Originally published on SalsaNewYork on 3/01
month we interview NJ Mambo Instructor & Performer Jai Catalano.
I've know Jai for several years now and mark my words he and his partner
Candy will be a force to contend with in the NY/NJ Mambo community. He
is a hard working and dedicated dance professional who truly cares about
his dancing and the quality of his teaching. In this interview Jai
candidly talks about Eddie Torres, Tito Puente and about dancing on
stage as a mambo performer.
Jai Catalano Cyber-Interview:
long have you been dancing mambo and what got you into it?
JC: I started learning salsa on the 1 at the Sandra Cameron Dance
downtown Manhattan. That was in February of 1998. I stayed there
months until I was convinced to go to the 2. I have been on the 2 ever
since, although I can still maintain the 1 if I had to. So I guess the
is 3 years. At the time I started inquiring about salsa, I had just gotten
out of a 5 year relationship. My ex-girlfriend knows how to dance what I
call House Salsa. That is salsa that is taught by your parents
timing structure. Nevertheless, I didn't know Salsa from Merengue let
the 1 from the 2, and she didn't know how to teach me either, so after an
amicable split I looked on the internet and found my first salsa school by my
SNY: Where did you originally learn how to dance mambo and who was (were)
I originally learned how to dance salsa from Sandra Cameron herself, but
after dancing for 2 months a friend had given me information about Eddie
Torres. Immediately knew I was going to take classes there once I saw his
class. I don't want it to sound like a cliché but Eddie Torres is my
because he not only taught me how to dance, but he guided me towards feeling
the music, and enjoying the music. I spent many nights till 3 or close to
in the morning after our late night rehearsals talking to Eddie. He showed
me extra moves and taught me about music and theory. He is not just my
mentor but he is my good friend.
SNY: How long have you been teaching mambo and what
made you decide to teach mambo?
I have been teaching mambo for about 1 year now, but it wasn't until Candy
Mena, my girlfriend, convinced me to open up a school with her in West New
York New Jersey that I decided that I would give it 110%. I have always
cross-referenced my teaching with people like Eddie Torres, Frankie
Martinez, Seaon Bristol, and even Nelson
Flores. Candy and I are meticulous
with our teaching and very serious about the growth of our students. It is
these people, who I mentioned above, that have given me a certain
understanding about teaching and the business at hand.
SNY: Name your favorite on stage performance?
My favorite on stage performance was the performance Candy and I did in
Brooklyn College with the late great Tito
Puente. I wrote an article on my
experience that day. That was undisputedly the best.
SNY: What is it like to learn a choreographed routine?
The question should be Manny, What is it like to learn a routine from Eddie
Torres as oppose to others? Eddie is a masterful choreographer and he is
constantly revising his routines. Not to say that others are not good, but
once you think you have learned a routine from Eddie Torres he slips the
carpet from under your feet and redoes it. I have learned choreography
others and it is a totally different experience.
SNY: What is it like to travel as a performer? What do you like best about it?
It is a great feeling to know that once you start traveling out of New York
and even the New Jersey area that the level of acceptance and intensity of
that acceptance grows. People are happier to see you and what you have to
offer. I have watched performances in New York where I have heard the
next to me say ohhhh these people again. I guess that might apply to
wherever you live but undoubtedly it is a greater feeling once you go
SNY: Where have you gone to perform?
Aside from the fact that I have traveled and performed a lot around the US, I
have only performed at Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. As of this
that is all going to increasingly change.
SNY: Name some of your performances?
I have performed for the Puerto Rican Congreso. I have done channel 41 a
times. I performed live in the Dominican Republic. That was real
also performed at the Tito Puente tribute at Madison Square Garden. Oh and
cant forget Tito Puentes 76th and 77th birthday party. And many many
SNY: Which bands have you performed with on stage?
I have performed with Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Jose Alberto,
Jorge Luis, Frankie Negron, Domingo Quinones, Oscar De leon, Sergio Vargas.
SNY: What got you into performing and what was your first time on stage?
I guess I should say I got myself into performing, but it was Eddie Torres
who allowed me the first outlet to do it. I can never forget my first time
on stage. It was at Bistro Latino in January of 1999.
was in the audience for my first show and we didn't even know each other
then. Even when I see the video, from time to time, I can see Candy in the
background watching. Id like to say she was watching only me but that
only be me talking.
