Amber Rawls shares with us how "Salsa goes main stream in Philadelphia"

By Stephen Choo Quan Amber Rawls is new to the Salsa scene but surely true to the Salsa scene. She started dancing Salsa at La Luna when La Luna called it's first audition for dancers. Her mother encouraged her to audition suspecting that it would not only expand her dance background but she would be good at this new dance. Amber had already invested her time at school to dance. She has not let her mother down and not looked back since...

Stephen: When did you fall in love with Salsa?
Amber: I was kind of a late bloomer so I don't think I really fell in love with Salsa until the first time I performed in December 2004 at Cuba Libre's grand opening in Atlantic City. Before then I did it because it was fun, different, and I was good at it.

Stephen: what did you expect from this dance when you started?
Amber: I didn't expect anything! That's what makes it so great! I thought that it was going to be just a fun side job in Atlantic City on the weekends! I soon found out that me and Salsa were just meant to be!

Stephen: how has that varied from what has actually happened in your life with regards to this dance?
Amber: Salsa completely took over my life! The better I became, the more I needed it! The more I needed it, the more I wanted to become better and better! It also reminded me of the love that I had for dance in general. The love that I had not felt since I was a Dance Major in college! The love that I tried to forget about once I had my son. I soon realized that I can do what I was born to do professionally and still provide properly for my son. With this new found realization, I started to branch out and pursue other forms of dance in addition to salsa.

Stephen: You have danced before many audiences including Cuba Libre Atlantic City , Salsa dance showcases and Cuba Libre Philadelphia, how does it feel when you perform for others and is there a different feeling when you perform for dancers and non dancers?
Amber: When I perform (or dance at all for that matter), I feel like this is what I was meant to do. What I was born for. I feel like there is no other place that I would rather be at that particular moment. It's like a rush that starts as my heart beats faster, then when my heart can't hold it in anymore, it bursts out in every direction and makes its way through my entire body from my toenails to the tips of my hair. This incredible feeling doesn't change regardless of who is in the audiences. However, I would be lying if I said that before I go on, I don't feel extra pressure when I know that dancers are in the audience. When you are dancing in front of non-dancers they have nothing to compare the performance to. All they really see is the physical appearance of the dancers and the tricks. When performing in front of other dancers they have themselves to compare you to. All dancers will pay attention to different things so you have to make sure everything is right. One dancer will pay attention to your arms, hands and feet, when another will look at your body movements, when another will look at the turn patterns, when another will look at how you utilize the music and hit the accents. I think of this before I go on but once I get on that floor and assume the first position, I get that feeling as if it was my first time. All I see are people that want to see a good performance.

Stephen: Do you find more women or men wanting to learn the Salsa steps after seeing your performances?
Amber: Well, I find alot of men approaching me to learn Salsa from the beginning but I also get approached by alot of women that know how to dance even a little but want to learn my style. If I had to choose, I would say men approach me more but it is women who are really serious about learning and stick with it for a while.

Stephen: What is one word you would use to describe your dance style?
Amber: Well, I have been told that I am very versatile and I am proud of that. I try to follow my partner to the tee. If he is a smooth and flowing dancer then I want to respond the same way, if he's a fast and sharp dancer then I try to respond that way. There are so many different types of incredible dancers out there and I want to be able to dance great with all of them!!

Stephen: Describe your thoughts around being on one of Philly's best dance teams?
Amber: Philly has some great dance teams!! All the teams put together are giving Philly dancers a new meaning! However, I am proud to be on Luna Negra. It is my home. Its where I started, its where I grew, and its where I continue to grow. Our director, Joe, keeps bringing new challenges to the table. As soon as we think that the song can't get any faster or the turn patterns can't get any harder, he always surprises us. There are not many of us on the team but I think that is one of our strongest aspect. We are all very close and I love that!

Stephen: What inspired your to try out for the 76'ers?
Amber: Unfortunately, it wasn't very interesting. I went to my first 76ers home game ever last season. I saw the dance team perform and I thought to myself, "I can do that"! So I auditioned not really having any expectations. I just used it as a test to see how far I would make it. After an 8hour audition period I found out that I was 1 of 25 finalists out of about 150 girls. It still didn't hit me until I got that phone call about a month later saying that I made the team.

Stephen: Describe how Salsa has impacted your dance on that team?
Amber: One definite way is the music! Learning to dance salsa requires a certain ear for the music. It even took me a while to be able to hear and dance on the "2" in salsa. Now that I can hear it, I am more aware of music in general. Which I think, makes me a even stronger dancer no matter what style of dance I am doing. I hear all music completely differently now. In another aspect, it lead me to go places where a "Rookie" on the Sixers Dance Team has never gone!

Stephen: Tell us about how you have taken this dance main stream for thousands to see in the NBA?
Amber: Well, my dance director for the sixers was in Atlantic City one Saturday night and she decided to take a chance and stop by Cuba Libre to see if I was working that night. Thank Goodness I was! She stayed for almost the entire show and watched me perform three routines. From that point on she became very inspired and kept telling the game coordinators how they should let me put together a routine for the team. Finally, she got the OK for us to perform it on the special game night they have dedicated! to the Spanish community called "La Liga Night". Knowing that I had never choreographed a salsa routine before nor have they ever asked a rookie to choreograph for the team before, this was an incredible opportunity for me so I couldn't possibly say no!!! The pressure was on! I had only 2 weeks to pick a song, choreograph it, costume it, and find some available guys that were strong enough to lead girls that never had salsa training. Not to mention that in those two weeks, we only had two rehearsals because of other games we had to get ready for!! I ended up finding seven of Philly's finest salseros to help me out and be a part of this incredible experience! It could not have turned out any better! Everybody loved it!!!

Stephen: Where do you think is your next step in your thousand step journey of moving the Salsa community forward?
Amber: My next step is to hopefully do more choreography in the near future. I actually really enjoyed it my first time. Hopefully, the sixers will allow me to do a routine every year! Regardless of whether I am still on the team or not. If I can do that then we could reach audiences beyond our imagination! The Possibilities are endless!