Piel Canela Center of Latin Arts
New York City - July 2013
By Bianka Francyne
The Latin Alchemist
Joe Burgos was born in New York City into a family of Dominican Republic descent. At the age of twelve, his parents decided that it was time for him to learn more about his culture and he was sent to Dominican Republic where he lived till he was seventeen. The first approach to dance he can ever recall is getting home and asking his mother to teach him, so he could dance with the girls at the house parties he frequented. When it was time for college Joe returned to New York where he went to business school, getting a degree in finance and economics. Eventually he went into Wall Street. After almost a decade in a stable career as a stockbroker and analyst, 9/11 forced him to rethink his future. In 2000 he decided to mix his passion for dance together with the business know-how, and Piel Canela Dancers was born. The company’s name was inspired by the song Mi Libertad by Joe Arroyo, which describes the mix between the Africans brought to the Caribbean, with the Europeans, giving birth to the brown skin that resembled the color of cinnamon; this new intermix gave way to the Latin music, dance and culture.
Joe had been a dance instructor for other dance companies prior to Piel Canela. He affirms his teaching style is the result of a mix of the many instructors he was exposed to. Not only from salsa, but also jazz, ballet, modern, lyrical, ballroom, hip hop, Afro-Cuban, you name it. From classical to street style dancing. And he leveled the alchemy just right. Joe has the gift to touch the lives of whoever crosses his way. His teaching style is fun, casual and unpretentious, which melts down the tension of new students who are nervous during the first approach and have no clue what they are doing. He breaks material down so minutely that he does make it feel like anyone can dance – and in fact he can turn anyone into a dancer.
Being strongly business mind oriented does not outshine the social aspects of his company. On the contrary PCD, a non-profit organization, thrives to give back to the community as much as possible. It offers for instance, a very unique free kids program. For a reasonable registration fee - thirty dollars per class - any child can attend to an eight to ten week class cycle choosing from ballet, hip hop or salsa. No need to bring proof of income, bank statement or fill out complicated application forms. The catch? For every class the child does not attend, fifteen dollars is charged. The program works. Out of the seven extra-curricular activities my six years old daughter attends, her salsa class is the one she is most committed and engaged by far. Not only because I value my dollars. She claims it is the class she has the most fun. Joe envisions that by nurturing “his kids” they will continue taking classes and advocate the cause. And I have to admit, it saves me babysitting fees because I can bring her to the place I would come anyway while I can take my own classes next door. And I am not the only happy parent spinning about it. There is a spirit of togetherness, almost like a big family floating through the isles of the entire 12th floor of Pearl Studios where PCD is located, on eighth avenue and thirty fifth street – just a few blocks away from where I live in Chelsea. What else could I whish for? More than forty classes to walk-in as I please. If the class I’ve started is not really my thing or it is too crowded, I just walk to the next room without even knowing what the class is about, who cares what Kizomba or Zouk is or come from? If it is all included in my unlimited card, I might as well try it and it may become my next obsession. It often feels like a surprise amusement park ride. Well, at least to a compulsive dancer perspective that’s what it feels like.
He does have a very smart way to hook you up though. On and off PCD throws this promotion of sixty dollars for three months for first timers. I know, you don’t really think about it, such a good deal you just buy it! After they give you a taste, you are hooked for life. And with all these classes at your reach you have got to have a strong will to not have your life destroyed. Forget about home cooking, and laundry, and shopping, and getting the emails answered, and eating, your kid’s homework… You can’t help it! Of course I am talking only for myself and any similarity here is mere coincidence. Sometimes it makes me wonder if it’s all a conspiracy plan or something. All perfectly disguised with this happy vibe in the air, families being brought together through dance – student’s children often coming to classes together, as well as parents and partners, so they can talk about something new among themselves afterwards, opening up the communication between them; saving some more on therapy later in life. Piel Canela is beyond a dance school. It provides hope by taking people out of their ordinary lives. By offering something new, new friends, a new life. And yes, a new body shape.
The relationships and dynamics that happen within classes and events visibly affect people's lives. And it is all disseminated through Joe’s passion, charisma and enthusiasm. Nurtured by the attachment that he and his team have with the students. This same sense of involvement can be also witnessed among the company members, partners and sponsors. Most of PCD’s instructors and team members started out as students at the school. So they've gone through all the different levels, have seen Joe’s teaching method, and experienced the student perspective. The company members are dancers but also professionals in their respective careers. The demographic of the school’s students is similar to that as well, career minded and goal oriented.
Joe frequently steps out his company and gets involved with schools, fundraisings and shows for many other companies. He is also often taking his team abroad to perform all over the world. In the showbiz entertainment field he is linked with at least thirty ongoing events – that gets you covered for every day of the month. From nightclub dance events and performances, socials, sunset pier parties, summer boat rides, festival and congresses. He also plays on a current basis at iconic NYC establishments as DJ Cocotaso. He produces and performs at the off Broadway musical Que Rico Mambo. I know!!! No wonder Piel Canela Dancers is currently the largest Latin dance school in New York. Offering more than 140 classes weekly in dance, music, voice and Spanish language classes - at some point we all have heard “just listen to the music and the music will tell you what to do”. Right, in Spanish! But the fact is that if you really want to take your dance to the next level it is imperative to understand what the music is about in order to feel it and transfer this feeling to your dance – after all Bachata is all bout sentimiento, and if you don't know what sentimiento means, look for Joe and he will get you covered. His mission is to show the community the progress and enhancement that has been made. It is to educate the kids, teenagers and students about Latin culture, music and dance.
Joe Burgos has been reference in the Latino community for over a decade. He is one of the pioneers of Bachata in NYC, way before the Bachata fever started to happen. In fact that’s how I was introduced to Bachata - I got hooked from the very first song – it was love at first hearing! Since I didn’t extend my dance skills to nightclubs (and who needs nightclubs when PCD is often organizing socials, much less intimidating, advanced-beginner friendlier, and a lot cheaper), the only connection I had to the Bachata world was through my instructors (they have many) and the great selection of the old school songs they play in classes. So it is fair to affirm that Joe is kind of my Godfather.
A strong characteristic of PCD is the fact it is constantly innovating and bringing fresh activities to the community, like the new youth summer program for ages ten to seventeen. Also, to celebrate the long awaited arrival of summer, Joe hosted on early June a Latin Boat Ride - a three-deck cruise filled with Bachata, Kizomba, Zouk, Salsa, Merengue, DJ's, and many performances from top dance schools, with a buffet featuring a very tasty Latin cuisine selection. All that framed with the unbeatable Manhattan view on the background. Upon arrival guests were invited to join a family friendly sunset party at Pier I with free outdoor salsa, cha-cha and bachata lessons, as well as dance performances. The event was so successful that the next harbor cruise will sail away on August. The tickets are very affordable and kids are allowed, so no excuses! It is hard to think of a better way to enjoy summer at its best.
So if you are looking for a source of exercise, learning a new skill, overcoming your limitations, or just socializing, you have got to get yourself one of those promotional vouchers. If the promotion is not on, just mention BachataB upon contacting Piel Canela and I get you in.
I am sure by now you are thinking I am being paid to write this article, and I think I should be! I am just a true believer of Piel Canela’s concept. And this is my way to show my eternal gratitude for having my life turned into gold.
Step-tap into it!