An Interview with the West Coast's Hottest Salsa Promoter
I get the idea that Albert is a bit of a controversial figure in our Salsa community. I suppose I could go around and ask people why that is, but you know what, I don't care. I'm finding this dance community to be a tinderbox of egos, a simmering pot of talented, ambitious, and narcissistic individuals who can like you one minute and then refuse to speak to you the next. Albert makes his living in this hurricane. He's in the middle of musicians, club owners, competing promoters, Hollywood producers looking for new talent, dancers, friends, club patrons, etc. Everyone needs something and everyone has an opinion.
Albert may be a tough person to get to know, but from our limited conversations I find him to be a good guy. He is a hard working man who is passionate about his music and passionate about us, the Salsa community. I truly believe that his dream is genuine: to strengthen the Salsa community, to support the dancers and musicians, and to show the world what Latin music has to offer.
Now, heres Albert. . .
Who is Albert Torres?
A combination of things: I consider myself to be an individual who on the outside can have kind of a hard core look to him but really is an individual that's gentle inside and sensitive to other peoples needs. The hard exterior is one that, from being born and raised in New York City, has helped me survive many things. My childhood was a tough one on the streets, though not due to my parents, and a lot of it I brought on myself - being a Puerto Rican/Newyorican kid raised in New York City and then moved to Puerto Rico. On the inside, Im basically a human being who is sensitive and who has a passion and love for life and music that I want to extend to other individuals. And Im trying to find out, here in Los Angeles where I've been now for 17 years, how I can combine that passion with a tough industry- that of promotion - and at the same time not be eaten up by it. How I can help everyone and at the same time make a living. . . .
What is it exactly that you do in the Salsa community?
"Promoter" has a lot of connotations. . . . My business cards say "Dance Promoter" but I'm trying to get rid of them as fast as possible. Basically, my company is Albert Torres Productions, Inc. Well, I have three companies and one of them is Albert Torres Productions, Inc and that pretty much says it all. What I want to do is productions of Latin music. Basically Latin music, Afro-Cuban music, and all the different categories that come with it. I have eight bands that I represent but six that I'm going to be signing. Three already signed and three more I'll be signing soon - to be their managers, 100% their managers. And there are about 22 dancers that I use off and on in different shows. I try to get them parts, whether it's in movies or in shows, and I'm very much an advocate for Latin dancers in the city. And to see them grow. . . . I've seen in one year the desires of certain people grow so much that now they dance with me in different productions that I put on. Its now to the point where the major studios like Walt Disney or Twentieth Century Fox call me up looking for dancers - whether it's for private parties or for movies. . . . So I'm very satisfied in that area. And now I'm on the board of the L.A. Salsa Kids. That's a non-profit organization and any thing that I were to make from that I would not keep, of course. It would all go back to the L.A. Salsa Kids.
My productions are about bringing a quality of music to the west coast that has not been seen here before, or appreciated, because people weren't educated about the music and didn't have the knowledge. For example, they didn't KNOW about Orquesta Aragon. That band hasnt been here for 36 years and it is the best Charanga band in the world. And we had a chance to see them in Los Angeles - the first time here since 1960. Who is NG la Banda? Los Van Van? Who really is Tito Puente besides a name we see at House of Blues? I want to bring that kind of music and knowledge to Los Angeles.
I have other goals with my work. I started a company called Dance Feelings about 3 ½ years ago. My objective with that was to get across the message that dance is not just the steps, that there's feelings involved. A lot of us have been brought up as children with mixed messages: that you're not going to be able to dance or that you're not a good dancer. I was told, "you look like a monkey on stage" and "stop doing all that stuff and just get down to doing the beat of the music!" A lot of us were made fun of - whether it was our friends or family members or plain jealousy. And Dance Feelings was a workshop for a month at a time where people would come and sit down for the first hour and learn about our feelings. Learn about how many times we allow others to rent space in our heads - for free - and then all our lives we never accomplish our goals. The second hour we got to learn some steps. The third hour we got to express ourselves - to be free to express our feelings through dance and let that little boy or little girl out to show us how they would've done that step.
