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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Latin Dance Classes in Seattle

An Overview

Move over, grunge. Latin music and dance is firmly entrenched in Seattle. I don’t know what the trend is, but there are a variety of clubs and related venues where people go to dance Latin, from familiar genres like salsa, cha cha and tango to the more contemporary merengue and bachata to cutting edge (e.g. reggaeton, zouk, etc.).

But where should one go to study Latin dance? As a beginner, I was surprised to find a relative dearth of information describing and comparing various dance schools and teachers. I was also struck by the fact that some of the best teachers seem to be the least publicized.

Perhaps that’s why so many people seemingly think salsa is the only game in town, and Century Ballroom is the only place in town to both learn and dance salsa. Others make the same mistake I made and begin their studies with a really bad teacher.

Let me say up front that my goal isn’t to drive patrons away from Century Ballroom. In fact, I think people who are serious about learning Latin dances should take classes from more than one instructor (assuming they have the time and money, of course), and I think Seattle salsa students should consider including Century Ballroom in their education. Moreover, many Latin dance fans do consider Century Ballroom and its sister site, HaLo, the only places to dance in Seattle.

But I would also like dance students to know about some of the other dance teachers in Seattle, each of which has something unique to offer.

Disclaimer, etc.

Talk about art imitating life! Writing this reference was surprisingly difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. I found myself dealing with complex issues and worrying about inadvertently insulting people. I even considered pulling the plug on this entire website.

Then it occurred to me that salsa is difficult to learn and often uncomfortable. Both the dance and the social scene that swirls around it are complex. And I’m certainly not the only beginner who has anguished about ruining a dance for someone by forgetting how to do a move.

In other words, Latin dance is a lot like life. So allow me to put a few things in perspective.

First, it’s hard to critique or compare dance classes/teachers without somehow insulting or offending someone.

I also failed miserably in my attempt to create an unbiased reference, lavishing the most attention by far on dance teachers I’ve taken classes from. On top of that, I had a hard time figuring out how to deal with a dance teacher I really don’t care to promote on my website. Last but not least, some people said it was arrogant for a beginner to offer advice on dance classes.

Some dance teachers begin their first class with a short discussion of hygeine; you know - body odor, bad breath, that sort of stuff. It’s an unpleasant topic, but it needs to be addressed, because one individual who doesn’t get it can ruin a class.

In that spirit, I’d like to discuss most of the unpleasant aspects of this project right here.


Rather than obsessing over which dance teacher or class is best, I want to promote the idea that all competent dance teachers have something to offer. In fact, I encourage students to take classes from more than one teacher (if you can afford it in this economy).

Philosophically speaking, there may not be such a thing as a “best Latin dance teacher.” The important question is Which school or teacher is best for you?

Nevertheless, there are some teachers who are widely regarded as hot, while others may be widely dismissed as lame. Some teachers may be generally regarded as best at certain things, like bachata or ladies’ styling.

Century Ballroom is a particularly complex and tricky subject. It’s widely criticized, even by people who dance there every weekend. The criticism is seldom vicious or personal; many people simply complain about their salsa classes being too big. I agree, yet I’ve taken four classes from Century Ballroom, and you can find me there most weekends (still taking drop-in classes). At any rate, Century Ballroom gets more attention on this reference than any other dance school. I think you’ll find it an interesting account.

In summary, I’ve made an honest effort to offer information I think dance students might find useful. I’ve also attempted to keep it positive. I have linked to various online reviews, some of which could include negative comments. But those reviews would exist even without this website.

Any dance teachers who feel insulted by something I’ve written (or not written) here are free to post comments on this blog and/or contact me. Keep in mind that this reference is far from finished. I’ll be adding a lot more information as I learn more about various local dance teachers.


Yes, this reference turned out to be very biased. The problem is simple: I’ve taken classes from some teachers and not from others. Unfortunately, I lack the time and money to take classes from every dance teacher in Seattle.

So I’m just telling you what I know and filling in the blanks as I do more research and receive more feedback regarding other dance teachers.

Bad Teachers

It would be wonderful if there were no bad dance teachers. Unfortunately, I had a very unpleasant experience with one. After hearing similar stories from several other people, I knew I had to warn people about this individual.

But several dancers were horrified. They thought it would be very cruel to embarrass a dance teacher. They also worried about the impact it might have on Seattle’s salsa community, which one person tells me is already divided. (I’m not sure what that means; I guess I’ll need more time to learn about the politics of Latin dancing in Seattle.)

So I’ve tentatively compromised with a simple policy: I simply won’t mention really bad dance teachers on my website. That doesn’t mean I’m 100% certain that every teacher who IS listed here is a good teacher, though I strongly suspect all of them are. Nor does it mean that every teacher who is not listed here has problems. There may be other Latin dance teachers I haven’t listed, generally because I haven’t found out about them yet.

Me, Arrogant?

I’ve been called arrogant, primarily in the political arena. In fact, I’ve come to consider it a compliment...but that’s a long story. Let me tell you about my dance qualifications, or lack thereof.

I am not an expert on dance in general or Seattle Latin dance schools in particular. In fact, I never took a Latin dance class - or any kind of social dance - until 2009.

However, I do have some background in dance (mostly from my college days), dabbling in ballet, jazz, modern and even flamenco. More recently, I’ve taken a number of Latin dance classes and workshops from various local teachers, along with the infamous globe-trotting salsa diva, Edie “The Salsa Freak.”

I’ve also been conducting independent research, mostly via the Internet and word of mouth, though I have also begun querying dance instructors. Finally, I’ve solicited feedback on this and related articles.

Note that this entire website is a work in progress and that I’m actively soliciting comments, tips and advice. If you have a problem with something I’ve written, tell me how I can improve it.


If you haven’t already done so, you may want to begin by reading this section’s de facto introductory article Latin Dance Classes: How to Find a Good Teacher. This page offers an overview of Latin dance teachers and schools in Seattle. As time allows, I will link it to additional pages offering recommendations regarding particular dances, from salsa to cha cha, bachata to zouk. For example: Latin Dance Classes > Latin Dance Classes in Seattle > Seattle Salsa Classes.

I may have omitted a few schools or instructors that I haven’t yet discovered. (Hey, some local teachers are virtually invisible.) Nor have I listed many dance schools outside Seattle.

