Originally published on SalsaNewYork on 1/02
Photos courtesy from NydiaOcasio.com
month we interview NY Mambo Instructor & Performer Nydia
Ocasio. Nydia has been around the NY Mambo scene for many years.
Well known for her old school mambo, she usually doesn't get the amount
of publicity that others like her do. This cyber-interview was done a
while ago and somewhat overdo. After having it filed on the SalsaNewYork
waiting list, her number finally came up. Its with great pleasure that
we present her interview to the SalsaNewYork readership. -Manny
Nydia Ocasio Cyber-Interview
SNY: How long have you been dancing mambo and what got you into
Nydia: I've been dancing to Latin music (salsa, cha-cha, etc) from the age of
16, with the sounds of Tito Rodriguez, Gran Combo, La Lupe, Tito Puente
and Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco to name a few. However, I've l been listening to
the Latin music much earlier than that when my parents would have their
house parties...I got more involve in dancing in my earlier years in school...and
took it to the clubs. The Corso was one of the many Latin clubs
there that I performed and choreographed for a group called "The Latin
Symbolics, directed by the late George Vascones, back in the early 70s. In
1973, I was doing theater work with a Puerto Rican theater group. Also
performed with a Puerto Rican & AfroCuban folkloric companies. The rest is
SNY: Where did you originally learn how to
dance mambo and who was (were)
Nydia: In the Latin nights clubs in the City and practicing with friends.
Over, and over again :-)...until we got it right. There were no
dance studio to
my knowledge that we knew of at that time. so we did the best we
could and dared to taking to dance floor. As for my mentors, Heny Alvarez,
a musician, singer, dancer of the Puerto Rican Culture, Xiomara Rodriguez, an AfroCuban
dancer and the late George Vascones, the best Latin and Hustle dancer
and in my book, still is! In my years in this field, no one has come close to
George's style. He was in his own catagory, Excellence!
How long have you been teaching mambo and what made you
decide to teach mambo?
Nydia: I have been teaching as well as performing Latin and Caribbean
Folkloric music, among other ethnic dances for more than 15-20 years with
various dance troupes (Latin/AfroCuban/Puerto Rican Folklore and Samba/Candumble
from Brazil). I decided to teach when I had the necessary dance
and training required. Just knowing salsa or Son Montuno (aka
mambo), does not merit one a dance instructor. Its a lot more than 1 -2-3--5-6-7!
What made me decide to teach is to be able to pass on the true knowledge and understanding of Latin dancing and most importantly, its music.
Through my years of teaching and performing, I came to realize the younger
generation lack knowledge or understanding of what Latin music was really about.
They assumed thats its all about fancy footwork and turn patterns...Oh no!...Its
much, much more than that. Some "overnight"
instant dancers are so
busy planning their next turn pattern or fancy footwork that they forget to dance
and that they are not dancing alone....and when they finally decide to let go on the dance floor, they look like they're performing as appose
to dancing elegantly and sociable. Why? because it wasn't taught to them.
seen it too many times. If you can't understand the depth of Latin
you're lost on the floor...Unfortunately, many of them are not aware of that.
SNY: What do you like most about teaching?
Nydia: Watching the students faces beaming with a sense of "God, I
finally get it!!! It makes sense to me now". It makes me feel real good about
myself and that I have accomplished my goal as a teacher in the art Latin dancing.
SNY: Why do you think people come to learn from you?
Nydia: They have seen me teach or dance and like my method and style of
teaching and/or dancing They find it unique and very informative and thats a
big plus for them.
SNY: Are most of your students men or women? and why is that?
Nydia: Lately females...only because they've become more daring than men.
Some men feel a bit intimidated by a female Instructor. However, I do
men followers who like my style.....they want to build more on body
movement than just fancy steps or a bombardment of turn patterns.
SNY: What is the hardest thing you find about teaching?
Nydia: Teaching those who dance Latin badly!!!. But they turn
out to be my best challenge.
SNY: Do you still like to go to clubs and dance socially?
Nydia: Depending on the band or DJ...I dislike crowded places...I prefer El
Flamingo...its cozy and usually pulls in good dancers. Im not a
drinker so the dancing has to be good!
SNY: Name your favorite on stage performance?