I havent done too much with Dance Feelings recently. Now, Im doing more workshops, like the men's leading class with William Ochoa for example. It's time for us to do one soon but I've been very busy. I love those workshops.
That's where it all started. Teaching those workshops I realized that not many people know the history of the music to which we dance. The dance is less than 100 years old. "Salsa" comes from the Son and the Mambo. But people don't care enough about the history. My fear is that if our children don't know it, then in another 50 or 100 years no one will have this history which is so beautiful and so much a part of the passion of our music. So one of my desires is to really inform people - whether it's in my private classes with them or when I'm doing a workshop. For example, here at the Boathouse I recently talked about Spain and the Afro Cubans and how slaves were brought over in the 1500's and how all of this history has a lot to do with what goes into dance today when we dance Salsa or mambo or even cha cha .
Basically Albert Torres Productions, Inc is about trying to bring to Los Angeles what I consider to be the best music. Not so much the popular music like Marc Anthony, even though I enjoy Marc Anthony, or the Musica Romantica as they call it, but really that which is the roots of where this popular music came from. And before these great musicians are no longer around, we have to have the opportunity to see them. Los Van Van was around 27 years, never to the West Coast. Never to the United States. And I had the pleasure of being involved in bringing them here. NG la Banda, first time here ever. Orquesta Aragon, first time here in 36 years. Larry Harlow had not done shows in Los Angeles in many, many years and this gentleman was an incredible part of the 70's scene and we got to see him here twice this year. Plus he's coming back in March of next year.
Who do you mean when you say "our music"? Just Latinos?
If you look at the crowds that come to the clubs I promote, maybe half are Latin. The other half is divided into African Americans, Caucasians, Koreans, Italians, Jewish Americans. . . . If it wasn't for the Jewish community, Mambo wouldn't be where it is today. They were the ones that basically saved a lot of the music back in the 50's and 60's at the Palladium in New York City. Many of the people that came to enjoy it were Jewish. Marlon Brando used to go there. Barbara Streisand used to go there. These are some of the many individuals that appreciate this music. Bette Middler and Tony Basil , whom Ive danced with, also appreciate this music. But going back to the history of the music, what a lot of people don't know is that in 1492 when Columbus jumped on those ships and came here from Spain, there was the Spanish Inquisition going on. One of the musicians for the Queen was a Jewish guitarist. She told him that she wasn't going to be able to save his butt and that there was a boat sailing and where ever it was going, if he didn't want to get tortured, he should get on it. He brought the first guitar. A Jewish musician brought the first guitar to Cuba. And from there things grew.
In the 1500's the slaves were brought over and they brought with them their type of dancing. They brought their religion, known as Santeria, and that influence was infused into the music. That's some of the history that I like to share with people.
I have footage of Tito Rodriguez dancing at the Palladium in 1961 and he did a break dance in the middle of the footage. The break dance is not from African Americans - it's from Africa. And through Afro-Cuban music in the 60's there were steps that he was doing which we later came to call break dancing in the 80's!
So this music is a collage of all types of nationalities. That's why if you look at my clubs I believe they're very diverse - a rainbow of nationalities and colors. That's the way I want it to be. This music is color blind. This music is for ALL nationalities. It's for everybody. So when I say "bring the history of the music to us," I mean all individuals that love this music such that for some reason when they hear the sound, even if they don't understand the words, it moves them. And look at you, you're definitely not Latin and I see how you've grown in your dancing. And it's incredible to watch.
Look at Vanessa Williams from the upcoming movie "Dance With Me." I have to say that when I first got to the set I wanted to see how she danced. Here is an African American lady with a lot of dance training but this music is such that you can have dance training and still not be able to dance it. I teach people with a lot of ballet training, people who can do incredible stuff that I can never imagine myself doing, or a jazz background with incredible steps that I can never do, but when it comes to the passion or movement of Salsa, they can't quite get it. They're too structured in a certain way. Well, Vanessa got it. Vanessa was incredible to dance with. And she has the passion and love for it.
