15 Questions wtih Philadelphia Salsa Dancing OG - Mike Gaudioso
When did you first start dancing?
I had been a Hustle dancer
since 1996, and around 1999, I heard of a few Hustle dancers exploring the
Latin Salsa dance scene. The first instructor that I met was a very young
woman new to the Latin Dance teaching world named Sonya Saamova, (yep, that
Sonya) who was soon to travel to Europe and would not be teaching in the area
for a while. But a teacher named Barbara Capaldi was giving a free Salsa
lesson at a club called The 8th Floor, on Delaware Ave. in Philly on
Friday nights in late 2000 or early 2001, and that is where I really
started. It was through Barbara Capaldi's weekly 8th Floor lessons that I
learned the basics of Salsa, except for one class that Barbara was absent from
and sent a substitute teacher, a new young teacher named Jessica Moya. (Yep,
that Jessica) This was the early days where the Latin Dance scene was moving
from the predominately Latin Community into the larger more diverse community
this it has become over the years.
Who was your first instructor?
I got the basics of Salsa down
cold from Barbara Capaldi's lessons at The 8th Floor in Philly, and I was
looking to go further. Sonya Saamova had returned from Europe, and was
teaching several Salsa Lessons at a Dance Studio in the Overbrook section of
Philly, Laura Bennett's "Dancesport 101". As I remember, the class
that I took then was called "LA Styling" which was the level beyond
the beginner and intermediate lessons, learning patterns and technique beyond
the basics. So I started with Barbara, and continued with Sonya, but I
give credit to both of them for my introductory days of learning Salsa.
When did you first fall in love with salsa?
I was attending a Hustle and
Salsa Dance Conference in Miami Beach FL, I stuck to dancing just in the Hustle
room, as that is what I knew at the time. But when I peeked into the
Salsa Room, it was more than twice as big, had way more dancers, and the energy
from the floor was palpable. I vowed right there that next year I would be
dancing in this room, so it was part falling in love, and part ambition to be
part of that energy. And yes, a year later, I hit the Conference's Salsa
room floor running, no longer peeking in at the door - I was on the floor
- I was a Salsaro.
What top 3 venues did you enjoy over the years and why?
Both the Atrium and The
Stardust were my favorites, and when I say The Stardust, I'm also referring to
the "original" Stardust Ballroom, that was in the Pennsauken
Mart. It was at the old Stardust that I was introduced to another pair of
instructors whom I learned quite a bit and enjoyed, Juan Calderon and Christina
Piedra. I was there for the last Latin Dance at the Pennsauken Stardust,
and a few months later attended the Grand Opening First Salsa Dance at the new
one in Bellmawr. I was also a regular at the "original" La Luna
in Bensalem, and was an attendee of its Grand Opening in 2003.
What is the most interesting new member to join your meet up groups and why?
I joined The Philly Salsa
Meetup many years ago, and have met many wonderful members from all over the
world and of a world-wide nationalities and backgrounds. Too many members
to count over the years, especially as I later became an Assistant Organizer,
and I am often one of the first members that new people meet. I am also a
member and Assistant Organizer of its sister-Meetup, the Philly Bachata
Meetup. Outside of the actual dancing, the meeting and greeting is one of
the best aspects that I enjoy of both the Meetup groups, and the Latin Dance
Community as a whole.
For more info:
Salsa or bachata?
I started my Latin dance
adventures with Salsa over 17 years ago, and have only been doing Bachata for
about 5 years. As I'm better at Salsa, I tend to feel more comfortable
doing it more than Bachata, but to tell the truth, I just enjoy being on the
dance floor leading a woman through the moves. A bit of a cliche, but,
Salsa or Bachata - it's all good. And as a side note, I've also enjoyed
my Kizomba dances, I'm still a beginner, and don't get much chance to enjoy
this style, but I have grown to love the subtle beauty of this dance as
For for info:
What advice for a new starter in the dance scene?
Although my beginner days were
more than 17 years ago, I do remember what it was like to be a beginner, and a
beginner lead at that. (Yes, it is tougher to be a beginner lead.) So I
know what it is like to mess up a move, mix up left and right, get horribly off
step, and the myriad other rookie mistakes that are part of the dance - I've
done them all. But the one overriding factor that I learned and try to
impart to new dancers - Don't Quit! Every great dancer was a beginner
that made every mistake and felt the same frustrations as you may be feeling as
you fumble your way through a move. But they became great when they
realized that it would be all worth it as long as they continued to work at it,
listen to the instructors, practice, ask or accept dances with everyone, and
again - Don't Quit!. The feelings you have when you are starting making
mistakes will fade as you get better, and build memories of truly wonderful
experiences. Trust me - it will be worth the effort. On a practical
advice level, I like to dress up for events, break out the good stuff, and make
a dance a real event, and I believe that others may want to try this outlook at
least once. Just my philosophy, but I think the old-school notion of
dressing up to go out is still worth the effort.
What is unique about the Philly salsa/bachata scene?
The Philadelphia and South
Jersey Latin Dance Community is one of the most diverse groups of dancers
around. Although there is a strong Latino presence, I've seen the
community grow to include dancers from across the globe, from youths to
seniors, of all cultural backgrounds, all shapes and sizes, you get the
idea. Perhaps the one common trait that I've seen in nearly all local
Latin Dancers is that they want a little more than just the average "going
out" experience - they want more than a sports bar and hot wings.
