A Conversation between dancers
This week I wanted to share a conversation that I had with a good friend of mine, Enrique Mora. Enrique is one of the best Salsa/Mambo dancers and teacher in the Charlotte Metro area. We met in 2003, when I attended one of his Mambo classes. I enjoyed his teaching approach and learned quite a bit about the Latin styles during our time together. The following is an excerpt from our recent conversation:
Ryan: Hello my friend! Thank you for agreeing to let me talk with you about our mutual passion for dancing. I really wanted to share with my students some of the things that inspired you to become a dancer and teacher. So how long have you been involved in dancing?
Enrique: First of all Ryan, thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences.
Being originally from Venezuela dancing for the fun of it is just part of the Latin culture, so really I have been dancing my whole life. Specifically though, with Salsa and Mambo I started around 1998.
Ryan: So almost 15 years in competitive dancing? That is a long time.
Enrique: Yes, it is and it’s been a great ride too.
Ryan: We had a conversation once about the people that inspired as children. Who was that inspiration to you to want to dance?
Enrique: The person that definitely inspired me was John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I loved the way his character “Tony” just walks into the club and owns the place. The girls were just going crazy for him and he was a strong, masculine character that had this amazing passion for dancing and just inspired everybody else.
Another inspiration was the movie “Dance with me” staring Chayanne and Vanessa Williams. At that period in time the Latin culture in the USA exploded. We had a lot of Latin artists debut on American music charts, like Ricky Martin’s first American album, Santana put out his Supernatural album, and Mark Anthony’s first American album to name a few. Suddenly the clubs were just filled up with dancing. It was also around that time that I moved to the states. I came here to learn English as a second language and so I wanted to get out of my environment and interact with American people.
Ryan: You know I love both of those movies as well. Vanessa Williams was so hot in that film, with her being such a beautiful woman, but also a fantastic dancer. I first saw Travolta in the movie “Grease”, but even in that film he rocked the Lindy Hop with Olivia Newton John. Saturday Night Fever actually came later for me, but I remember thinking how he owned the floor in that movie and all my friends wanted to be cool like the Tony character.
Enrique: She was hot and most people don’t know this, but I had a change to dance with Vanessa at the Miami Salsa Conference. It was a really awesome experience and what a beautiful lady too.
Ryan: Really! Wow, how lucky are you? I would love to have that opportunity. What a fantastic experience!
Enrique: I actually have a picture with her. She came in to the Miami Salsa Conference and of course there were many awesome dancers there. Many of the professionals got to dance with her, but she also took turns dancing with some of the local dancers.
Ryan: Wish I could have been there!
Enrique: Yeah! (Laughs) I mean, who wouldn’t?
Ryan: I know that Salsa/Mambo is your specialty, but was that the first partner dance that you learned?
Enrique: Actually, the first partner dance that I learned was Merengue because it was a no-brainer to do. It has only the two steps and allows for all of that free-style motion.
Ryan: We talked last year about how you had been working with other dance styles. It is so easy to get burned out on just one thing. Are you still trying to work with other styles at this time?
Enrique: When I first started teaching part of my training included the Ballroom styles, along with the standard Latin styles that all studios have as their curriculum. Argentine Tango came much later and Bachata has become very popular in the Charlotte area in the last couple years…
Ryan: But Salsa is still your favorite dance?
Enrique: For the most part Mambo/Salsa is the dance I am completely married to.
Ryan: It’s not a bad thing to commit to mastering one dance style. I know a lot of people that will only dance Carolina Shag and nothing else. Mastering one style is not for everyone, obviously… I like the variety of the many different styles, and get bored doing the same thing for more than two songs. I commend people who have that focus.
So what is the biggest challenge that you have faced in your dance career so far?
Enrique: When I was watching some of the really great Salsa dancers perform, you either got really intimidated or you got overly excited and embraced it. In my case it was getting overly excited and embraced it, and that was when the whole journey of travelling and becoming hungry to master this began. It’s a very challenging road, especially when you are start as a guy. For a girl it is a lot easier because you follow, but for a man you have to learn to lead the woman and learn about musicality that comes in to play with dancing.
Ryan: That’s true, for the gentlemen we have a lot going on.
Enrique: Another challenge was that I was learning all of these different dances. I was asked to teach and my English wasn’t so great, so the challenge was transitioning from dancer to teacher and not being able to communicate in English all that well.
Ryan: I have to ask you this, because you and I are both big guys. When people find out I’m a professional dance teacher the comment I hear most often is “But you don’t LOOK like a dance teacher”. Has anyone ever said that to you?
Enrique: You know I am a really large guy, not skinny by any means, I’m 200 plus pounds. So I am not a small petite guy like most Salsa dancers. You know they are super fit, and they are usually really short. No all of them, but let’s say 80%. Most people don’t realize that dancers come in all shapes and sizes. I remember meeting some really great dancers in New York that are our size. Seeing them made me realize that you don’t have to be skinny to be a great dancer, you just have to be willing to commit to mastering the dance.
Ryan: You have competed in all of these different places, L.A., New York, Miami and obviously here in Charlotte. Who was your favorite competition partner?
Enrique: Janet Spotto, she had a lot of background in dancing – tap jazz and modern dancing but she was also training in Theater Arts. So I asked her to dance with me and we had great chemistry.
Ryan: Do you have a favorite dance memory with her?
Enrique: Janet and I competed in the North Carolina Master Salsa competition. I wanted to compete because Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, was coming to America for a concert at Belk Theater. So the idea was to invite dancers from all over to come in and compete in honor of Celia coming to town. So I decided to compete for pride and honor, more so than prize money. There was this Japanese guy that I wanted to compete against. He was a really great dancer and I wanted to see if I could beat him. Winning the competition would earn the title “The Salsa King of Charlotte”. So that was my main reason to enter. We practiced seven to eight hours per day to perfect our routine. We went and competed and fortunately God was on my side and we won the competition. Once we won the competition and our five minutes of fame were up, we realized that there was an additional part to being the winner. We go to open up the dance stage for Celia Cruz, which will remain for me the most important thing that came out of that competition. That was the most important thing that has happened in my dance career.
Ryan: Sounds like a great memory!
Enrique: It really was.
Ryan: We have been talking for quite some so I will ask one last question. Do have any words that you live by or words that you like to share with other dancers?
Enrique: I do! I always think about something Warren Buffett said, he was a major inspiration for creating my rule. He said, “Rule #1 – Never lose money. Rule #2 – Never forget rule number one.” This is the Warren Buffet rule for dancing, “Rule #1 – Enjoy your dance. Rule #2 – Never forget rule #1.” In the end, competitions, social dances, or events, whatever… it’s all good. If you can just enjoy the dance and make your dance partner feel like gold, whatever level that may be. If you can just connect with your dance partner, and have a great time, no matter what level they are, then you have just accomplished the most important things, which is what dance is all about.
Ryan: Excellent words to live by… excellent words. Well, my friend thanks for the great conversation. I look forward to our next discussion.
Enrique: It was my pleasure! We’ll see you soon.
Remember to keep dancing!