Waldo Solano is one-half of SalsaKnox, 18 the first Mexican salsa dance company in Knoxville. Waldo is a professional salsero, and he makes a living performing and teaching salsa and bachata. The other half of SalsaKnox is Jacqueline Sellers, an eighth grade teacher who "teaches by day, and teaches by night." And she doesn't miss a beat promoting salsa dancing!
Salsa 19 is a term created by Puerto Ricans in New York to refer to a music and dance made up of different rhythms from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean nations, reflecting a syncretism of African and Hispanic influences in the Caribbean. Bachata20, also with a strong African rhythmic base, originated in the Dominican Republic. It is a little bit easier to dance and it is a very popular style.
Waldo has been a dancer for about thirty years, professionally for the last ten. None of his relatives are artists, but when asked about the origin of his passion for dance, he said, "In Mexico, we basically learn by watching our parents at parties, we copy what they do." His family is large, and there are many birthdays to celebrate. "There is dancing at every party. Watching my parents dancing, enjoying themselves, I was bitten by the 'dancing bug'".
In Mexico, Waldo learned to dance cumbia, another African influenced rhythmic music and dance that originated in Colombia and is now popular throughout Latin America. He learned to dance salsa twelve years ago, when he moved to the United States.
Jacquie Sellers has been dancing for five years and she has been Waldo's business partner for three. Initially she used to dance just socially, but later she became more immersed. She wanted to learn salsa's technique and culture, and as result she became part-owner of SalsaKnox. "Salsa is not just for Latinos, it is for everyone," she is quick to point out. "If you can walk, then you can dance salsa!"
Waldo and Jacquie spin gracefully on the dancing floor, so elegantly synchronized (see Video 53, under Cinco de Mayo Festival.) Waldo's first large event was a Salsa Congress in Las Vegas, Nevada. That was five years ago. After that, he participated in Nashville's Congress, two years ago. "I go to many festivals and schools. Now the largest event is the one that I created last year at the first Tennessee's Salsa Congress. We had three salsa world champions. We hope this year's will even be bigger," he mentions with pride.
Waldo started teaching salsa lessons almost by chance. "I learned salsa because I liked it. Then, at parties, people would say, 'Teach me,' 'Teach me.' So many people asked that I ended up teaching. Now I am an instructor." SalsaKnox teaches beginning and advanced salsa classes several nights a week. On weekends a "dance lesson, followed by party" is a very popular event. But SalsaKnox is also a touring act. They have a professional team, a semi-professional team, and a ladies group. "We travel all over North Carolina, Nashville, East Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia."
Not speaking English made life hard when Waldo first arrived. He never took English lessons. Actually 95% of his students are English-speaking, he jokes; he learned English by teaching salsa! Waldo said he always wanted to play piano or guitar, and those are in his "to do" list. He also wants to learn a few more traditional Mexican recipes, because he misses authentic Mexican food.
Jacquie likes Latino culture because of Latinos' sense of community and their love for different types of food and dance. "And I think there’s more of an openness that we, as an American culture, have yet to discover. I love the family aspect and I love the community."
Waldo urges Latinos not to lose their cultural roots and commends families who teach folk dances and traditions to their children. "Folk art is what makes Mexico unique. I wish everyone was more open-minded. While learning a new culture, I wish we would not forget [the culture] that we bring with us."
A final thought, "Latinos should support events which would greatly help Latino businesses to continue to grow. Latinos often complain there is not much to do in Tennessee, but when there are events, Latinos should participate more."
Photo 59: Jackie Sellers and Waldo Solano perform at Cinco de Mayo Festival, 2012. Photo by Rafael Casco.
Photo 60: SalsaKnox group performs at HoLa Festival, 2009. Photo by Jon Gustin.