An Interview with Chris Soto (Miami) by Johnny Johnson

Johnny: First and Foremost thank you for granting La Voz del Mambo this opportunity to interview. I recently attended your event, “The Spring Break Salsa Bash.” This was a very successful event and now you have “The Mambo Project” coming up June. Before we get into “The Mambo Project” can you tell us a little bit about your background as a salsa dancer and how you got into the salsa scene?

Chris: Johnny, I dont know how the hell I am the one getting interviewed but thank you again for this opportunity! As far as my salsa background, not too complicated, saw someone doing hot moves and I wanted to be like them (jk). No but seriously, I was home from school on a weekend and my mom recommended I go see a show in the bronx.

After the show, I went up to the girls in the group and asked them for some patience with me on the dancefloor. They invited me to their studio (Mamboconcache) and from there, the rest is history. I started from scratch with Juan Portella who is the best instructor I have ever had. He would take me to Nells and Flamingos and I was hooked. He really emphasized social dancing to improve so I took it for gospel and still do.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started learning, I moved down to Miami and was still hungry to learn. I continued taking classes for a while in Miami but tried to take as many trips up north as possible. I try to go out social dancing as much as possible because I think that’s what helped me grow tremendously.

Johnny: For those that may not know you, you are actually a pretty young guy. Most successful event promoters are generally a lot older than you. What inspired you to get into event promoting?

Chris: Well, I dont know if I am successful and I hardly think of myself as a promoter (lol). When I think of promoters, I see Albert Torres or David Melendez up in their suits on stage MC’ing the congress’.. me, I am just a dude that loves to dance. As far as the inspiration, as I said earlier, I would take frequent trips up north and I wanted to bring that same energy of socials, performances, and good DJs to Miami.

Just as anything in life, if there is something you want and its not there, you have to create it. It started out as an idea to throw one social but after the first one, we received so much positive feedback that we kept doing them. Once I got the ball rolling, my mom saw my drive and the potential so she encouraged me to keep it up.

Johnny: What were some of the trials and tribulations you experienced while trying to promote events in the Miami area?

Chris: Great question! There were and will always be trials and tribulations. I would say that the biggest challenge is the resistance to Mambo in Miami. Now before I go into this, let me say that the scene is definitely growing and there are plenty of great dancers down here. I guess I have my own philosophy on this subject, so here goes…

Unlike other cities, Miami has its own salsa ‘Style’ just like NY. When the mambo bug hits other cities, the transformation is relatively quick. Yet with Miami, there is a strong Casino community that doesn’t want change, at least in the beginning. I totally see that point cause I could not fathom Casino taking over NY. Yet with the resistance, Mambo is still growing in Miami and that is why we started the Mambo Project. (Oh damm, thats one of the next questions, sorry).

In addition, DJ Joey G (who is by far Florida’s Number One DJ!) plays the tracks that mambo dancers want to hear so those that dance Casino dont really get into the music at our socials as they would at the local clubs. No one has blatantly hated on me or the events but there are a few promoters in Miami that probably don’t look to highly on my push with these ‘mambo’ events.

Johnny: For aspiring event promoters, what do you feel is the key to successfully promoting an event?

Chris: Networking, networking, networking! You have to be out there talking to people, putting the flyers in their hands, dancing with everyone in the place, letting them know what you are doing.

I do a lot of traveling with my job and for one of our socials I couldn’t really get out there to promote and was solely relying on web advertisement. We did well but it could have been a lot better. That showed me the importance of being out there. I think what has also allowed us to be successful is the fact that I dont promote any particular school. I keep it neutral cause that’s where the drama comes in.

A lot of times I say ‘we’ or ‘us’ cause just like an artist or performer, a promoter has fans and you have to give credit to those that support you. It is not my event, it is OUR event, everyone is a part of making the events a success so I hate to say ‘I’. Also, its not about the numbers.

Of course its always nice to make a dollar or two but with the exception of few, we are not in this for the money. I would rather have 200 people at an event Jamming, and when they leave say, “that party was off the hook, the music was slammin, etc…” than to have 300 and the response is “the music was aiiiight” or “the last party was better”.

Johnny: For those who may not know about your event, can you give us some more detail about The Mambo Project?

Chris: The Mambo Project is a result of demand. Everyone likes the socials we’ve done so far so we keep it going. The only way mambo will grow in Miami is if you give them Mambo, pretty easy recipe (at least that’s what I think.. lol). No dilution, no false advertisement. In no way is this an exclusive event for mambo dancers but all the other styles have their schools and events established.

Its time for Miami to be known for mambo events as well, not just Casino. For all of our events, I like to do something different, performances, guest DJs, Fashion show, etc.. In order for people to take interest, you have to expose them to something they are not used to. Something that draws them to the event. That’s why we bring the out of town groups and DJs.

We could have easily done an event with just Miami groups and DJs but what makes that different from another social down here? There are also few mambo instructors in Miami and all are very spread out. I wanted to have worthwhile mambo workshops for the scene down here. We experimented with workshops a couple of times and people are hungry. Just give em what they want! Great music, great instructors, great weather, great performances = a great event!

