La Jolla Marriott Latin Dancing: San Diego’s Longtime Salsa Attraction

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If you’ve ever been to the La Jolla Marriott you know it is not your typical salsa club. Hosted in the Character’s Bar & Grill area of the hotel, the venue consistently serves as a nice choice for salsa dancing on Fridays and Saturdays.  The unique location of the club makes it easy for ordering a dinner, sharing some drinks and even playing some pool in between dances.  Having a dual purpose of  a sports bar is also a bonus if you care to catch the latest sports figures while you visit.  One thing to note is that if you like a very well lit salsa club as opposed to a darker venue this is your place.  The venue tends to keep the lights on so you can see your dance partner as you dance.

Serena Cuevas from Deseo Dance usually teaches the complimentary lesson starting at 8pm.  For those of you unfamiliar with Serena check out this interview I conducted a while back soon after her work with Gatorade.  She is currently starting up new lessons too for anyone interested (you can see the info below).

Along with other newer venues like the San Diego Salsa Jam, the La Jolla Marriott serves as an integral part of San Diego’s salsa dance scene.  You can see a complete list of dance venues on our club list here on Ritmo Bello.

See you all on the dance floor,

John ;-)


Deseo Dance Company Expands to Include Samba Dance: Auditions

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hello Everyone!  San Diego’s own Deseo Dance company is expanding to include a new focus on samba dance.  Serena Cuevas joined forces with Melanie Riveira to bring to San Diego some of the best Samba dancing to be found in America’s finest City.

Here is a short intro video to the recent changes with Deseo Dance and auditions for the new teams if you are interested:

Good luck to all of you auditioning for this great dance organization!

John ;-)


VIDEO: Serena Cuevas’ Deseo Dance Returns to San Diego From Their Spring Tour 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Local San Diego dance company Deseo Dance is back home in America’s Finest City!  The group, led by Serena Cuevas, recently visited New Zealand, Australia, and Japan as part of their 2010 Spring Tour.  The first video above is a compilation of that trip and gives you a glimpse into what it is like to travel the world as part of a salsa and bachata dance team.

The next video below is a funny one of Oliver Pineda and Kevin Malpas dancing with a “calendar version” of Serena:

Check out these videos and to learn more about Deseo Dance company and Serena Cuevas check out this Ritmo Bello interview.

John ;-)


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San Diego Bachata Dancing is Alive and Well: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Anthony Umina

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Over the last few years, San Diego has experienced a surge of interest with the dance known as bachata.  Indeed, many clubs in San Diego now cater to this dance exclusively by hosting bachata nights and playing music for this growing group.  Amidst these changes a number of individuals have emerged to help San Diego move further into this genre.  One of those leaders is Anthony Umina who has taken it upon himself to spread the gospel of bachata dancing here in San Diego.  I had a great opportunity to meet with him and talk with him about these changes concerning bachata.  I hope you enjoy the interview below.


Ritmo Bello: Anthony, thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview. Let’s begin. Originally you began as a salsa dancer and found your way into bachata dancing.  How did you go about making that transition?

