An Interview with Janet Trotto (NY) by Johnny Johnson

Janet TrottoJohnny: First and foremost, thank you for granting La Voz Del Mambo this opportunity to interview you. I have had the opportunity to dance with and you are a phenomenal dancer! For me, it was one of those experiences where I did not know you and I nonchalantly asked you to dance and ended up one of the most memorable social dances I’ve ever had. Thank you for providing this experience for me. For those who may not know you, can you tell us a little about your salsa background? Namely, who you trained with and who has inspired you the most?

Janet: Thank you Johnny for considering me for an interview and for the compliments!!! I am extremely, extremely flattered! I thank you greatly for the dance as well as it was fun, fluid and a memorable experience for me!

My salsa background: In 2001 I was introduced to Victor Mayovanex , founder and director of Karisma Dance Company, as he was giving free salsa lessons at my college. He picked me out of the large group of students and encouraged me to take classes at the studio he was teaching at. At the time I was extremely shy and found this to be a great opportunity to break out of that shell. That’s when I fell in love with the dance.

After several months of religiously attending class three times a week, I was invited to be a part of the Karisma’s new female student team, “Karisma Princesses” whose work was choreographed by none other than the sassiest salsera on the scene, Amanda Estilo, who had recently become a part of Karisma’s professional team. Once we finally acquired male partners, the student team became “Imagenes De Karisma.”

After a year of dancing with the student team, I was asked to train and perform with Karisma’s professional team (while still performing with the student team). I would have to say that I have been most inspired by Amanda Estilo. She is a natural dancer—she has movement and flavor that comes from deep within. Her style is sexy, eye-catching and playful and I am grateful to have been one of her first students when she began teaching at Karisma.

Johnny: You currently perform with one of the best mambo groups on the scene, Karisma; how would you describe this experience? What is your most memorable performance with this group?

Janet: Thank you for the compliment on the team :-) Karisma is not only cohesive on the dance floor, the members exude this same cohesiveness with each other outside of the studio. We are not only team members, we appreciate each other as people and for what we do with our lives outside of dancing. Inside the studio, we all collaborate to help achieve our constant running goal of looking as clean as possible with a strong emphasis on styling and we all build on top of each others ideas.

Being a part of Karisma has allowed me to perform at wonderful places and events such as: Lincoln Center, Manhattan Center, Continental Airlines Arena, various parades (including the very well known National Puerto Rican Day Parade), for NBC, the WB, UPN and Mun 2, Boston Salsa Congress, NY/NJ Salsa Festival, Louis Zegarra’s Mambo Showdown, and for La Mega 97.9fm. I have danced alongside Victor Manuelle, Dominiq, Don Chezina, Magic Juan, Charanga ’76, Wayne Gorbea, to name a few.

Out of the list above, my most memorable experience was dancing with the team at Lincoln Center. As a child, I had always wanted to become involved in dance but due to family circumstances I was unable to. Performing at Lincoln Center fulfilled this vision I had always had. As I was dancing on stage, I kept thinking to myself “Is this really finally happening? I can’t believe I’m up here!!!”

Johnny: You recently started performing with Shaka Brown, one of my personal favorites. What have you gained from this experience? How does is differ from performing with a group?

Janet: Shaka has provided me with opportunities I never thought I would be presented with in this scene. His style is very unique and I have learned a lot from him. Working with him has improved my technicality, body movement and my follow (we know Shaka has those crazy turn patterns, haha!!) He is very encouraging and motivating when it comes to doing something new.

Performing with a partner differs from a group because you have that very specific attention of the person you are working with. When dancing with a team, you have the input, requests and different personalities to work around. When working with a partner there is a fifty-fifty balance.

Working with a team teaches you how to be considerate of other peoples ideas and opinions and working with a partner allows you to delve into your creative side and share it with this one person. Both are definitely situations that teach you about who you are and how you interact with people and I highly enjoy both!. You can never learn too much!

