Originally published on SalsaNewYork on 7/02
This Month we interview ex-NY Mambo
INstructor Oscar Soto. Oscar was one of several people who taught On2
dancing at the Sandra Cameron Dance Studio over the years. At the time he
cooperated with me by filling out this cyber-interview with the promise that
it would be out in a couple of issues. Like Nydia
Ocasio's interview an issue ago, it got misplaced and lost in the shuffle
of documents stored in my computer. Oscar has since then moved out to Arizona.
Though not teaching mambo anymore, he still can be seen returning to NY to get
his quick fix of dancing at socials like Jimmy
Anton's Bi-Monthly Social Dance. Oscar, I'm sorry it took so long to get
this out, your both a gentlemen and a scholar. Hope to see you soon on the
dance floor. -Manny Siverio
long have you been dancing mambo and what got you into it?
OS: About 40 years. I grew up with this music and danced it even
before they called it "salsa". It was part of any celebration of my
family back in Puerto Rico.
did you originally learn how to dance mambo and who was
(were) your mentors?
OS: I learned on the street,
by imitation. When I came to New York a lot of people considered me a very
good dancer but it was not until I was asked to teach that I took lessons in
order to learn to count and be able to transmit my knowledge.
long have you been teaching mambo and what made you decide to
OS: I've taught for 5 years (editor's
note: circa 1999). I fell into the job after I helped a
friend get a job as teacher and when she resigned, they asked me.
do you like most about teaching?
OS: The love and appreciation that I get from my students.
SNY: Why do you
think people come to learn from you?
OS: Because they like my dancing and mostly because they consider
me the best teacher. Most of them are non-latinos and they appreciate the time
I take not only to teach them the dance but to understand the music.
SNY: Are most of
your students men or women? and why is that?
OS: I would say they are equally divided.
is the hardest thing you find about teaching?
OS: To keep the students challenged; without the challenge of
something new interest is quickly lost. Equally difficult is to try to control
someone who wants to learn advanced stuff without mastering the basics.
SNY: Do you still
like to go to clubs and dance socially?
OS: I don't go to clubs as much. I've developed an intolerance for
smoky environments, pushing and shoving, and not being able to sit unless I
buy drinks at exorbitant prices.
about performing? Do you still perform and who have you performed for or with?
OS: I've had in the past given
demonstrations for the school during "guest night" and different
other occasions such as special workshops but I've never felt compelled to
perform as I dance purely for pleasure and not to prove anything to anybody.
SNY: What do you
look for in a song when you are putting choreography together for it?
OS: Exciting music.
SNY: Have you
traveled to teach workshops and seminars? If so where have you gone?
OS: I've been invited to Baltimore and Berlin but never went.
SNY: Which gives you
the best joy? Teaching, performing or putting together choreography?
is it that you prepare yourself for a workshop? and for a performance?
Nothing terribly special. Just make sure that the routine meets a
certain standard of quality.
advice would you give those just getting into mambo? How can they work at
getting better at dancing?
Learn the basics well and learn to understand the music if you've never been
exposed to it before. Anybody can do a lot of crazy turn patterns and steps
but very few do it with style and grace. Conversely, many good dancers do a
minimum of stuff on the dance floor but they do it with aplomb and finesse.
The thing that is going to make your dance the most beautiful is the sense of
knowing what you are doing. That's when you don't have to think about what you
are doing so that everything just "flows." Only practice can get you
is New York Mambo Dancing different from mambo dancing in other parts of the
OS: It appears to be more
refined and almost elevated to a sports category.
you think that dancers get treated with respect? If not why?
OS: In my personal experience,
yes. I can feel the respect and admiration from other people and in general
people respect anybody that is good at what they do.
What would you like to see happen to mambo within the next few years?, next
decade? within your lifetime?
OS: I would like it to spread to every part of the world so that
it's known and danced in every corner of the globe.
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