How did you get to this point, career-wise?
I've been in Los Angeles for 17 years. My first years here, I did a lot of different types of jobs. What brought me here was a girl I met in Puerto Rico. She said the west coast was beautiful and to come out. I did but after a couple of weeks we realized that it wasn't going to work with us. She had been on vacation in Puerto Rico and I kind of followed her here and it just didn't work out. But it got me to the West Coast, to San Francisco. And after about a year and a half in the beautiful city of San Francisco, which was great, I got an opportunity to come to Los Angeles. I came down here and I loved the weather - didn't like the people so much at that point but I loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. And it has become home. Thick or thin, this is where I'm going to stay.
And it's been now 17 years and I started out . . . well, when I got here I didn't have the most ethical profession - I was involved in drugs. And I danced. I did a lot of the hustle dances. I had little regular jobs during the week but it was really a cover up for the other stuff I was doing. Come December 14th, I'll be 12 years clean and sober. In 1985 I made a really big change in my life with the help of some people and the recognition that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I got myself in a situation where I recognized that I needed to get help and at that point I had to make a decision: do I keep doing what I'm doing or do I let go of all the money I had and everything material and go to twelve-step meetings? And I really surrendered and left a lot of material things behind and started up with the twelve-step meetings. And thank God for that because I have a life today. I've lost countless friends in the past twelve years who did not make that same decision, who did not get clean and sober, and that's a lot of funerals to attend.
After I got clean and sober I went to UCLA and took an extension course, something that I never imagined I'd be able to do. But I went and I graduated very high in my class. At the same time I was working in a hospital.
But the disease of addiction is one that you have to be very careful about. You can find yourself switching seats on the Titanic - but it's still a sinking ship. I was not an addict any more, in terms of using chemicals, but because I was unhappy with certain things in my life. . . . See, everything on the outside was great but I've learned that when things go well in my life I tend to sabotage them. And I'm now much more aware of that. That little boy inside of me doesn't think he deserves the good stuff. So what ended up happening is that I sabotaged it. I got into gambling as heavy as I had been into drugs. I switched addictions. And for three years I was in denial of it - D.E.N.I.A.L. , as in Don't Even Notice I Am Lying. And I was lying to myself. I had a really great position at a hospital and I made a lot of money. I had the car, the house on the beach. . . . Everything on the outside looked great, but inside I was destroyed. Inside I was not happy. And I had some fabulous people around me. I had an ex-wife who's a great lady but it just wasn't the right time or the right place. It wasn't about them. Every time I try to point the finger at someone, there's three fingers pointing back at me. I had to look at what was wrong with Albert.
And I have to be honest: in the last three years there's been times that things have been going well and my head wants to sabotage it. The difference now is that I've learned from my experiences and I won't allow it to happen because I am responsible for that and all I can do is now keep myself in check every time that happens. And I have great people around me that allow me to see that: Laura Canellias, William Ochoa, Alicia and Raul Gomez, Johnny Polanco, my brother Michael, and my daughter Torrie. . . . Without them I wouldn't be here today. I'm not talking about financial help. Im talking about an incredible emotional and moral support from people that just believe in me. And you can't buy that.
I just celebrated on September 20th three years in Gamblers Anonymous. Now I'm sober and I'm not gambling. And I go on a cruise ship every year that has casinos and I go to Vegas and perform with Johnny Polanco and I have not had the desire to gamble. I share my past to be honest with you and to let anyone that has been or is involved in similar situations know that there is hope. If I can help, please do not hesitate to call me.