Johnny: A lot of mambo dancers have very interesting lives outside of dancing. I found you to be one of these individuals. You are fluent in reading and writing Braille. How did this come about? How has this affected other activities that you are involved in, namely salsa?

Janet: After I graduated from Manhattan College with my BS in Marketing with a Psychology minor, I found myself at a crossroads- I was great at my field, but I had always felt a pull towards a career that was personally and emotionally rewarding. I

came upon a Master’s program an NYC’s Hunter College that would produce Rehabilitation Teachers/Orientation and Mobility Specialists for blind an visually impaired adults (a dual master’s degree). I found the field very interesting and applied for the program and was immediately accepted.

During this time I was able to learn wonderful things about the field and met people with visual impairments that inspired me with their courage, learning capabilities and desire to live a “regular” life. I also became fluent in Grade 2 Braille (the more difficult type of Braille)- I can read it visually (not tactually) and write it.

After one year and summer classes into the two year program, circumstances led me to take a pause from school and now I am focusing strictly on work, dancing and traveling. I intend to go back to school in 2006 after I have lived life a little bit (have to take advantage and have all the fun while I can).

Working with the blind and visually impaired has had an influence on my life and dancing in several ways. It has enabled me to become extremely patient and understanding. It has taught me to be a great listener and to be very explicative in my teaching. It has also taught me the importance of clear communication and how different people need to be communicated to in a way that will be most beneficial to them.

Johnny: Is there anything else about you that you would consider to be interesting?

Janet: Mmmmm…..I might find these things interesting but other people might not, haha…..Well, I am the product of a Puerto Rican mother and Italian father (I’ve got the best of both worlds- rice and beans and spaghetti and meatballs!!! haha).

I have an identical twin sister who is not a dancer- despite my endless efforts trying to convince her to learn, haha….if you see her at a social or event and she turns you guys who ask her to dance down, ITS NOT ME!!!!!! often guys have thought I have different personalities b/c they confuse my sister for me and are surprised when she looks at them weirdly after they ask her to dance..haha

Johnny: Who are some of your favorite mambo dancers and groups?

Janet: Well I have to give it up to my group because to me, they define classiness! I’m a fan of and inspired by (in no particular order): Franklin Diaz, Kimberli Flores, Amanda Estilo, Amaryllis Cintron, Ivonna (NJ), Danny (formerly of CSD), Griselle Ponce and Taima (those girls can move and are soooo talented!), Candy Mena, Juan Matos and Fogarete, Shaka Brown, Darlin Garcia (Philly), Hacha y Machete, Joel and Ana, Frankie Martinez, Melissa Fernandez (CA), Latin Symbolics (CA)TG (Italy), Mambo Romero (CA), Lee & Maria (TX), Troy & Georgette…. gosh there are soooo many more but these are just to name a few (hey, the mambo scene is lllllaarrrrgggeeeee..hhaha)

Johnny: Outside of NY, where are some of your favorites places to go dancing?

Janet: I haven’t had the chance to travel much, but because I spend a lot of time in DC, I’m a fan of Zanzibar, Yuca.

Johnny: Where do you see yourself as a dancer, performer, or instructor five years from now?

Janet: Well, we can never really predict the future because anything can happen….but I think down the road 5 years from now I would like to travel a lot, perhaps open a dance studio in the Bronx where I live. I will have become more involved in other forms of dance: Jazz, African, Afro-Cuban, ballroom, and would like to focus on yoga and gymnastics to assist in the flexibility, strength and stunts that I would like to incorporate in my dancing.

Johnny: Any additional comments:

Janet: Johnny, I thank you for the millionth time…lol….. ur a sweetheart!!!!!!!! When you feel you have hit that salsa road block (I’m sure most of us have), you have to pick your head up and keep moving on….I’m a firm believer that practice makes perfect….also, why do people get so caught up in the gossip of the scene?

Our mambo community is a tiny tiny part of this vast place called earth….and there IS a world outside of dancing that we can all learn from….We became a part of dancing because it was fun, it was in our blood, it was destined to be a part of our lives….then why the petty controversies?

Janet Trotto