SNY: What groups have you performed with?
I have only performed with Eddie
Torres. Now, Candy and I perform under our
own names but I still perform with Eddie Torres whenever he needs us.
SNY: What did you feel when you first performed live on stage?
I felt confident but it was before the show that I was in shambles. When I
am on stage it is great feeling. It is when I am just about to go on that
am a little nervous. I guess you can say it is the anticipation that kills
SNY: What do you like about being a dance choreographer?
The best part about being a choreographer is that you get to see your
choreography come alive from within. I have just recently started to
choreograph more and more and I believe that the feelings that are within me
will be well received by the audiences that I perform for.
SNY: What do you look for in a song when you are putting choreography together for
I never look for anything in a song. I feel for a song. My music
(Garth M.) taught me that as well as Eddie
Torres. Unfortunately, my
understanding for a Latin song is minimal at best, but my feeling for a song
is as strong as yours or anyone else. I have been involved in the music
field for quiet some time but I have quickly learned that without a strong
feeling from the heart, you can only hope to achieve a contrived
interpretation for the musical task at hand. Therefore, I need to feel for
SNY: What advice would you give those just getting into mambo? How can they work
at getting better at dancing?
I guess the first thing I would have to say is if you truly love mambo (is to) stick through the process. It is a rough ride for people in the beginning. Dont be upset that the intermediate
(dancers) dont ask you to dance. It is
part of how the intermediate (dancers) grow towards being advance. We were all
there. The first day I started learning partner work a women rotated to me while we
danced the moves we had just learned. She told me that I needed to do the
move right and that if I didnt know what I was doing then I shouldnt be
there. I was embarrassed and determined to be one of the best. She
me to dance every time I see her. We are good friends to this day.
SNY: How best could you describe your way of dancing? Of teaching? And of
I love to have fun no matter what I do. I learn better when I have fun.
When I dance I dont dance without putting my smiling face on. If I am
smiling I usually am sitting. Not to say I am unhappy when Is it but I have
to rest my jaw as well as my feet. Teaching and performing are always in
need of that same formula. Then, of course, you have to be
doing what you do. I am extremely happy, blessed, and in full enjoyment of
my dancing, teaching, and performing.
SNY: Do you still like to go to clubs and dance socially?
I love to go out every so often, but because I am constantly rehearsing I
find myself less and less at clubs and socials. I find it important for
growth of mambo to have as many dancers as possible frequenting those
events. I dont have a regular spot that I go to, but there are quiet a
spots that I wish I could attend more than I do. However, on the positive
side, I get all the wonderful feedback from my students and I feel that
through them I am indirectly accomplishing my club and social dancing when I
SNY: How is New York Mambo Dancing different from mambo dancing in other parts of
To me I dont like to focus on the differences of mambo. There are too
people that like to focus on the differences of the dance and of the people.
Lets talk about the similarities. There is enough negativity in this
and I especially dont want to see it in mambo. I enjoy dancing and so do
the salseros and salseras around the world and I feel that that is the most
important similarity supporting the growth and beauty of the dance.
Do you think that dancers get treated with respect? If not why?
Respect is something that you have to earn. It is an unfortunate reality,
but nevertheless, a true one. You have to first and foremost get respect
from your dancing, and then you have to further build on that respect by
displaying a pleasant disposition. Lets see who has established their
respect. Eddie and Maria
Torres, The Vasquez brothers, Seaon Bristol,
Flores, Albert Torres, David
Melendez, and many more. It was through their
constant contribution, creative energy, and supportive attitudes for the
dancers that have established their respects in my mind and in the minds of
thousands. I hope one day I can say millions. For now, Candy and I
building on that same formula.
SNY: What would you like to see happen to mambo within the next few years?, next
decade? within your lifetime?
I would love to see mambo take a more active roll on Broadway and films. I
would love to see myself as a part of that process and I would love to see
more and more individuals take part in the growth of the dance and not the
destruction of the dance. Leave the negativity, jealousy, and hatred home,
and I believe, as I am sure others do that we will accomplish it.