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INSTRUCTOR REVIEWS by the "Secret Salsera" and "Secret Salsero"

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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of, its founders, editors, staff, or members.  Our goal is to bring to our readers unbiased reviews of salsa/mambo instruction and styles from instructors around the country, and eventually, around the globe.  The identities of the reviewers are withheld for two reasons: A) We believe that maintaining anonymity will ensure their continued congenial experiences in this tight dance community.  B) Given the quality of instruction we currently enjoy, we can expect to see even further improvements since instructors will never know when our "Secret Salseros" might be in their classes.  The instructors are reviewed candidly on their quality of instruction and naturally, viewpoints on their individual styles and creativity are entirely subjective.  Since the best instructors continually take measures to bring to their students new and exciting material, instructors may be reviewed as often as twice each year.)


Instructor: Ismael Otero, Director of Caribbean Soul Dancers, New Jersey/New York

Date review posted: September 26, 2003


When you talk about salseros in the New Jersey area, the first person who comes to mind, more than likely, is Ismael Otero.  He is the Director of the Caribbean Soul Dancers (CSD), known for their fast, high-energy, clean, and original routines. If you missed their 2003 West Coast Congress performance routine, put yourself on Albert Torres' waiting list to purchase the video!  CSD had the most creative, clean, sexy, and enjoyable routine, hands-down.


I've taken lessons with Ismael in both private and group environments. The first thing you'll notice in his classes is how much fun everyone is having. Trust me: this is one hilarious, laid-back character who knows how to give people a wild and crazy time. 


Ismael teaches On2, although he occasionally enjoys dancing On1. In group partner-work classes, he leads democratically: He, along with an assistant, demonstrate a series of turn patterns, ultimately allowing students to vote on the three or four patterns they would most like to learn. At the end of class, he spontaneously calls on one or two couples to perform the material they learned that day. Talk about being kept on your toes! 


I especially applaud the fact that he doesn't just walk you through a pattern, but meticulously shows you techniques of proper execution, making even the most complex of turn patterns relatively easy to lead and follow.   


Ismael's patterns are creative and the degree of difficulty can sometimes be high, albeit lead-able.  (After all, he is the "Million-Move-Man".)  It's been said that he could dance an entire song without repeating a single turn pattern.  (Ask Edie, the Salsa Freak if you don't believe me.)  Don't be fooled by his intricate turns, however, because some of the best advice Ismael has given his students is this: "Fellas, you gotta dance at your partner's level. It's your job to use what she brings to the dance to make her look good. You can't be throwin' down when your partner is a raw beginner".  True to his teachings, you can witness Ismael on the dance floor gently leading a beginner through a cross-body lead with single turns, or tearin' it up with a seasoned dancer with multiple spin combinations and rapid hand and direction changes. This makes him an ideal instructor for both beginners just getting their feet wet and advanced dancers who are looking for complex combinations. 


In private instruction, unless there is a specific goal in mind, Ismael is likely to focus on technique and partner-work. For example, during my private, I occasionally lost connection with him during our dance because I kept "traveling" (taking large steps).  I was taught to keep my feet together, which in turn allowed me to follow more smoothly and versatilely, react more quickly, and spin faster with more balance and control. 


Ismael is a master of partner-work, and his dancers are widely known for their lead-and-follow skills. Some of the best salseras on the east coast originated from CSD, namely Candy Mena, Amaryllis Cintron, and Yesenia Peralta.  In nearly every salsa/mambo discussion board on the net, whenever the topic of the "best followers" arises, it is likely that the names Griselle Ponce and Jamie Matos will come up.  These ladies are current members of CSD, and as one dancer puts it, "They can follow their asses off". 




I would recommend taking lessons with Ismael Otero if you appreciate a "relaxed" style with street flavor.


He's great for partner-work (leading/following techniques), intricate turn patterns, creative footwork executed to the music, leading a dance to the music, and musical interpretation.


He's not-so-great if you want to add "sabor"to your dance or improve your performance quality. You're not likely to get explosive energy or showmanship out of him.  (However, CSD, in concerted efforts, always turn out a great show).


Although Ismael does not appear explosive or flashy on the dance floor or on stage, trust me, ladies, you're likely to enjoy every dance with him. He has a flawless lead. In fact, I wish all leaders would learn from his gentle, yet firm, and light, yet decisive lead, with impeccable timing and maneuvering. He doesn't top my list of dancers to watch, but he certainly is one of my absolute favorites with whom to dance.  Man, he feels so good....

You can get more information on Ismael Otero and CSD at















Clarity of student's goals



Wealth of material



Partner-work (lead & follow techniques)












Creativity of turn patterns



Patterns are lead-able



Creativity of footwork



Knowledge of tricks/dips/drops/acrobatics



Performance quality



Uniqueness of personal style



Creativity/quality of teaching methods









Makes learning fun


Off the hook!

Puts heart into teaching



Master of his/her domain



Overall Score



Overall Grade



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