A New Salsa Scene Is Born: Vera Rowe & New Hampshire
When I started dancing salsa back in 2008, little did I know how much of an adventure I was getting myself into, and how deep and rich Boston’s salsa community was. Our salsa venues currently cater to Beantown salsaholics 6 to 7 days a week almost all year round, and there are 7 dance companies actively participating in the community and abroad. I consider myself fortunate to have been introduced to the community at a time when it’s been well established for over a decade, and continues to grow and thrive with endless energy and excitement.
With that same energy and spirit, World Salsa Championship competitor and Boston salsa alumnus Vera Rowe has nurtured a brand new salsa community in New Hampshire since 2009. With the start of her new monthly salsa socials in North Chelmsford MA this September, I decided to take the opportunity to interview Vera about her salsa experiences, what it’s been like growing a new salsa scene in New Hampshire, and competing in the World Salsa Championships again this December.
Cold Salsero: Hi Vera, can you please tell us a little more about yourself? I’ve heard that you studied math and worked as a math teacher…so, are you a geeky salsa dancer?
Vera: I am a geeky salsa dancer! I have a bachelors and masters degree in mathematics. In addition to dance one of my great passions in life is mathematics. I was a high school math teacher for 6 years at The , which is a Boston Public School for the arts. This was an incredible experience because I got to work with kids who had all the same interests as me and I was blessed to be able to combine my love for dance with my love for mathematics.
Cold Salsero: How did you first get into salsa dancing? I remember you telling a story about this old Boston venue named Sofia’s, and meeting Johnny and Andres Giraldo for the first time. Also, your resume shows that you did gymnastics for a long time, is that how you got involved with Jam’nastics?
Vera: I was a gymnast my whole life and I competed in USA and gymnastics. I’m also a classically trained dancer. I attended for the arts and performing arts in New York City. I didn’t get into salsa until my college years when I joined the Penn State Salsa Club. This is really where I started to get addicted.
When I moved to Boston to attend BU, someone told me about this salsa night club called Sophia’s in The Fenway area. I didn’t know anyone at the time because I had just moved from NYC. So I ended up going by myself and that is where I met Johnny and Andres. I started talking to Andres who introduced me to a bunch of salsaholics and I ended up joining Jam’nastics, which is where Andres was teaching at the time.
Cold Salsero: Are you married?
Vera: I’ve been married for three years. Everyone always asks me if my husband dances and my answer is always “God No!” He does not dance at all but he is incredibly supportive and he understands that I would not be happy without dance in my life.
Cold Salsero: (Darn, she’s already taken!…) = P
New Hampshire & Nueva Vida
Cold Salsero: Why did you decide to start a new salsa community in New Hampshire? What are some of the difficulties and successes that you’ve had? Has it been hard?
Vera: We moved up to NH a year and a half ago and I found that there was no club-style salsa being taught. There were ballrooms teaching ballroom-style mambo but no one was teaching what everyone is doing in the night clubs. I knew I would go crazy without a salsa community so I decided it would be my goal to start one.
It’s been extremely challenging. I literally had to start from nothing. If people here danced, they only danced ballroom and they were used to socials where only couples dance together and there are 15 different genres of music being played throughout the night. When I decided to start my social people didn’t understand why I wanted to have a night where I played only salsa music. It was very frustrating. At my first social the only people who showed up were the people who were performing in my showcase. It was quite disappointing and I felt like quitting so many times.
However, I kept plugging away and my classes kept growing and the desire kept growing in the people here. I am proud to say that in February I had 200+ people show up for my one year anniversary social and the majority of people were from NH!
Cold Salsero: Can you tell me more about the performance team you train, Nueva Vida? Who are its members, what are their dance backgrounds, and what is it like working with them? How long have you been working with them?
Vera: When my classes started to really take off I wanted to offer my students more experiences so I decided to open up a dance team. I asked around and found about 15 young adults who would be interested. We literally started on the first day with 123, 567. They did not even know the basic step and many of them did not even have any dance experience.
Within one year they have grown to become an extremely dedicated and driven bunch of salsa junkies. They train some times 5-6 hours per week and have performed all across the North East including shows such as The Boston Salsa Congress and The Laval Salsa Congress. With every day they impress me with their hunger to grow! They inspire me to be the best dancer I can be!
World Salsa Championships
Cold Salsero: What is it like working with Darlin Garcia? Is it hard to work together being based out of different states? How did you guys first team up?
Vera: Working with Darlin has been the biggest blessing! He is amazing! I have yet to meet someone with a better understanding of the dance. He is really the number one person who inspired me to pursue dance full time.
