How it all began - Heaven and Hell
I was first exposed to music and dance from the very early age of 1 yrs old. Being the son of an avid churchgoer, (my mother) and reggae promoter (my father), who was also an atheist, meant that I had no escape from music and dance, singing and expression.
In fact it was like living in both heaven and hell at the same time. I remember being dragged to church at least 5 days a week with my mother singing and rejoicing till the wee hours of the morning. I really enjoyed the way the church music, worship and dance all went together and the way in which it made you want more.
On the flip side, my dad was a entrepreneur and promoter of the big reggae bands; so there was always reggae music and people around the house. I equally enjoyed the dancing and the deep sounds of the African drums and the rumbling bass line.
I remember going to my first gig with my dad at 9yrs old, sitting behind the stage and watching the entire goings on…quite the contrast to my church experience by far. I really think this background had a direct impact on what I do today.
I was always involved with some sort of movement community, so whether it was doing athletics at county level, playing county table tennis, professional basketball or cotton club jazz dancing, I was moving and grooving from a very young age.
I spent 5 years at university studying a HND in Management followed by a Degree in Politics. Very soon after completing the courses, I was head hunted and worked for development organisations such as VSO, Choice International Programmes, and the UN. It was whilst I was working in Puerto Rico setting up a development programme that I had my first encounter with the dance that seduced me with its rhythms, hypnotised me with it’s it breaks and of course the deep rooted African drums.
It was by total accident that I came across salsa. It all began one evening when I asked a taxi driver to take me to a jazz club where I could dance. I guess he took me to the nearest thing which turned out to be a salsa club. The music sounded familiar to my latin jazz dancing days but slightly different as people were dancing together.
The music was playing and I began to do my solo jazz steps. It was at that point that a dark haired latin beauty approached me and asked for a dance. Well, who was I to turn her down. Little did I know that she wanted a salsa dance! No matter how much I tried, I could not combine my feet with my hands! I made a right mess up of it as a direct result, she walked off…needless to say, I was embarrassed. With that embarrassment in mind I decided to make sure that this would never happen to me again.
I made it my duty to find out more about the dance they called SALSA by attending a few classes in San Juan. The bold sounds of the brass sections, the harmonic voices, the laughter, the fun…yes, yes yes, I wanted more more more!
I soon left Puerto Rico for Washington DC where my family resided, only to find there was a thriving scene for salsa right there. It was then that I really put my feet down to learn the beginners steps. From the LA style, to New York, Pachanga and Boogaloo; it was all there in every shape and size.
I found a very popular club called ‘HAVANA VILLAGE’ in Dupoint Circle where the club was run by latinos. My first teacher was Leon Harris. I went religiously for months and fell in love with the culture of the dance as well as the dance itself.
A few months passed and I took a trip to England for a short visit, only to find there was also a thriving scene there too. I was an improver at this stage and was ready to see what these new shores had to offer. I immediately travelled to classes both near and far to get my fix and was influenced by names such as Maverick Logan, Robert Charlemagne, Leon Rose, and Nelson Batista.
It was whilst attending class at a long time friends club (Maveric) that I had my very first taste of teaching salsa. I had only been dancing for five months when Maverick asked me to be teachers support for the beginners. I was very reluctant but very chuffed at the same time. I guess I thought it could be an interesting way of learning, so I went with it.
Did I say that I was also getting paid to do it…….wow that was amazing!
It was not too long after this, that I attended a salsa event at the themed park called ‘Pontins’. It was whilst doing a warm up that the world famous Kerry Ribchester randomly asked me to partner her for class. I still wasn’t that confident about what I was doing but knew the basic steps. She proceeded to ask me to partner her with a number of her other lessons. Since then we forged a good working relationship; this was my second encounter with the Cuban style. Since then we have worked on Cuba holidays, international salsa congresses, learning programmes, documentaries and movies together. As for the Pontins events; I became director of the salsa events for 10 years and enjoyed every moment of it.
10 years on and I still have goose bumps when she shakes her African hips (the bass line) and tingles down my spine when I see her long dark Spanish hair sway in the wind (the Spanish guitar). I know I’m alive, when we lay down together at night, I place my head on her chest and I feel and hear her heartbeat. (the African drums).
Yes, that ever faithful lady I call salsa is a blend of rhythms, the African drum and the Spanish guitar. I still dream of her and of the fun places we have been, the fun people we have met and of the adventures still to come. I think of it as a lifetime romance…a story about two people who eat, breathe and sleep each other. It was love at first sight and now death till they party.