Anthony Umina:  Thank you for having me and expressing interest in Bachatamante Dance Co.  Yes, I began salsa dancing in Fall of 2006 and slowly started social dancing bachata at the clubs near the end of 2008.  It’s funny, because before that I had heard bachata played at different socials and clubs in the Bay Area, but never really knew what it was or how to dance it.  I actually remember a specific incident where I told the DJ (DJ Jazzy Jez – aka Jesse) who is a good friend of mine, that he was playing too much bachata, nobody knew how to dance it, and it wasn’t any good!  I’ll always remember his response to me, “Dude, You don’t even know.  Just wait, Bachata is going to be the next BIG craze.”  Little did I know, he was SO right!  Within a year after that incident I took my first bachata class with Nestor Manuelian at the 2008 West Coast Salsa Congress in Los Angeles, CA. At first I thought it was alright and it was just another dance and another 8 count of steps.  It wasn’t until I was exposed to wide spread Bachata Scene in Sydney, Australia did I realize how beautiful the dance actually was.  From my experience, Sydney’s Bachata Scene was almost equivalent to Salsa in terms of popularity and performance teams!  It was then that I wanted to experience more bachata and grow as a dancer.  I kept it to social dancing while I was living in the Bay Area (San Jose, CA) , but after my move back to Los Angeles in November of 2008 I met an amazing couple who had their own Bachata Team.  Jorge Contreras and Leslie Ferreira welcomed me in to their “Bachata Caliente” family with open arms!  After dancing with them for a few months and performing at the San Francisco Bachata Festival I was asked to partner with the world renowned Josie Neglia and conduct workshops at the 1st Annual California Bachata Congress.  And the rest is history!!

Ritmo Bello: I understand that you developed your dance skills in the Bay Area.  Could you share with me what that experience was like?

Anthony Umina: Yes, San Jose to be exact.  I was first introduced to “Latin” dance at San Jose State University.  I took a curriculum class there for the sole purpose of covering one of my GE area’s.  My very first dance teacher ever was the wonderful Joelle Maletis.  I ended up falling in LOVE with it and I started going to all of the classes in my spare time.  One of the best parts of the class, which I believe is the biggest aspect that sparked my interest, was the “field trips” we had to go to for homework.  Joelle sent us to local clubs and studios to take outside lessons.  After being with Joelle for about a year I joined Pretty Boys and Girls (aka PB&G) with the infamous Ricardo and Michelle!  I was on their training team “Rising Stars” for about 8 months and at the culmination of that season they offered me a spot on the Pro Team!  I was so honored to have danced with world class dancers.  PB&G won the 1st Annual ESPN World Salsa Championships in the Team Division.  My level of dancing progressed exponentially training with them.  What also played a big part was the social dancing.  The Bay Area has an amazing social dancing salsa scene.  The median level of dancers as a whole is way up there!  There are many trained dancers there and it’s a great place to learn because you’re constantly being challenged.

Ritmo Bello: I’ve heard that along with relocating to San Diego you also now co-direct at the popular Deseo Dance Co.  How did you go about meeting Serena Cuevas and agreeing to become co-director with her?

Anthony Umina: Well just like the rest of the world I had known OF Serena for quite some time, but never really met her.  It wasn’t until one night at Prospect when a friend of mine introduced us and told her to dance with me!  We ended up dancing the next 4 songs in a row! Then we met again on Wednesday at La Jolla Marriott and that’s when she dropped the question!  She asked if I would be interested in moving down to San Diego to be her partner and Co-Directing Deseo with her or at least commuting down once or twice a week for rehearsals.  I was extremely flattered by her offer and that is an understatement.  Immediately, I told her I was interested and that we could definitely talk more about it.  By that next week I was living in San Diego!!!  And it has been one of the best decisions of my life thus far and I am so grateful for Serena giving me this wonderful opportunity. I have been truly blessed with all of the people in my life and how far my endeavors have taken me.  When everything falls into place so smoothly and perfectly you can only be assured that they’re meant to be!

Ritmo Bello: Given that you’re focusing more on bachata dance now, what is it about the dance that sets it apart from other Latin dances like salsa or cha cha cha for you?