Nydia: There are so many favorites...One of them was with the Cugat's Orch in
Japan. But, I did a performance in tribute to Machito at Broadway 2 that
work of art and a loyal commitment with all involved. It was a
SNY: What got you into performing and what was your first time on
Nydia: I've always love to dance since I was a child. I was born with
this gift and I wanted to share it with the world. My first time on stage was
in JHS. The rest is history.
SNY: What did you feel when you first performed live on stage?
Nydia: A sense of utmost FREEDOM, control and one with the music...Its a
wonderful experience, especially when you see the audience face beaming and
smiling while they watch you dance...thats when you know you've got to them
and they are there dancing with you. Its great!
SNY:Have you ever choreographed a routine?
Nydia: Plenty, ranging from Latin/AfroCuban/Bomba-Plena and samba.
SNY: What do you like about being a dance choreographer?
Nydia: Once I hear the music, and how the choreography comes to me right
away. Its about bringing the emotion of the routine together first and the steps
follow easily behind. The ideas sometimes comes to me very quickly that it
takes me by surprise!
SNY: What do you look for in a song when you are putting
choreography together for it?
Nydia: The emotion and the story it tells...I combine the 2.
SNY: Have you traveled to teach workshops and seminars? If so
where have you gone?
Nydia: I've done and continue to do workshops for various institutions, such
as special event gatherings, Universities, Hospitals and Health Clubs
in the States to name a few. Although I have performed outside of
the country, didn't have the opportunity to teach. There was no time....never
got around to it. Hopefully one day soon.
SNY: What is it that you like about traveling to teach?
Nydia: I enjoy traveling and passing on my knowledge and experience in the
art of Latin dancing to those who are willing to learn.
SNY: Which has been your favorite place to teach a workshop?
Nydia: Schools, SOB's and the Mid-Summer Nights Swing at Lincoln
SNY: What is the difference between teaching a regular class and
Nydia: Students get more out of a regular class. However, the
one-shot brings in new clients.
SNY: Which gives you the best joy? Teaching, performing or
putting together choreography?
Nydia: All of the above! :-)
SNY: How is it that you prepare yourself for a workshop? and for
Nydia: My tapes are important part of my preparation for a workshop.
Its deals with very basic rhythm patterns to sociable dance levels.....its important
not to confuse the student with complicated Latin music until they understand
the development of the rhythm and what to listen. I've come to
realize through my years of performing and teaching that patience and tolerance is
important to develop before attempting to teach anyone. It makes the process all
that much easier for the teacher as well as the student.
What advice would you give those just getting into mambo?
How can hey work at getting better at dancing?
Nydia: Learn to know what to listen to in the music first, so that the rest
becomes easier to understand. Be aware that the body creates the movement and technique
of the dance, not your feet or counting your head off.....Counting can
be very distracting if its taught in the beginning...Its all they will remember and never get around to listening.
The music holds a beat and a count...which the students should be informed about and
applied to the lesson.
SNY: How best could you describe your way of dancing? of
Nydia: I've been told that my dancing is an art to watch, elegant and smooth,
my teaching, informative, attentative with the students and simplified
for better understanding of what they are learning, and my performances, unique,
artistic and professional.
SNY: How is New York Mambo Dancing different from mambo dancing
in other parts of the country?
Nydia: If you are referring to just mambo or as I prefer calling it Son
Montuno or dancing on two, here its taught so many diferent ways, some correctly
some not. As for other countries it varies base on their upbringing
that country and also it depends on who's doing the teaching.
SNY: Do you think that dancers get treated with respect? If not
Nydia: You can't buy respect, you have to earned it. When Latin dancers
themselves take their dancing towards a more burlesque or a provocative level as
appose to artistic, which is occurring today, then don't expect any respect.
This issue I address strongly to women who have allowed themselves to
exploit their attributes instead of their talents. Present your
talent with pride and dignity and never, ever sell yourself short, cause In
end, you lose.
SNY: What would you like to see happen to mambo within the next
years?, next decade? within your lifetime?
Nydia: That those wanting to teach or teaching are more
knowledgeable in the their craft of a Latin dancing, be informative, experienced professionals
with proper teaching skills. There's too many over-night or wannabe
teachers out there and the student is the one who ends up paying the price
and short changed by a pretender. The word TEACHER says it all.
SNY: What is the best way for someone interested in learning
get in contact with you?
Nydia: My Website www.NydiaOcasio.com
or click here for my contact