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NJ dance instructor on striving for greatness: “Salsa is my superpower”

From his humble beginnings, Mario “B” González has done well for himself as a Latinx dancer turned instructor, founder, and director of Salsa Fever On2 in New Jersey. In an exclusive interview with NYC Tastemakers, González highlighted his struggles, his accomplishments, and goals for his future and the future of dancing as a Latino.

González has had more than 25 years of experience in the dance field, having participated on five reality television programs, several movies and music videos, hosted numerous dance congresses, danced in off-Broadway shows, and performed and taught in over 36 countries. Additionally, throughout his years in the industry, González has been able to choreograph dances for a plethora of Latinx powerhouses, such as El Gran Combo, La Sonora Ponceña, Andy Montañéz, Victor Manuelle, Tito Nieves, Grupo Niche, among many others. But like anyone, González had to find his way to success.

As he grew up in humble Cuban-Puerto Rican household, González said that he and his family struggled economically, and that for this reason, he “didn’t have the resources to go out and learn much about the history and about the origins” of dancing. Despite this, his family would always make sure to take González out. Owning only two cassette tapes – one by Puerto Rican band El Gran Combo and the other by bachata singer Juan Luis Guerra – he was always around “this great folkloric music and great resourceful instruments.” His mother, González said, would always be one to play salsa and other Latin musical records that he easily grew accustomed to.

“Little by little, growing up,” he said, “I guess it was embedded in me some way; the seed was planted.”

González said that he started off as an athlete, citing that his experiences with sports did not “go too well.” Afterwards, he decided to join the Marine Corps, an occurrence that led him to injure his shoulder, causing him to leave. “I thought my life was spiraling out of control,” he said. Fortunately, however, he ran into a “long-time friend” of his who invited him to a Latin club for drinks in which they taught salsa. At the club, he took a class based on what he noted was what he “thought” he knew about salsa dancing. From then forward, he said, he just “fell in love.”

“That really planted an external seed for me,” he said about his experience at the dance class, “because internally, I was already being settled on this music as a child, not knowing what this music was, so now learning this external craft was pretty much putting this puzzle together. And the more the more classes I took, the more I fell in love with [dancing].”

González said that his inspiration to dance following his introduction to dancing stemmed from “a lot of people, honestly, saying I couldn’t do it.” Having been diagnosed with alopecia areata, a condition which causes those affected to lose their hair, at the age of seven, González had become introverted and he was told many times when he was younger that he couldn’t do something.

“For me,” he said, “that for the first time gave me power and an ability to be something and do something. And with the tools, I could really empower others, so the more classes I took, it gave me more courage and it broke that shell that I’ve had since the age of seven.”

“Salsa is my superpower,” González said, “and it really gave me the courage to break out of that shell I was living in. [Salsa] really helped develop an opportunity for me to escape and move on from that kid that was trapped.”

From this inspiration came the need to teach and pass the joy he felt along to others. For about 20 years, González has been teaching salsa and other styles of dance. His personal favorite to teach is cha-cha dancing because of the slowness and the inability to avoid the “physical chemistry” between two partners.

Like many others, González hit barriers in terms of his physical features. He said that one of the first struggles he had concerned his weight. People would turn him away because of his size from teams because he “wasn’t fast enough, or I didn’t look Spanish enough, or I didn’t look thin enough, or I didn’t look petit enough.” But in 1999, it all changed when a woman named Abby Plotkin approached him in a club in New York City at a club called Nell’s, which he described as a “really old-school Cuban club.”

“I was dancing,” said González, “and this overweight, Caucasian lady kept following me all around the club and she stops me, and she says to me ‘who do you dance for?’ and I said ‘oh I don’t I don’t dance for anybody, I’m actually in a student team and I’m taking classes,’ and she goes, ‘well, you go back and you tell your instructor that you’re my next Mambo Papa.’ I don’t know what this lady is talking about; she’s been eyeing me the whole club. Little did I know that she is one of the most famous dance groups in New York City called the Mambo Mamas, a team based off only obese women.”

At this conversation, González wondered if Plotkin had been scouting him because of his talent or his weight. After some consideration, however, he chose to comply and he ended up dancing at the Los Angeles Salsa Congress in 2000 as a professional male dancer, effectively launching his career.

“When I performed that year,” he said, “little did I know, because I was still new in the scene, the director of [the event] was in the audience and that’s how my career pretty much had started.”

He also said that he got emails from people he had inspired telling him how big of an impact he had on them for being a plus-sized dancer. González said that he was amazed by the way people were impacted by diversification on the dance scene.

Following his rise, González never planned on opening a dance studio, but people around him and his friends pushed him to do so because they saw that he was so involved in his career. One day, he said, he went to an opening night at the Planet in Hoboken, NJ during a Latin night, and the DJ called him over to the booth to offer him a teaching position there. After some discussion, he ended up accepting the position and filling up all the slots available, leading him to rent out spaces to fit his students. Eventually, after about a year and six months of renting out spaces, González founded the On2 dance studio he currently directs.

“If I would have told people, first and foremost,” he said, “that would be a dancer back then, they would have locked me up in Bellevue because I was never a dancer. Like I said, I was always the one in the corner, holding up the wall, sitting down. I was an introvert. Like I always say, if you build it, they will come.”

As an instructor, said González, he tries his best to inspire his students and give them the realities of what they will be facing as pupils, but he also wants them to have the self-confidence they need to succeed.

“Teaching the material physically is very easy,” González said, “It’s getting people to believe that they can do it because everybody learns at a different pace and what I say to this person may not resonate with that person, so I have to find a different way to break it down for that person can understand it… It’s getting people to believe in themselves to get them to understand that they can do it. You can only have fun if you know what you’re doing.”

He is passionate about the craft that he has dedicated himself to for more than 25 years and hopes that he is channeling this through his teaching.

González also said, to Latinxs specifically, that just because there is a stereotype surrounding Latinxs knowing how to dance, doesn’t mean it’s true. By saying this, he encourages everyone, including Latinxs, to go out and take a class, and learn about their dancing origins. According to González, Latinxs are the first people to drop out of dance classes because they apply what they believe they know about dancing in their household with their family to their classes and become frustrated at the lack of familiarity.

To this, González said, “Anybody can learn. You just have to take what your parents taught you, take what you learned in the house – it’s not wrong, just putting your back pocket – and learn a new dialect. That’s it. You want to be as diverse as you can out there, so you can dance with everybody.”

Because of his love of teaching and experience, González has spoken at New York University and is now an annual “guest resident professor at Arizona State University (ASU),” where he teaches and lectures university dance department. He said that he even created the current dance curriculum for ASU.

This inspired him to want to seriously start a career in university instruction, as he is now looking to become a professor. González said that he is in the process of completing his associate degree and looking to continue with his bachelor’s degree in the fall, to then pursue his master’s degree, which is what he needs to become a university professor.

At the end of his interview, González told NYC Tastemakers that people, specifically his “fellow Latino community” need to “start listening more because I think we’re hearing the music more rather than listening. The music today is very monotone and we’re losing our authentic sound. You can never forget where you came from.”

Those interested can find González on his website and can look for a good date and time to participate in classes at Salsa Fever On2 using this link. The studio is located at 83 Franklin St, Jersey City, NJ.

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