A Few Minutes With . . .
Lisa "La Boriqua"
Copyright 2012: The Celebrity Front Page. Entertainment Information in Chicago. All rights reserved.
Lisa "La Boriqua" teaches an attentive group one of the popular Latin dances.
Dancing has been a part of her life for most of her life, but since 1998 her name has been synonymous with Latin dance in Chicago and beyond. Lisa “La Boriqua�? Meneses, president of Latin Street Dancing and director of the Chicago Latin Street Dance Company, has taught more than 50,000 students how to dance. The “Rhythm Maven,�? as she has been described, uses a unique method of instruction to teach salsa, merengue, tango, cha-cha, mambo and other Latin dances. In this interview, she shares some of her views on dancing, its benefits and how to choose the right Latin dance for you.
1. What are the distinguishing characteristics of Latin dances that separate them from other forms of dancing?
Latin social dances that are partner-based include salsa, merengue, bachata, cha-cha, cumbia, mambo and rueda de casino. In general, I would have to say that Latin dances are so famous because they [express unrestricted] passion, sensuality, sexiness and strength. Most tell a story, and they all produce this amazing happy feeling for those who give it a try. Latin dancing is truly the most welcoming dance form I know, and it doesn’t restrict the dancer by age, weight, experience, language, religion or skin color. I have been dancing since I can remember. It must have been a calling. I lose myself in the music and really get into the "zone." It [dancing] is amazingly addictive and produces an intense feeling of freedom and expression.
2. Why have you basically dedicated your life to sharing the beauty of Latin culture through "street dancing?"
I was born in Chicago and raised in a Puerto Rican household. I am of Irish-Puerto Rican heritage, with my mother [being] from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. I grew up dancing quite a bit, but only [doing] the urban/party dances to English music. All my friends and I would go out and dance to hip-hop, techno music, dance music and house music. I, like many Hispanics, felt we didn't need to learn how to dance salsa and merengue because it was innately in "our blood." If we ever had to Salsa, we thought we automatically would be amazing! But … we had to learn, like everyone else.
When I was a teenager, my mother passed away and I found myself unable to express myself the way I would have liked to do with family members in Puerto Rico. I understood Spanish, but I was not the best speaker. This really troubled me, and I set out with burning desire to read, write and speak Spanish. I studied abroad in Spain and always worked at community centers with Spanish speakers. While learning Spanish, I realized I couldn't understand songs in Spanish and became a student of my culture. I learned the history and the story of folkloric dances. After college I landed the most amazing job at Procter & Gamble as a sales representative. I was given a company car, an expense account, sometimes picked up in limos, checked into hotels and had a handsome check. I was so amazed that none of this made me happy. I realized that it wasn't the job or the company that made me unhappy it was the fact that I was not following my God-given passion. I was happiest when I was dancing! I would go out dancing and people would say, "Whatever you are on, bottle it and sell it!" I was just so happy to be out dancing. One day, I fell asleep while driving my company car and I knew it was due to the 8-10 hours of driving a day. I asked myself, "If money were no issue, what would I be doing all day?" The answer was so easy...DANCING! I was broke for many years while growing the studio, but I was so, so, so happy! Dancing was the best therapy I could have ever wished for to connect better with my family, make some of my best friends and find happiness again. I never knew that while dancing to "get back on my feet" was, in turn, going to affect the thousands [of students] we have [taught] over the years.
3. What do you consider to be "street dancing?"
Growing up, we all learned to dance "in the street." This meant someone's backyard, basement, sidewalk, kitchen or at a party somewhere. Growing up, there were no dance studios that taught our dances so you had to learn them from your friends or family members who danced. And if there were studios, my family would not have had the money to send me to dance classes, so it was still up to you to figure it out. And then, you would go wherever you could find space. Street dances are also dances that are danced today in any Latin nightclub.
4. Since 1998, yours has been considered to be the premier salsa studio. What has accounted for the growing popularity of salsa (and Latin dances in general)?