Anthony Umina: Well, the main and most obvious difference I would have to say is the music.  It has a very distinct and noticeable arrangement.  With some of the same instruments such as the piano, bongos, congas, bass, and clave’ the addition of an amplified guitar is a huge difference.  The way the bongos are played in bachata allows for more syncopation.  While salsa, cha-cha, and merengue can be danced sensual nothing can compare to the connection of bachata.   With all the body and hip movement that can be incorporated into bachata it is very easy to dance with great musicality.  It also feels really nice when you can connect with another human being so well and be able to lead somebody with any part of your body, whether it be your hands, hips, knees, feet, shoulders, chest, etc.! You really “Dance as one” when you dance bachata.  The difference in terms of music is that bachata is played in an 8 count where the split is 4/4 and the 4 and 8 holds are replaced with a tap of the foot and “pop” of the hip, if you will.  Now, although bachata is typically danced side-to-side it is also danced in a circular motion and can essentially travel in any direction you wish as long as you are stepping on the correct counts.  As we continue to push the boundaries of bachata and create new styles, hits, steps, and moves there will always be different ways to dance bachata.  Dominican, Moderna, Urbana, Tango, and Traditional are all different styles that are danced nowadays.

Ritmo Bello: I heard that you are creating San Diego’s first 100% bachata dance focused dance troupe.  What can you share with the Ritmo Bello readers about this endeavor and what we can all expect?

Anthony Umina: YUP! 100% Bachata Team!  I wanted to move down here to spread the fire, passion, and bachata craze. It started when Serena put me in contact with Evelio from Rumba Entertainment and our first conversation must have lasted almost 3 hours!  Evelio and I threw around a lot of ideas and that’s when I decided to make my move full-time and more permanent, instead of just once or twice a week for Deseo practices.  As stated before, I danced with Bachata Caliente in Los Angeles and I absolutely loved everything they were doing with their team, performances, and traveling.  It felt really good to have a tight-knit group that shared the same passion and interest.  I thought it would be cool to create something like that of my own and with San Diego having an untapped bachata market it made my decision easy. Now, as for what San Diego can expect…there will be a new breed and expansion of Bachata dancing.  With mixes of Moderna, Domincan, and Urban, Bachatamante will create its own unique style and contribute to the already vastly growing bachata World.  We will have training and performance teams that will be required to learn choreography, timing, technique, and body movements.  Performing is always an option and not a requirement.  We welcome people that want to become better dancers, but feel group classes can only get them so far, and privates are way too expensive!  It is open level progressive so we don’t turn anybody away that wants to learn the Domincan dance of bachata.  No experience or training necessary! For those that have a goal of performing and traveling, Bachatamante is already booked and confirmed for a few of the Bachata Congress’/Festivals around the world!  San Diego Bachatero’s are very quickly getting put on the map and this is only the beginning!

Ritmo Bello: I know that you’ve been involved in a number of competitions for both salsa and bachata.  Could you share some of your best memories from these competitions?

Anthony Umina: Actually, to tell you the truth, I have only been in 2 official competitions in my life! Other than 2 or 3 Jack and Jill’s I have entered in to at small clubs my very first competition was with Espie Hernandez from Laguna Rhythm.  I met Espie one night at Stevens Steakhouse and 2 weeks later we competed on Television at the Conga Room Latin Dance Champs! We qualified and progressed to the semi-finals, but were eliminated in the first week.  My 2nd competition was with Serena Cuevas and again, with only 2-3 weeks of preparation we found ourselves competing at the 1st Annual Mayan World Bachata Championship Finals where we ended up taking home 2nd place!  I would say my favorite memory thus far was coming off the stage at the Mayan knowing that we nailed it!  It had been our best performance yet, and it was so exhilarating having the entire Mayan crowd in front of us.   Serena and I showed up with the mindset just to do our best and just have fun!  I wanted to feel no pressure and I think it eased into us very well.  Taking 2nd place next to Christian Oviedo and Alien Ramirez was an honor, but at the same time it was a bit bittersweet because a lot of the competition were good friends and peers of mine, many of whom I really look up to and admire.  So it was a bit difficult to take in.  Healthy and fun competition is always good though!

Ritmo Bello: Do you think bachata music is going to outgrow salsa dancing in popularity?