However, I am thinking of including dance schools and clubs in Seattle suburbs and nearby communities, and I would certainly like to know about any Seattle operations that I missed. If you know of a Latin dance teacher or school that should be listed here, please contact me.

Class Comparisons

This page currently focuses on twenty schools or individuals that teach Latin dance in Seattle. Collectively, they teach at least sixteen dances - salsa/mambo, cumbia, cha cha, rumba, jive, hustle, merengue, bachata, reggaeton, zouk, samba, tango, bolero, paso doble, Afro-Latin jazz and flamenco.

The table below offers some quick comparisons. The top section lists each school’s general location (e.g. Downtown Seattle), followed by seven categories of information. No single category of information necessarily proves a school’s worth. In fact, a teacher could get a low grade in all six categories and still be Seattle’s best teacher. However, I think these items offer some help in evaluating dance teachers.

Very briefly, I note teachers who include Cuban motion in their classes or speak Spanish. I also note websites that include educational material, along with websites stat allow students to view videos of moves taught in class. Finally, I note teachers who qualify as champions (C = individuals who have finished as finalists in prestigious competitions; S = teachers who have trained students that qualify as champions), teachers who have performance groups and teachers who can be studied via online videos.

In all honesty, I think this “report card” is a little flaky. But please remember that it is a work in progress and will hopefully improve. Question marks in the table indicate unfinished research. I’m not even certain if some of the categories I created are really appropriate. Some may be poorly implemented. Cuban Motion doesn’t apply to certain dances (e.g. tango).

To learn more about these items, see the How To Choose section in the article Latin Dance Classes: How to Find a Good Teacher.

Seattle Latin Dance Schools at a Glance
AB = Abaya’s Ballroom
AD = American Dance Institute
AM = Arthur Murray
BR = Bravas de la Rumba
CF = Carmona Flamenco
CB = Century Ballroom
DU = Dance Underground
DS = DanceSport International
EM = E. Mayimbe Dance Company
EW = Ewajo Centre Inc
FD = Flamenco Danzarte
IC = Israel Chavez
MB = Michelle Badion
RB = Rumba Brava
SC = Salsa Caliente
SCT = Salsa Con Todo
SV = Salsa Salvaje
SS = salsaNseattle
SN = Sonny Newman’s Dance Hall
WD = Washington Dance Club Inc
N = North Seattle
W = West Seattle
CH = Central Seattle - Capital Hill
CD = Central Seattle - Downtown
CB = Central Seattle - Belltown
CSC = Central Seattle - Seattle Center
O = Other
Cuban Motion A ? ? ? ?   ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? A ? ? ? ?
Spanish ? ? ? ? ?   ? ? X ? ? ? ? X ? X ? ? ? ?
Website B C C C C C C B C C C C C C C B C C B C
Class Videos           X                   *        
Champ X     X         X         S            
P Group       X         X     X   X   X X X    
Videos X     X         X   X X   X   X X X    
*Upgraded website (due by January, 2010) will feature class videos plus curricula.
Dances Taught
Salsa X   X X   X   X X   X X X X P* X   X X X
Mambo X             X           ?     X     X
Jive X             X                        
Hustle X             X                        
Cumbia               X                        
Rumba X             X           ?           X
Cha-Cha X             X     X   X ?   X   X   X
Merengue X             X     X     ?   X   X    
Bachata                     X   X ?   X X X    
Bolero X             X                       X
Samba X             X                       X
Paso Doble X             X                        
Zouk                               X        
Latin Jazz                                        
Afro-Latin Jazz                   X                    
Tango X         X X X         X           X X
Flamenco   X     X           X                  
“Latin”     X         X                       X
Non-Latin Dances?   X X     X X X   X X   X           X X
*Apparently offers private lessons only

So what important information have I missed? It would be nice to know what a teacher’s background is. Unfortunately, it’s hard to indicate this information in a table, but I’ll add a few notes below.

I don’t have much to say about fees at this point, partly because they can change at any time. So far, I haven’t noticed a wild range in fees; they seem to be fairly similar between schools. However, private lessons vary from about $50 to $100 an hour. You can sometimes get special package deals.

Some of these schools offer additional perks, which I’ll address below.

Remember, this is a work in progress, and I’m eagerly soliciting feedback from the Latin dance community.

Class Descriptions

Teachers and students: Please help me polish these descriptions by commenting on this article or contacting me via e-mail!

Abaya’s Ballroom

12535 Lake City Wy. NE
Seattle, WA 98125
(206) 769-7350 Website
Classes: tango, rumba, mambo/salsa, swing/jive, samba, bolero, cha cha, paso doble, Argentine tango, merengue & hustle; Non-Latin: waltz, foxtrot, Viennese waltz, quickstep & West Coast swing
Google Info
Map & Directions
Photos & Videos
• User Content
Web Pages
More Info
Teach Street

When chatting about dance classes at the Century Ballroom, one usually hears references to local teachers who specialize in salsa. I’ve never heard anyone talk about Abaya’s Ballroom. In fact, I never knew it existed until I began doing research for this website, so I expected it to be mediocre at best. After all, what do ballroom teachers know about salsa?

But I began to change my mind after visiting their website. This is one of the reasons I created this website - to publicize outstanding dance teachers that, for some reason or other, fly under the radar.

From their website: “In their first year together, they (F.J. and Catherine Abaya) became United States American Rhythm Rising Star Finalists and United States Open Semi-finalists. At the pinnacle of their career, they were ranked 7th in the United States.” And here are some videos to prove it.

The Abaya’s appear to offer a very diverse and complete dance education, specializing in private dancing lessons and classes for singles or couples in ballroom and social dancing. I rated their website a B because they offer some nice descriptions of various dances. (I especially appreciated the distinction they make between salsa and mambo.)

Then I completed my education by taking an introductory lesson. More than impressed, I was blown away. We reversed roles, and Catherine led me in a salsa basic and cross body lead. I felt like I was being manipulated by a martial artist - not rough, just very firm and decisive. And, as far as I’m concerned, she wrote the book on Cuban motion.

Catherine Abaya’s former students include Salsa Con Todo’s Vassili.

