to me that later I would be doing something similar.

Ritmo Bello: When you later worked with Majesty in Motion and Son y Pasos, what did you learn from those experiences that led to you to focusing on the SalsaMentary series?

Erika Briones: My main focus when I was on both Majesty in Motion as well as Son y Pasos was primarily to videotape rehearsals so I could practice at home.   Being on both these teams gave me more passion for salsa dancing which created a new hobby of videotaping and editing out of it.  The videos in the beginning was mainly used as a learning tool, but one day I was just curious about how all the teams started so I just had the idea to make a mini documentary or as I call it a “salsamentary”.

Ritmo Bello: Looking specifically at the content of your salsa documentaries, what are they mainly comprised of and why did you choose to focus on these subjects?

Erika Briones: This is another good question John.   Even though these videos are comprised of the salsa dancing, it’s actually a lot more focused on how people took their passion of salsa dancing to the next level. As easy as it may seem to be a dancer or have a dance studio, it’s actually challenging to get to that level. So I respect and am grateful for all those instructors who produce great dancers because they are the pulse of the scene.   Also without the dynamic group of regular dancers then there wouldn’t be a flow that inspires more people to go out each night.   Besides the instructors and regular dancers who go out, it wouldn’t be much of a fun and diverse scene without the great salsa music that some of the DJ’s here play (DJ Bongo,DJ Mambo DJ Rumbero, DJ Rome).

Ritmo Bello:   What has been the reaction of the salsa instructors and personalities that you’ve highlighted to the ultimate videos that you’ve created?

Erika Briones:   A lot of the people interviewed loved the videos.   In my first salsamentary I received a lot of great feedback and without that feedback then I wouldn’t slightly improve each video regardless of content, lighting, timing, or just the interview questions themselves.   Currently I am getting some film advice from other people who do this professionally like Daniela Aguilar and Danny Castillo.   Daniela Aguilar who worked as a producer in T.V. gave me some great insight into angles, frames, and dynamics.   Danny Castillo who has his own film production (thirtyfiveproduction) gave me mostly encouragement and support in the process.   Overall, I want to thank everyone again for those who were interviewed and those who support my San Diego Salsamentaries.

Ritmo Bello:   Do you ever get approached from people that you’ve filmed asking what the documentary is all about?

Erika Briones: I sometimes get approached by people and some of them tell me how they look forward to the next one.   That simple acknowledgement alone motivates me for more videos to work on.

Ritmo Bello:   What are you plans for future videos you may produce in 2011?

Erika Briones:   Once I take care of all minor computer glitches, then I plan on making more videos in the future.   I am currently working on a video promotional trailer of all the upcoming episodes coming up.   The episodes coming up will continue to focus on the club scene like Marriott, Prospect, Club SPIN, team socials, and then other episodes will focus on teams like Alma Latina, Salsa Divas, Deseo.   Finally I plan on making an episode called “Old School” vs “New School” where people who have been dancing for 10+ years will discuss how the scene was back then and the new generation will discuss how it is now while also asking each other questions in between. Also I hope to make a collaborative video with Daniela and Danny in the future.   Besides that I am looking forward to more fun in making these videos and adding different elements and techniques to it so here is to another season of filming and editing.

Ritmo Bello:   Of all the videos you’ve created which documentary is your favorite and why?

Erika Briones:   This is a tough question because every video is my favorite in the process of making the video. My top 3 favorites are the first video I made which introduced the series:

My other favorite video is the one of David and Jennifer Stein because of how charismatic and charming both their interviews went. Also I enjoyed adding the bloopers and just the fun process of making that video:

Another video favorite is my last one of Citrus. This was my first collaborative video with my friend Cass, another video editor, who had great transitions of my material:

Now that I think of it I think my next video will be my favorite even though I haven’t started on it yet because I am always enjoying the process of editing the music, adding transitions, and embedding the video clips.   The best part of making my videos is not only the people but the wonderful music and people who keep them interesting.

Ritmo Bello:   In your opinion, what is the best thing about dancing salsa in San Diego ?

Erika Briones:   One of the best things about salsa dancing in San Diego is a moment when the dancing is about to end.   The DJ or Promoter announce “This is the last song of the night” but then all the usual dancers say “Otra, Otra!!!”   Sometimes my dance shoes are off, but then I have to change back to my dance shoes because the song is too good to waste. Suddenly once your on the dance floor then this great moment happens when all the leads trade off partners so your never dancing with the same partner.   Then it happens all over again when they say “Otra!” The fun and enthusiastic people is what makes the San Diego scene simply awesome.   Also the scene is very close because there is other activities happening besides salsa like Volley ball, house parties, and road trips.   Basically this happy and close-knit community is what makes salsa dancing that much more vibrant.

Ritmo Bello:   Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ritmo Bello readers about you and your work that we haven’t covered yet?

Erika Briones:   I would like to share a quote that sums up my feelings about why I am interested in filming dancing: “The history of Latin music and dance is shaped by people; very passionate people.   Their unique vantage-points are best glimpsed through the way they articulate of their understanding.   These words were, to me, personal flashes of enlightenment”-unknown.   With that said everyone’s “vantage-points” like one’s personality on the dance floor creates community.   Other than that I would like to thank my subscribers and supporters who keep my projects moving forward.   If anyone has an ideas on future episodes or feedback you can contact me.

Ritmo Bello:   What is your contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Erika Briones:   To contact me you can reach me at, facebook (, or call at (619)822-3292.

Ritmo Bello:   Erika, it was a pleasure talking with you today.   Hope to see one of your new videos very soon.

Erika Briones:    Thank You John and Ritmo Bello for this awesome opportunity.   Keep your eyes out for my promo video trailer coming up this month.

Afro-Cuban Roots Alive in San Diego: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Artistic Director Juan Carlos Blanco

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

People tend to identify salsa dancing with Cuba when they first begin to learn the genre.  It is no surprise that this is so because much of what we consider modern day salsa is based on many of the sounds and rhythms brought to life by Cuban culture.  No one else in San Diego better exemplifies this than Juan Carlos Blanco, an artistic director and choreographer who brings Cuban culture to life in many different ways here locally.  I had a great opportunity to learn about Juan Carlos and how his groups spread traditional Cuban music here in San Diego.

Special thanks to Roman Castro Photography for providing the fine photos you see throughout the interview of Juan Carlos and his groups.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

John ;-)



Ritmo Bello:  Juan Carlos, thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview. Let’s begin. I understand that your group works to preserve Afro-Cuban music, dance and culture here in San Diego.  How did Omo Aché start and who are the members of your group today?

Juan Carlos Blanco: I founded Omo Aché in 1999, two years after coming to the U.S. Omo Aché is a Cuban folkloric company that preserves the traditional dances, songs, music and stories of Cuba. We offer audiences a journey through the evolution of Cuban culture, from its African roots to today’s most popular urban expressions. Members of Omo Aché include Cuban and local artists dedicated to the study under my guidance. Company dancers are: Angelica Cardona, Roxanne Rojas de Blanco, Kadjiah White & Sacara Northard. Percussionists & singers are: Eduardo Sagarra, Emilio Camacho, Menelike Turner & Angelica Cardona. I take pride in cultivating a deep understanding in my company members by emphasizing historical context, technique, precision, spirit and character. As a group, Omo Aché strives to embody the wisdom of this rich culture with passion, unity, respect and integrity.

Omo Aché performs regularly in universities, community colleges, parades, theatres and community festivals throughout California. Most recently Omo Aché performed at the Cuba Caribe Festival in San Francisco; at the Afro-Latino Festival at the Museum of Latin American Art in Los Angeles; and at the Nations International Dance Festival in San Diego. Our next performance will be at “San Diego Dances”, produced by the PGK Project on March 25 & 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Infinity Dance Sports Center.

Ritmo Bello: Omo Ache is a unique name what does it mean?

Juan Carlos Blanco: The name of the company comes from Lucumi, the Yoruba language as it has been preserved in Cuba. It means “blessed children”. Omo means children and Aché is positive spiritual energy that brings good fortune. I chose this name to recognize the importance of the youth in the preservation and development of culture.

Ritmo Bello: I understand that you maintain a second dance group called Saoaco Son.  How did Saoco Son start and who are the members of that group?

Juan Carlos Blanco:  Saoco Son is a Cuban music band that I created to bring a greater understanding of Cuban music to San Diego. I started it in 2005 in collaboration with the talented Cuban musician Ignacio Arango. We have worked together to prepare a selection the best of classic and contemporary Cuban popular music to present. We have focused on the three main styles of popular music that have transcended in Cuba: Son, Timba & Bolero. Our group also is working on composing our own original Cuban music to contribute to the genre.

