When Pepe Gonzalez started dancing six years ago he never dreamed that it would lead to a career as a dancer and teacher. At the time he was working in the corporate world and had no reason to assume his career would change. But a chance dinner out with coworkers on what turned out to the restaurant’s salsa night proved pivotal.
“I learned to dance for a girl,” he said, laughing, “but it’s not what you think. I asked a girl to dance, and after about 30 seconds she walked off the dance floor and left me standing there.” He had picked up the basic step easily enough but never expected someone to be so rude his first time out. He vowed then and there that he was going to learn to dance so he could one day find her on the dance floor and show her what he learned.
That’s not what drew him – or kept him –dancing salsa. It was because salsa is a dance that is passionate and emotional and he loved the music. He began studying with Rudy Zalez, who participated in films like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Dance with Me, and Along Came Polly. He dove headfirst into salsa, devoting himself to the dance completely. He auditions for the Alma y Sabor Dance Company and his natural talent had AYS extend an immediate invitation for him to join. He started participating in salsa congresses and continued to grow and develop as a performer. He took lessons from several of salsa’s top professionals, including Fernando Sosa (Tropical gem), Alex Chin (Salsa Champions), and Al Espinoza (Liquid Silver Productions). Around that time he also met Jerry Jordan at the ATOMIC Ballroom, who also recognized his natural dance ability. He trained as a swing dancer and joined the ATOMIC dance team. In 2007 he was invited to be the salsa teacher at ATOMIC and he’s been inspiring students here ever since.
Pepe teaches salsa, cumbia, merengue, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and bachata in group classes and private instruction. He also began dancing quebradita, a form of dance that fuses a 1-2 rhythm of the meringue with wild aerials and acrobatics. A few months ago Pepe competed in his first competition aboard the Queen Mary and placed third in the Solo Male division. With his new dance partner, Angel, Pepe is working hard to become a real competitor on the salsa circuit in addition to his teaching duties.
If you’re a new dancer to salsa Pepe recommends that you visit the salsa clubs and dances to get a feel for the heart and soul of salsa. “Watch the dancers, watch their steps, and listen to the music,” he said. Then, if you find that salsa is a dance that you can be equally passionate about, come see Pepe here at ATOMIC and register for either group or private sessions. The necessary footwear for salsa is a little different from other types of social dancing. Because so much of salsa is done on your toes, Pepe recommends that men and women both get the proper shoes for the dance, it’s easier to dance in heels for both men and women.
Pepe’s enthusiasm for dance is contagious, and he’s even convinced this die-hard swing dancer to give the Latin dances another try. It’s hard not to spend even a few minutes in his presence and not get excited about salsa dancing, too. “Salsa is all your emotions, all your passion, everything you feel, expressed in dance,” he said.
But don’t take my word for it – check out a performance that Pepe and Angel gave at Strutters’ Ball.