Ask Ms. Abaya to explain and demonstrate the difference between salsa and mambo. If you’ve already learned salsa, her class might be a good place to learn On2 salsa/mambo. Of course, this would be a great place to learn some additional Latin dances.

The main problem for me is the price. Since classes are more or less limited to private lessons (base rate $95 per lesson), it can be pretty steep for us amateurs. On the other hand, you can waste a lot of time taking classes from “club teachers.”

Which begs the question, which is better: ballroom or club Latin dance teachers? Or should one take classes from both? That’s a question I’m researching right now...

American Dance Institute

Studios #1/#2: 8001/8007 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 783-0755 Website
Classes: Flamenco; Non-Latin: Ballet, Creative Dance, Hip Hop, Irish, Jazz, Polynesian Hula, Tap
Google Info
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• Photos & Videos
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More Info

As the name implies, these folks take dance seriously, with a school year divided into two sessions of nineteen weeks each. From their website: “The Nurturing Baby and Parent/Toddler classes are offered in four nine week sessions during the school year. A ten or eleven week Summer session and week long Summer Dance Camps are also available.”

Unfortunately, the American Dance Institute’s Latin dance classes are apparently limited to flamenco.

Studio rentals, birthday parties and private classes are available.

Arthur Murray

530 Dexter Ave North, Suite 1B
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 447-2701 Website
Classes: Ballroom, Social, Latin, Night Club; Non-Latin: Country Western Styles
More Info
Teach Street

Arthur Murray is a national chain and is therefore probably the best known dance school discussed here. Unfortunately, the Seattle franchise’s website appears to be under construction. I e-mailed them, requestion a list of Latin dance teachers that they offer, but I received no response.

However, I found some information on the Studio Programs page. They use a “ three part teaching system utilizing private lessons, group classes and supervised practice sessions in the form of dance parties.”

Note their special introductory offer - two 30-minute private lessons, one 40-minute group class and an invitation to a supervised dance practice session for $59.

Bravos de la Rumba

China Harbor Restaurant
1240 Westlake Ave. N
Seattle, WA 98109
(425) 275-1348 (This is the number for Bravos de la Rumba, not China Harbor.) Website
Classes: salsa
Google Info
Map & Directions

Johnny Bravo is the son of Rico and Samantha Brava, of Rumba Brava Dance Academy. In other words, he’s hot. Johnny Bravo and Christina Walker were finalists at the 2002 Mayan World Salsa Competition.

Their website advertises classes and private lessons in partnering, styling, fancy footwork, spins and turns and choreography. Classes are held on Sundays at China Harbor, a popular salsa club.

The videos on their website don’t work for me. However, you can see some videos on YouTube, under Johnny Bravo salsa. And here’s a video of Dave and Camille, a pair of dancers representing the Johnny Bravo Dance Company.

Century Ballroom/HaLo

915 E Pine St
Seattle, WA 98122-3849
(206) 324-7263 Website
HaLo 500 E Pike St (five blocks west of Century Ballroom above Brocklind’s Formal Wear and Costume Shop, right next door to 8 Limbs Yoga)
Classes: salsa, bachata, tango;
Google Info
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Teach Street

Century Ballroom (along with its sister site, HaLo - about five blocks away) is in a class by itself. Its repertoire includes tango and bachata, but it’s best known as Seattle’s favorite salsa hangout.

Let me get all the negative stuff out of the way first. Many people complain that Century’s salsa classes are too big. Another common complaint is that classes are long on moves but short on technique or culture; don’t expect to see any Cuban motion or hear any Spanish here.

I’ve also heard complaints that other dance teachers and clubs have a hard time thriving in the shadow of Century Ballroom.

Yet salsa lessons at Century Ballroom are almost mandatory because it’s the center of Seattle’s salsa scene. There are probably many salseros who dance only at Century Ballroom.

In fact, Century Ballroom probably offers a greater variety of salsa classes than any other local school, along with tango and bachata. Century employs at least four salsa teachers, whose combined experience includes ballet, gymnastics and martial arts. (A fifth teacher, Cebrina, has reportedly ended her footwork and styling class - my favorite - to go back to school. However, she still teaches drop-in classes and works as a DJ.)

Salsa classes include salsa 1, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, 3e, 4 and 5 - and I’ve seen other classes (e.g. reverse partnering) listed on their website. Salsa dances are offered on Thursdays, Saturdays and the first Friday of the month. (Salsa dances are also held at HaLo on Fridays, except the first Friday of the month. HaLo also hosts a Salsa Practica every Monday.) In addition, I recently discovered an all ages Salsa Jam that’s apparently held mid-day on the first Sunday of every month at Century Ballroom. I think there were about a dozen people there the first time I attended, about forty the second time.

Century Ballroom also offers private lessons.

If you want to be part of Seattle’s Latin dance scene, it pays to familiarize yourself with Century Ballroom and HaLo, along with their dance instructors, DJs and patrons.

I’ve taken four classes at Century Ballroom/HaLo - their beginning level salsa class, Salsa 2a, Salsa 2b and a salsa footwork class given at HaLo. I’ve been taking the drop-in salsa classes that precede dances at Century Ballroom and HaLo for months - and I plan on continuing them indefinitely. However, I’m also broadening my horizons by exploring other schools at the same time.

In summary, I suspect few Seattle salseros would tell you that Century Ballroom offers the city’s best salsa classes, yet many of those same salseros began their salsa education there. The best salsa dancers and performers go there to promote themselves or just to dance. If you’re really into salsa, you really want to take classes at Century Ballroom/HaLo, just to get to know the instructors, DJs and fellow students.


HaLo is more a studio than a ballroom. It offers drop-in salsa classes for all ages followed by dances on Fridays (other than the first Friday of the month).

An exceptionally cool perk is the all ages Salsa Practica, held at HaLo every Monday, 7:30-11:00 p.m.

What’s a practica? It’s basically a dance held on a night when few people go out dancing. In other words, a DJ plays salsa music, while dancers do whatever they want. You may see people working on class routines, footwork or spins - in couples or alone - while everyone else dances more traditional salsa dances. At $6, it’s a bargain - even without the $2 discount offered Century Ballroom students.

Tango & Bachata

Where Century Ballroom ranks in the world of tango and bachata relative to other Latin dance schools I don’t know. I’ve never taken a tango class, and I’ve only had a few brief bachata lessons - including a workshop given by an instructor from Portland at Century Ballroom.

