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New York for a Newbie: 
A Beginner's Mambo Experience in the Big Apple

- by Jill Nightingale

Let me be straight with you: I'm new to salsa.  Only been dancing a year, and love it, though I'm no amazing grace.  I've learned diligently to dance "on the one", never knowing there was anything else.  So, at the Los Angeles Salsa Congress in May, I was astounded to see East Coast dancers
dancing "on two", and I was inspired.

There's a noticeable difference when the "twosters" step forward, right on the clave, with a "pah"! then back again, "pah"! What passion those dancers ooze.  Not the west coast LA "flash" (which is beautiful, sure) but the deep down soul that you see in MAMBO, rather than the salsa I'd been
learning for the last year in hometown, San Francisco.  The rumor in  California was: The two is very very hard for someone who dances on one... Anyway, how would I ever learn the two in California?

Little did I know I was in for a little one-on-one with the two sooner than expected:  I found I was going to New York City for a week on business, and would have a LOT of free time on my hands.  Could I potentially meet the Mambo King himself, Eddie Torres?  Certainly I would try.

Salsaweb was the hub of my search for a New York City Mambo lesson "on two".  Quickly navigating the site, I zipped to the very well kept New York section and found that Eddie Torres taught open group lessons--  was this possible?!  The King himself? And not so far from my hotel in midtown, too! Clearly it was meant to  be; I set out for the afternoon group lesson.

The King Lives
For a Californian, the event of visiting Eddie Torres at the dance studio was an experience unto itself.  The building was non-descript, just an address on a busy street.  There was a gaggle of dancers on two floors-- downstairs for Beginners, upstairs for Intermediate.  (Obviously, I thought
to myself, I'm not a "beginner",  having taken a year of salsa on the west coast-- so I skipped up to the intermediate class.)  This was akin to entering the movie, Flash Dance. The only thing missing was the "What a feeling..." sound track.

These dancers were good, really good-- warming up, stretching in their dance duds.  I began to feel very nervous in my white tennis shoes and gym shorts.  Then the lesson started, and it got bad very fast for me.  While everyone in the class stepped forward on the two, I was already coming back from the one (since the one was the only thing I knew.)  The class was crowded and there was no room for directional blunders like mine.  This happened repeatedly until I had to come to terms with the reality of the situation: I mistakenly thought I could just learn the two on the fly--
since there was no one to show me the step.  But the simple shift from the one to the two makes a big difference in the look and feel of the dance, and the warm promise of  the Eddie Torres group lesson turned into a cold reality of a bungling for yours truly.  I retreated to plan another calculated attack on the two.

On to Plan B--  Beg for a private lesson to have someone show me the two, and with only five days left in NYC.  I called Eddie's wife, Maria, who is clearly his loving and supportive soulmate.  Not surprisingly, Eddie was booked solid. Maria graciously gave me the names of a few of his students.
I called this list, plus some more from Salsaweb's list of private instructors.  Two shining gold stars came through in the form of Addie Diaz and Angel Ortiz, one private lesson per person.  And these two wonderful people represent a tremendous rebound in my learning curve and ego with their warm patient teaching styles.

Girl School
Addie Diaz was the first to walk me through the two, and I will always be grateful to her.  She was a delight to know, and offered instruction that often completely contradicted the lessons I'd taken in California.  Taking a lesson from a woman is a great experience for a female, because you can
learn the cute and sexy touches that go with the steps which male teachers may not know, notice, or teach.  Addie showed me several steps, drilled them again and again and when the lesson was over, wrote the steps down for me, beat by beat, so I could practice on my own.  Addie also pointed out some fundamental problems with what I'd learned at home, which was decidedly more Cuban.  For example, the "kick step" on four is pase, she explained, simply old fashioned.  So I de-learned that on the spot. Next, the slight out turn of my feet, which I had specifically been taught to do, was just downright bad form, and so that was immediately removed from my muscle memory, too.  What Addie replaced my misinformation with were: The Suzy Q, Side Taps, and the Kick Pivot-- Great steps, great experience, great teacher.  Check her out at www.addie-tude.com .

Man Power
Angel Ortiz has been teaching and dancing for a long time-- and it shows. He has an extraordinary resume of experience; a veteran performer and competitor, an Eddie Torres protégé, and very good. Angel was the second lesson I took in New York, and this time I wised up and brought a video camera to capture all the skill and technique I miss when I'm trying to tell my right foot from my left.  Angel was amazingly nice, a powerful dancer and teacher and he drilled, drilled, drilled a few advanced steps with me, building on what I'd learned from Addie.  Patiently but firmly, he told me to stop going back to the safety of the basic step and practice practice a more complex cha cha-inspired step.  He also showed me some syncopated steps that looked impossible at the time-- but now that I've watched them on video, I can actually do them. (Wouldn't he be proud!) 

Jill Nightingale is a so-so salsa dancer from San Francisco who constantly
finds herself in over her head in dance class. Nevertheless, she perseveres
because she loves Latin Dance and will eventually be able to get through an
Eddie Torres Intermediate class.

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