But back when I had to make the decision to truly get on track, I realized that this may be the opportunity in my life to do something as a profession that I really want to do. I knew I wanted to continue dancing because I was a hustle dancer before - though I couldn't do the hustle now if you paid me - I always knew that dance was in my heart. I have always disliked what I saw in the dance scene. I didn't like the promoters or their reputation. It all seemed sleazy. I didn't like the way people were treated.
I would go into a beautiful club and I would realize that I could run this club. I could provide this beautiful location that the dancers can come to and really let go. It's been really hard to get over certain boundaries and get people to respect me given my colorful personal history. My number one thing is that I just want to be respected. I just want to be appreciated for who I am and what I do in my career. But today, after three or so years, I can walk into just about any place and my name is known with respect. And the dance crowd that follows us is respected. I'm fulfilling my dream of being able to dance, of being able to promote, of helping to build a strong dance community, and of seeing children (our future) like the L.A. Salsa Kids learn to dance instead of doing drugs and alcohol. And to help us, we have people like Joe Cassini, Tomas, Enio and Terryl, Laura Canellias, William Ochoa, and we have the whole Vazquez family with Joby. . . . We've got some incredible people in our community. What I wanted to establish several years ago, through these people, was that we all get together and produce a family-type atmosphere that's all part of Albert Torres Productions, Inc. Some have even established their own production companies. But we get to network with each other.
And we need all these different people in our Salsa community. None of us knows all the answers or knows all the correct steps. I certainly don't want anyone to be a clone of me. One of the sayings that I love to quote is that we're all born unique but unfortunately most of us die copies. I don't want anyone to end up a copy of Albert or Laura or Joe Cassini. Everyone has their own uniqueness and now its time to let that little boy or girl out and let it be known what that uniqueness is. The steps are the same but what you can add to it is all your own flair. That's the beauty of this dance that I love.
What is the one thing that you want the people who come to your clubs to understand?
I would really appreciate if people would realize that I'm not doing this for the money. I do need to make a living but people who are really close to me know that I live humbly. About a month ago I was starting to live month-to-month but now I'm back at week-to-week. And the last couple of weeks have been tough. Id like people to realize that the money they pay at the door really goes straight to those musicians. And Id like people to appreciate that there's nothing like live music. We can all listen at home to CD's but there's nothing like the marriage that happens between the dancer and the live music. What Im trying to do is bring back that era of the Palladium. I wasn't there but I look at footage of it and I look in the eyes of the people that are 60 and 70 years old now and how they sparkle when they talk about that era. I see how my mothers eyes sparkle and how she smiles when she thinks back on that time. She used to borrow her sister's dresses, use fake ID's, sneak in through back doors, pay off whomever, just to dance at the Palladium. . . .
Id also like for the musicians in this town to understand that when other musicians are performing, they need to support each other by paying the cover. Every musician thinks that because they're in the field they should get in for free. Well, when they work I pay them, and when these other musicians are working I need to pay THEM. All I'm asking for is support.
As for the dancers, I know they go out a lot so I try to work out deals for them. What frustrates me is that there are clubs in town - and nothing against them - that offer the dancers certain little things here and there to get them in the door, but they're not in the greatest neighborhoods. I get offered clubs every single day that are in bad neighborhoods but the first thing I look at when I'm considering a club is: would my sister or my mother be able to come here by herself? And it's a little difficult to get clubs of nice stature, that have a beautiful dance floor, that have an incredible sound system, and where the dancers can REALLY show off. Since Hollywood is right here, my desire is that the powers-that-be in Hollywood will come and listen to our bands and watch our dancers. But those people are not going to come to a club in a bad neighborhood to watch the dancers no matter how fabulous they are. Many of those dancers are working in "Dance With Me" and it's because we did have Sportsmen's Lodge and Hollywood Athletic Club. Randa Hanes came to Sportsmen's. Vanessa Williams came there and she came to Hollywood Athletic Club. But some are cautious about going to certain neighborhoods. Nothing against the other clubs which do what they need to do to survive - nothing against them - but I need, for myself, in my heart, to be able to say that I would LOVE to dance here, I feel comfortable coming here, and ladies can come by themselves and feel safe. Dancers should support that effort.
