I was born in Miami in 1966 and raised in Hialeah. When I got older I moved down to Kendall, where I live now.
My mother and my father came from Cuba when they were young, 8 and 12 years old. They were born in Cuba but their parents were from Puerto Rico, so I have both places in my heritage.
Growing up, salsa was a huge part of my life. When my parents would have parties at home, they and my grandparents always played salsa music and it was something that was always heard and liked. I love disco and I love the freestyle music, but salsa had a flavor to it that I liked. My mother, my sister and my dad before he passed away were all great dancers. But I’m the one that took it to the next level.
I got involved in salsa music and salsa dancing when I was about 24 years old.
I was looking for a part-time job to go to college and I opened up a newspaper and saw they were asking for salsa instructors at a ballroom studio called Dance City. I applied, and through that I got into salsa and other dances.
After I started taking classes in the ballroom studio, I learned that to teach dancing you need structure. It’s not something you could just teach off the street. When I started doing the ballroom dancing is when I noticed that the instructors really break down the steps.
So then I started breaking down all the salsa steps and creating my own syllabus for salsa. Soon enough, I had a little group of salsa students and they followed me from venue to venue.
I left the ballroom studio and started teaching on the side. Then it just kept growing and growing and growing, and one day I said I’m going to give it a name, Salsa Lovers. And now it’s been 22 years.
I first noticed the Casino Rueda-style of salsa when I walked into a club called Club Mystique in 1992 and saw them dancing salsa in a circle and was blown away.
Casino Rueda is something that came in strong in Miami in the 1980s during the Mariel boatlift. That’s when all these good dancers started coming in to Miami. But then people like myself took it and we structured it. I cleaned it up so people could learn fast and that’s what we do today.
There is a Cuban style and a Miami style. If you go to Cuba, it’s a little bit more street, what we call a little bit more raw. In Miami, it’s become a little bit more flashy. Here we created more turns and gave it a disco look so it looks more freestyle.
The differences are noticed in the way the girl places her arms; the turn patterns look a little more disco-like compared to all over the place.
The men in Cuba, like my dad, tend to bend over and get down and dirty in it, whereas a male dancer in Miami holds his chest up. It’s a cleaner feel.
A lot of those old disco dancers influenced the Casino Rueda today. You’ll see it in the turn patterns that look a little disco and flashier. But the Cuban doesn’t care for that. They’re more about doing more patterns in the casino and getting more creative with the circle.
In Miami, you’ll see a lot of parties and a lot of clubs doing salsa nights. But there are not as many as people would think. Many people come to Miami and think they’ll get off the plane and start dancing salsa right away. But it’s not like that. I had a client from Canada who asked me if there was anywhere to go dance on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. I couldn’t recommend a place.
There are little hotspots here and there but not many. One place I like to host parties at is Yuca (Young Urban Cuban American) on Lincoln Road. We get salsa DJs and people just start showing up.
When I first opened up shop, Casino Rueda was a fad, but since then I’ve been fortunate enough to come up with a teaching structure that keeps business alive and well.
A majority of my customers are recently divorced. Some people are married for many years and they need a new activity in their life. They come here to find some excitement. Some people just come because they go to Ball & Chain or Blue Martini and they see us dancing. Some of them are in their 20s and realize the dancers their same age are doing amazing things and they get inspired.
Now I mostly produce events. I produce with the Adrienne Arsht Center and I also produce the Salsa Congress, a big event in Miami Beach with over 5,000 people in attendance. That’s my new favorite role, but I do still love to teach when I can. My daughter is almost 3 years old and I’ve been teaching her how to salsa since she could walk.
I think salsa is never going to die. My grandparents danced salsa and I’m 50 now and it’s still going strong. It’s in my Latin roots.
When I was raised in Hialeah it was all Anglos at that time. Now it’s little Cuba. Miami was built on this Cuban culture and when you think of Cuba you think of salsa. So I think salsa just fits perfectly into Miami. That’s why I would not leave.
Twenty years ago, Calle Ocho in Miami was where you went to get mugged. Now you walk along there and see restaurants and clubs. When I tell people about Miami, I always talk about the nightlife. We’re like the little New York, the town that never sleeps. And we really don’t sleep. It’s such a cultural city and I love it. This is where I was raised and I’m going to die here.
This story was transcribed from an interview between Rene Gueits, founder of Salsa Lovers dance studio and the HistoryMiami South Florida Folklife Center, as part of a research project exploring the question “What Makes Miami Miami?” The Florida Folklife Program, a component of the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, directed the project.
Salsa Lovers is located at 1405 SW 107th Ave., #201D, Miami. The studio and Miami Salsa Scene are sponsoring Bachateando Dance Festival March 29 to April 2 at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach.