Get ready to dance! Tonight at 9pm EST, HBO airs the documentary El Espiritu de la Salsa. We talked to well-known Spanish Harlem dance teacher Tomas Guerrero about how it felt to be featured in the new film, why he thinks salsa has such mass appeal and whether or not younger Latinos will continue the traditions.
How did you became a salsa dance instructor?
Salsa kind of chose me. I was going to the clubs and stuff like that, and I didn’t really know how to dance, but I just loved to dance. I was invited to an audition for a dance group. Santo Rico [dance] school started in 1996 officially, but we started in Washington Heights as a dance group. I taught a lot of choreography in Santo Rico, where I work now, and basically it took off from there. In 1997 the guy who created Santo Rico couldn’t continue with the project, so he and I have become very good friends and he entrusted the whole company to me. We are going into our 14th year, so we’ve been around for a little while.
Why do you think Salsa attracts so many diverse people?
I think because it’s not a hard dance to do. It’s very street, not like you have to train 10, 15 years to do it. And the music is very catchy, very addictive.
You help people work through personal issues through dance. Do you feel like a counselor sometimes?
In a way. I serve as an advisor, but overall what I do is I give encouragement. I encourage them: Don’t stop going to school, if you don’t have the money or whatever, we will work something out. It’s an escape. It helps everybody to have an outlet. I see a lot of people who come to the school because they want to escape from their struggles on a daily basis. The dance is like a counseling session in itself. Why? Because it takes them away from their struggles for two or three hours, whenever they are here at the studio.
Where do you think are the best places to dance salsa?
New York! Actually, to be honest, that’s one of the sadder stories here in NY now. There aren’t many places to go to like back in the day when I was growing up [and] learning how to dance. You have Latin Quarter on Wednesdays, Iguanas on Saturdays--that’s pretty much it. Back in the 80s, early 90s, I used to go to three clubs a night!
Do you think Salsa dancing is a dying art among the younger generation?
I think that there are Boricuas here who love salsa. A lot of them [younger generation] don’t gravitate to the music anymore like they used to—it’s more about Tego Calderon now. Hip hop and reggaeton, it’s taking over. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a high percentage of people who love salsa music. That’s the great thing about the music. It’s not only Boricuas and Dominicans anymore. Now Asians, Blacks, Jewish, Irish folks...everybody loves the music and it’s so popular around the world. I’ve been to six continents and everywhere, including Asia, Australia, and Europe, it’s booming business. It’s a culture everybody has adopted. The music itself is great, but the dance is so beautiful. There’s so much to learn, and so much material to pick up. That’s why everybody loves it, because the challenge of the dance is so beautiful.
What the one thing you need to be a good Salsa dancer?
Ambition! All you need is ambition, to be eager to learn, and of course, to do it on a consistent basis. Everyone can learn, understand it and dance it. I’m living proof of that. When I started to dance, I never thought I’d make it to this level.