Saoco Son band members are a mix of Cubans and Latinos who love Cuban music: Emilio Camacho, tumbador; Eduardo Sagarra, timbales; Julio Valdes, piano; Ignacio Arango, bass guitar; Joel Esteban, saxophone; Yuri Mendiola, trombone; Luisa Corredor, Angelica Cardona & Juan Carlos Blanco, vocals.

Ritmo Bello: Saoco Son is also a unique group name, what does it mean?

Juan Carlos Blanco:  The name Saoco Son was chosen because it highlights our group’s flavor & authenticity. Saoco is a typical Cuban drink made of aguardiente (moonshine) and agua de coco (coco juice), two strong flavors that mix together to create a potent drink. Son gives reference to the genre that is the foundation of Cuban popular music.

Ritmo Bello:  You mentioned earlier that Yoruban and other African cultures are important to the identity of Cuban music today.  Can you tell me a little about Cuba’s three most influential African cultures and how each has affected the development of music in Cuba?

Juan Carlos Blanco: The three most influential groups have been the Yoruba, Arará and Congo. Each of these groups hail from a different region of Africa and bring their own language, music, dance, philosophy, religion, food, custom, etc… There’s a lot to say about each of these groups it’s hard to fit all of it in a short interview. Each of these African cultures mixed with the Spanish culture to create Cuba’s unique expression called Rumba. Rumba influenced many other Cuban styles of music and dance which evolved later including Son. Son is known as the “mother” of all Cuban contemporary popular music and dance including salsa, timba and casino. All these genres are alive continue to exist in Cuba today. On any day you can find Arara, Congo, Yoruba, Rumba, Son, Timba, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha music being played and danced to in neighborhoods through out my country.

Ritmo Bello: Many people may not realize that Afro-Cuban music is distinct from salsa music in general. What are some of the differences and similarities you like to point out between the two genre’s of music?

Juan Carlos Blanco: The term “Afro-Cuban” is synonymous with Cuban culture in general since we are a product of African and Spanish influences. That is why our “folkloric” companies represent all genres of Cuba’s music and dance. It is hard to compare this larger genre with “salsa” which is actually a subcomponent of our contemporary popular music and dance. All Cuban music and dances have African roots and ultimately all genres of Cuban music and dance are connected. Imagine a tree. The roots are African & Spanish cultures. The trunk represents the powerful base that grew out of the mix (rumba & son). The branches represent the modern expressions of salsa, casino, mambo, timba, etc… It’s a lineage that has grown over time and remains connected to stay alive.

Ritmo Bello: What is the current state of Afro-Cuban music in Cuba today?

Juan Carlos Blanco: Thriving! We Cubans are very connected to our culture and our roots that is why our music and dance is so powerful. Today in Cuba you will find all the genres performed by groups of all ages both professional and aficionados. You cannot separate music from dance since they give each other life and meaning. Excellent folkloric groups that continue to preserve all genres of our culture include: Raices Profundas, Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba, Ballet Folklorico Cutumba, Ban Rra Rrá, Afro-Cuba de Matanzas, etc… Famous Rumba groups include: Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, etc.. Within the genre of Son and Popular we have groups like: Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, Sierra Maestra and Buena Vista Social Club. Bands that play timba abound and are always extremely popular among Cubans of all ages. Some of my favorites are: Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, La Charanga Habanera, Los Van Van, Bamboleo, Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Alexander Abreu y Habana de Primera, Maikel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor, etc… All these bands and companies enjoy fame both in Cuba and abroad as they often tour internationally.

Ritmo Bello: How do you see Afro-Cuban music’s current development in San Diego?

