In the salsa community, there are certain people that are so highly regarded that they are
known on a first-name basis all around the world. For example, Frankie as in Martinez,
Henry as in Knowles, Edie as in the Salsa Freak, Eddie as in Torres and Ismael, as in Otero.
Many attempt it, but trust me when I tell you there is only one "Million Moves Man". Ismael
has forgotten more moves than most people will ever have in their arsenal. His originality is
amazing and his timing to music is impeccable. His laid-back style and approachable demeanor
have made him a well-loved figure in the salsa community.
Ismael Otero is one of the best salsa/mambo dancers in the world, and his group, the Caribbean
Soul Dancers, is one of the most exciting and creative dance companies to watch. The company
has taught and performed for countless people all over the world. Their performances always
leave the audience with the feeling of, "How the hell did they do that"? Ismael has a way of
creating dance magic in every performance.
StuckOnSalsa correspondent Janice Woodward sat down with Ismael, director of the Caribbean
Soul dance company, to talk music, salsa and long and short-term goals (his short-term goal
that day: to eat a sandwich. More on the long-term goals later).
SOS: When did you start dancing? How did you get started?
Ismael: I started dancing in 1994. Basically, my mother tried to make me. She sent me to a friend (Luis Delgado) and made me take classes with him. I didn?t want to go. I didn't want to be taught by anyone else. A friend wanted to go take classes, so I went with her. I got hooked and here I am.
SOS: Why do you love salsa?
Ismael: I love the way it makes me feel, the culture, the physical part. I enjoy meeting so many people. The roots and culture aspect was what drew me in initially - I learned more about my heritage through dancing.
SOS: What motivated you to become an instructor?
Ismael: Other people made me - they kept nagging me until I gave in. I was an assistant instructor with Luis for about a year, and everyone liked the way I taught, so they wanted me to start my own class.
I finally decided to try teaching because I wanted to create my own style. I was horrible at first, but I started paying attention to other instructors. I spent a lot of time watching other dancers and instructors, and from that, I developed my own program.
SOS: How would you describe your teaching style?
Ismael: My focus lies in the fundamentals. It's more about understanding - if I can make people understand the basics, their own natural style will come out. I also try to give to give my students confidence.
SOS: What do you hope to accomplish with your students in your classes?
Ismael: I want them to learn originality and to always remember to enjoy dancing. Everyone started dancing because they wanted to have fun. Being pressured defeats the purpose.
SOS: Does your teaching style differ in a group setting as opposed to privates? If so, how?
Ismael: No, not really. It's the same formula, just practicing the fundamentals.
SOS: What advice would you offer to a student who is interested in performing?
Ismael: Have the confidence and learn the basics very well. Work on your style and be original.
SOS: What motivated you to start Caribbean Soul?
Ismael: I was always good at choreography, so I picked a song and composed a dance to it. I got a group of dancers together to perform it - we did very well, and after that I kept going. It came natural to me. When I began performing, people liked my choreography because it was different. People paid attention to what I was at what I was doing, not necessarily how I did it. Even if the routine was sloppy or not rehearsed a lot, the audience still enjoyed it. That made me want to keep performing.
SOS: Which do you enjoy more, teaching or performing, and why?
Ismael: I used to enjoy teaching more, but now I would say performing. Performing is fun and I like to see people's reaction when they see my choreography.
SOS: How do you create the choreography for a performance? What do you use for inspiration?
Ismael: The main thing is to find the right song. The rest falls into place after the song is picked because everything we do matches the song note for note. I just try to be different.
SOS: How do you prepare for a performance?
Ismael: I don't - we just go and do it (laughs). We hardly practice. We get kind of lazy every now and then. Sometimes we'll do a walkthrough the day of the performance, and sometimes we just do it. People may not know when they see a piece of choreography that we may have just finished learning it or that some of my dancers are beginners.
SOS: What song(s) inspires you, both in performing as well as social dancing?
Ismael: I'm more inspired by the music when I'm social dancing, because I always make up moves and I don't have to think. I like old school salsa as well as the new school music. One of my favorite songs to social dance to is Timbalero by El Gran Combo. I also like George LaMond.
SOS: What would you like to be doing in 5 years?
Ismael: I would like to do a Broadway play. That's something I've always wanted to do. I would like to produce music - both salsa and other forms of music. I also like Hip-hop, R&B, and Motown.
SOS: Ismael, thank you for taking the time to talk to StuckOnSalsa.