I first met him 2 years ago at the Connecticut Salsa Congress. He had just lost his dance partner because she was becoming a mother and I was also looking for a new partner at the time as well. We had seen each other perform several times throughout the years and we both admired each other’s work. I had seen him compete on ESPN at the WSC in 2006 and that has always been a dream of mine. We started talking in the hallway after the shows and we just decided to try it out.
I had to learn how to drive and buy a car [to practice with Darlin in Philadelphia] because growing up in NYC I had always taken the subway everywhere. We have to take turns driving back and forth which is extremely hard because it is about 7 hours one way. But when you do it so often it just becomes a part of your life and you get used to it. I hate when people say that they don’t have time for practices because if you want something bad enough you just make it happen. If Darlin and I can make it work so can anyone.
Cold Salsero: Are you representing Boston at the World Salsa Championships again?
Vera: Wouldn’t have it any other way. Darlin and I are looking to qualify again this year. We will be attending qualifying rounds until we make it. Our first Qualifying round will be this weekend in Laval Canada.
Vera and Darlin at semifinals of the 4th World Salsa Championships in 2009
Cold Salsero: Why did you and Darlin decide to perform in the On1 division instead of some other division, especially On2? Do you plan to compete in the On1 division again?
Vera: Darlin and I are both naturally On1 dancers. We both love to social dance On2 but On1 is in our blood and that is what we feel the most confident and comfortable choreographing and performing on.
Cold Salsero: Why do you compete? What’s your motivation?
Vera: I am a competitor by nature. I love performing and being on stage but there is something so gratifying about competition. Darlin is the same way. It takes a different type of person. Competition is definitely not for everyone. You can’t understand how nerve racking it is until you actually do it.
In a show people will love and support you even if you have a mess up or [miss a connection] but competition is totally different. The judges are looking for you to mess up. Your goal is to do a “perfect routine”. The pressure is unreal.
I think the most pressure and stress I ever felt in my life was at the World Salsa Championships in the semi-finals, even more so than the finals because our goal was to make top ten. Once we made it, I was just able to enjoy the experience because we were there. Before we went out on the floor Darlin told me, “We have arrived, let’s have fun and leave it all on the dance floor.” What an amazing feeling!
Cold Salsero: You have quite the busy schedule! Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Montreal, London, etc. What’s the most exotic place you’ve been to for salsa dancing (socially or for a performance)?
Vera: I guess the craziest place I have been to for salsa is Ireland. Who would have thought, but Darlin and I traveled there twice last year. It is a very small scene but the people there are hungry to learn.
Cold Salsero: Who teaches classes while you’re away?
Vera: I usually have Nueva Vida run most of my classes while I am away. I trust them with my life. They are amazing and always have my back. I also hire professional guest instructors from Boston to come up and run my advanced classes for me.
Cold Salsero: Do you have a favorite song? Why is it your favorite?
Vera: I honestly can’t answer this question. There are so many amazing songs out there from so many different generations of salsa.
Cold Salsero: Is there anyone you look up to? Do you have a favorite salsa performer or social dancer, either in the Boston community or beyond?
Vera: Well, Darlin has really been a mentor for me these last two years. I have learned so much from him and not just about dance but about the whole business side as well. Ana and Joel have also been mentors for me. Any time I have a question I am pondering Joel will spend hours on the phone with me talking me through it. I love them! They always have my back.
Cold Salsero: Why do you enjoy salsa dancing? Can you describe “the perfect dance”?
Vera: I love many different types of dance but this genre of dance fits my personality the best. It is fast and athletic and a little crazy. The perfect dance is one in which you feel a connection with your partner, he challenges you but you feel like he is listening to your needs, it is fun and sexy at the same time.
Cold Salsero: Do you have any advice for beginner dancers?
Vera: Never give up. Everyone had to start somewhere. Salsa can add so much to your life. Just imagine the doors it can open for you if you give it a shot and stay driven and determined to master it. It sure changed my life. If you had asked me ten years ago if I thought I would be a professional salsa dancer, I would have laughed at you. But here I am ten years later and I am the happiest I have ever been. All my closest friends are from the salsa community and I am able to make my living off the thing that brings me the most happiness in life. How amazing!
Cold Salsero: Thanks Vera!
- Vera Rowe’s homepage
- World Salsa Championship Documentary by Nuevotec Productions (highly recommended!)
- See what it’s like to compete in the WSC! This documentary covers the trials of 3 couples competing in different divisions of the 2006 championships, one of which includes Vera’s partner Darlin Garcia!
- Darlin & Vera @ World Salsa Championships 2009
- Vera & Darlin Performing @ Palm Springs California
- World Salsa Championship Documentary by Nuevotec Productions (highly recommended!)
Update 8-17-2010 9:12pm:
Vera and Darlin qualified last weekend at the Laval Salsa Festival to compete in the 5th World Salsa Championships again!
Photos and videos courtesy of Vera Rowe.