The New York City Salsa Congress this year was filled with great dancing, great music, and great people. Thousands attended this year, and it was incredibly fun! Among the interesting figures present were some powerful, talented women, among the hottest names in salsa. I sat down and talked to some of them. We chatted about their dance background, the event itself, and what’s next for them. I asked them to reflect about the congress experience and the Salsa scene overall. They were fascinating, intelligent, and down to earth.
For example, Jami Josephson, the famed Salsa, Hustle, and Ballroom instructor, told me about how as a child learning to walk, she used
to walk on her toes. Her mother, thinking something was wrong with her, put her in dance class. Around the age of 19, she started ballroom dancing, which led her to a successful competitive career with current top National Rhythm dancer Jose DeCamps. Around 1998 however, she left the Ballroom world and became hooked into the world of Salsa, working particularly with Nelson Flores and Descarga Latina. On what she loves most about the Salsa world, she said “Well, Salsa comes from the heart. People dance with such feeling. The music is so rich. So that part is why I love it.”
I asked her about the event, and her role in it. “The cool thing about the NY Salsa Congress is that a lot of people come together and there’s just some type of unity that gets created, and everybody starts learning from each other.” She ran the Hustle room this year. “It’s been very successful,” she said. “Hustle, it’s an older style of dance from the 70s, but it has come back in the scene. I always say that the Salsa dancers back in the day used to steal from the Hustle dancers, and now, it’s the Hustle dancers stealing from the Salsa dancers… so it’s very crossed. I thought it was cool for people to see.” She thinks the Hustle will continue growing in popularity, and hopes to perhaps even see some West Coast Swing at next years’ Salsa congress, expanding the description of “Congress, Dance and Music Festival,” more literally. In the meantime, Jamie continues teaching in NYC, running teacher trainings to develop instructors as well, and choreographing for her team, the Rhythm Divas, who you can expect to see soon.
I also spoke with Shani Talmor, Ismael Otero’s partner, known for her grace and style. From about the age of six, this beauty from Israel danced ballet, gymnastic/artistic, jazz and contemporary. Around age 17, she saw salsa dancing on a beach in Israel, and was curious. She began at the Israeli Salsa Academy, doing On1 Cuban style rueda, and was soon put in the instructor course, after which she began instructing On1 Cuban rueda and On1 LA Style salsa. At a congress in the U.K., she met Johnny Vasquez, who asked her to dance with him. She picked up and moved to Spain to be his partner for three years. From about 2004 to about 2007 she was dancing in Europe, and in 2007 she moved to New York. She has been dancing with Ismael Otero, the On2/New York million-moves-man himself, for about four years now.
What does she like most about Salsa? “I love the music,” she said. “But I really like the fact that, what I do, I can go to a Salsa congress and meet so many different people from all over the world, and it’s beautiful to see how you have so many people from different backgrounds and different countries, different language, and at the end of the day, we just go out on the dance floor and it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you’ve done with your life, who you’ve been with or stuff like that, and it’s just dancing. Two people become one. So for me it’s amazing, that connection on the dance floor.”
Ismael’s company, Caribbean Soul, debuted a new show at the congress. Shani also performed with other great salseras (Griselle Ponce, Anya Katsevman, and more) in a runway/dance show at the event. Shani wore a gorgeous shoe design of her own (it’s shining gold – she likes “shimmer everything, glitter everything”).
On the event itself, she said that she likes the fact that this congress is conveniently located in the city, with everything in the same hotel, and that there is such a variety of dancing styles present for great social dancing all night long. And she looked very nice and well-dressed, doing it – she said she likes to wear short dresses to go out dancing, and prefers to get dressed up at congresses (“very classy stuff,” she prefers).
You can catch Shani looking fabulous with Ismael at their new studio location in New Jersey, at 682 Summit Avenue., where she teaches ladies styling classes, alongside classes in Salsa, great patterns from Israel, Bachata, and soon-to-come, Brazilian Samba and Hip Hop. In addition to performing locally and around the nation and world with Ismael and Caribbean Soul, she’s also working on upcoming routines for her ladies group, “Shani’s Girls,” and will be a part of Ismael’s upcoming 15 year Caribbean Soul reunion, so be on the lookout for that.
And finally, I spoke with the amazing and unique, Magna Gopal. She’s known for being so supremely talented that she’s almost entirely
self-taught, developing her style via social dancing. So I asked her how she began. “I actually got started dancing watching that movie Dance With Me, with Vanessa Williams and Cheyenne, a long time ago. I was living in Toronto at the time, and then I came across some flyer for dance classes.” She took a few lessons and just started going to the clubs.
That was ten years ago in Toronto. Today she’s NYC-based, but traveling often due to her high popularity. She moved to the city four years ago, and now considers this congress her “home congress.” But there’s more she likes about it: “it’s one of the biggest that I’ve attended, and it’s always frequented by so many people, I mean New Yorkers, so many locals, but as well as a lot of foreigners. And the dance floor and the dance space is excellent, and that’s a big thing. And then, it’s always got great bands, it’s always got awesome live music and a great set of shows, great instructors, and everything.” She also talked about the wonderful sharing between dance styles that’s happening now, with the Bachata, Hustle, and even Hip Hop being given room to be shared at the event. “I think the more you can expose people to different types of dances the better it is, it just opens everyone’s mind up, allows people to be more creative.” She loves, for example, “the strength and power of Hip Hop dancing,” and enjoys the incredible versatility of Salsa. “You really can do anything and everything you want with it.”
She shared one final excellent tip for dancers. “Always try and aspire not necessarily to learning as many moves as you can or as much styling and all that stuff but to really try and connect emotionally with your partner and the music,” she said. Ultimately, she explained, that will make your dancing much more beautiful.
Magna will be traveling a lot coming up, to Suri Nam, Russia, and more, and she will soon release her new set of DVDs. You can check her out at her website.
And there you have it. There are many more fabulous women in salsa, of course. These three are really on top of their game, so we found some one-on-one time to learn from them. We at e.K. Clothing would like to thank them for the interviews, and for inspiring us all, salseras everywhere, with their dancing, artistry, and instruction. The congress was beautiful, such an amazing time! Women like them made it more vibrant, alive, and fun! Now that you’ve gotten to know them a little better, be sure to be on the lookout for their new projects, performances, and classes, in NYC, LA, and beyond.