An Interview with Cristina Zavala – Chicago, IL

Cristina ZavalaJJ: First and foremost, I would like to thank you for taking time out to do this interview with LaVoz del Mambo. We have been good friends for sometime. I remember my first exposure to your dancing at The Sinibar in Chicago. Although we were beginners at the time, I always knew you would be a Salsa star.

Recently, LaVoz del Mambo took a poll of the best dancers outside of the NY/NJ area. Although I personally think you are the best follow outside of NJ/NY, I was admittedly surprised that so many people shared my sentiments. I am very happy to have witnessed your development into a Salsa superstar. Where did you begin dancing Salsa? Who were your most influential dance instructors? Can you name some Salsa dancers that have influenced your tremendous abilities?

CZ: Thank you Johnny!!! First, thank you for the interview and your kind thoughts on my dancing. I would not call myself a superstar just yet, but my heart is headed there. I started dancing Salsa after being exposed to it in the Chicago House scene five years ago. Every so often they would play a Salsa song, and I would attempt to dance it. I stopped dancing because I started college and was not serious about it. It was just club dancing, in fact, I had no idea or cared about what beat I was dancing on.

What motivated me to get better was when I attended the last day of the 1st Annual Chicago Salsa Congress and saw Abakua do their Matrix routine. I was in complete amazement. I had never seen anyone accent a song so well. I had no idea that they were dancing On2, but I knew it was definitely different than what I was use to seeing in the Chicago clubs. To me it was like they were house dancing to mambo!!! Funny right?

Around the same time I became friends with Jason Pacheco and I expressed interest in learning how to dance On2. He showed me the basic step and suggested I start taking a shines class with Sekou McMiller. Before then I had not taken any formal dance classes, except an On1 styling class with Nadya Cortes three years earlier. After completing the shines class with Sekou, he asked if I was interested in joining his new group Descarga Caribe in August of 2002 and the rest is history.

Several ladies influence me for different reasons, Candy Mena (NJ) and Ana Tinajero Massicot (MA) for body movement; Leah Patterson (IL) and Burju Hurtuk (MA) for shining; Stage presence Amanda “Estilo” Moncion (NY) and Kimberli Flores (NY) and for spinning, Magna Gopal (TO) and Diana Nunez (NY).

Cristina Zavala SalsaJJ: You have been performing with Descarga Caribe since the first performance in Indiana. How would you describe your experience from the first practice and performance to the present success of the group?

CZ: That is a funny question, the core members actually laugh about our first practices with Descarga. I could not get a simple turn pattern to save my life during the first practice, and whenever I am feeling down about my dancing I pop in a video of our first performance, it brings my spirits up again.

Although we are still a young group I believe it was unexpected for us to be together 2 ½ years. Just to give you an idea, our first congress performance had 18 people on stage, then that same year, we dropped to 4 people in the group. We have been through 3 studios and countless number of dancers.

The turnover of dancers is pretty high, some only want the training and others love the thrill of being on stage. It got frustrating when Sekou would give us beautiful choreographies, but not enough dancers to perform it. Now, we have a solid group and studio so things will be running smoother than ever. 2004 has been very good for Descarga Caribe and people can expect even greater things to come in the near future.

JJ: You have had the pleasure of traveling to many places to dance Salsa? Can you name the most memorable places?

CZ: I have had the pleasure of traveling to many places within the United States; aside from the congresses, I mostly enjoy going to smaller weekend events. Some of the more memorable places were Troy and Georgette’s New York meets New Orleans and performing for Jimmy Anton’s 10 year anniversary party in NY. Both events took place in January 2004.

Another memorable city was L.A; and our performance at the Sportsman Lounge in April of 2004. These events were very personable and I made many friends there. Congresses are always fun, but as many dancers can relate – doing tech rehearsals, teaching, and performances back to back can drain your energy. However, I am looking forward to traveling internationally in 2005.

JJ: When you are not dancing what takes up most of your time? Do you have a profession outside of dancing?

CZ: I am always doing something and usually it is practicing or driving to practice. Just kidding! I live 45-60 min from the city and when you add traffic, I am in my car 3-4 hours a day. But you asked outside of dancing….. Monday thru Friday I am an accountant at one of Chicago’s top Real Estate Development Firms. I love my job, and they are very supportive of my hobby. When traveling for the weekend, I will leave Friday after work and go straight to work from the airport Monday morning.

I go to the Cristina Zavala at least 1-2 times as I am addict for cinema and Spanish novelas. I am so bad that when I travel, I go to the theatres in the city I am traveling in. I went to the movies in Puerto Rico this past July and saw Bourne Supremacy, no one believed me. I could not resist! More outside activities include the usual dining, exercising, and occasional reading. I am going to graduate school in Fall of 2005, so I am living the easy life right now.

JJ: Any additional Comments:

CZ: In closing, let me just say how proud I am of you Johnny, you have really come a long way in your dancing and recent publications, when are we interviewing you?!?!? I will never forget those weekly Transit and Sinibar rendezvous. We really miss you in Chicago and I wish you the best of luck with your Salsa endeavor. The dancers really appreciate all the hard work and dedication you are putting into this project. Once again thank you for the interview and Happy Holidays!

Cristina Zavala