12 Questions with Joe Figueroa

By Stephen Choo Quan

Joe Figueroa is one of Philadelphia's most prominent Salsa teachers in the lower Delaware valley. Joe has taught several hundred students the basic step and more in states such as Delaware, Philadelphia and New Jersey. He mostly teaches at La Luna Dance studio in PA. He also has a class in Delaware on Wednesdays. He can be seen traveling several hundred miles to support the culture of Salsa in other cities like DC where he is well known and received. Joe was the first salsero to perform in LA congress from the Philadelphia area. Joe is making his 2nd consecutive debut in the LA Congress this year 2005.

Stephen: When did Salsa first touch your life?

Joe: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Easter Sunday 2000 and I was driving to Dinner at my parents place. I never was really fond of Salsa but I liked Merengue. The radio was playing Willie Colon's El Gran Varon and right there I knew I wanted to learn Salsa. The next week I registered with Salseros International.

First Social Dance?

Joe: Her name was Itchy, Joe's bar 8 weeks after Salsa came into my life.

First Admired?

Joe: Anthony, a smooth dancer back in the day, Wanda Pagan, Chris "Toby" Rivera who was Wanda's partner at the time and was someone I aspired to dance like one day. Wanda was the hottest local at the time and it took months to gather up the courage to ask her to dance. I met her a week before I actually asked her to dance. I am a shy person.

Favorite Leads?

Joe: Super Mario, Fernando Sosa, Francisco Vasquez!

How did you make Salsa your full-time job?

Joe: July 2001, I went to PR for the Salsa congress. That was an Eye opener. Seeing people from Japan, Korea, Australia, S. America, Italy, France and Africa. . . .ALL of them dancing Salsa. The idea that I could meet a person that may not even speak English, but for even just five minutes be able to communicate through a dance we both know. . . .that was amazing to me! It was seeing that Salsa was not only an East Coast thing. It was a Global thing! I knew when I got back that I had to teach this to everyone I could.

Rocket Fuel?

Joe: I had now been dancing for 1 year. I recall Evelyn, my teacher at the time, commenting how Philly was so far behind compared to the rest of the world. I felt that we needed someone to teach how to be a strong lead and she got Joey Feltio. Things really started to change for me then.

Star Dust?

Joe: I live with regret that I did not dance there more in my hay day. I was out dancing for a year before I first went to the Star Dust. I was totally amazed and had a fantastic time dancing the night away. Unfortunately, the vibe of it faded after the music changed and the price started to rise. For me, it was as if the organizers were more interested in making money than providing what was the hottest social dance in the Tri State Area. I had friends that would drive from DC or even Connecticut just to dance there. I know you were there for the closing night. The Vibe in the place that night, that's what it used to be like. Many of us that are out today met there. I got close with Jessica, Lilly, Mike, Alex, Jose Rodriguez and many more at the Stardust. It's also where Sonya and I met.

Secret Weapon?

Joe: I don't know what you're talking about. . .That's a question better left for the ladies to answer. But if I use anything, It would have to be "the stare." When I see a woman I want to dance with, I feel primal, like the way a baby looks at something it really wants. Or the way a Lion watches a herd of Elk. The intense look that a baby has just before putting the shiny attractive object into it's mouth. That is the stare. Does that make any sense?

When did you feel your dancing took a quantum leap?

Joe: Josie Neglia broke the ice for me after I won the contest that she judged. We danced after that, which helped me build confidence and then I danced with Edie "The Salsa Freak" at my first LA Congress. She sponsored my congress package for me without even meeting me. So when I got there, I introduced myself. She told me that I owed her a dance and yanked me onto the floor. When I saw people gathering around and video taping, I knew they were all looking at her but I also felt like I could dance with anyone now. So after that, no one was intimidating to me. Well, almost no one.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Joe: I have never socially danced with a man before so you can imagine how I felt when Jason Molina asked me to dance in Brazils. Needless to say, I WAS STILL THE LEAD!

What is it that keeps you into Salsa?

Joe: Teaching, if I don't dance as much socially I surely will want to continue to teach.

What are your hopes for the Future of Philadelphia?

Joe: No boundaries, bridging all dancers in all locations so we have more events like the Philly All Stars. I also hope to see dancers come out to dance more often. Today we only have a fraction of our dancers that go out to clubs and participate in the dance scene. I foresee that one day Philly will become a significant city on the Salsa map. All I ever really wanted was for Philly to see and embrace Salsa on a Global Level the way that I have. I figure, if seeing what Salsa is like around the world can do all this for me. . . then what can it do for you?