Mambo king Eddie Torres still burns up the dance floor
Legendary mambo king Eddie Torres likes the saying “There are people dancing since they were born and others born to dance.” The salsa guru certainly falls into the latter category, but he didn’t find his moves till he was a teen in Spanish Harlem, he tells the Straight.
Apparently, it all stemmed from a girl he had a crush on and wanted to take to the movies. “She invited me to her house and she wanted me to dance,” Torres says, talking to the Straight from New York, where he teaches five days a week. “I lied and said, ‘Sure,’ but I didn’t know she was gonna put on the music and try to dance with me. Long story short, she went to the movie with her ex-boyfriend.”
Until then, Torres was into sports like swimming, but from that day onward, he committed to learning Latin dance—and he hasn’t stopped shaking it for five decades. He worked to give the dance form legitimacy through the ’70s and kept it alive with seminal salsa musician Tito Puente in the ’80s. Flash forward to today, and he’s surprised to find himself in the middle of a worldwide boom in salsa—and in demand as a teacher and speaker all over the world. That’s just what will bring the smooth-moving maestro here to the Vancouver International Salsafestival.
Organizers expect to see over 4,000 people attend their event, but even that pales next to the throngs who checked Torres out on a recent visit to Japan. “Here’s me, a guy who grew up in Spanish Harlem. So when I went to Japan for the first time, well… Who’da thunk it?” he says, then adds: “One of the visions I had from my youth was to have it become as established as a lot of the classical dances—and for me it was somewhat of a dream when it happened.”
When Torres comes here, he’ll be demonstrating some of the moves that have made him a star in the salsa scene, as well as passing on some of his knowledge in workshops. Don’t expect him to impose a lot of rigid rules on his students.
“I like what I’m seeing nowadays, and all the beautiful tricks of the new generation,” says the Puerto Rican–American dance master. “The only thing maybe lacking in this generation is everything is learned so educationally and so academically. Back in the day, you were on your own—you would listen to music and you would dance how you felt. What I try to incorporate in their thinking is that they shouldn’t be a slave to any particular style. I say, ‘Look inside and try to develop your own style.’ Years ago we didn’t have names [for the moves]; everything today has names and a whole philosophy behind it. What happened to the simple idea of just going onto the dance floor and having fun?”
The good-natured Torres laughs off discussions he hears today about what defines the New York style of salsa versus the L.A. style. “I say, ‘You go ahead and argue and I’ll be on the dance floor shakin’ my butt,’ ” he says.
Part of his approach stems from the fact that Torres was clearly born to dance, with the charisma—the “soul” he says is so necessary—to burn up a dance floor. But he reveals to the Straight there’s another pull that Latin dance has always had for him. And it’s the secret to his longevity, he believes.
“For me it became a vehicle to express myself. It was a kind of therapy for the emotional problems I had,” he says. “I grew up in an unhappy environment with a lot of fighting and stuff at home, and I would escape to the clubs. Dance was a way to get release and vent your feelings. You dance what you’re living, good or bad—and that’s why I’m still dancing today at 63!”