Jersey City Salsa Fever
Jersey City Salsa Fever

Salsa Fever On 2 Dance Academy is nestled into a residential block in the Jersey City Heights. If you walk by quickly, you might miss it, but the energy inside 83 Franklin St. is hard to find anywhere else.

Students across a variety of ages and identities come together Mondays to Saturdays to master coordination, self-expression, and how to communicate in real time with a dance partner.

Mario “B’ Gonzalez, who has owned, operated, and taught in the Jersey City studio for 17 years after starting in his hometown of Hoboken, says salsa is an “amazing five-minute physical conversation with a person that you can’t get anywhere else.”

He compares the dance, first made popular in 1960s New York City, as a blend like the sauce it shares a name with. Salsa mixes Cuban dances such as mambo, pachanga, and rumba with American styles like swing and tap. At Salsa Fever On 2, students learn the two-step New York-style Mambo championed by Eddie Torres, the Mambo King.

In five minutes, the average length of a salsa song, dancers either lead or follow their partners and periodically break away for “shines,” moments to show off their own flair with footwork.

In last Wednesday’s intermediate class, Gonzalez started with shines. During socials held at ballrooms, nightclubs, or bars, Gonzalez explained, there could be 100 dancers in the room. Learning. How to navigate limited floor space is something students also learn during his structured lessons.

Gonzalez himself has overcome the limits of the 1990s salsa scene he came up in.

“If you didn’t look Hispanic, if you didn’t sound Hispanic, if you didn’t have a certain physique, you weren’t well accepted as a dancer,” Gonzalez said. “I was definitely a whole lot heavier, so it was a big challenge for me trying to be accepted into a world where I was very different from many others. I took the class, and the more I got pushback, that was just more fuel for my perseverance and wanting to succeed.”

From these beginnings, Gonzalez rose step by step, from his first professional show in 2000 to off-Broadway performances, music videos, world travel to teach and perform, appearing on five reality shows and hosting eight salsa “congresses” and festivals within the United States.

One such festival is the New York International Salsa Congress, the largest Latin dance festival in the world with 2,000 guests per night. He lectures in universities such as NYU and Arizona State University while advancing his own education at New Jersey City University.

“More and more doors started to open up, and I became more and more popular and credible in the dance community because nobody was doing what I was doing because of my size,” he said.

The atmosphere Gonzalez creates in the studio is deliberately free of stereotypes. For example, it is more and more common to see two partners of the same sex, Gonzalez said.

“I’m just so happy it’s so open and accepting now when it was once such an underground community,” he said. “It just takes you to this place where there’s no judgment, there’s no bias.”

Brian Baumann, a student at Salsa Fever, started lessons out of a desire to be more active after the COVID-19 lockdown period. He said he finds it “challenging, fun, and somewhat of a workout as well,” adding, “you’re using a lot of like motor skills, so it keeps your brain sharp.”
Salsa is also a relief from the pressures of work, Baumann said.

“You’ve been working all day, you’re on calls all day. You have all the projects that you’re trying to work on and maintain relationships. And then, at seven o’clock that all goes out the door. You listen to good music and dance,” he said. “It’s definitely a stress reliever.”

For anyone who wants to join a cycled class or workshop at Salsa Fever On 2, Gonzalez’s advice is to “be a blank canvas” and leave any assumptions at the door.

“If you walk into anybody’s door with this mindset that it’s going to be this, it’s going to be that or you’re good at it so it’s going to be easy, you’re going to have much more of a difficult time being receptive to that information and then reciprocating,” he said.

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Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...