Anthony Umina: I wouldn’t say bachata will outgrow or replace salsa in any means, but it is definitely becoming much more popular all over the globe. Slowly, but surely people are transitioning and learning bachata in addition to their salsa, cha-cha, merengue etc.  For the beginners, I believe bachata is much more distinct and predominant with timing and hits that it makes it easy to dance when first starting out.  Not to mention that the speed of bachata is much slower, which makes it less difficult for those with 2 left feet. ;-) So, I can see how appealing it would be to beginners and maintain a steady growth.

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to people that are new to bachata dancing?

Anthony Umina: Listen to the Music!  And work those hips and shoulders! You really got to loosen them up.  It’s a dance of sensuality and one way for me to express sensuality with someone is through body movement and not only worrying about myself, but connecting your body movements to compliment your partners. Like I mentioned before, “Dance TOGETHER” literally, it’s like your bodies are glued together and are on the same heartbeat! Other than that I think bachata is much easier to adapt to than a few of the other Latin dances.

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

Anthony Umina:  Yes, email is best.

Email:  Feel free to shoot me an email so you can be added to our weekly newsletter list for new information each week.  Also….INTRODUCTORY RATE IF YOU SIGN UP BEFORE OCTOBER 4TH LOCK IN YOUR DISCOUNTED RATE NOW! Please email for more info.”

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Also, Please visit for all your San Diego Salsa Needs!

Ritmo Bello: Anthony, Thank you so much for your time and good luck with you bachata dance plans for San Diego.

Anthony Umina: Thank you for sharing the interest and allowing me this opportunity to share a bit of my story and background with others.  Hope to see you and your readers out on the dance floor soon!

Ritmo Bello Interviews Deseo Dance Director Serena Cuevas

Friday, June 5, 2009

San Diego is known for it’s beautiful beaches, near perfect weather, and an evolving salsa dance scene.  I mention the last point because over the last few years San Diego has experienced a new genesis of energy and excitement in Latin dance.  One salsa dancer in particular, Serena Cuevas, is credited with bringing salsa dancing to the national spotlight through her recent work with Gatorade on their new G2 products.

Serena Cuevas, director of Deseo Dance, shared some of her thoughts about her own development in salsa dancing and where it is going here in San Diego. Enjoy the interview below!


Ritmo Bello: Serena Cuevas, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to address the Ritmo Bello audience.  San Diego’s salsa dance scene is always expanding with new talent and your dance company Deseo Dance is a great example of this fact.  What does Deseo Dance offer to the San Diego dance community that’s different from other local dance studios?

Serena Cuevas: I train my dancers to feel movements first. Counts, timing, and technique are key factors to learning and progression but you’ll really go no-where in the long run without ‘feeling’ the moves and making them your own.

Ritmo Bello: Every dancer has a story about how they first found salsa dancing and how they first started to dance.  Can you tell me a little about how you came in contact with salsa dancing?

Serena Cuevas: I was 11 years old and my dad had shown me the basic…”1,2,3… 5,6,7…”. Without counts, just “back, together, forward, together”. It was so fun for me but I wanted more! My mom had been taking private Ballroom lessons and so she starting bringing me along. I watched and loved it even more! I starting taking over my mom’s private lessons and performing locally in studio shows. I knew this was it for me.

Ritmo Bello: As one of San Diego’s newer dance companies what are the main goals you want to accomplish as an organization?

Serena Cuevas: Being on successful teams I’ve learned a lot about the way goals are met. I have grown so much with Majesty in Motion. David and Jen have done an amazing  job with their company and I believe I have a lot to do if I’m heading that route. I definitely admire what it takes to be a successful director and work towards that.

First, of course come my teammates; for my teams and company as a whole I plan on building them as dancers AND athletes. It’s important not to forget that what we do takes a toll on our bodies and recovery from injury means not being able to pursue your passion. In the future, I’d like Deseo to be an athletic representation of Salsa.

Ritmo Bello
: What types of teams do you currently have in formation and where do they compete?