The overpriced and overcrowded grinding in what passes for dancing in clubs
just doesn't cut it. We Latin dancers enjoy the skill it takes to be a
Latin dancer, along with our diversity, and the adventures and experiences that
come with the notion that you never know who you may meet on any given dance
What is the Strangest thing you seen in the community?
I can't think of anything of
What is your Favorite Performance?
I've seen quite a few
performances over the years, everything from Beginner's Performance Class
presentations, all the way up to World-Class performances. But the most
memorable Performance was one given at Barbara Capaldi's Atrium Performance
Night, and the performers was all very young children, perhaps 5, 6 and 7 years
old. The young boys were marching through their steps, more a marching
band vibe than a dance performance, but they sure gave it their all. And
the young girls were loving the attention they were getting as they had the crowd
eating out of their tiny hands with their adorable efforts. It was pretty
much the best performance that I have ever seen.
Who are some of your favorite follow over the years?
I've danced with so many women
over the years that narrowing down favorites is almost impossible, but I would
be remiss if I didn't mention how the times that Christina Piedra graced me
with a dance made me really feel like I was a real Salsaro. She is miles
ahead of me in skill, but she has a way of making my simple lead turn into a
fabulous move, and this really makes me want to become a better
dancer. Other women like Star Seguinot and Patty Pastorek can also
maximize my lead into something special, and make me feel that kind of special
for doing so. On a general and somewhat opposite level, I've found that
when I come across a new female dancer, who is often shy and hesitant to
venture onto the seemingly wild Latin dance Floor, I really enjoy being one of
the first Gentlemen to take her out onto the floor, and make her feel like
Ginger Rodgers. For me, after this first dance, as I walk her off of the
floor, if her eyes sparkle and she looks like she just got off of a
roller-coaster, then I know that I've made a difference, if only for the
moment. I want her to be happy that she took a chance to venture
out. That is one of my favorite dances. And, not for nothing, but
there were a few women who patiently took the time with a beginner dancer 17
years ago, and I always like to pay this forward.
Who do you miss most that is no longer an active dancer?
It has been quite a while since
Star Seguinot has been out and about in the local Latin Dance community, I
always enjoyed the company of her and her husband Camelo. She was quite a
player in the community, including hosting her own Latin Dance events at the
Ballroom on High in Pottstown for several years, where her "No Dance
Snobs!" edict gave her students and guests a wonderful feeling of being a
part of the community regardless of their skill level. In thinking back
to this era, I feel I should mention a well known Salsaro who has passed
on. Eric Ebling was a unique fixture to the Latin Community, his
gentlemanly and egalitarian persona is greatly missed by all of those who knew
him. I was getting to know him more though fascinating conversations on
far-ranging subjects when he passed suddenly, leaving a poignant memory of a gentle
giant who found a home in the community by just being a wonderful person first,
and a dancer second. Good guy.
Who are some of your favorite leads that you admire?
One gentleman whose actions on the dance floor had caught my eye was instructor Juan Calderone, he always seemed to be taking beginners out of their seats and onto the dance floor. He wasn't one of those who only danced with the best dancers or kept to his own small group, he took the time with others, which is not a universal philosophy. If a dancer wants to only dance with only a certain few, I try not to get down on them, as you dance with whom you wish. But I do admire those that go out of their way to make beginners who are so often not getting any attention feel special and feel that they are a real part of the community. Juan and those other Gentleman leads who go out of their way to seek out the wallflowers and beginners are really an unsung asset to the community.
What Significant changes have you seen in the last 10 yrs?
The Philly and South Jersey Latin Dance
community has sure come a long way since those days when Sonya and Barbara were
the catalysts that helped bring Salsa out of the predominately Latino community
clubs and into the larger local community. Back then, Salsa was King, and
Salsa On The One was the style of choice in the area. But over the years,
Bachata has made its mark on the local community, and often becoming the
predominate style of some venues and events, with Jose Gonzales' "Bachata
Obsessions" events playing no small role. Other styles and
variations have also made an impact on the dance community, Kizomba has found a
small but loyal niche, thanks in no small part to Jackie Rozzo and Ryan Kirby
putting in the time several years ago at Jose Gonzales' Stardust events.
Sensual Bachata has also made its mark within the greater Bachata world,
allowing dancers to add anywhere from a dash of sensuality to a full-out
sensual dance. Mambo and the Salsa On The Two has also garnered some
attention recently, and as this style is more popular in other cities and areas
of the country, knowing it can allow the dancer to fit into communities outside
of the local area. And ironically, my first social dance style, Hustle
Dancing, has begun to get some floor play via Latin dance instructors teaching
it in the area.
What do you predict as the coming trends for the Latin community?
I expect to see some smaller, more "boutique" styles of Latin dance, as well as other types of dances to get introduced to area, as the community has matured beyond the "Salsa Is King" days of a decade ago. I believe that these additions will also help the community continue to be diverse, which will help ensure its longevity. Some people will undoubtedly have their one dance of choice, and venues and events will cater to them with single dance events. But I believe the human desire for new experiences, novelty, diversity - the "let's try something new", will permeate the local Latin Dance community for years to come, and we will have many dancers who will constantly move from dance style to dance style within a week, or perhaps at a single venue with numerous rooms. Dancers will continue to meet more people from all over the world and have the choice of several different dance styles on any given dance floor and may in the future try some style yet to be introduced to the community. That is what I see for the future. And that is why I'll continue to dress up and hit the dance floor.
Thanks Mike for the wonderful insight over the years. If you have something to share, get in touch
Your friend in Salsa
Stephen Choo Quan