Unfortunately, Hollywood Athletic Club had to shut down our Salsa night recently. I make money on certain clubs, but THERE I was just trying to break even. If I could break even every Sunday night, that's all I was interested in. But I was losing money every week. It was just such a beautiful place and I didnt want to lose it. Closing the Hollywood Athletic Club was a very tough decision for me. But unfortunately, the people that I wanted that club for were not there so I needed to move on.
My frustration is getting people to understand that I don't want anything from them. If anything, all I'm trying to do is give them a place where they can enjoy dancing - and maybe get discovered because there's so much incredible talent here in Los Angeles. I've worked hard enough that I want to be the agent for dancers. I want to be able to fight for them and help them and prevent them from being exploited. I want to form a Latin/Salsa union of dancers and musicians. I serve as an agent for the L.A. Salsa Kids. Of course I dont make any money from that; all the money goes back to the kids. But I would like to be an agent for dancers. I want them to make money and I get a percentage for my efforts on their behalf. And I'll work my butt off. As it is I work very hard. I sleep maybe four or five hours a night. I've been known to toss and turn all night, making plans and then jumping up to use the computer at five in the morning making a new flyer and bringing a new idea to life. . . .
What do you do to get more people into the clubs?
Well, for example, people can call me and reserve a table. And if someone's having a birthday, I put balloons on their table. For ten or twelve dollars, their friends get to take a dance class, get to celebrate their birthday, and get to hear a live band. Thats a good deal. They can even bring their own cake. I've had long discussions with owners to get them to allow us to bring in our own birthday cakes. Most clubs want to sell you the cake. And then they want to cut the cake and make a dollar off of each slice. I've had to stand up, you know, and say, NO, my clients are coming in and theyre going to consume alcohol so let them bring their own cake.
It's a daily battle that I have - on both sides. On one side I'm fighting for the dancers and the public. On the other side, Im fighting against the image that those same people have of me as a money-hungry promoter.
Another thing, the clubs I promote are safe and enjoyable places. I have these great guys that work the door for me (Fernando, Jose Luis, Juan Manuel) and in the past five years we havent had a fight at our clubs or any problem like that. It's always a place you can feel safe coming to and you don't have to worry. We've had people forget a jacket and the next week the jacket is there for them. That doesn't happen everywhere.
Why dont I see you at the door yourself?
I don't want to look like the sleazy promoter. Plus Id rather be inside dancing or having conversations with people. And to be completely honest, when I'm at the door, people ask me if they can come in for free. My guy at the door always pushes me out of the way. He knows that the bottom line is that at the end of the night we have to have enough to pay the band. He's seen me take out my checkbook and pay from my own personal funds because we didn't make enough at the door to pay the band. And thank God for bands like Johnny Polanco and Costazul. Those are the two bands that would work almost for free for me at the beginning when we couldn't make ends meet. They were there. And as we ended up making it work out later down the line I paid them back for that. They were the ones that stuck with me. Johnny Polanco, Freddy and Johnny Crespo, and also Super DJ Robby, they believed in me and I will never forget that.
Is it a such big problem: people trying to get in free?
People asking me to get in free IS a problem and sometimes they're even my FRIENDS! I don't go to THEIR jobs and ask for anything for free. I just went to the RMM festival at the Hollywood Bowl. I bought my ticket two months ago so that I'd have a nice booth. People said, "oh you had a great booth!" And I thought, "yeah because I bought it two months ago and paid $280 dollars for it!" I bought four tickets and I didn't ask RMM to give them to me for free. I said, "I'd like a good seat. How much to I owe you? Here's the check." And I knew that at an event where 10,000 people are going to show, I can't wait till the last minute to get my seats. So that's why I try to give people a discount by selling the tickets in advance. But still people wait until the last day and then demand the discounted price - sometimes even just an hour before the show. And I can't do that anymore! I wont!