In 1998 we were the only dance studio in Chicago dedicated to Latin street dances or dances that are danced today in nightclubs. We are still the only one-stop shopping for Latin dance and Latin entertainment in Chicago––and nationwide. Before I opened Latin Street Dancing, you could only find Latin dances in Latin neighborhoods in Chicago. As we grew, we took our students with us and went into all kinds of neighborhoods, especially downtown. We created the crossover in Chicago and it was always very exciting. Now it is more mainstream and we are proud to have been part of its growth and continued expression. So many of us have gotten the salsa fever all over the world, and I can see why everyone wants to do it.
5. Will you continue to conduct Salsa classes in Grant and Millennium parks? If so, when?
We have been blessed to dance every year in Millennium Park, Grant Park and at Chicago SummerDance [ the largest outdoor dancing series in the United States]. It is really up to each program to create their lineup from year to year. Many times we will also be accompanied by live music. We make sure that we program two huge programs a year so that Chicago will never miss out. Andres Meneses, my husband, created our special events department and organizes the Latin Street Salsa Congreso and Bachata Convention each August, and The Latin Dance Revue Theatre presentation every December.
6. How many people attended these classes, and what was that experience like to conduct classes on the lakefront?
When we are put in a lineup to come out and teach in one of these amazing venues, we have enjoyed up to 2,000 dancers at one time. I would like to think they come out for me [laughs].
7. What do you think when you see TV shows like Dancing With The Stars featuring dances such as the Paso Doble and dedicating an entire show to celebrate Latin dances?
The Paso Doble is a ballroom Latin dance. I enjoy watching this like anyone else as a source of entertainment. I mostly love it when the non-average dancer-type is given the spotlight. This is when the audience can truly connect and be motivated to learn to dance because they then feel like, "Hey, that guy/gal is as big/old/shaped as I am."
8. What does it take to be a good Latin dancer?
A good Latin dancer exudes confidence, passion, will break a sweat and not be afraid to feel sexy.
9. Describe the average person who comes to you to learn Latin dances?
I have found no true average. We attract singles, married, father/daughter, mother/son, kids, teens and active seniors. Their personalities are very similar in that they all want to have a good time, have fun and make new friends. They are certainly not the quiet type.
10. With so many people seeking new relationships, it seems that attending dance classes is a good way for men to meet women and women to meet men. If that's true, can you give me some idea how often relationships are started in dance classes?
More than I can count. I think that taking Latin dance classes are the best dating service that ever existed. For those who come only to dance, they are not even affected. Singles seem to find each other just fine. If you are looking, how much fun is it to dance and switch with more than 15 different people a class hour? I have been invited to many weddings and now teach many of the children that are now a result of those weddings.
11. How does a person determine which Latin dance is best for him or her?
You have to try them all. Usually when you start learning to dance, you do not want to stick to just one type of dance. Once you go out dancing, you find all the rhythms played, and who would want to stop dancing and miss out on all that fun?
12. Is there anything new on the horizon for Latin Street Dancing?
Latin Street is growing its Youth Dance Program, Latin Night Club Scene, developing more dance teams and to take more live music on the road. We currently have five teams at our studio and one in residence.
13. Many people are intimidated or too embarrassed to try to dance. Can you teach anyone to dance, and how do you put them at ease?
Someone is only intimidated or embarrassed to dance if they are made to feel that way. We are famous for our non-intimidating, fun and [encouraging] way of teaching others to dance. We make you feel like it’s too much fun to be watching instead of dancing.
14. Why did you decide to create dance classes for children?
Our daughter is now 5 years old and I created a program for children so that she could have play dates. Mia Ines loves to dance, and I gave the classes away for free just so kids would come out and play together. I offered classes for ages 1, 2 and 3 for free. Once she outgrew this age group, I just couldn't stop it, and it is still a program we offer today. Kids can take hip-hop, ballet and salsa classes.
15. Other than the obvious physical benefits, what other benefits are associated with Latin dancing?
Latin dancing is an amazing way to tap into your social skills, build confidence and self-esteem. It is also extremely welcoming and friendly. I love watching that new dancer develop like a butterfly. They go from walking to strutting, from office clothing to more fun dance attire. Their hairstyles and makeup change, they laugh more, they are approachable and make friends easier. Did I mention they date more?
For more information, go to www.latinstreetdancing.com
Lisa "La Boriqua" and Andres Meneses exhibit the passion and sexiness that are associated with Latin dances.