Juan Carlos Blanco:  I think that there is interest in Cuban music but very little understanding of it in San Diego. Unfortunately, we have had few Cuban groups come and play here. Most go to the East coast and stop only in San Francisco. We recently did have the fortune of having the Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, a famous son group, come to San Diego. In Los Angeles, several popular timba groups have also visited recently including: Manolito Simotet y Su Trabuco and Pupy Pedroso (founder of los Van Van). San Diego based Cuban music groups are very few. Besides Saoco Son, I only know of two that play Cuban music. One is Combo Libertad, which I haven’t heard personally but I understand Ignacio and Yuri have played with them. Also, Emilio Alvarez y su Tres Cubano was playing at the Miami Grille for a while. Emilio Alvarez is a legendary player of the tres, that is used in son montuno. I think we have a long way to go in educating the public in this city about Cuban music and dance. Saoco Son represents a union of the most respected Cuban musicians in San Diego/Baja area in effort to offer San Diegans an authentic Cuban music experience. We are proud to have Emilio Camacho, conguero, with Eduardo Sagarra, timbalero, coming together to create a solid percussion section. Ignacio Arango, our musical director, arranger and bassist, also brings wisdom and experience. Cuban music is not easy to play! Our rhythms are complex, syncopated and grounded in the clave. My experience has been that many musicians try to play our music but few succeed at embodying the essence. It’s a learning process that takes time.

Ritmo Bello: I know that you host a number of classes and shows through out Southern California including San Diego. Can you describe to my readers what they might encounter if they attend either?

Juan Carlos Blanco: I dedicate my life to creating experiences that celebrate the richness of Cuban culture by honoring all of its manifestations from our African roots to today’s current expressions. I do this by teaching dance and music classes, producing performances, organizing cultural events and workshops.

Currently I teach a weekly Afro-Cuban dance class on Saturdays from 3:15-4:45 p.m. at Stage 7 School of Dance, 3980 30th Street in North Park. This class focuses on the traditions of the: Yoruba, Arará, Congo & Franco- Haitian. All levels are welcome to participate. This class is always accompanied by live traditional percussion and song. Dancers can expect to get a work out since dances are vigorous, rhythmic and expressive. Afro-Cuban dances is very grounded and connected to the earth. Dancers harness the energy that undulates through their bodies with isolations of shoulders, head and hips.

I also plan to teach a special workshop on the “Evolution of Cuban Dance: Past to Present (Congo, Rumba, Son & Casino)” on Sunday in late March. This workshop will begin with the African roots beginning with Congo dances and trace the evolution of Cuban dance: to rumba, then son and ending with today’s most popular dance style casino (Cuban Salsa).

I host a monthly celebration of Cuban music & dance called “Noche Cubana”, were all styles are brought together under the same roof for the evening. At the Noche Cubanas, Cubans and lovers of Cuban culture come together to laugh, sing, dance and enjoy life. There are performances by Omo Aché, Saoco Son and guest Cuban artists & groups. Most recently Noche Cubana hosted the following Cuban master artists: Kati Hernandez, Silfredo La O Vigo, Roberto Borrel, Miguel Bernal, and Felix “Pupy” Pedroso. Our past guest performers have included rueda de casino groups: AfriKasineras (Los Angeles); Los Guayaberos de Tijuana and EnRuedaMe Mas! (San Diego). Cuban cooks prepare authentic Cuban cuisine for the event, adding flavor to the experience.

Ritmo Bello: What is your best memory from your music and dance experiences?

Juan Carlos Blanco: I have had many wonderful and interesting moments both in Cuba and during my travels but I believe my best moment is yet to come.

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to people that are new to Afro-Cuban music and dance?

Juan Carlos Blanco: Afro-Cuban dance heals the body. The music heals the soul. The song fills you with sensibility. I invite everyone to come experience it for yourself.

Ritmo Bello: Do you have any contact information in case anyone from Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Juan Carlos Blanco: Yes both of my groups are online our websites are:

My email is:

We are also on youtube:

Ritmo Bello: Juan Carlos thanks for taking some time to educate the San Diego community about your music.

Juan Carlos Blanco: Thank you John for this opportunity to share this information with you and your audience.

A Constant Beat in the San Diego Salsa Scene: Ritmo Bello Interview with’s Valerie Ortiz Wallace

Saturday, November 20, 2010

If you’ve ever gone out salsa dancing here in San Diego in the last 20 years, chances are you know Valerie.  Cafe Sevilla’s own salsa evangelist, she’s continuously introduced new dancers to salsa dancing in a way that focuses on the social aspects of the dance.  Believe it or not, she was my first salsa instructor and helped to instill the love for the music and dance that I still enjoy today.  Recently I sat down with Valerie to talk about her long history here in San Diego and to discuss the future of the dance in our community.  I hope you enjoy this short interview as much as I did.

