John Grillo is a biomedical engineering major with a concentration in biomechanics and human performance. He is the president of Drexel University’s salsa club.
The Triangle: Tell a little about yourself. What is your daily life like? What are you doing at Drexel? What are your hopes and dreams?
John Grillo: I spend a lot of time in class and working on homework. Outside of that, I spend time trying to organize everything for Drexel Salsa. I am also trying to get back into squash.
TT: How does salsa fit into your life? Why do you continue to pursue it?
JG: Salsa gives me a distraction from school-work. It allows me to focus on something other than the next assignment or test. I continue to pursue it because it is something I am interested in and I’ve met a good group of people who are interested in the same thing.
TT: How did you first get into salsa? Why did it initially appeal to you?
JG: I first got into salsa freshman year because I wanted to learn some form of dance other than the typical grinding I was used to seeing everyone doing during high school dances. I chose salsa by chance when I saw a booth for it during orientation.
TT: What is the hardest thing about dancing salsa? What’s the easiest?
JG: The hardest thing about dancing salsa is getting the confidence to use what you learn in public. The goal of our organization is to get members to a level where they can go social dancing at clubs around the city, but having the confidence to use your skills at these clubs is a hard thing to muster. The easiest thing is learning the steps. If you have the dedication to go to a bunch of lessons, you can learn salsa.
TT: When is the most appropriate time to dance salsa? How do you think it’s enjoyed the most?
JG: The most appropriate time to dance salsa is when you want to. Anytime there is dancing you can dance salsa. You can also just play your own music whenever. I think salsa is enjoyed the most when people go to salsa clubs around the city. It provides a great atmosphere for dancing and for meeting new people.
TT: Is salsa the only type of dance you know? What other kinds of dance do you love trying out?
JG: Other than salsa, I know bachata and merengue, two other Latin dances that are danced at Latin clubs. I love trying out any kind of partner dance someone is willing to teach me.
TT: Describe your best experience dancing salsa and your worst.
JG: My best experience was the first social Drexel Salsa held. We had no idea what we were doing in terms of hosting an event so we partnered with Mike Andino from Estilo [Dance Studio]. Going into the event, we had no idea how many people would show up or how it would turn out. Luckily, we had a great turnout of over 140 people, and everyone had a ton of fun. My worst experience was during one of Drexel Salsa’s socials. I was dancing with a girl and accidently got the button on my sleeve caught in her hair I elbowed her in the head during a new move. I felt really bad and apologized profusely, but it’s something that comes with dancing.
TT: What would you tell beginner salsa dancers?
JG: The best thing to tell a beginner salsa dancer is to keep trying. It isn’t easy for everyone when you first start but if you keep trying, it will get better. And go social dancing. That is the best way to really learn the things lessons teach.
TT: What kind of clothing would you recommend wearing when dancing salsa?
JG: The type of clothing to wear depends on where you’re dancing. Regardless of the place, a good pair of dancing shoes is great but if you don’t have that, shoes that don’t have a lot of grip are best so you can turn. If you’re taking a lesson, wear comfy clothes that let you move. I tend to wear jeans and a t-shirt, although I don’t think dance studios would recommend jeans. If you’re going social dancing, attire tends of be a bit nice toward business casual or more. Guys tend to wear button downs and jeans or dress pants. Girls tend to wear dresses.
TT: So explain how salsa club works. How many people show up? Do you have meetings or do you just dance the whole time? What was the thought process behind making a club for salsa?
JG: The main goal of our organization is to teach people how to dance salsa. We have weekly lessons at two different skill levels that teach everything from the basics to intermediate level combinations. Each of the two lessons has anywhere from 12-30 people typically. The thought for making the club was to provide a place for people with these interests to grow their interest without having to go far off campus looking for a dance studio.
TT: Who in the salsa world do you admire and why?
JG: I admire Mike Andino from Estilo Dance Studio. You may not have heard of him but he is a big name in Philly. He is a great dance instructor. He does well at teaching beginners, which isn’t easy, and bridging the gap from beginner to intermediate levels. It’s a very important skill to have for a dance instructor. I want to improve my teaching skills like he has.
TT: How is salsa unique from other dances? What makes it different from other styles of dance like flamenco and tango?
JG: Salsa is unique because you can travel to any other city (domestic or abroad) and find a salsa club. It’s a universal dance that moves beyond nationality or culture. Salsa dancing doesn’t even require that you speak the same language. The music goes and everyone starts dancing. It’s beautiful. Salsa is also distinct in its movements. Salsa is quick and flashy. When you are dancing salsa it is a performance. Tango and flamenco are completely different dances. Tango is intense, has different foot movements, general routine and tempo. Flamenco is usually performed by a woman or a group of women however men can be involved as well. Flamenco is also kind of intense but can vary in its tempo. Salsa is more lighthearted
TT: Where is the strangest place you have danced?
JG: The strangest place I have danced salsa was the stage in Mitchell Auditorium. We had to hold a lesson there because our normal spots were taken. That stage is not meant to have 20 plus people dancing on it.
TT: Have you been to any good Salsa Sundays? If so, where do you like going and why?
JG: I don’t tend to have time on Sundays to go dancing but other club members like to go to whatever club is having a Sunday special. Currently, the place they go is Pa’Lante.
TT: If you could dance with one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
JG: Carmen Miranda, the iconic woman who wears the fruit filled headpiece. She was like the Jennifer Lopez of her day.
TT: What’s your favorite dip for tortilla chips?
JG: This is a funny question because I often get asked if we bring chips and dip to our meetings. My favorite dip is a spicy salsa.