Everyone who meets my friend Jennifer Gandia for the first time always walks away commenting on how fabulous, how vibrant, how funny, how….spicy she is! The incredibly smart and accomplished co-owner of Greenwich Jewelers here in New York City, Jennifer is always quick with a laugh and a quip and, I’ve come to believe over the past several years, she rolls out of bed looking fabulous every single day. But what few know is that when Jennifer isn’t running a successful retail business or picking out fabulous jewelry at The Couture Show, she can often be found spicing things up on the dance floor! An avid salsa dancer, I had a chance to sit down with Jennifer and delve deeper into her passion. I also had a chance to see some video footage of her dancing (will link to it below) which rendered me absolutely smitten and maybe even a little bit obsessed…
Couture: When did you first discover salsa dancing?
Jennifer Gandia: It was 2005 and I was a few months out of a devastating breakup, living alone in an apartment meant for two. Dancing with the Stars was in it’s first season and it was Latin Night. I was sitting there watching it and I felt something stir inside me, I thought, “I want to do that” – it was my tiny dancer and she wanted out! I’d seen a small Latin dance studio when I was looking for apartments a few months earlier. Before the episode ended I’d called the studio and signed up for a class starting the next night!
C: Was salsa dancing an immediate passion for you?
JG: Absolutely. It’s just so much fun! The music gets into your body and you just want to move. It’s mostly a partner dance so it was also a great teacher for me. You have to surrender to your partner, the man leads the dance and you also have to maintain a connection so you can follow his lead. That was a challenge at first. Well, for awhile if I am being honest. But the longer I dance the more I appreciate the opportunity to share the dance with my partner. You get to explore your femininity and sensual side, as the male’s job is to present his partner, to showcase her and make her look and feel beautiful and like the best dancer in the room.
C: What is appealing about salsa to you?
JG: I love everything about it – the music, the dance, the community, the outfits! I also appreciate that salsa and dance in general is like having a conversation with your body, the music and your spirit. When you are really connected and open, you can have a magical experience on the dance floor.
C: Have you spent any time traveling to pursue your passion?
JG: I’ve traveled to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Paris, Buenos Aires and Cuba to perform, study and dance. Going to Cuba was the culmination of a lifelong dream for me. I specifically went on a program for dancers and musicians where we spent a week learning about the origins of Afro-Cuban dance from which Salsa was derived. Music and dance are so much a part of life in Cuba and we learned about the evolution of salsa and Cuabn social dancing from the best including amazing dance companies that perform all over the world such as Raices Profundas and found ourselves dancing to Grammy winning salsa bands in the clubs of Havana in the evenings.
C: Have you met a lot of friends through your dancing?
JG: I’ve met many friends (and clients!) through dancing. They are people from all walks of life with whom my path may never have crossed, except for one thing – our passion for salsa. The salsa community is international and through it I have friends in other countries and something to do when I travel just about anywhere in the world!
C: How often do you dance in a formal setting?
JG: I don’t get to as many classes as I used to. At one time I was in class up to 3 times a week! Now that I have a great foundation I’ll more often take special classes a few times a year with internationally recognized teachers or in other forms of dance like Afro-Cuban, rumba or even hip hop.
C: How often do you dance in an informal setting, like a club or bar?
JG: I go out dancing at least a few times a month. Most salsa schools have what are called socials, which are nights specifically catered to students who want to practice what they’re learning in a friendly setting and I go to one a month usually. I actually enjoy dancing with people who are just starting out and I love learning new steps and a social is a great place to do that. I’ll go to salsa clubs or bars at least a couple of times a month too. Dancing is a great way to release stress, meet new people and stay in shape!
C: Have you participated in any dance competitions?
JG: No, I performed on a student team for a couple of years and even performed at the NY International Salsa Congress (and was interviewed for NY1!) But ultimately I decided that I preferred to just dance socially. There was a lot of pressure in learning new routines and performing them. As a business owner I have enough stress in my life and for me this hobby is meant to be nothing but a good time!
C: Have you always been a dancer? Even as a little kid?
JG: Yes. My first performance was to Donald Duck’s Disco Duck at age four! I danced jazz & modern dance until I got into a car accident at 17. Then I went to college and stopped for some reason I can’t remember. But even when I wasn’t in classes I was out in the clubs of NYC, often getting in with my fake ID, just to dance. You’d find me in the middle of the dance floor for hours at places like the Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel and Sound Factory.
C: Sounds like some things never change!
Click this link to see the video I mentioned in my intro….Jennifer starts on the far left. Tell me you’re not as smitten and impressed as I was after you watch it, and I’ll call you a liar!