An Interview with Johnny Johnson by Janice Woodward for NYSC Magazine

This interview was conducted by Ms. Janice Woodward for an upcoming article in David Melendez’s NYSC magazine. The article will contains interviews with various individuals and will discuss how people from different ethnic backgrounds found their way into the salsa community.

Janice: How were you introduced to salsa?

Johnny: First, thanks for considering me for this interview Janice. I am usually on the other end of this process. I actually wrote an article about this. My ex-girlfriend introduced me to it. Truthfully, I thought her infatuation with salsa was strange, being that she was African American and didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. However, once I took her to the club for her birthday and got a taste of the atmosphere, I was immediately hooked and started taking classes a couple of weeks later.

Janice: How long have you been dancing?

Johnny: I have been dancing salsa about 4 and a half years now. It seems like it’s been a lot longer, but my first class was in the summer of 2001 at Latin Street Dance Studio in Chicago, IL.

Janice: What is your racial/ethnic background and nationality?

Johnny: I am African-American

Janice: Have you ever felt odd or like you stood out because of your racial/ethnic background?

Johnny: Of course… in a negative and positive manner; Generally, I draw a lot of attention from Latinos because I am not Latin. Sometimes people come up and start speaking Spanish to me, because they see me dance. Every now and then, people ask me if I am Cuban. However, most of the time people just stare. As an instructor, people tend to question my knowledge based on my ethnicity or my Spanish-speaking ability. People in the salsa community are use to diversity, but people outside the salsa community find my involvement with salsa a bit strange.

Janice: Where (what city/country) did you first dance salsa?

Johnny: Chi-town (Chicago, IL).. what’s Descarga Caribe! That’s my salsa family. When I lived in Chicago, I danced with Descarga Caribe and primarily trained with Sekou McMiller (Sekou…don’t say I never plugged you as my instructor)

Janice: Do you feel accepted in your local salsa community by others?

Johnny: Well I learned early on in Atlanta that everyone does not always welcome the new salsa kid on the block with open arms. However, as my dance partner, Lucy Lu, and I began to travel and gain recognition as performers and instructors outside of Atlanta… people in the Atlanta scene have become much more supportive of our efforts. I think I struggled earlier on with acceptance in the Atlanta scene because I was more established with various salsa endeavors than when I lived in Chicago.

I remember when I first wrote my “Atlanta Talks” article for David Melendez. I had only been living in Atlanta about a year. I wrote a whole article, giving props the Atlanta scene and mentioning the known instructors in Atlanta at the time. Well to my surprise, several individuals that I complimented in the article seemed offended that I was writing on behalf of the Atlanta scene. In fact, the only people that actually said “thanks for mentioning me” was Jose Maldanado and Gordon Neil. This was the first harsh lesson for me that everyone would not embrace my salsa endeavors in Atlanta, no matter how positive.

Nevertheless, as time goes on I have made a tremendous amount of progress as a dancer and instructor in Atlanta and I still plan to accomplish a lot more.

Janice: Have you ever felt like an outsider in the salsa community? If so, why?

Johnny: Not really. One thing I love about the salsa community is that it is like an extended family (most of the time). Heck, I see salsa people more than I see my own family. There are dancers in Chicago that I have seen more times this past year than my own Mom. Salsa people are some of the best people in the world and one thing I love about salsa is that I feel like I am apart of a family no matter where I travel to.

Janice: When you travel to other cities/countries, are others friendly and accepting of you?

Johnny: Very.. I joke with other instructors all the time about how you seem to get more love as a dancer and instructor when you travel than in your own hometown.

This is no secret in the salsa community. I love going to Raleigh, DC, Boston, Chicago (of course), even NY. People embrace me where ever I go and take me in like family. I have had total strangers take care of me like I was their best friend because of the bond that exist in the salsa community.

Janice: What do you love most about salsa?

Johnny: Alot of things.. the rush that I get when I perform, the bliss I feel when I social dance, the love I feel when I travel, and the ability to completely free myself during a dance…just to name a few.

Let me sum it up by saying… a lot of people never experience dancing the night away until your clothes are drenched with sweat and your body is aching from dancing so much… This is a normal thing for salseros! I think we as salsa dancers sometimes take what we have for granted. I truly believe anyone that has had an opportunity to be a part of the salsa community and experience this tremendous dance has added value and quality to their life.

Thanks again for the opportunity Janice (save me a dance).

Johnny Johnson