Serena Cuevas: Deseo is not a competing team by any means; we enjoy dancing for expressive and passionate purposes. I have 3 teams right now: Deseo Ladies (Advanced Ladies Styling), Deseo Lumbre (Beginner Partnering), and Deseo (Advanced Partnering).

Ritmo Bello: If someone is interested in joining your dance team what advice can you give them?  Do they have to have prior dance experience?

Serena Cuevas: Call me and we will set up a private audition. They take about 30 min and we can schedule them anytime. Let me know soon as my schedule is often full. You do not need prior experience for the group classes but for all teams, yes, knowledge of On2 dancing is strongly recommended.

Ritmo Bello: Recently you’ve gained some great exposure from your work in the Gatorade G2 commercial with Serena Williams.  How did you become involved in this project with Gatorade?

Serena Cuevas: They contacted me actually. It was a surprise and I did not believe it at first but one call and email after another, then a competition in LA and before I knew it, I won the ‘Search for the Next Serena’ for the G2 campaign competition! It was unreal and amazing at the same time.

Ritmo Bello: Will we be seeing you in future Gatorade commercials or maybe even other types of productions?

Serena Cuevas: Yes. I believe Gatorade still has a few plans in the works for me. Also, I was recently contacted by a producer working with an amazing director and choreographer for an upcoming movie to release in 2010. Very exciting although nothing is in stone. I will keep you posted as soon as I am allowed! :)

Ritmo Bello: In your opinion, what’s the best aspect of being a salsa dancer in San Diego today?

Serena Cuevas: The diversity! All the dance companies specialize in something different and there is so much opportunity to grow! Students have a ton of choices for clubs, teams, shows, training, etc. Very cool.

Ritmo Bello: What do you like the most about being a professional salsa dancer?

Serena Cuevas: I love loving what I do. Performing is by far my favorite feeling, but training dancers and seeing the progression is unbelievable!

Ritmo Bello: Anything else you’d like to share with the general public?

Serena Cuevas: Yes! Saturday June 6th I am hosting an amazing workshop/fundraiser for my baby neice Gia! I have created an event where all the directors in San Diego have a class to teach and with cross promotion and this amazing line-up I believe this day will really benefit both SD and baby Gia! You can read her story on our homepage : . She really needs us San Diego! (Special Note: To Find out more information about the event and RSVP for it check out the event page on the San Diego Salsa and Latin Dancing Meetup Group.)

Ritmo Bello: How can the Ritmo Bello audience reach you if they want to find out more information about you and Deseo Dance?

Serena Cuevas: Please go to anytime and email me if you have any questions.

Ritmo Bello: Serena Cuevas on behalf of Ritmo Bello and the San Diego salsa community thank you for all you do to promote salsa dancing!

Serena Cuevas: Thank you for supporting us! Salsa lives on because of how much we all contribute. Thank you John!

San Diego’s Serena Cuevas Shares Spotlight with Serena Williams

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Many of you in San Diego may be familiar with Serena Cuevas, director of San Diego based dance compnay Deseo Dance.  Did you know that she is doing commercials now?

I was on YouTube and found this Gatorade G2 commercial where she shares the spotlight with Serena Williams, the world famous tennis player.  It’s great that salsa dancing is profiled in a commercial like this and given recognition as a sport.  Thanks to Serena Cuevas for spreading salsa in a new way!

New Salsa Dance Company in Town: Deseo Dance Co

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hello Everyone! Hope all is well on this Monday afternoon.

Looks like we have a new salsa dance company here in San Diego in the form of Deseo Dance Company.

Deseo Dance, as they describe themselves, incorporates Salsa & Mambo technique with highlights from Jazz & Modern dance. The company promotes agility & athleticism through all of their dancers.

It will be interesting to see how the addition of this new dance company changes the landscape of salsa dancing in San Diego. I’ll write some more in the near future regarding the competition between the different dance studios here in San Diego.

Until then, keep dancing!!!

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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