However, Century Ballroom offers five levels of tango classes, with dances on Tuesdays and occasional special events. A recent addition is the Bachata Social (just $6) held at HaLo on Wednesdays.

* * * * *

How popular is Century Ballroom? Just check out its crowded Class and Events schedules, and you’ll see what I mean.

Below is a calendar of Century Ballroom/Halo Latin drop-in classes, dances and practica. Please note that the schedule may occasionally change to accommodate special events.

  Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Century Salsa Jam 11:30am1   Tango Practica 9:30pm2   Salsa 9pm3 Salsa 9pm4 Salsa 8:30pm6
Tango 9pm5
HaLo   Salsa Practica 7:30pm7   Bachata Social 8:30pm8   Salsa 9pm9  
1 Salsa Jam - First Sunday of the month; 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (Workshop 11:30-1:00); Lesson & Dance $20 / Dance $5 - ALL AGES 2 Tango Practica - 9:30 p.m.-midnight; $6 ($4 for Century Ballroom students) ALL AGES 3 Salsa - 9 p.m.-1:15 a.m. (Lesson 9-9:30) Lesson & Dance $7 4 Salsa - First Friday of the month; 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (Lesson 9-9:30) Lesson & Dance $10 - ALL AGES 5 Tango - Remaining Fridays; 9 p.m.-1 a.m. (Lesson 9-9:30) Lesson & Dance $10 6 Salsa - 8:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Lesson 8:30-9:30) Dance $10 /
Lesson & Dance $15 7 Salsa Practica - 7:30-11 p.m.; $6 ($4 for Century Ballroom students) ALL AGES 8 Bachata Social - 8:30-10:30 p.m.; $6 ($4 for Century students) ALL AGES Note: May not be held every Wednesday 9 Salsa - 9 p.m.-midnight (Lesson 9-9:30) except first Friday of the month; Lesson & Dance $7 - ALL AGES

Dance Underground

340 15th Ave E Bsmt
Seattle WA 98112-5808
206-328-1500 Website
Classes: Argentine Tango, Capoeira; Non-Latin: Bellydance, Ecstatic Dance, Lindy Hop, Irish Step, Nia Fitness, Modern, Swing, Tai-Chi
Google Info
Map & Directions
Photos & Videos
User Content
Web Pages
More Info
Teach Street

Located on Capitol Hill, Dance Underground may be the only dance studio in Seattle that offers classes in the Brazilian art of capoeira. The only genuine Latin dance it offers is tango.

From their website: “Established in 2003, the Dance Underground is a Seattle based dance studio, co-owned and operated by two partners: Ilana Rubin and Tony Fan. Ilana and Tony are established dancers in Seattle with diverse dance backgrounds and teaching experiences.”

DanceSport International

12535 Lake City Way NE
Seattle, WA 98125
(206) 361-8239 Website
Classes: salsa, cumbia, mambo, rumba, cha-cha, merengue, bolero, samba, tango, paso doble, jive, hustle; Non-Latin: swing, foxtrot, waltz, slow waltz, Viennese waltz, peabody, quickstep, lindy hop, East Coast swing, West Coast swing, Charleston, California two-step, night club two-step
Google Info
Map & Directions
• Photos & Videos
User Content
Web Pages
More Info
Teach Street

Owners Robert and Monique Hrouda compete professionally. Monique has twelve years of ballet experience. The Hrouda’s and other instructors are profiled here.

E. Mayimbe Dance Company

(425) 351-6022
(206) 851-8258 Website
Classes: salsa, zumba
More Info
Teach Street

Eduardo Aguirre and Heather Gervais are among the hottest acts in town. Some salseros tell me that they rank with the Bravas as Seattle’s best salsa dancers. Others claim Eduardo is #1.

A native of Mexico City, Eduardo “has competed in Mexico and the US, qualifying for the World Salsa Championship every year since the event began in 2005,” according to their website.

They teach at several locations. They also teach workshops at special events, such as the annual Seattle Salsa Festival.

Eduardo and Heather teach On2 salsa, the preferred style on the East Coast. Thus, you might have a little difficulty finding a dance partner in Seattle if they’re your only teachers. But if you already have a handle on On 1 salsa and want to tackle On 2, they may be the area’s best teachers. (Heather is also known for her Zumba Latin dance workouts.)

If you need any further persuasion, they offer a free On2 Basics salsa class at the Seattle Center on Sundays at 7 p.m.

Oh, yes - the videos.

Ewajo Center, Inc.

2719 E Madison St
Seattle WA 98112-4752
(206) 322-0155 Website
Classes: Afro Latin Jazz; Non-Latin: Ballet, Dunham technique, Modern, Pilates
More Info

I’m a little confused, as they seem to have a couple locations. However, all classes are apparently held at the University Heights Community Center, in the U-District.

Ewajo Centre offers separate classes for adults and youths.

Flamenco Danzarte

2306 4th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98121-1718
(206) 781-4256 Website
Classes: flamenco, castanets, salsa, cha-cha, merengue, bachata; Non-Latin: tap
More Info
Teach Street

Seattle Magazine named Flamenco Danzarte the “Best Place to get Rhythm in Seattle.”

Ana Montes has been dancing since age nine, including ballet training. She studied flamenco in Spain and has performed widely.

Check out these videos.

Israel Chavez

Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu Studio
525 21st ave
seattle, WA 98122
(425) 765-3813 Website
Classes: salsa

The Chavez brothers (Israel and Victor, of salsaNseattle) are from Mexico City. Both are dance teachers and DJ’s.

Israel Chavez and Kyoko teach salsa on Saturdays in a studio just south of Capitol Hill.

View some videos of the Somos el Son Dance Company, created by the Chavez brothers.

Michelle Badion

1320 NE 63rd Street
Seattle, WA 98115
206-334-7496 Website
Classes: Argentine tango, salsa, cha cha, bachata; Non-Latin: West Coast swing, waltz, Country, East Coast Swing, Cha Cha and Bachata
More Info
Teach Street

Experienced, versatile, intelligent and passionate about dance, Michelle Badion is one of the people I would most like to take classes from. From her early ballet training, she has branched out to embrace a variety of dances.