John ;-)



Ritmo Bello:  Valerie, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community.  Let’s begin. What are some of the reasons you began to dance and later teach salsa dancing here in San Diego?

Valerie:   I’ve been dancing since I was a child, my mom being Puerto Rican influenced my interest in Salsa but I have explored other dance areas such as swing, ballroom, and country western as well.    The music just kept bringing me back to Salsa. I was a dance major at Indiana University and when I was approached to teach salsa at Pachangas (a night club in the Gaslamp) in the late 80’s I decided to try it.   I found that I really enjoyed the social aspects of dancing and sharing that with people.

Ritmo Bello:   San Diego has seen many transitions in the salsa dance scene over the last 20 years. What are some of the main changes you’ve experienced since you began to dance here in San Diego?

Valerie:   When I first started dancing Salsa in San Diego the clubs were totally Latin.   The dancers were a small and pretty exclusive group.   It was unusual to see non Latinos in the clubs. As Salsa has gained an international music and dance audience; the clubs have changed to show that diversity.  It’s really great that you can go anywhere in the world these days and have a place to dance. It crosses language barriers!

Ritmo Bello:   Most folks here in San Diego recognize you from your many years of teaching salsa at Café Sevilla in the Gaslamp Quarter.   What has this experience meant to you and what are some of your fondest memories teaching there?

Valerie:  I have always thought of Cafe Sevilla as my home, even though I have worked at more clubs than I want to mention, lol. I think my favorite memories include Sevilla’s support of my designing a unique (at the time) salsa club format for their Club Salsa. Exposing San Diego to LA and big name bands in an intimate setting, starting a variety of dance contest (the first club contests) and designing a smooth format which (for the first time in San Diego) included the combination of dance instruction, DJ and live music. I know it sounds crazy but the San Diego Salsa club scene was quite different when we started at Sevilla.

Ritmo Bello:   Although the old Café Sevilla location is currently closed, we are all excited for the re-opening in early 2011. What types of things specific to Latin dancing can we expect to see at the new Café Sevilla once it re-opens on Fifth Avenue?

Valerie:  Oh boy, get ready! The dance floor is going to be bigger and won’t have ruts.   There is going to be a real beautiful stage.  The bar will run the length of the club and is going to be stunning,  A sound system to die for, all placed within the ceiling.  Brand new inside and out, Sevilla is going to raise the bar for salsa clubs in San Diego.

Ritmo Bello:   Why do you think Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is so popular for dancing salsa?

Valerie:   Probably, because Salsa has been there longer than in any other area of San Diego and people are used to going down to the Gaslamp.

Ritmo Bello:   While Café Sevilla is closed are there any salsa venues that you’d like to share and recommend to the San Diego dance community?

Valerie:   Thank you John.  Here are some:

*Sundays you can find us at Tio Leo’s 5302 Nappa Street for our $5.00 Salsa Sundays. Its a great central location with ample free parking and a great Sunday Hang out. We start at 7:30PM with and Salsa class followed by 2 DJs “New Yo Rican” and DJ Andre.

*We have taken Sevilla’s Tropical Tuesdays (Bachata and Merengue) to Club U31 in North Park with dance class at 9:00 followed by DJ Israel and Alex el Heavy. Cover only $5.00.

*No Cover Thursday Salsa at La Fiesta 628 5th Ave in the Gaslamp is the best! Dance class at 8:30PM and DJ New Yo Rican at 9:30PM.  Entrance and class is free and La Fiesta offers drink specials and appetizers.

Upcoming events include:

Our Annual Holiday Party Saturday Dec 4 at Tio Leo’s featuring Charlie Chavez y su Afro Truko!

APotluck and Dance for David’s Birthday at Dancing Unlimited 4569 30th St on Sat Dec 25th

Our Signature New Year’s Eve con Salsa which will be held this year at Tio Leo’s. Our New Years Party is the San Diego’s longest running Salsa NY Party. Dance class/mixer, DJ, JD Salsa All Star Orchestra, NY celebration w/ champagne toast and followed by lite buffet with coffee! For more information check

Finally in March we are hosting a group trip to Puerto Rico. We go every year to take in the sights and the Dia Nacional de la Salsa. More information stay tuned to

Ritmo Bello:   What direction do you see salsa dancing going in San Diego’s dance scene? Do you think interest in bachata and other Latin dances will ever eclipse salsa dancing here in San Diego?

