[Michael] [Maxine] [Sheron] [G2 Productionz] [Fiona]

How I Was Introduced To Salsa

Many moons ago, a friend of mine was doing a Teacher Training course, which involved him teaching foreign students English. He thought it would be a good idea to get his students together and take them out for a night on the town. He called me and asked if I would like to tag along with him and I agreed asking where he intended to take them, he replied Salsa!.

My first thought was What is Salsa?, he explained that it was some kind of Spanish dance and it was supposed to be fun. I have always loved listening to music and dancing too so I thought I would give it a go and find out about this so called dance. Mauricio Reyes was the instructor at the time and I must admit I absolutely loved every minute of the night even though I did just one or two basic steps all night.

How I Became Involved In Teaching

I had been dancing Salsa for about two years before I started teaching. From the first class I participated in as a student, I could not stop myself from helping people after the classes with dance moves (turn patterns) they had struggled with during the class and I would always take time out to help beginners on the dance floor. I received numerous compliments on how I broke things down and about my patience whilst helping others and so someone suggested I should start teaching. I just laughed it off, thinking You're having a laugh mate!, this was until the day I was thrown in at the deep end without my arm bands!

I started Salsa dancing "Cuban" style with Latin Motion but was introduced to New York shortly after, which I found as a new challenge. Rueda De Casino was also another craze that was taking Birmingham by storm during the early years of my time within Salsa. Rueda De Casino is again "Cuban" Salsa but Salsa danced in a wheel with numerous couples doing synchronised moves called by an instructor.

Henry Vina and Val Kirk of Salsa Kings had started a Sunday Salsa night in Birmingham at a club called The Glee Club. This was a very popular venue on the Salsa scene for "Rueda De Casino" classes. The Rueda teacher at that time was Cuban born, Homero Gonzalez, a Salsa Instructor based down in London who specialised in Rueda De Casino. Everyone really enjoyed the Rueda classes Homero taught in Birmingham and we were always practicing after class during the Salsa social party.

Anyway, this one Sunday, Mr Homero Gonzalez decided he wasn't going to turn up, which left Henry & Val with quite a large problem and so they turned to me, asking if I could teach the beginners Rueda Class whilst Henry would teach the Intermediates. I was flattered but I was also scared to death, I had never really taught before but as they were in an awkward position I said I would try my best and help them out. So there I was, this young man, standing in the center of sixty complete strangers thinking What the hell am I going to do?! Butterflies were eating away at my insides and I am sure I broke into a major sweat too! In my head I kept saying to myself Potty, it's too late, your now in the situation so just deal with it, and so I did. Kicked all the butterflies out, wrung the sweat out from my t-shirt, composed myself and got on with it.

At the end, I was so paranoid thinking that I had done a bad job that I went around to a few people and apologised, explaining it was the first time I had ever taught. To my surprise everyone I had spoken to really enjoyed it and couldn't believe that it was my first class. In fact, people enjoyed themselves so much that they flooded Henry and Val with compliments about my class. That same night, Henry and Val offered me a teaching position in their team.

A little while after teaching for Henry & Val I decided to continue teaching Salsa, under the name "Salsa Addicts" .

The "Salsa Addicts"

The "Salsa Addicts" were three guys with a passion for Salsa, Wesley Prince, Gary Thomas and myself Michael. As the "Salsa Addicts", we had a small following but Latin Motion held the Salsa monopoly in Birmingham as they had been established for many years teaching Cuban Salsa.

In fact, Gary, Wesley and I started our Salsa lives with Latin Motion but then we were introduced to "New York" style through a guest teacher that Latin Motion brought to Birmingham. From that day on the passion took over, the three of us had decided to pursue this "New York" style Salsa with London being the best option.

Whilst we were attending classes in London, I decided to teach "New York" style Salsa in my local area with the help from Gary and Wesley, operating under the name "Salsa Addicts".

Those Who Inspired Me

To be honest , I must admit that everyone in Salsa is an inspiration to me regardless of whether they teach or not but I have listed those that influenced me during my first few years of dancing.

  • Nelson Batiste
  • Robert Charlemagne
  • Elder Sanchez
  • Homero Gonzalez
  • Ramiro
  • Special Tee and Rukè
  • Leon Rose and Suzanne
  • Eddie Torres
  • Santo Rico
  • Francisco Vasquez
  • Frankie Martinez

Special Thanks To Special Tee and Rukè

Special Tee was my mentor and friend who unfortunately passed away on Tuesday 17th November 2015. He and his sister Rukè were a phenomenal dancing force here in the UK dancing Mambo "On2". He was equally as good "On1" but his passion lay with the Mambo "On2"! I had the privilege of attending quite a lot of his "On2" lessons in London. I had been attending his classes on and off for over 15 years and had recently restarted his classes again in September 2014, when he relaunched his class after taking a break due to his health. Again due to his health and not feeling 100%, Tee put his class on hold again in July 2015. Most of us thought nothing of this because Tee cancelled his class a few times since last year because of his health, unfortunately that class in July was the last time most of us saw him.