From her website: “Michelle specializes in Argentine Tango, Salsa and West Coast Swing, but also loves to teach Waltz, Country, East Coast Swing, Cha Cha and Bachata.” Badion was one of the first people in Seattle to teach salsa, but she has a special affinity for tango, which frequently beckons her to Argentina.

Badion’s services include tango, salsa and swing performances, wedding preparation lessons, choreography and show and cabaret production. According to her website, “She is . . . a prolific producer of Tango performances, and has brought stage shows (5) and cabarets (14 to date) to Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, and Hawaii.”

Badion teaches some classes through NW Dance, others through EXCO (ASUW Experimental College). According to her website, all classes except Thursday are held at University Heights Center, in the University District (5031 University Way NE).

She apparently offers private lessons at her home.

I enjoyed this DanceHop audio interview with Michelle Badion.

Rumba Brava Dance Academy

Classes are held at Sonny Newman’s Dance Hall... Tuesday Classes: 201 N 85th St
Seattle WA 98103
(425) 971-5530 (Rico Bravo Sr.)
Saturday Classes: (425) 876-2635 (Samantha Bravo) or (206) 228-3674 (Larry Benjamin)
Classes: salsa
Google Info
Map & Directions
Photos & Videos
• User Content
Web Pages
More Info

The Brava’s could rightly be called Seattle’s First Family of Salsa, yet they confuse the Hell out of me. Perusing their diverse websites and videos, I see their last name variously spelled Brava, Bravo and Bravos. Adding to the confusion is groups from other cities and nations with similar names.

And why do they call it the Rumba Brava Dance Academy when they specialize in SALSA? So much for my ignorance of Spanish and Latin dance. My ignorance won’t last long now that I’ve begun taking classes from them.

This family dynasty includes Samantha Brava (the first to teach ladies’ Latin styling classes in Seattle), Rico Sr. (one of the top trainers on the West Coast) and their two sons, Rico Jr. and Johnny Bravo.

Both sons have qualified as finalists in the Annual Mayan Competition and serve as Creative Director of the Rico Bravo Dancers and Bravos De La Rumba performance teams, respectively. Johnny Bravo has established his own Seattle dance company and school, Bravos de la Rumba, while Rico Jr. has opened shop in LA.

The Bravas apparently like to live life in the fast lane. One local salsero told me they teach a very fast style of salsa. They’re very much into choreography, theatrics and competition - and it has paid off. Their students include Charlene Rose.

Rico Sr. teaches on Tuesdays, Samantha on Saturdays. I recently began taking classes from Samantha and have generally enjoyed them. Some of the classes are amazingly small. The Bravas appear to be pretty flexible, and I suspect they would allow you to pay for a single class to check it out before enrolling in that class.

Rico Brava is originally from Peru, Samantha from El Salvador, and you can expect to hear Spanish spoken in class, making the experience a little more “authentic.” Rico Sr. and Samantha are also managers and general partners for the Seattle Salsa Congress.

Check out some videos of Samantha teaching ladies’ styling, the Bravos de la Rumba performance team, Rico Bravo Dance Company, Johnny Bravo and Isabella performing at the LA Salsa Congress and a Johnny Bravo Solo Routine in Portland, then take a look at Rumba Brava’s class schedule.

Salsa Caliente

6532 Phinney Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103-5234
(206) 633-5166 Website
Classes: salsa
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Located near the Woodland Park Zoo in north Seattle, DJ Howard and Marisa apparently offer only private lessons at the usual $100 per hour. However, you can get four of them four $260 - a bargain at $65 each.

They also offer DJ services and wedding preparations.

Salsa Con Todo

408 44th St NE
Seattle WA 98105 Website
Classes: salsa, bachata, zouk(?)
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I can’t tell you who Seattle’s best salsa teacher is, but it’s hard to imagine anyone better than Vassili, the head of Salsa Con Todo. The guy’s an awesome dancer (backed up by some impressive videos) who clearly has that Cuban thing and a musician (singer and flamenco guitarist). In fact, Salsa Con Todo’s website emphasizes the school’s emphasis on musicality. (“We feel that as a dancer, you must be ‘a member of the band.’”)

More bonuse: Vassili speaks Spanish and has studied dance in at least two Latin countries - Cuba and Colombia. Salsa Con Todo’s website is also better than average, including a guide to Seattle Latin dance clubs. In fact, it seems a bit modest, failing to mention some of Vasilli’s skills or talents. You might also want to check out the SCT blog, along with the website Children of the Revolution (Vasilli’s musical group).

Did I mention that Vassili’s a fabulous teacher? Salsa Con Todo’s salsa classes may seem a bit pricey at $80 for six classes. However, classes are 1 1/2 hours each, and Vassili packs a lot into each class, beginning with a warm-up that doubles as a styling exercise. A salsa class often includes a little merengue or bachata. Vassili also likes to talk about salsa’s origins, the dance scene in Colombia and other topics.

Vassili devotes more time to Cuban motion in his beginning classes than any other salsa teacher I’ve met so far does in intermediate classes, with the exception of Catherine Abaya of Abaya’s Ballroom. That alone makes him worth your consideration.

In fact, Salsa Con Todo has so much to offer, they offer two beginning classes (one focusing largely on a circular salsa form called cumbia) and two intermediate classes. I like the fact that the two beginning classes are scheduled back to back (see the SCT class schedule); ditto for the intermediate classes. It makes my busy schedule that much simpler. However, some may find three hours of Vassili’s energetic teaching a little exhausting. (Then again, I don’t recall seeing any students who looked tired.)

Salsa Con Todo also offers workshops focusing on footwork, bachata, zouk, ladies’ styling and probably a few other things.

While Salsa Con Todo is headquartered in Wallingford (about a block west of I-5), some classes are held at the University Heights Community Center, a former elementary school at 50th and University Avenue in the University District.

It’s hard to find anything to criticize here, but I’ll give it a try...

Vassili may be a victim of his own success. His classes can be a little big, and I have the perception that he’s stretched a little thin between all his activities. His salsa 201 and 202 classes were way too crowded when they were held in his home. However, they have moved into a much bigger studio at University Heights Community Center.

I should note that Vassili usually has a second instructor by his side and that both are usually quick to spot and correct problems. In fact, members of a performance group he’s working on are also sometimes enlisted as assistants.