Valerie: I really enjoy bachata and hope it is here to stay.  I have watched other “flashes” come and go but this is different. It reminds me of cha cha cha in the sense that no one used to play it and no one would dance it and now it is a part of the salsa dance format.  I think bachata will be incorporated into the group of dances considered salsa.  Personally I think it will give more musical variety to the music and dance in salsa clubs.  However there is the possibility that bachata may take off as an off shoot developing new clubs specializing in bachata and merengue.  It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Ritmo Bello:   With so many new dance teams, instructors and groups now in San Diego how do you explain the great continued success you’ve experienced over so many years?

Valerie:   That’s a rough one, John. You know I don’t want to give away any of my secrets! I guess I attribute it to the fact that I really love people and salsa. For me, whether it be promotion, booking, consulting, managing, teaching or publishing my funky newsletter; my involvement in the salsa community is more of an obsession than a vocation.

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to new people that find salsa dancing and want to learn?

Valerie: Enjoy the process! Take some club classes, laugh and if you enjoy it, consider taking a group private class to fine tune your dance skills.   Get some of this music and listen to it as much as you can. If you can get comfortable with the music, I think you will find the learning process will be easier.

Ritmo Bello: In your opinion, what is the best thing about dancing salsa in San Diego?

Valerie: I think after traveling around, I find that San Diego’s salsa community is made up of a really friendly group of people.    No problems, they just want to dance and have a good time!

Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Valerie:  My website is, email, phone (619) 516 4466

Ritmo Bello: Valerie, Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to seeing you at the new Cafe Sevilla!

Valerie:  See you soon!

Carrying on the Cuban Son Tradition: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Septeto Nacional

Saturday, August 21, 2010

For many Latin Americans, tradition plays a huge role in the development of not just the culture but also the music that comes from that culture.  This is clearly evident in the work of Cuban Son Band Septeto Nacional.  Since 1927 the Cuban band has worked tirelessly to keep the traditional Cuban son alive and little has changed for the 4th generation of the band that currently tours today.  San Diego will be able to experience true, authentic Cuban Son at their upcoming Anthology concert here in Little Italy on September 3rd.  Recently I was lucky enough to talk with Francisco Oropesa from the group about the history and tradition of Septeto Nacional.  I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

John ;-)



Ritmo Bello: Francisco Oropesa, it’s great to finally sit down with you to talk about the legendary Septeto Nacional. Okay, let’s begin. Can you give my Ritmo Bello readers some background on the band’s origin and the original leader, Ignacio Pineiro?

Septeto Nacional:  The Septeto Nacional was officially founded on December 13, 1927, by Don Ignacio Piñeiro at 56 Pocito Street in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo, in Havana, Cuba. Additional founding members were Juan de La Cruz Iznaga, Francisco Solares, Jose Manuel Incharte, Alberto Villalón, Bienvenido León y Abelardo Barroso. Another early member was Lázaro Herrera. He became the first trumpeter to record Cuban son in the newer septet format. Prior to this, the group was a sextet, as were the vast majority of son groups in Cuba at the time. The addition of the trumpet was a major innovation in the development of Cuban son.

Ritmo Bello: What exactly does ‘septeto” refer to, the group members themselves or the instruments? What’s the history behind the name?

Septeto Nacional:  Septeto (Septet) refers to the number of muscians in the group (seven musicians, each with an instrument). Ignacio Pineiro played a significant role in changing the number of musicians in the son format to seven from the original six.

Ritmo Bello: Most folks may not be familiar with the difference between modern salsa music and Cuban Son. How would you describe the differences and what do you see as the advantages of one music form over the other?

Septeto Nacional:  First, the son is played with acoustic instruments. Some of the early instruments are no longer used as frequently, such as the Marímbula (used as a bass – constructed of several metal strips attached to a box) and the Botija (a jug – like those found in the Kentucky black jug bands).

The son played by Septeto Nacional is special. Ignacio Piñeiro’s unique arrangements and compositions are infused with many of the African derived music traditions found in Cuba, such as Rumba (the Rumba complex includes: Guanguancó, Yambú and Colombia) and Abakuá. He created and enriched his music with all these elements.