The cover charge is not $10 that I'm going to put into my pocket - I wish! I still live in a very small apartment. I live a humble life. I must admit that I love jewelry and I do have some nice rings. But I rarely wear them anymore because I don't want to be perceived as someone who has made all kinds of money off this or that club or be perceived as this pimp-looking guy. I'm not trying to sound silly, like oh poor me, like I'm the nicest guy in the world, but I do just want to do what's best for the dancers and I have to make living too. People are so judgmental.
Not too long ago I ASKED the dancers what they wanted or needed in a club. Thats one thing that's different about me is that I go and ask people what it is that they want. And they told me that it's too expensive to pay $10 each time they go out. But if they would only realize how expensive live music is or what it takes to pay for Super DJ Robby and all the other things that go into a club: the door guys, the rent, promotions, etc.
What I did to address their needs was I announced that I'll give out this discount card to dancers. Unless it's a special event, they can come in for only $6 with the card. That's unheard of in this city. So I'm giving them quality bands and it's $6. I tested it for one month. I printed 500 cards. I said, put it on the SalsaWeb page and people can come and ask me for a card. Very little response. So I decided to extend it another month. But of the people I gave it to, they're not using it! I canceled that idea. The frustrating thing is that I don't know what the heck more to do to get the dancers in. . . .
Tell me about your new venture: The Club Downtown (1998)
With the Club Downtown I'm going another route from the clubs I have promoted up to now. Its something that I kind of didn't want to do - but something I had to do to pay the bills - which is to go the commercial route. Up to now what I've done is only look for clubs that have an incredible dance floor, have a great ambiance that the dancers would love, and have that old Palladium feel. And I wanted to stay away from the "Mayan" or "Grand Avenue" type of club because thats already out there for people. But the bottom line is that in pursuing my dream club I can't pay the bills. And so here I have the opportunity to connect with one other promoter whom I trust, which is difficult to find in this field, Jerry Najera. He was number one down in the Orange County area. He did Orchids and a couple other clubs there. Hed been looking for a place for a couple of years and didn't want to just jump into any place and the opportunity arose for this place that used to be Prince's club the Glam Slam. He didn't believe he could do it by himself. I didn't believe I could do it by myself. It's a lot of space. So what we did was combine forces and it's been a great amount of work. He's put a lot of sound equipment and a lot of money into it. I've put a lot of money into it and we hope that people will really enjoy it. In my heart of hearts it's not the club that I truly want but it's the kind of club that can bring in a lot of people.
Just today something interesting happened. When I brought Aragon and Los Van Van to Los Angeles I basically had to beg the media to come. I'd call them every day, almost get on my knees and beg the media to come and interview these musicians about what they mean to our music. Some of them eventually did, some did not. I did not send out media notices or press releases on our new Club Downtown but today I received calls from a T.V. station and then a newspaper and then another newspaper. Now all of a sudden the media wants to come and take footage and I'm excited about that. Maybe it's because Ive built my name up enough so that NOW they want to come or maybe it's that this type of club is what sells.
The bottom line is that things are starting to work and it'll pay the bills. Then I can go back and try again to open one of my little dream clubs and hopefully not lose too much money in the process.
With the Club Downtown, we've put up an incredible sound system and lights. Weve worked really hard. For the opening night we had over 500 reservations. We serve appetizers in the restaurant. People can take dance classes. Theres lots of room to dance. And theres a separate room for house music. We wont be interrupting the Salsa music on the main floor with a set of house music.
Now that the club is open, it's still a work in progress. People complained that the dance floor was sticky, so we fixed that. We've lowered the music a bit. We've made adjustments to the lighting. When we opened up we weren't 100% there yet but we wanted to open to the public.
