An interview with Jessica Moya

By Stephen Choo Quan

Jessica Moya is a member of one of Philly's finest dance groups, Art In Motion Latin Dancers. In the year they've been together, they've managed to perform and teach at congresses throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. While at home, though, you can find her teaching all week long at La Luna Dance Studio, doing group and private lessons. Just recently, Jessica branched off and started an all-female group consisting of 3 up-and-coming salseras in the Philadelphia area. Their debut performance will be at this year's Chicago Salsa Congress in February 2005.

Aside from adult classes, Jessica also likes to work with our younger generation of salsa dancers, having taught children classes at the studio and choreographing children performances. Teaching the new generation to dance salsa has a very special place in her heart.

Stephen: When did you first fall in love with Salsa?

Jess: Well, I was already dancing for a few months when I first saw “The Pink Lady” at the 8th Floor. I watched her all night long and I wanted to dance just like her. I was mesmerized. She was so elegant and stylish and so much fun to watch. Eventually "The Pink Lady" turned out to be
Sonya Saamova. Funny how things end up. Now I teach for her at La Luna. Never saw that coming!

Stephen: Describe some "firsts" for you in the Salsa world?

Jess: I remember the first time I met Darlin and Mirka. I can see them like it was yesterday. They were so young and eager to learn everything they possibly could, but very shy and quiet. They used to only dance with each other. Who would have known we would all end up in the same group
together? I also remember my first dance with an "advanced" dancer. It was the worst experience of my dance life. I couldn't follow him and he insisted on forcing me through moves that I just wasn't ready for. It was extremely discouraging. I walked off the floor feeling like a complete idiot. I also recall the first time I saw the StarDust. The dance floor was bigger than anything I'd seen before. All these amazing dancers were all over the place. I was so intimidated, at the time, that I sat down the whole night and just watched. A waste of a cute outfit.

Stephen: Who were some of the dancers you admired over the years?

Jess: The first 2 people I fell in love with were Jayson Molina and his partner at the time Gaby. I remember seeing them at the 2002 PR Salsa Congress. I was completely in love with the way they danced together. They had this look in their eyes when they danced that made me feel like I
couldn't' take my eyes off of them. I spent the whole week in PR "stalking" them. I followed them everywhere they danced just to stand there and watch, not wanting to dance with them, but just watch them and hope that I could one day dance with them.

Stephen: What inflection point in dance broke you from the fear of being star struck?

Jess: Probably the first time I finally danced with Jayson Molina. You can't imagine how it felt to be asked to dance by someone who I had only watched from a distance for over 2 years. He had actually made friends with my brother first at the Boston Congress in 2004. All of a sudden my
brother tells him to ask me to dance! I was mortified. So much so, that I tried to turn him down - but he wasn't having it. He pulled me out onto the dance floor and after a few nervous turns, I finally got comfortable enough to actually enjoy dancing with him. I might have even gotten enough confidence to actually smile at the same time.

Stephen: What was your most embarrassing Salsa moment?

Jess: That would have to be when my nose was broken at the Atrium during one of their Saturday night parties. It was Memorial Day weekend of 2001. I was trying to lead my partner into a turn and just as he turned, he lifted up his elbow (in an attempt to style) and cracked me on the nose,
breaking it. But that wasn't the embarrassing part though. The embarrassment came a week later when I had to walk around with a hard white cast across the bridge of my nose for a week.

Stephen: What was your most exciting Salsa moment?

Jess: I think my most exciting moment was the first time I performed at a Congress. It was the Puerto Rico Congress in 2002. We were on for a Thursday afternoon show. I was nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. I felt like those were going to be the longest 5 minutes of my
life and yet when it was over, I felt like it went by too fast. Looking out into a crowd of nameless faces, staring directly at me was intimidating, and yet exhilarating all at once. It's a feeling I still
get every time I perform.

Stephen: What is the difference between Salsa today and when you first started to dance?

Jess: When I first started to dance, everything was very "old school". Not too many of the dancers you see now were around back then. It was an older crowd, then, doing more traditional things. Nothing was flashy or fast. It wasn't as complex as it is now. There were no performance
groups or contests around here. There certainly wasn't any competition amongst studios or dance groups like there seems to be today.

Now, the quality of dancing has been raised. Dancers and studios started forming performance groups, and going to congresses. We've progressed so much so, that we were able to hold our own congress in Philly for the first time last summer. Back then, we didn't even know what a Salsa
Congress was.

Stephen: Any hope for the future of Salsa in Philadelphia?

Jess: I have hope that it will continue to grow in the years to come. As long as the current dancers on the scene remain humble and remember where they started, they'll be able to help those starting out now. We've already started to mold the future of salsa by putting together some
amazing kids groups in the area. People are taking the time out to show others what they know. If we continue with that, and continue to show people not just what we know, but encourage them to bypass us and learn even more, then that's the best gift we can give the salsa community.

I try to encourage people not to shy away from the dance. Beginners are always intimidated by the club scene. We need to make it something that inspires them, not discourages them.

One of the people I admire most for his ability to make new salsa dancers feel comfortable is Mike Andino. He promotes everyone and every event that goes on and encourages all his students, and the students of others, to come out. And once he gets them out, he dances with EVERYONE. He's a humble person that spends his time reminding himself what it felt like to be a beginner, and making sure that beginners have memorable dance experiences like he had. I hope that we can have more "Mike's" in the community as we grow.