An Interview with Magna Gopal – Toronto

Magna GopalJJ: First and Foremost, thank you for granting La Voz del Mambo the opportunity to interview you. I was first exposed to your dancing in the Chicago salsa clubs. Your tremendous dance skills provided a lot of excitement thoughout the salsa scene during your visits.

MG: Hi Johnny, Thank you for choosing to do an interview with me. I am surprised but honoured and flattered nonetheless. I remember our first exposure to each other at Babaluu’s (?) that Saturday night. Now, that was a blast.

And to give credit where credit’s due, I’d like to say that my “tremendous dance skills,” as you call it, are a reflection of my partner’s skills as well. Ultimately, the dance is a partner dance. A great follow combined with a horrible uninspiring lead would not be as dynamic as even a good follow coupled with a good lead and vice versa. Hence the reason our dance that Saturday night was so much fun. 🙂

JJ: Where did you learn to dance salsa? Who were some of the dancers on the Salsa Scene that influenced you the most?

MG: I learned how to dance in Toronto’s salsa clubs. I started off with a 9-week course to learn the basics but after the first 3 classes, I ended up helping the instructor teach and I haven’t taken a lesson since then. That was in the Fall of 1999. I started frequenting the local salsa clubs–going by myself sometimes since most of my friends at the time could care less for salsa–and that’s where I learned how to dance.

There was one dancer in particular who had a pretty big influence on me when I started. Even though the style of dancing was relatively simple (side-to-side without very many fancy turn patterns or shines) she was very entertaining. She had ballet training and surprise, suprise, she was an amazing spinner. lol At that time, I would do one turn and not only lose my balance but also my bearings and my partner. She was the only female dancer at the time that inspired me.

The rest of my inspiration came from the men. I wanted to be able to dance with all of the great dancers in Toronto and dance well. I’d say it was and continues to be the pursuit of that desire that contributes to my following abilities.

JJ: Is there any difference between dancing salsa in Toronto compared to other places? Where do you enjoy dancing the most?

MG: I’d say the difference is the excitement another city provides and perhaps a different style and repertoire of moves. Toronto has some incredible leads and follows but regrettably our scene is losing it’s “oomph,” socially at least. There aren’t that many great places to go and a lot of dancers don’t go out as much.

Two years ago, the scene was booming. There was a great night of dancing every night of the week and if I missed even one night, I’d hear about it from everyone. I sincerely hope that it picks up again.

I guess the scene has evolved so much that social dancing 2 or 3 nights a week isn’t a priority for most people. There are many dance schools with an increasing number of attendees, dance groups with crazy practice/performance schedules, the day job, etc. lol I digress.

I just love dancing on a nice hardwood floor where there’s good music playing and good dancers to dance with. Hmm…could be pretty much anywhere?! I have the most fun at congresses. I like large quantities of superb quality and a congress provides plenty of that. There’s no city in particular only because there are great dancers everywhere but Paris had to be one of the most visually breathtaking cities I’ve ever visited.

JJ: Ismael Otero said that you are one of the best follows on the salsa scene. He also mentioned that whenever he dances with you, the dance flows so freely that he always comes up with new moves. What is the key to being a good follow? Who are some of the best leads that you have danced with?

MG: That’s a tough one. The answer is simple but its application is easier said than done. To be a good follow, you’ve got to be light but maintain a good connection through proper resistance. Often, people just say you have to be light to follow well. But then you have follows who barely touch you and anticipate instead of follow because they are trying to be light.

Proper resistance is key. I’m sure every lead has had a dance with a follow that needs to be manhandled to execute a move or anticipates and starts doing moves that haven’t been led. The perfect level of resistance makes a dance look and feel effortless.

Your connection is often found in the hands and your body must have a split second reaction time. Of course, for complicated patterns and multiple spins, it’s necessary for the follow and the lead to have a good sense of balance. Those things combined with an open mind can make every dance enjoyable. By open mind I mean not thinking that every lead/follow is the same and that you know it all.

Magna GopalI hope you don’t mind another digression. A friend in the salsa scene was talking about expressing oneself in a dance. She felt that if she was feeling something in the song where she wanted to do shines, then she would do shines, regardless if her partner would rather do turn patterns.

This goes back to my original point about the dance being a partner dance first and foremost. I think people enjoy watching and dancing with someone that is in sync with their partners. So, if a lead doesn’t feel comfortable doing shines then I don’t think the follow should just break connection and do her own thing. It not only defeats the quality of the dance but it also defeats the aspect of following.

On the flip side, if a follow is not comfortable with shines and the lead is, I don’t think the lead should force that on the follow by continually breaking out into shines. Besides, when you’re in tune with your partner and the music, you can find plenty of room to express yourself without losing your connection.

Some of the best leads I’ve danced with, in no particular order, include but are not limited to Super Mario(UK), Sekou (Chicago), Andres (Boston), Ismael & his group members (NJ), Troy (New Orleans), Gordon (Atlanta), Neeraj (Switzerland), Mushi (UK), Shaka (DC), Sidney (New Orleans), Burju (Boston), Angus (Toronto), Caryl (Toronto) etc. I’ve danced with some reeeeally amazing dancers at the past couple of congresses but unfortunately, I don’t remember all of their names. I see the people listed above most often and I have consistently enjoyed each dance with them.

JJ: You are currently performing with Mambo Tribe. How would you describe this experience? Do you have any plans for eventually teaching or doing workshops when you travel?

MG: Performing with Mambo Tribe is great. I joined because I wanted to attend more congresses and perform for a wider audience and Mambo Tribe has provided me with that opportunity in abundance this year. Without the group, I doubt I would have made it to most of the congresses and I definitely would not have met all these remarkable people.

I love teaching. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as someone walking away saying “thanks a lot, that really helped” or “now I understand” or just seeing an improvement in their dancing as a result of what you taught.

I enjoy privates the most. I like to address the exact reason someone’s taking a lesson. But I also feed off the energy of group classes. I don’t promote myself as an instructor so I don’t look for teaching gigs. If someone thinks that they know a group of people that would benefit from what I know then I would gladly accept their offer to teach. If not, I’m more than happy to just social dance and perform.

JJ: Any additional comments:

Magna Gopal DancingMG: Have I not rambled on enough? lol I’d like to thank God and my parents and…just kidding. No, really, I would like to thank everyone I’ve met through salsa for fueling my passion for it. For the most part, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, wherever you go, and it’s great!!

For anyone entering the scene, just enjoy yourself. And for those already in the scene, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Smile when you dance, it’s intoxicating. Personally, a smile can make a dance that much better for me because I can tell that my partner is having fun.

And to you Johnny, you’re doing a great job with your website. Thanks for the opportunity to share my views with your readers. I appreciate it.

Magna Gopal