Salsa with Jo continues to foster community through virtual dance lessons

Virtual Dance Class

Article Originally Published by Maria Lawson on North Texas Daily

Teaching salsa dance classes in front of a webcam in his home has become the new normal for Denton salsa instructor Jairo Rojas.

Rojas has been teaching salsa since 2015 through Salsa with Jo, but for the first time, he has had to shift to entirely online teaching for his students due to the coronavirus and social distancing efforts.

“We were forced to switch,” Rojas said. “It’s not that we wanted to but we were forced to do it. Basically, salsa is all that I do, and so I wanted to continue to provide lessons as well because it’s [my] main source of income. I do it because I like it — I like doing lessons and stuff.”

Rojas was not always an advocate for salsa, but once he came to the United States, his viewpoint was changed.

“The main reason that got me into salsa is I’m from Columbia,” Rojas said. “Over there, you breathe salsa. I came up here when I was 16, and before that, I just didn’t really enjoy the music. Coming over here, it was completely changed, so I wanted to go back to my roots and actually understand the music and then enjoy it.”

Before Salsa with Jo, if someone wanted to take a salsa class, they would have to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth, Rojas said. He wanted to start Salsa with Jo to provide salsa classes for Denton residents without requiring them to travel far.

Rojas first got into teaching salsa to others by showing his brother’s friends how to dance.

“My brother came one night and then he told me, ‘Hey, would you mind teaching my friends dance, salsa, bachata?’” Rojas said. “And I said ‘Sure.’ It started with his friends for like a year and then after that, I told him, ‘Well, we can open to the public and teach everyone here in Denton,’ and so that’s how I started.”

Teaching classes online has caused Rojas to make adjustments to his teaching style. Each virtual class has had a turnout of five to 10 students.

“[Virtual classes are] totally different because [on] Zoom, I’m able to see everybody during the lesson,” Rojas said. “The difference is in class, whenever I play music, sometimes the music is kind of delayed or maybe goes faster than the video, so it’s hard for me to play the music and demonstrate the steps at the same time, so I tell them that I might be a little delayed or faster. Also, I make the people in the class count [music], and now I can do that because I’m the one talking, so if I make everyone talk it’s going to be confusing.”

Offering virtual classes has appealed to his students who love to dance, but are not able to pursue it outside of studio time.

“I have continued to take his Zoom sessions for self care,” said Roxanne Quiroz, Salsa with Jo student and Denton resident. “I love dancing and I miss it so much, so taking online classes has helped me continue to practice and learn different dance moves.”

Having live virtual classes allows Rojas to still communicate with his students in real time.

“We’ve just been adapting,” Rojas said. “It’s just been different, me showing them the steps and then me doing it to the music. I still have interaction — I still ask questions saying, ‘Do you have any questions?’ or ‘Do you want me to go over the step?’ Just that one-on-one group interaction, I’m able to have them count and demonstrate it on the spot with the music with real timing.”

Rojas also records his lessons and sends it to attendees in case their internet connection becomes unstable, so they can go back and watch it later.

Students of Salsa with Jo have been able to learn different forms of salsa and dive into their technical skills during this time.

“Since most of us don’t have a dance partner quarantined with us at home, we are dancing solo,” said Phillip Snow, Salsa with Jo student and Denton resident. “The online Zoom lessons are focused on footwork, which is a fun challenge that we can all do together in our own homes without a partner.”

Due to being online, students are not able to get the same one-on-one attention as they would in person.

“The aspect of physical touch is missing,” said Amy Cooper, Salsa with Jo student and Denton resident. “This is not a huge problem for solo work, but in person, the teacher always has the option of physically moving a student into the correct position if the student is really having trouble.”

Rojas normally teaches his salsa classes at Green Space Arts Collective Studio in Denton and has been there since May 2016. He taught classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as every other Saturday, and still sticks to the same schedule with his virtual classes, with levels ranging from beginner to advanced, including bachata and Latin styles.

Snow said Rojas is able to appeal to different levels of students through his classes.

“Jo’s teaching style is fun and laid-back,” Snow said. “Having started years ago by teaching his friends at La Milpa, he treats everyone like a friend. He is very patient with beginners and is excellent teaching the fundamentals, yet can challenge more advanced dancers to improve their craft and style.”

Rojas also fosters a sense of community through his salsa lessons.

“There are a lot of people who have stuck with Salsa with Jo after completing his course, and we have become like a family,” Cooper said. “The community reaches out to each other and supports each other… I have been told that no other dance company in DFW has engendered that kind of community. I love dancing, but I also love the people.”

Transitioning to virtual salsa classes has helped lead Rojas to explore the possibilities of an online presence for his company.

“This whole situation is making us transition from being in person to now being digital, so the Zoom classes are just the beginning,” Rojas said. “We’re also thinking of making a website and then having that website to promote lessons and products that we have, like shirts [and] bags. It’s just been telling us that we should transition to not just being personal, but being digital, as an opportunity to increase business to the people.”

Featured Image: Jo Rojas, an instructor from Salsa With Jo, who usually teaches Salsa and Bachata classes in a studio, has had to move to an online format due to COVID-19. Rojas will be teaching a free beginner Salsa class every Saturday on YouTube. Image by Ryan Gossett

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Source: North Texas Daily