Unfortunately, I still have a hard time keeping up with some of the harder routines, but I may be a relatively slow learner. I recently began taking private lessons to clean up moves I haven’t mastered. I’m also thinking of taking 201 and 202 again in January. Again, that isn’t a reflection on Vassili’s teaching; he simply offers a lot of techniques, moves, dance styles and ideas. I suspect most students could benefit by taking both classes twice.

Vassili clearly has his act together. If you’re looking for an intelligent, high-energy teacher who focuses on details, has that Cuban thing going on, is a member of the band and speaks Spanish, look no further. It often seems that Vassili’s goal is to produce well-rounded individuals, grounded in social skills and salsa culture, not just teach dance.

And it keeps getting better. In January, an upgraded website will reportedly feature class videos and curricula (a list of moves taught in each class).

Though I haven’t yet checked out Vassili’s musical group, I love the name - Children of the Revolution. It was on Salsa Con Todo’s website that I discovered the saying, “A revolution without dance is a revolution not worth having.” I’m not sure what the origins of that saying is, but I’ve adopted it as my own.

All this talk about revolution - combined with salsa and flamenco, no less - certainly gets my attention. Which isn’t to say anyone at Salsa Con Todo supports, or is even aware, of my political activities. Nor do I know what their political beliefs or affinities are, if any. Children of the Revolution may be nothing more than a commercial name, for all I know.

But, as someone else famously said, you can’t kill an idea, and Vasilli’s classes will certainly plant some ideas in your head.

Salsa Salvaje

1701 23rd Ave.
Classes: salsa/mambo On2, bachata

I don’t know much about this group yet. They have a performance group. You can read biographies of group members on their website and view some videos on YouTube.


Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu Studio
525 21st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 910-6318
(206) 963-7386 Website
Classes: salsa, cha cha, merengue and bachata
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The Chavez brothers (Victor and Israel) are from Mexico City. Both are dance teachers and DJ’s. Victor teamed up with Julia Krasnov to form salsaNSeattle.

They teach salsa, cha cha, merengue and bachata mostly on Sundays in a studio just south of Capitol Hill.

View some videos, along with more videos of the Somos el Son Dance Company, created by the Chavez brothers.

Sonny Newman’s Dance Hall

201 N 85th St
Seattle WA 98103
(206) 784-3010 Website
Classes: Argentine Tango, Salsa; Non-Latin: Swing, Waltz and more
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Sonny and Nancy Newman’s first love is tango, which Sonny has studied in Argentina. Class fees are $64 for an eight-class session, and tango dances are held on Fridays (except the second Friday of the month), Sundays and the second Saturday night of the month.

For more about this sensuous dance, check out Sonny’s Thoughts on Tango, his Tango Library page and Tango Poetry Readings (4th Sunday of the month).

The Newman’s also advertise salsa lessons, but they’re taught by instructors from the Rumba Brava Dance Academy.

Washington Dance Club, Inc.

1017 Stewart St.
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 628-8939 Website
Classes: salsa, mambo, rumba, cha cha, samba, bolero, tango; Non-Latin: Ballroom, Swing, foxtrot, waltz, Viennese waltz
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With its diversity of Latin dance classes and convenient location (downtown Seattle), the Washington Dance Club deserves a close look.

Friday workshops (drop-in classes) are held 8-9 p.m. for $12. Participants can then attend the following dance (9:00-11:30 p.m.) - featuring ballroom, Latin and swing music - for free. Otherwise, the dance costs $12 (half price for kids under 18 and students with current ID).

From the website: “Friday Dance Special—Bring a guest who has not been to WDC to the Friday beginners lesson and dance, receive half-price admission ($6) for each of you.”

Dances are also held Sunday nights (7:00-9:30 p.m., $12).

Regular class fees are $36 for a three week series, $48 for a four week series, $60 for a five week series.

The Washington Dance Club also offers a wonderful practice opportunity...“For students taking lessons at the Washington Dance Club they may enjoy virtually unlimited practice time during normal hours of operation (except during social dances) for $40 per month for an individual or a couple. For students who are not taking classes or private instruction at the Washington Dance Club the fee is $60 per month.”

For details, check out the Class and Event Schedule & Registration page.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Latin Dance Classes

How to Find a Good Teacher

I got hooked on Latin dance after attending a salsa festival at Seattle’s Folklife Festival in the spring of 2009. I jumped head first into salsa classes, with the intention of later learning additional Latin dances. But I ran into some problems.

DISCLAIMER - I am a not an expert, nor have I even tried many Latin dances; as of November 1, 2009, I am a beginner-intermediate salsa student only. I decided to research and write this article partly to help myself understand the topic. However, I do have some experience with a variety of dance teachers, and I’ve received some tips from more advanced dancers. If you disagree with something I’ve written or feel I’ve omitted something important, please share your comments with all of us.

My first salsa teacher made me uncomfortable, though I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. His dancing seemed a little lame, but what qualified a beginner like me to judge him?

I began hearing horror stories about him before he went postal on me in class one day in an intermediate class.

Bailing out was a smart move, though it set me back nearly two months. I wound up taking classes from a REAL salsa dancer - a teacher who actually moves his body (more about Cuban motion later), is also a musician and speaks Spanish. As a bonus, his studio is right across the street from my home! Why should I travel across the city to take classes from some amateur jerk when I can learn from a pro in my back yard?

But I was in for more surprises. For example, I take pride in my ability to find the beat, yet I couldn’t figure out why I so frequently lose it.

I found the answer when I took a Musicality workshop as part of a series of workshops associated with another Seattle salsa festival I enrolled in after having taken salsa classes for several months. The instructor explained that the beat changes in some salsa songs, which can be 3/2 one minute and 2/3 the next.

I have still more technical problems to relate, but they’re best saved for the Salsa page. What I’m trying to sy is this: Latin dance isn’t easy. And the technical challenge is just half the battle. What about social skills?

That can be a formidable barrier to people with no background in social dancing. How do you ask someone to dance, and can/should you dance with them twice in a row? How do you lead them to the dance floor?

