Local performers spice up UTD dance group

Elisa Cano and Arturo Garcia teach dance in the style of bachata, a genre that originated in the Dominican Republic, to members of the student group Stop Pretending You Can't Dance every Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Elisa Cano.

“Spiced” can describe a lot of things: a dish, a drink or even the Wednesday night Latin dance classes at UTD hosted by Stop Pretending You Can’t Dance, a student group that promotes various music and dance genres including the widely popular bachata style. Two dance instructors and performers, who launched and run a local dance studio, partnered with SPYCD to teach bachata, which originated in the Dominican Republic, at UTD.

Though bachata has its roots in the Caribbean, dancers today practice the rhythmic style worldwide. Elisa Cano and Arturo Garcia — the two dance instructors who teach bachata at UTD — met nearly nine years ago at a concert and said they didn’t know how to dance back then but were drawn in by the rhythm of the music. After becoming dance partners, they decided to dance full-time and open their own dance company, Ritmo Sensual Dance Company, or “Sensual Rhythm.”

SPYCD President and healthcare studies senior Michael Nguyen said he first took notice of Cano and Garcia at a performance because of their unique and appealing approach to bachata.

“At Stratos Greek Taverna, one of the performing groups was Arturo and Elisa, and I really liked the technique of their dance,” Nguyen said. “They have extensive background in ballroom which they incorporate into their bachata, which makes them so great.”

Nguyen began taking classes at the performers’ dance studio before inviting them to teach at UTD in the fall of 2017. Cano and Garcia taught bachata for two semesters and salsa during another and said they have been surprised at the motivation of students.

“Usually we work with adults, and it was our first time with younger people, so for both of us it was a great experience,” Cano said. “A highlight is that the energy is completely different — the energy everyone has is great. It’s fun for us — that’s why we really like it and continue with it.”

Nguyen said he thought the duo would make excellent instructors when he first invited and that a year later, they’ve lived up to that expectation.

“They are beginner-friendly, communicative, welcoming and have an atmosphere (that is) great for college students who are totally new to dancing,” Nguyen said. “They are approachable and talk to everyone, and they taught in a way that got beginners to understand the concept and the movement really quickly.”

Cano said that she and Garcia work full-time training and teaching dance, but they used to have Wednesdays as their only day off.

“Michael contacted us about teaching on Wednesdays and was really nice, and we said, ‘Okay, let’s try one semester,’” Cano said. “We don’t have any days off now, but we really, really like teaching.”

Computer science junior Andres Uriegas, SPYCD’s historian for the spring 2018 semester, started dancing with the group at the beginning of his freshman year. He said he loved classic bachata-style music since he first heard it on his favorite Latin radio station, so learning its characteristic dance was special for him.

“The dance is more relaxed, not quite as upbeat as swing dancing or salsa, and you can make it meaningful and pretty, or calm and cool,” Uriegas said.

Garcia and Cano taught Uriegas more steps throughout the year, and he said he grew more comfortable every week. The two teachers invited their class to their dance studio lessons for further dance classes and encouraged dancers to attend the Dallas Bachata Festival. Uriegas and several other SPYCD members attended the event in November 2018 to dance and socialize.

“My first year was pretty rough because I wasn’t confident and only knew a basic step and two turns, but I’ve learned a lot this semester,” Uriegas said.

Uriegas said Cano and Garcia are quick to notice what their dancers need.

“A lot of the time people are a little afraid to speak up about a problem they have, but as teachers they won’t move on until they’ve helped everyone in the class,” Uriegas said. “They even notice the people who might be anxious to speak up.”

The dance partners also host social nights — Sensual Socials — every first Saturday of the month and are currently working on a new website, clothing line and studio space.

“When you are passionate for something, if you work hard for it you can get anywhere,” Cano said. “If you are disciplined and persistent, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you have passion.”

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