An Interview with Rona LeBlanc (DC) by Johnny Johnson

Johnny: First and foremost, thank you for giving La Voz del Mambo the opportunity to interview you. We met over the summer during my visits to DC and have crossed paths several times since that point. You are a very nice person and a fabulous dancer. I have had the opportunity to social dance with you and watch your perfomances with Art n Motion. For those who may not know, how did you get into salsa dancing?

Rona: First of all, thanks for the compliment!! I have fun dancing with you too. Hmmm…how did it all start…well, really when I was a kid. I was born and raised in The Bronx and learned to dance salsa from friends. Back then, there was no ‘on1’ or ‘on2’. We just danced.

But, I never took classes while I was living there. Funny thing, I didn’t take my first salsa class until I moved to the Washington DC area! I started official classes back in 1999 at a ballroom studio. Then I went to Joy of Motion Dance Center and started learning ‘club-style’ salsa from Ricardo Loaiza and Elba Garcia. So, in my earlier days, my classes were on1.

I studied with Ricardo and Elba for a while, then was asked to join their dance company Latin Vibes in 2000 (formerly named DC Salseros). I’ve been dancing and performing salsa ever since. (But I have performance experience from my teenage years up through grad school with cheerleading and step shows).

I started training in mambo (on2) early in 2001 after meeting Shaka Brown, and was asked to join his performance group later that year (eventually named Clavekazi). I’ve pretty much stuck with mambo since then. I’m a self-proclaimed ‘mambo-holic’.

Johnny: You are the director of The Melao Dance Company, you also perform with Art n Motion. How would you descibe these performance experiences. Has it been difficult performing with a group based out of Philly, despite the fact that you reside in DC?

Rona: ‘Difficult’ doesn’t even begin to describe it! I put about 300 miles on my car every weekend. But, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love dancing. I commute up to Philly/South NJ on weekends to rehearse/perform with Art in Motion (AIM). That’s something most people wouldn’t do due to the distance. But, I’m not most people.

During the week, I rehearse with my all-female group Melao and I also teach salsa classes. So, I spend LOTS of time in my car. If I make it to the grocery store more than once every couple of months,.. that’s a treat!

The two groups are very different when it comes to performances. Melao is an on2 group, while AIM performs on1. So, that alone has been quite an adjustment. Periodically, I set goals for myself and always like to push my dancing farther. With each group that I’ve been in over the years, my dancing has improved.

Melao and AIM have also improved different aspects of my dancing. My personality comes out a lot more when I’m on2, but being with AIM has made me more comfortable on1, and now I tell people it’s good to know how to dance both. You can find out more at and

Johnny: Who are some of your favorite instructors, groups, or dancers on the salsa scene?

Rona: I like several different people. For instruction, I’ve mainly taken classes with East Coast instructors, so my picks are all on2 dancers. After moving to the DC area and getting involved with mambo, I would travel back to NY on weekends to take lessons. I like Eddie Torres (breaks things down very well; fun classes), Duplessey Monic-Walker (classic elegance), Griselle Ponce (sexy without being trashy), Ismael Otero (very creative and fun). I’ve also taken many classes at Santo Rico.

Johnny: Some of my favorite groups: Tropical Gem (Italy), Felipe Polanco dancers (Puerto Rico), Eddie Torres Dancers (NY), Caribbean Soul (NJ), Hacha y Machete (Boston), Salsa Brava (LA; too bad they disbanded), Karisma (NY), Salsa Y Fuego (LA). Oh, there’s another group I like out of Europe, but I can’t remember the name right now.

Johnny: You currently possess a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology. I would image that your life outside of salsa must be very busy. How do you balance your career with you salsa endeavors and other activities?

Rona: Yes, I’m always on the go. I have a regular day job, and then my nights and weekends are devoted to salsa. Sometimes it’s hard to manage everything and it gets very stressful, but I push through. I hardly go out anymore because I’m either at practice or teaching. I finally started cutting down the number of days that I teach, so I can have some more free time. Oh, and on top of all that I have someone special in my life. So, it’s quite a challenge to try and balance things.

Johnny: What is the most interesting thing about you outside of salsa and your career?

Rona: Hmm….most interesting thing outside of salsa or my career? I don’t know. One thing though…I love cartoons! I never outgrew that. When I can, I like to lie on my couch on Saturday mornings just watching cartoons. Looney Tunes, X-Men, Spiderman, Pinky & the Brain, etc. Haven’t been able to do that in several months though.

Johnny: Any additional comments:

Rona: Stay in school, but follow your dreams. Don’t listen to “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t”. Looking back, I’m glad I went through college and grad school, but if I had to do it again…I would have definitely done dance on the side (double degree; one in science and the other in dance).

Dance has been in me since I was a little girl watching “Solid Gold”, “Dance Fever” and “Fame”. And I’ve always loved musical theater. I never really pursued dance/theater until the late 1990’s. That’s the one thing I would change if I could go back. But, hey, I’m glad I’m at a point in my life where I can dance as much as I want!!

Rona LeBlanc