Ritmo Bello: Although Septeto Nacional is known for its rich musical history I’m sure you have an opportunity to make new music. How and where do you find inspiration for creating new music?

Septeto Nacional:  The most important objective for our group is to keep the original repertoire and preserve the Rumba style Ignacio Piñeiro brought to the son.

When we make new music, we’re inspired by our excellent musicians and composers.   However, we always make sure to conserve the traditional character and brand handed down by Ignacio Piñeiro.

Ritmo Bello: As a history buff I always like to see the greater picture and understand how music has evolved through certain events. How has the Cuban revolution in 1959 affected music coming from Cuba such as Cuban Son?

Septeto Nacional:  In our case, the group has not been affected. We have always received our country’s full support. We tour and perform a great deal and through this, we receive much admiration and respect in Cuba and throughout the world. We are proud to be the ambassadors of Cuban Folklore, a title we’ve held since 1929, and represent our traditional music at the highest levels.

Ritmo Bello: Can you tell me a little about the albums that Septeto Nacional has released to date?

Septeto Nacional:  A vast number of recordings have been made since 1927. Between 1959 and 2010, more than 20 albums have been released. Some of the latest and most significant recordings are: Poetas del Son (Chant du Monde label – Grammy nominated, 2002), El Sabor de la Tradición (Ferment 2005), Noche de Conga (Egrem 2007), Desafiando al Destino (Bis Music 2009).

Ritmo Bello: Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon?

Septeto Nacional:  Our latest album is titled Sin Rumba, No Hay Son from Harmonia Mundi/World Village Records. We’re launching it on this U.S. tour. The official release date is September 14th. The CD has 14 great tracks. We hope our fans enjoy it and that it’s a success on the global market

Ritmo Bello: What song from your group best epitomizes true Cuban Son in your opinion?

Septeto Nacional:  Indisputably, there are many songs from Piñeiro that exemplify the Septeto Nacional. However, in my opinion, the most universal is Échale salsita (throw a little salsa on it!). The term “salsa”, the blanket word we use today to describe tropical/Latin music, can be traced to this son composition.

Ritmo Bello: What type of awards has the group received over the years on account of Cuban Son music? Which ones are you most proud of receiving?

Septeto Nacional:  I think the most significant awards the Septeto Nacional has received are the gold medals from the Seville World’s Fair in 1929 and the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Equally as important, the group is also a recipient of the Cuban Cultural Heritage Award of Distinction. We’re proud and honored to be so recognized.

Ritmo Bello: What are you future plans concerning your music?

Septeto Nacional:  To continue the worldwide promotion of Ignacio Piñeiro’s music, identified globally as Cuban Folklore.

Ritmo Bello: As a salsa dancer I have to ask, what do you think about the growth and popularity of dancing to salsa, Cuban Son or other types of Latin music?

Septeto Nacional:  In many countries we see salsa dancers dancing on rhythmic elements of the Cuban Son. We also see many people come to Cuba to learn popular dance, some of them have dance academies that exist in different countries.  I think it’s great to see so many young people eager to learn how to dance to this music we all love.  Cubans breathe their music and dance (both in popular and folkloric forms). It’s a constant presence in our lives, from morning to night.   Cubans live it every minute of the day – in their homes, on the streets, festivals, clubs – music, dance and art are a constant presence in Cuba. It’s a part of our lives from the time we’re born. We know and understand all Latin rhythms and trends from all parts of Latin America.

Ritmo Bello: At the upcoming Anthology show September 3rd what can we expect to see when you perform?

Septeto Nacional:  The audience can expect to listen and dance to the best Cuban traditional music, the most authentic and best preserved Cuban son in the style of Ignacio Piñeiro.

Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the San Diego salsa and Latin dance community that we haven’t covered yet?

Septeto Nacional:  We hope the San Diego public enjoys our music and our interpretive quality. We’re the 4th generation of Septeto Nacional and have played over 500 concerts in over 36 countries over the past 10 years.

Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Septeto Nacional:  They can contact us by email at or by phone in Cuba 535-2829003 or 537-8635736. Ask for Frank or Ricardo.

Ritmo Bello: Francisco, on behalf of the San Diego salsa dance community and Ritmo Bello thank you for your time! It has been an honor to talk to you today.

Septeto Nacional:  Many thanks to you and the Ritmo Bello audience. We hope to see all of you at the Anthology Jazz Club shows.

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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