‘I caught the salsa bug when I was just a kid’
Every day Rafael Laverde, originally from Colombia and resident in New Zealand for more than a decade - arrives at the offices of the New Zealand Translation Centre, where he works as a Sales Executive and Linguistic Consultant.
Together with more than twenty translators, linguists and project managers, he provides consultancy services to companies that need to communicate about their brands and products in international markets, ‘because something you might say in English or Japanese will need to be reworked entirely to be said in Chinese; we have experts in this field here, and that's something our clients recognise’.
The thing that really makes Rafael stand out is his hobby - one that he describes as just as rich and diverse as a language - which keeps him busy training for three hours at a time, three times a week, and which combines his work with his passion: dance and, more specifically, Salsa.
“I come from a Latin country on the Caribbean, so I caught the Salsa bug when I was just a kid. I consider myself a ‘salsómano’, as we say in Spanish: I love Salsa music and the dance itself is yet another instrument, because you interpret the music with your body and there are lots of different styles, such as Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican and many others.”
Rafael has lived in Edinburgh and London and has always found a way to practice Salsa. Just like a language, Salsa is a musical style which has grown and adapted to suit the characteristics of many countries, and nowadays there's no place on Earth that doesn't have a Salsa school or club.
“Imagine: there are 13 Salsa schools in NZ. But here in Wellington the situation is particularly special. It's very easy to work things out to fit in with your timetable: work, time with the kids, taking them to school - you can get all this done and still have time to make it to the dance school at 7pm - it's really simple,” he says.
For this reason Rafael decided several years ago to get involved at the semi-professional level and took up the reins as co-director of the Salsa Magic dance school, together with two friends, Jacob Rosevear and Chloe Robinson. The dance school is the result of plenty of hard, tiring but inspiring work - it was a dream that brought together a team of eight instructors, who comprise a seedbed of new talents in New Zealand's capital.
“Ever since I arrived in Wellington there has always been a big Salsa community, but it's only ever been focused on social dancing at monthly get-togethers. Since I started getting involved with directing the Salsa school six years ago, there have been lots of changes, and one of the things we changed was our image, so as to encourage more people of all ages to take up dancing.”
At the moment, there are almost 90 students spread across six classes (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and 45 of these make up the competitive dancing team, which has made some major achievements, such as taking part in the Congreso de Los Angeles, one of the largest and oldest Salsa events in the world.
Last year they presented four choreographed routines, and one of them, called The Lord of the Rings, was chosen to close the event, thanks to its magnificent staging under Creative Director, Jacob.
What's more, the dancers have won major prizes in international competitions in Australia. This is a real achievement because the standard of Salsa in Australia is very high. The team has been singled out for praise in a range of categories in singles and doubles, and in rhythms as varied as cha-cha, bachata and mambo, among others.
Only last July they were awarded first place for 'Most Creative Choreography’ at the Sydney Latin Festival, yet another of the large world events at which they stood out for their professionalism, delivery and staging.
The dream of this Colombian Salsa lover remains intact: keeping Salsa alive and authentic. “We don't want Salsa to die in the Salsa dance salon system - because that's something completely different. TV competitions like Dancing with the Stars, where people dance the rumba and the two-step, don't depict the traditional Salsa steps - they are adaptations. Our dream is to keep Salsa in its traditional form and spread it around the world,” says Rafael enthusiastically.
He adds, “The Salsa is an inclusive dance, the idea is that the student trusts in us and can see rapid results. But there is something else that dancing Salsa creates: a community of friends, a kind of family, people who get together for a reason, regardless of colour, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status”.
If you like the sound of Salsa and would like to give the dance a try, visit www.salsamagic.com and join this group of enthusiasts who share the same passion: dancing Salsa.