My part of this partnership is more on the Salsa side, more about the Salsa dancers and being able to show them off. My desire is to have the numbers to support that. My partner, on the other hand, is more into English music, house, and rock en espanol. His numbers are starting to increase. And if they increase to the point that they're over the Salsa numbers then things might shift towards that at the Club Downtown. So I need to put it out there for the Salsa dancers who love dancing in large spacious quarters with balcony viewing that they need to come and support the club!
What will happen to the Sportsmens Lodge people?
I haven't forgotten those people! I'm doing everything I can to find a place for them. I'm getting a lot of calls asking me: How could you do this to us? How could you abandon us?!
I am working on it. I'm looking at a place to open for them maybe on Thursday nights in the Valley but that's down the line.
But also, there's a third room at the Downtown being fixed up right now that looks almost like the Sportsmen's Lodge. The Sportsmen's crowd is used to a quieter space with more lighting. This room has chandeliers and everything they would like. In about another month it should be finished. My idea is to have the two rooms that we already have and then to bring in the Sportsmen's crowd by having a third room, supplying a small band, and getting about 250 to 300 people in there.
What about the Descarga that you would have had at Sportsmens Lodge?
If I do it anywhere, I think Ill do it at the future Thursday night club. It has a better ambiance for that. The place I have in mind holds about 250 to 300 people and has a nice stage - kind of like a small Sportsmen's Lodge. And that would be a good location for a Descarga. The Club Downtown just would not be conducive to a Descarga event at this time - unless we do it in the new room. People just want to go there to dance and to stop the dancing in the middle of the evening would be disruptive to certain people. I have received comments about that at Sportsmen's Lodge. People told me that while they like the Descarga, they come to dance and not watch a show - even a short one. So I would say, well if you know there's a Descarga once every four months maybe that's the night not to come. I do get a lot of people who come out for the Descarga and who enjoy it a lot. I think we've exposed some incredible talent at the Descarga events and have given people the opportunity to perform - people who never thought they would be able to do something like that. I definitely want to do one again but I have to find the right place and I don't know if the Club Downtown will be the right place. Im presently in conversations with Sportsmens Lodge about Salsa events next year, but they want to first see what kind of turnout we get on New Years Eve.
Will you be doing a competition at the Club Downtown?
Id like to but I would want to do it differently than the Mayan competition. I would want to make it really fair, not that the Mayan is NOT fair, but I mean fair in the sense of really dividing it up into categories similar to the one I did at Sportsmen's Lodge. There I divided the contest into three categories: amateurs, professionals, and cabaret. So if you want to do a lift - I mean a dip I don't mind - but if you want to do lifts and put her over your shoulders or any type of acrobatic stuff, I have no problem with that but now you're going to be in a cabaret division competing with other people doing the same thing. People really praised me for doing the contest that way. The only thing was that only one couple or two couples went into the cabaret division. All the ones doing lifts decided not to show up. It was a very easy decision as to who won. I dont really know why people didnt show up. Some people were really burnt out on competitions, some didn't really know how I was going to run it, some didn't BELIEVE that I was going to run it the way I said I would and afterwards they said, "oh if I had known it was going to be THIS way. . . ." And people didnt believe that the money was really there because there's so many competitions that people get into and then they don't get paid at the end or they're misled as to what exactly is the grand prize. I made it very clear that the grand prize is $1000 for first place, $500 for second and so on. We put out over $6000 worth of prizes and different incentives to participate. I think people questioned it, but we did it. I thought, and have been told, that if we did it again we'd have maybe triple the amount of people because now people know the way Im going to do it.
Why was the turnout for the Hollywood Athletic Club contest so small?
We didnt have enough people who wanted to compete as professionals. And no one wanted to be the only couple. There should be at least three. What surprised me was that none of the dancers that have worked in movies, dancers that I've gotten opportunities for in movies, showed up for it. They didnt come and support the club. And many of them were the ones that suggested that I do that contest in the first place.
I was surprised because I was giving away $100 . I guess that didn't work to get people there! I'm trying to figure out what will work to bring in the dancers. Because the dancers do attract people. Now I wish I could let them all in for free but then it's who qualifies as a dancer and who doesn't - I have to be equal to them, you know, and sometimes its a hard thing. . . .
What is it that youd like people to understand about dance competitions?
When Im judging I look to see who is having fun. I look at who is enjoying the experience versus who is stressed and unhappy. I can see who is having a strained relationship at home by their expressions when they're dancing. And I look at the form, the legs, the line, who is working with the music, who is on beat. . . .
My advice is: Do what you're good at! Don't try to imitate someone elses style. And work with the music you chose. Pick a beat and stay on it - preferably the 1 or the 2, but the 3 or 4 is fine as long as you are consistent. And I recommend that you don't date your dance partner because it works better when it's a professional relationship.
Who do you love to watch dance?
I love dancing with my mother Louise. She is so smooth. Of course I enjoy dancing with my partner Laura Canellias.
I love to watch Alicia and Raul Gomez. They remind me of what dancing is all about. You can see their love for the music, and for each other, on their faces. You know she had a heart attack a few years ago and she still loves to dance so much. They are wonderful.
I enjoy watching Laura Canellias. And Kim Blank, who was the choreographer for Out to Sea and assistant choreographer for The Mambo Kings. And Joe Cassini is simply the master. . . .
I like to see William Ochoa dance with his very masculine style. I think that Francisco and Luis are great. They have great footwork. They are phenomenal talents. Joe Cassini said they should continue to hone their skills and broaden them.
I like to watch Johnny Vazquez. He's gotten so good in a short amount of time! He and Ramon are great. And of course, Monica and Joby are wonderful dancers, as is Janette Valenzuela and Josie Neglia. Harry Bowens has his unique style. Tomas is great with his Casino Rueda. Chantal and Edie, The Salsa FREAK have also worked hard in their dancing and it shows. One common denominator among all the people I mentioned is that when you see them dancing you also see them having fun.
Who are you biggest supporters?
Alicia and Raul Gomez have done so much for me and for the Salsa community. They are truly giving people. Alicia is a patron of Roosevelt High school. All the money donated at her birthday party, for example, she gave to their music department. And shes a patron of Baile de los Ninos. They both give me much emotional and moral support. If I dont call regularly, Alicia calls me to ask, "Why haven't you called! We worry about you!"
I believe that they are the ideal Salsa couple. People should realize what an great asset they are to our dance community and appreciate them.
Is there anything you want to add to what youve said in this interview?
Yes. There's a part of me that had always been looking for a daughter that I had from a one night stand many years back. When I got clean and sober I started looking for her. And this year we found each other. I was able to go to her high school graduation in Ohio. She came here when I put together an event call the Dia de San Juan Festival. And we communicate every week. She's coming for Christmas. She's now at Ohio State University. And I'm really, really proud of her.
This is something else that has changed my view in life, my direction, and I'm really happy about it.
I also would like to thank my sister Debbie, who lives in Puerto Rico, for her unconditional love back in my teenage days when I would stay out all night dancing and then come home and wake her up to open the door for me. And shed be there shaking her head at me. . . .
And let me take this chance to thank Amalia for her tremendous help with Baile de los Ninos.
Should people who read this article on the SalsaWeb come up and introduce themselves to you?
Sure! Please come say hello! And feel free to ask me to dance.
The only thing to keep in mind is that there is so little time that I get to spend with my girlfriend, so if it's a night when I'm with her, please understand that I'm trying to spend that time with her and I'm not able to dance with other people. That's her time. But there are many nights when she doesn't come out and I'd be happy to dance with people who want to learn. Tuesday nights at St. Mark's is a good example. So feel free to approach me and introduce yourself. And let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who comes to my clubs and everyone who is helping to build a strong Salsa community here in Los Angeles! Thank you Eva and all the hardworking volunteers of SalsaWeb for your dedication and desire to spread the news. Remember to follow your heart and pursue your dream. I look forward to meeting more of you as I pursue mine. See you on the dance floor!