Hand on heart, I can honestly say that he was my biggest influential Salsa figure on the planet. His knowledge of the dance, how he executed his moves and just his ferocious array of turn patterns were on another level. We are talking about a guy who had t-shirts made which said "Special Tee, the next level" on the back and the Superman emblem on the front. Now usually when I see t-shirts like that I just laugh because the people in them can't back them up but in Tee's case he wasn't joking, this dude was seriously on another level! He even caught the eye of the likes of Nelson Flores and Eddie Torres to name a few all the way across the Atlantic in the States. The image on the left shows a picture of Special Tee receiving an award at THE 4TH ANNUAL WEST COAST SALSA CONGRESS 2002 in L.A.

Many people on the Salsa scene today won't even have heard of "Special Tee" and the influence he has had on some of the great teachers, dancers and performers that they respect today. Believe it or not Special Tee has been a major contributor to the "On2" scene for over 2 decades. I know Tee wasn't everyone's cup of tea but hey, you can't please the world, right? He simply did what he did, the way he wanted, in the way in which he felt was best. Tee was so talented that he could have quite easily have been a worldwide figure that every Salsa dancer knew and spoke of, he could have had his name in lights but he wasn't in it for the stardom or fame.

A very Special thanks to the late Special Tee and his sister Rukè as they have played a major role in mine and Maxine's development within Salsa for over a decade.

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Maxine Stephens and I have been teaching Salsa for around 13 years in the Midlands and on occasion teaching nationally and Internationally.

Michael & Maxine, as we are more commonly known, are based in Birmingham. We are renowned in Birmingham and the Midlands for our precision to detail (e.g. a clear foundation of the basics & technical aspect of partner work) and for our humorous teaching style.

Maxine and I dance and teach New York Style Salsa On1 or On2 and on occasion we sometimes teach Rueda De Casino classes too.

You can catch Maxine Know It All Stephens along with myself debating a move on a dance floor near you if you live in and around the Birmingham area.

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Sheron qualified as a Primary School teacher in 1996 with her main subject being 'The creative Arts' i.e. art and design, the expressive arts; dance and drama. She has been teaching dance to Primary school children from ages 7-11 for over 12 years for various dance festivals and school productions.

Sheron has been dancing Salsa for 6 years and has been assisting instructors during classes for around 2 years now. Sheron has been working with Smooth Salsa from day one at our monthly parties. Sheron also assisted at our popular classes which we used to teach Wednesday and Fridays at the YMCA, West Bromwich, showing off her leading and following skills.

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G2 Productionz, The Video Man

G2 started taking Salsa lessons in 2010, after numerous recommendations from close friends. He was advised that in order to progress and master the technical aspects of Salsa, he should attend Michael & Maxine’s classes.

He religiously started attending the beginners YMCA class at West Bromwich, taught by Michael and recalled learning and enjoying the variety of new shines. However, he remembered Michael’s help being particularly invaluable to his own learning, adding that Michael had the ability to observe a problem in a turn pattern, break it down and help you correct your mistakes. No other teacher had been able to offer him such detail and technical advice. All the tuition he got from these lessons paid off, with his salsa improving immensely.

Soon after, he started attending the Smooth Salsa parties and his desire to improve increased. He decided to record his Salsa dancing so that he could correct any flaws and perfect his style. However, whilst taking a break, he found himself recording other dancers and became transfixed on the vibe and atmosphere, which resulted in him recording and creating videos (found online via Vimeo & Youtube) of Smooth Salsa monthly parties for others to share and enjoy.

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Fiona has been one of my students ever since she started dancing Salsa in June 2009. Her frequent attendance to my classes throughout the week created the opportunity for me to mould her into the quality dancer she is today, and her familiarity with my style of teaching means she naturally fits in with the Smooth Salsa team. Over the years she has assisted in my lessons and taught the beginners class at our monthly parties. From this, Fiona now also teaches her own fun Salsa class to young children.

Being a keen and active supporter of Smooth Salsa, Fiona always accompanies myself and Maxine when we are guest teaching at other Salsa events and private parties. She has also recommended many to attend our lessons and parties.

Fiona mainly has a passion for Salsa, dancing both On1 and On2, but she also enjoys Kizomba and Tango. She is always keen to dance with dancers at any level so no one should ever feel shy to ask. Her friendly manner puts beginners at ease, provides an enjoyable dance for experienced dancers and provides a great welcome to guests at all of our events.

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