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Piel Canela: Wall Street's Loss is Dancing's Gain

by Marilynn Larkin
April 20, 2009
Chelsea Studios
151 West 26th Street, 6th floor
(between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10001
Annual Fundraiser April 26; Que Rico Mambo May 1-3
Joe Burgos has a large vision — to create a Latin Arts Center in New York City that includes dance and music classes, and a showcase for aspiring artists — and there's every reason to believe that the vision will become a reality. In October 2001, Burgos gave up a career as a stockbroker to focus on his avocation, teaching Latin dance. In eight short years, he has succeeded in turning a class of five students into the Piel Canela Latin Dance and Music School (www.pielcaneladancers.com), a nonprofit organization that serves more than 400 students weekly at its current home base, Chelsea Studios, and many more in colleges and community centers throughout the city. By 2010, Burgos aims to have the school operating out of its own space, with an expanded program that encompasses all aspects of Latin Arts.

Why do I believe he'll reach this goal? Simply put, Burgos is doing everything right. His classes have structured, six-to-eight-week curricula that build upon each other, with a logical progression from beginner to advanced classes. In the brief time I've been taking salsa lessons there, I've seen students who never danced master the basics of counting, shifting weight, and moving smoothly through simple patterns and shines. And for someone like me, who enjoys challenges, it's clear from the outset that there's plenty to learn.

The school is also welcoming to newcomers. There's no "attitude" — not in classes, and not in the weekly "practicas" that Burgos runs so that beginner students can start feeling comfortable dancing in less structured, social situations. Burgos himself is high energy but surprisingly self-effacing; approachable and collaborative, he says many of the ideas for new classes and events come from dialogues with students.

Two upcoming events are emblematic of the innovative approach and commitment Piel Canela offers its students and collaborators:

The annual fundraiser, which will be held on Sunday, April 26 from 6-10:30 pm at Stepping Out Studios, features a unique "all star band" made up of the top names in Latin music today. The band members, all of whom have their own bands, will come together for the first time in a jam session to help raise funds for Piel Canela. These luminaries include Willie Villegas, Jimmy Delgado, Chico Alvarez, Tommy Mattioli, Ruben Rodriguez, Bobby Allende, Ernie Acevedo, Chino Pons, Ron Prokopez, Wayne Gorbea, and Marc Quinones. The event will also feature performances by Piel Canela students and dance company members, and free dinner.

Que Rico Mambo: Ayer et Hoy is a dance production with three performances, May 1-3, at City College's Aaron Davis Hall. The show offers a "trip down memory lane," focusing on the last 25 years of salsa, and what the dance is like now.
Joe Burgos teaches at City College

Joe Burgos teaches at City College

Photo © & courtesy of Weiying Yu

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