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Winnipeg Free Press

Moving Your Feet To A Latin Beat J.Lo, Ricky Martin Encouraging Regular Folks To Have Fun, Get Fit On The Dance Floor

By Shamona Harnett

January 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

A man dressed in a white shirt and patent shoes holds a dark-haired woman closely, their hips and shoulders swaying, their feet moving intricately to the quick rhythms of the band. The woman's brightly coloured, form-fitting skirt twirls with each turn of her body.

Spectators gather in the sweltering heat, the sun beats down. The fire has just begun.

This is how Pedro Aurelio remembers his childhood in Puerto Rico. And he never wants to forget it. That's why Aurelio, a Winnipeg dance instructor who has studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in St. Petersburg, Russia and at the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C., spends each day teaching people an art he says is in his blood: Latin dance.

More and more Winnipeggers are signing up for his classes, expressing a deep determination to learn the art. Partially, he says, because they want to emulate the Latin dance elements in certain pop music videos.

"Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, even though they are both Puerto Rican, aren't doing real Latin dancing in their videos. They're doing pop dancing," says Aurelio, who teaches at Bravado Dance Studio. "But there's definite Latin flavour in their moves. And because of stars like them, people are fascinated with the Latin culture. They want to experience that energy, that heat."

But if the moves you see in Lopez's and Martin's videos aren't the real thing, what exactly constitutes true Latin dance?

Latin dance contains pronounced Spanish influences and at times, melancholic rhythms. But what sets it apart from Spanish dance, says Aurelio, is an African/Caribbean flavour, characterized by heavy percussion. And most Latin dances require two partners, either standing apart, or holding each other.

Latin dance was born out of the colonization of the Americas and the Caribbean by Spain between the 17th and 20th centuries. Latin music and dancing, as we know it today, originates from the culture African slaves brought to the New World -- Central and South America and some Caribbean islands.

"The beauty of it is the cultures blended. They created a new race -- the Latin people. Latin dancing came from this new culture," explains Aurelio.

"It's a sultry culture full of hot spice. It's the nature of the people."

While North Americans are hooking up with Latin dance for the pure passion of it, they are also taking up the activity for more pragmatic reasons: It's a fun way to get fit.

When you dance Latin style, you use most of your body, including the torso, the back, the shoulders, the hips and legs, Aurelio says. Latin dance gets the heart pumping, boosts metabolism and burns calories. And the intricate footwork and complex movements improve balance and co-ordination.

Sound like too much work? Not to worry, says Aurelio. You don't have to be in tip-top shape to give Latin dance a try.

"You should see the ladies in Puerto Rico -- big ladies with tight dresses and high heels. They look great. It's so contagious. Everybody knows their own bodies, so they go as far as they want to go."

But is it possible for a North American -- who does not have this fiery dancing "in the blood" -- to become a Latin dance master?

"That depends on you," says Aurelio. "You can, if you practise. But most of all, you need passion. And you have to be willing to have fun with it."

There are several places in the city where you can take Latin dance classes and Latin-style ballroom dance, which is a modified yet popular version of the original. Consult the Yellow Pages.

Pedro Aurelio's Hispanic Dance Theatre is putting on two Latin dance shows, Feb. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $12. For more information, call the Gas Station Theatre at 284-9477.

If you have an interesting or inspirational story idea, please e-mail Shamona at

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