The self-described blind, bald and bearded RJ Ujadughele (37), was born and raised in Southern California… that is, apart from the six years, he attended Jr. high and high school in Nigeria. Dancing is a pretty big part of his culture, so he believes that he developed an affinity for learning dance in part, as a result of his background.
However, he confessed that his formal dance journey began with a frustrating night out in New York City. Disclosing, “I went to New York City in 2010 and a friend invited me to a bachata club. I had no idea what ‘bachata’ was, thinking that it was the rice drink that I get at the taco truck. She explained that it was Latin dancing, and I thought it would be easy to fake it because (I was under the false impression that) I could fake salsa dancing and the untrained eye couldn’t tell the difference. So this bachata thing would be a breeze. Boy was I wrong. We got there and everyone was having a great time doing all the sexy moves and I couldn’t keep up. I spent the rest of the night in the corner, watching enviously. I decided the moment I got back to So. Cal. that I was gonna sign up to learn it.” Fondly recalling, “Fast forward eight years later, and my roommate told me about ATOMIC, and I remembered my failed promise to myself. So I signed up!”
RJ dedicated himself to taking regular classes, practicing at dance socials, and was even a part of The Melomanos Dance Team directed by Pepe Gonzales. During his time on the team, they were part of a major performance at a local dance festival and also performed at ATOMIC. RJ says that it helped him meet new people, who he’s still friends with to this day. It also helped him learn new moves that he’s still able to draw from presently. While he’s currently focused on salsa and bachata dance, he might like to try kizomba and semba dance at some point.
RJ has a special place in his heart for ATOMIC since it is where he first started. So it always feels like home whenever he stops by. Now officially a “Bachatero”, as Bachata aficionados are often affectionately titled, RJ now goes out dancing at least two nights per week, and up to five nights on occasion. Having spent so much time in this highly social environment, it is no wonder why dancers form lasting, deep bonds outside of the ballroom as well. From new best friends to romantic partners, it seems like most everyone finds someone on the dance floor, quite literally and organically! On this RJ elaborates, “The dance scene is A LOT smaller than it seems. You see the same people quite often. And with the intimacy of partner dancing, romantic connections are very possible.”
In addition to learning a new skill and increased confidence in an area that was completely unfamiliar not long ago, RJ describes other benefits gained from dance such as the tremendous health benefits. Elaborating, “Cardiovascular health for sure. I don’t think I could have danced as much as I do now back when I first started.” The numerous health rewards reaped from dancing are beneficial and life-changing at any age. Increased stamina, cardiovascular conditioning, and cognitive function, just to name a few, improve the lives of children, young adults and seniors alike. So to those who mistakenly think that going out dancing is only for young people, RJ responds, “There are people of all age ranges and skill levels in the salsa dance scene. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
And in response to anyone who actually believes that dance is not a “manly” thing to do, RJ claps back, “Latin dance isn’t just body rolls and fancy hand flourishes. Being a good leader, knowing how to control your follow, as well as knowing when to give up control for them to be free to express themselves as well, is quite definitely manly.”
Speaking of leads and follows, one dance etiquette rule that RJ (along with countless other dancers) find to be important is the crucial balance and connection between the lead and follow. Revealing “As a leader, it is very, very, VERY important that you gauge your follow’s skill and comfort level and adjust accordingly. Especially at a social. The follow is the barometer for how good the dance is. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if the follow feels overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the moves, it’s a bad dance, period. Follows make no mistakes. The onus is all on the lead.” This is a common concept that dancers of all levels will encounter and have to navigate at some point along their individual dance journey.”
He like many, initially learn about the nuances of the lead/follow dynamic the hard way; At first stepping on one other, falling out of sync with each other, lacking the proper body contact and cues, and so on. Many of these common issues, while common for beginners, can lead to embarrassing moments on the dance floor. RJ unabashedly admits to his most embarrassing moment. Revealing, “I’ve elbowed enough people in the face to warrant increasing my insurance coverage!” Always poised to make others laugh, RJ also has a serious, intellectual side, all of which are expressed through dance.
Much like life, dance is a continual journey marked by peaks, valleys and a series of lessons, moments and so much more. RJ, the energetic, funny man who set out to keep a promise to himself, now inspires others with his own growth and determination. One of his favorite quotes that also serves as s a great life lesson for anyone is, “It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.”
WOULD YOU HAVE GUESSED? :
* Something people would be surprised to learn about you? “I’m a huge ‘Golden Girls’ fan.”
* Hobbies: Poker, snowboarding and learning Spanish.
* Guilty pleasure: “Cookies. Don’t even get me started”…
* Favorites sports team: “#Go49ers!”
* Desired superpower? “I wish I could see into the future. There is a lot of grief and embarrassment I could avoid by knowing the outcome of my actions BEFORE I actually do them.”