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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Dance Scene
Salsa craze brings opportunity to learn

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Cuban dance and salsa workshops

With instructors Ramon Ramos-Alayo and Rosie Lopez

Workshops in salsa, freestyle, rueda de casino, Afro-Cuban, mambo, son, and chachacha

Sunday-Thursday; class times vary

University of Hawai'i-Manoa Dance Studio No. 2, Athletic Complex; Aloha Activity Center, 725 Kapi'olani Blvd.

$15-$20 (discounts available)


Salsa is Spanish for a sauce or a gravy.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the up-tempo dance style largely recognized as Cuban is really derived from a wealth of ingredients taken from other Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances. African, Spanish and even the country dances of France and England are said to have influenced salsa, which swept through Cuban dance halls in the 1940s before gaining even more popularity in Puerto Rican and Cuban enclaves in New York and

Miami in the following decades.

Salsa — along with its related medium-tempo cousin "chachacha" and parent "son" dance style — is, by far, the most popular lesson requested by students of professional dancer and Cuban dance instructor Ramon Ramos-Alayo's private classes in San Francisco. Educated and trained in a myriad of Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dance styles while a youth in Cuba, Ramos-Alayo will host a series of Cuban dance and salsa workshops in Honolulu next week for beginning, intermediate and advanced dance students. Some classes will also be led by Cuban-raised Honolulu resident Rosie Lopez, who danced at Havana's famed Tropicana club for more than a decade and is skilled in a range of international styles.

"Let's see, I'll be doing workshops in salsa, chachacha, mambo, son and Afro-Cuban dance," said Ramos-Alayo, slowly ticking off his dance card via telephone from his Oakland, Calif., home. This was followed by a warning, of sorts, to his potential Hawai'i students.

"People who come to my first class usually think I'm very strict," he said. Truth. "They also think I'm frustrated." He never is. "The truth is, I'm actually having fun in the classes and am probably more relaxed there than at any other time." Blame the misunderstanding on his intense concentration on getting things right.

Ramos-Alayo referenced his serious approach toward instruction to seven years of intensive training in a Cuban-government-sponsored school for theater and dance arts. He was accepted after auditioning at age 11.

"We learned dances from Cuba, Mexico, Columbia, many countries," said Ramos-Alayo. "This was a school that was teaching us to dance as a profession, so they were very serious. They made us do it and do it again until we got it right." Failure in just one of his classes — which also included math, history, science and a large dose of Cuban culture — meant a one-way ticket back to the government's regular public school system.

In 1993, Ramos-Alayo moved on to Havana's Escuela Nacional de Arte, where he earned a degree in contemporary dance and education before joining Cuba's respected Narciso Medina Contemporary Dance Group as its principal male dancer, and a dance instructor for the group's many workshops and classes. On one of the troupe's frequent international tours — this one, through Los Angeles and San Francisco — Ramos-Alayo fell in love, and eventually decided to move to the United States to live and teach.

"There's just more opportunity for work in dance here than I would have had in Cuba," said Ramos-Alayo. "And I had a daughter and got married."

In addition to instructing private adult classes at Dance Mission Theatre-San Francisco, Ramos-Alayo dances full time with modern dance company Robert Moses' Kin and several other local contemporary dance troupes.

"I also have a grant from the California Arts Council to teach kids in the schools about all the different styles of Cuban dance," Ramos-Alayo said of his most satisfying teaching role of late, which also allows for sharing his knowledge of Cuban culture with youngsters.

Ramos-Alayo's Hawai'i dance workshops precede a similar series he will lead next month in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"I think patience is the secret to being a good dance instructor and to know what you are doing," said Ramos-Alayo, commenting further on his teaching style. "But you also have to make students believe in what they are doing and that they can do it."