These are just a few of the questions I ask myself when visiting the Century Ballroom, Seattle’s salsa mecca. And how do you choose a partner without interviewing them? After all, I don’t want to dance with a woman who dances on the advanced level for fear I’ll bore her to tears. On the other hand, how can I practice the more advanced moves I’ve been studying with a rank beginner?

For all these reasons and others, I found myself suffering from Salsa Anxiety, to put it mildly. I had decided to take classes until New Years, then decide whether or not to drop out, but I began thinking about throwing in the towel a couple months earlier.

* * * * *

Most dance teachers have dealt with all these problems. A good dance teacher is therefore an advisor as well as a teacher. The problem is finding a good teacher, and that’s mostly a matter of doing your homework.

Unfortunately, it can very hard to compare teachers and classes. In fact, some of the better teachers are relatively invisible (here in Seattle, at least). Some appear to be too modest; they don’t even list all their qualifications on their own websites. Ironically, the worst teachers can sometimes get the most publicity.

Of course, you can always ask other dancers and students. However, their advice can be flawed, especially if they’ve only taken classes from one or two teachers.

But don’t despair. I did the homework, and the results are below.

Finding YOU

Before you begin searching for a dance teacher, you should check out one other very important person: yourself.

Everyone enters the Latin dance arena with different experiences, skills, talents, motivations, goals and expectations. In addition, everyone learns differently - and there are also differences between the sexes, as well as in their roles as dancers (lead versus follow).

With that in mind you might begin by asking yourself why you want to dance. Do you see yourself as a very casual dancer who just goes out one or two nights a week, or do you want to be a hotshot? Do you want to become a performer or a teacher? What dances do you want to learn? Are you male or female?

You may not need the best teacher in town if you’re a very casual dancer, are just testing the waters or want to learn a relatively simple dance. But if you want to be a good dancer, then a good teacher is certainly a major plus.

Salsa poses special problems. It’s a relatively difficult dance to learn, and there are relatively few really good salsa teachers out there. Making matters worse, there are at least three major types of salsa (On1, On2 and the more traditional circular salsa).

Your progress will also depend to a great degree on your dance background (or lack thereof) and aptitude. One of my favorite dancers at local venues performs with unmatched passion. She’s especially good at bachata, which is reportedly her favorite dance.

One night I asked her who her teacher was, and she told me she never took classes; she picked up everything she knows on the dance floor. Which raises another issue.

It’s my perception that men teach dance to women far more than the other way around. I often see guys walk into the Century Ballroom and ask some novice to dance, then teach her a few moves. In contrast, I very rarely see women teaching men.

Of course, my observations apply primarily to salsa, and they may be little more than an inaccurate stereotype. (I’m anxious to get some feedback on this.) The point is that a dance teacher who works well for men may not work as well for women, or vice versa. If you want to take a ladies’ styling class, you’ll probably want a lady teacher.

How to Choose

Once you’ve evaluated yourself and established some goals, you’re ready to find a dance teacher. But what should one look for in a good dance teacher or school? How can you tell if a teacher is good? What resources can you use to supplement this reference in your search?

I posed the question What makes a good salsa teacher? on SalsaForums.com. More experienced dancers quickly reduced my list of ten tips to two or three fundamentals. The general consensus is that the most important quality in a good teacher is (big surprise) teaching ability. Dance ability is also very important. Musicality is another very important quality in a Latin dance teacher.

So I rearranged my list while retaining some of the less important or more controversial items, all of which should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Big Three

1. Teaching Ability - Is an instructor a good teacher? Can they explain things clearly, or do they simply teach by asking students to imitate their moves? Do they go into detail, explaining why certain things are done the way they are? Do they display a deep knowledge and love of Latin music and dance? Do they have a sense of humor? Do they appear to be genuinely interested in helping their students become better dancers?

A good key word here might be rapport. Do you feel a connection with your teacher, or does it feel like you’re both in your own little world?

2. Dance Background & Ability - The best dancers can be poor teachers. Conversely, poor dancers may be good teachers, but they’re severely limited if they can’t even demonstrate whatever they’re trying to teach. Ideally, you should look for an instructor who’s a good dancer and a good teacher both.

How long has a teacher been dancing Latin dance? What kind of training did they receive? How many Latin dances are they familiar with? Do they have a background in ballet or other non-Latin dances?

3. Musicality - Obviously, there would be no Latin dance without Latin music, which can be incredibly complex. Since you’ll probably never be truly good at Latin dance without understanding the music, it helps to have a teacher who understands the music, especially one who teaches musicality. In fact, some schools offer special courses on musicality. If yours isn’t one of them, you might inquire about a private lesson focusing on musicality.

You’ve struck gold if you can find a good Latin dance teacher who’s also a musician.
(One of my favorite salsa teachers is a singer and flamenco guitarist.)

Points to Ponder

Some of the following items may be trivial or downright stupid. However, I think most of them have a little merit. It certainly doesnt hurt to keep them in the back of your mind when looking for a dance teacher.

4. Dance Style - No two dancers are exactly the same. Every dance teacher has a unique dance style, based largely on their background and training. For example, a salsa teacher with a background in ballet will likely dance a little different than a salsa teacher with a background in flamenco. But even two dancers with the same background will likely have different styles. It’s nice to experience different styles, but it’s even nicer if you can eventually find a teacher with a style you would like to emulate.

5. Cuban Motion - As far as I know, this has no bearing on tango (which I’ve never tried), but it’s what salsa is all about (in my opinion). So I was amazed to discover that many salsa teachers don’t even exhibit Cuban motion when they dance!

So what is Cuban motion? The term refers to the movement of the hips and rib cage that is so characteristic of Latin dance (not just salsa). For some examples, check out the videos Cuban Motion in One Lesson and The Cuban Motion in Salsa Dancing for Beginners.

Note: This item was roundly criticized in the discussion I started at SalsaForums.com. One individual noted that some teachers may cover it in depth without using the term Cuban motion. Others suggested it isn’t that important in a beginners class. Some even said that learning it wrong in the early stages of your dance training can have disastrous results. One individual wrote that beginners who are exposed to Cuban motion don’t learn it any faster than people who first tackle it as intermediate students.

This might be an item you want to discuss with your teacher. I think most Latin dancers would agree that a good teacher is generally one who has mastered Cuban motion and teaches it to students at some point.