Johnny: “The Mambo Project” is not a salsa congress but I see a lot of symptoms. Workshops and performances from top-notch dancers, social dancing, vendors, a nice hotel, a big city…. How does this event differ from a mini-salsa congress? Where did the idea and inspiration for this project come from?

Chris: We joked about this before and I can see the perception. I wanted to do an event a little bigger than a social but not congress level. Once the planning went in motion, it definitely evolved into something bigger than what I expected.

I am just grateful to all the performers and instructors who have faith in the project and are supporting it. The reason and inspiration to have something a little bigger than a social is to also draw the out of towners. C’mon, who doesn’t want to visit Miami!?!? The name of the city sells itself.

Before people used to get turned off by Miami thinking there’s no dancing other than the Casino spots. That’s what the Mambo Project is about, changing that opinion. I never liked the term ‘Mini’ either so that eliminated that. So I guess you can say its a ‘mini’ congress but I feel that the word ‘project’ is so much stronger cause it defines what we are trying to do, a work in progress.

Johnny: I fell in love with Miami during my recent visit, however, you maybe moving soon. You have achieved more success promoting salsa events in the Miami area than most individuals. Why move now?

Chirs: Dammmm, blowing up my spot. Its all good though. Miami is a great city and there is so much potential down here yet I never was able to fulfill my dancing goals. I am moving because my job is flexible in that respect and I truly want to pursue the performing side of dancing.

I love social dancing but I have always had the desire to perform. It was always up in the air but once I got the opportunity to start rehearsing, that locked my decision to make the move. I am originally from Jersey and also miss the atmosphere. At the same time, the mambo project is just beginning. It can be in Miami, Connecticut, or Alaska. That’s why it’s a project.

We will definitely keep doing our events in Miami, without a doubt! With my job now, I am hardly in Miami anyway so its almost the same thing. I am strongly considering moving back to Miami after a few years because of the questions you asked. Although I am moving, I plan to be in Miami quite frequently.

Johnny: What are some interesting things about you outside of the salsa world?

Chris: I would say the most interesting thing outside of salsa for me is my job. Working as a Coast Guard officer in Miami has been a challenge. This is a fast paced area for the Coast Guard between drugs, immigration, and fisheries. It’s sad to see the conditions out there but its been a rewarding experience. Because of my ship’s location, we are usually in the mix of everything. If you’re curious, you can see the ship in Bad Boys 2.

Although it has been interesting, it gets very old. I am definitely ready to move on and that’s what I will be doing in Jersey.

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

Chris: Johnny’s favorite question….(its also a loaded question, which is not fair) gotta do what you gotta do though huh Johnny lol…

Juan Portella was definitely my mentor when I started and I love watching him dance. It seems like every girl wants to dance with him when we are out, great lead! I also gotta give a shout to Victor Perez and Burju Hurturk (Hacha Y Machete) for challenging me. When I envision myself performing, I see my best fit with their choreography. I am glad they gave me the opportunity to start rehearsing but it has definitely been a big change from just social dancing.

There are so many talented guys and ladies out there but with those that I have danced, I love dancing with April Genovese, Naty (Santo Rico), Amarylis, and my good friend Caridad (the first mambo dancer I met and invited me to the classes), she is a really great dancer. I also enjoy watching Arelis Beato and Tamara, I think they have great stage presence.

As far as guys, I was maaaaad motivated to step my game up once I saw Milton Cobos for the first time. The girls look like they want to melt after dancing with him. He looks like he leads well. I also enjoy watching Juan Matos and Eric Baez because of their energy. One of my favorite dancers is also Choco, who has helped me tremendously and been a mentor throughout the ‘promoting’ side of me.

I haven’t been in the scene long so I am sure my knowledge is limited but as far as groups.. I love Hacha Y Machete, Fogarate Dance Project, Karisma Dancers, and Tito Y Tamara. There are also specific choreographies I love like the Caribbean Soul one in Black and White and Santo Rico’s Gangster.

Johnny: What can we expect from Chris Soto in the next few years?

Chris: Only time will tell. I mean, if you told me when I first started dancing that I would be throwing socials a year later, I would say you were crazy so I guess you never know. I dont have anything planned other than keeping the Mambo Project going.

My mom has really inspired me to keep this up. What you can expect is that anytime you visit a Chris Soto production, you will definitely have a great time. The website is going to be our resource for information on what we are doing so stay posted or join our mailing list.

As discussed before, I would like to start performing in the near future so I am excited for that too!

Johnny: Any additional Comments:

Chris: Johnny, I really appreciate this opportunity and it’s great to see you and others contributing to salsa other than on the dance floor. Most of all, thanks to all the Salseros/Salseras in Miami who welcomed me to the new scene, danced with me when I was learning, and come out to support. Lastly special thanks to DJ Joey G who has been there since day one with the socials and had faith in my vision.

Chris Soto