6. Diversity of Classes - Does a teacher or school teach just one dance (e.g. salsa), a few dances or many dances? Do they only teach Latin dances, or do they also offer classes in ballet, swing or other non-Latin dances? Do they offer special classes, like musicality or Latin music/dance history or culture? Schools that offer a variety of classes focusing on a single dance (e.g. beginning, intermediate and advanced salsa series plus musicality and reverse partnering) probably deserve a little extra attention.

One of my salsa instructors often includes a little merengue or bachata in his salsa classes. He and many other salsa teachers also have special workshops focusing on bachata, tango or other dances, often inviting other instructors who specialize in a particular dance.

I’m not suggesting that a teacher who only teaches salsa is better or worse than one who teachers salsa, merengue and bachata. It’s just something that may or may not have relevance for you.

7. Awards & Accomplishments - How can you distinguish a great dancer from a mediocre dancer if you don’t yet have a clue about Latin dance? Well, the better dancers often participate in performances or competitions. They may have their own dance companies. If they or their students have won awards or placed among the finalists in prestigious competitions, they’ll typically brag about it on their website.

Unfortunately, this can be misleading, as competition requires a different skillset than social dancing. In fact, some good performers are terrible social dancers.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore a champion or a showy performance group, but it needs to be put in perspective. A teacher’s greatest accomplishment is his or her students.

8. Spanish - A Latin dance teacher who doesn’t speak Spanish isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, some of the best Latin dance teachers in the world don’t understand Spanish. (OK, that’s just an assumption; I haven’t actually queried the world’s best teachers regarding their linguistic skills.) However, if you really want a holistic experience, if you want to understand the origins and culture of Latin music and dance (not to mention the lyrics), then it’s really cool to have a teacher who speaks Spanish.

9. Studio - A dance studio can make a lot of difference. Is it big enough? Does it have a mirror - not the kind that hangs on bathroom walls, but one that covers an entire wall? Does it have a good music system? What kind of floor does it have?

Several more experienced dancers scoffed at this suggestion, noting that dance teachers often teach in rented spaces, out of their homes or in students’ homes. But if you’re considering taking classes from a teacher who
teaches in a more traditional studio, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

10. Website - This may be my weakest suggestion. A lousy teacher could have a fabulous website and vice versa. However, I think a website can sometimes tell us a little about the person it represents. A website that features some educational material relating to Latin dance gets my attention.

One very helpful feature is websites that post online videos of moves taught in classes. Of course, many teachers allow students to film videos of them in class. But it’s more convenient if the video already exists.
And what about students who don’t have video/digital cameras?

More Things to Consider

Neither a dance school’s location nor class fees are necessarily indicative of that school’s quality. Nevertheless, they may be important to you, depending on your transportation and financial situations.

Class size is a two-edged sword. On one hand, smaller classes mean more individual attention (and less confusion). On the other hand, a small class size may be evidence of a bad or unpopular teacher. (However, one of my favorite teachers has extremely small classes).

Tip: A really small class can be as effective as a private lesson, at a fraction of the cost.

Larger classes can be nice simply because they give you a chance to meet more fellow students and potential dance partners. Large classes might indicate that a particular teacher is really good...or they might just reflect connections or a lack of competition.

Dance classes are good for something other than teaching - dancing. In fact, your fellow students may be ideal partners, if only for practice. Some dance schools offer parties, socials or similar events. That could be a big plus.

* * * * *

There’s one more thing I want to throw in here. Until I think of a better word, I’ll refer to it as holism. Does a particular teacher like to talk about the history or origins of Latin dance? Have they studied Latin dance in other countries? Do they touch on philosophy, explaining or asking what salsa, bachata or some other dance means?

A holistic teacher may help students with their personal growth, not just dance skills. In other words, a good teacher may be able to help you find yourself. If you’re only interested in learning how to dance, then nevermind.

Additional Resources

There are other resources that can assist you in finding a good Latin dance teacher. If you live in Seattle, check out my article Latin Dance Classes in Seattle.

But even Seattleites would be well advised to enhance their search with some additional aids listed below.

1. Word of Mouth - This is a logical starting point. Just remember that some of the people you talk to could be a little ignorant or biased. It would certainly be more helpful to talk to a couple dozen people than simply act on advice offered by two or three.

2. Internet - Again, this can be deceiving, as bad dance teachers may be great web designers or publicists. However, you can glean a lot of information from the Internet. Remember that most dance teachers like to sell themselves, so if you can find very little information about a particular teacher online, that might be a danger sign.

3. Videos - This is one of your most powerful aids. A video may not say much about an individual’s ability to teach, but it certainly indicates their dance level. So how about it? Is your prospective teacher good enough, confident enough to put a video online, and does that video showcase a real talent or a mediocre dancer?

4. Website - A dance teacher’s website may say a lot about the teacher it represents. Is it well organized and attractive? Does it display a knowledge of and love for Latin music and dance? What about communication skills? Does it link to videos that reinforce classes?

5. Trial Class - Before you shell out $50-$100 for a series of classes, find out if a teacher offers an introductory trial class. Dance teachers sometimes offer special classes at local venues. Maybe a teacher you’re interested in teaches one of the drop-in classes that are offered prior to dances at many Latin dance clubs. Or perhaps s/he teaches an occasional class or demonstration in connection with local Latin dance events. (One individual says he judges a dance teacher by dancing with that teacher, as well as their students, and attending a class to see what they teach and how.)

* * * * *

So that’s my free advice on finding a good Latin dance teacher. If you have helpful comments or suggestions, please contact me or post on my blog. If you think it’s totally arrogant for a novice salsero to offer advice on teachers and/or you think my ideas are lame (or worse), check the links in the Reference section below for more free advice offered by more advanced dancers, some of whom may even be teachers. :)


How to Pick an Instructor (The Guide to Salsa)
Finding a Good Instructor (Sam Boone, ToSalsa.com)
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Dance Instructors (Karin Norgard, Joy in Motion, 2009)
Great dancers are NOT always the best teachers (The Unlikely Salsero - Don Baarns, April 25, 2007)
Studio vs. Club Classes: Different Animals (Part 1) (The Unlikely Salsero - Don Baarns, Sept. 24, 2009)
Club Classes: Insiders View (The Unlikely Salsero - Don Baarns, Aug. 3, 2007)