Interview with Willie Torres
June 30, 2006
by Cathy Bartch
Up Close and Personal with Willie Torres
Q: How did you become involved in Salsa?
Ans: The salsa is a family business that has involved my grandmother, mother and myself. I just wanted to keep the tradition alive. Two of my daughters dance salsa. One of my daughters is japoriquen and she dances salsa and in the Salsa Congress. The younger daughter, 13 years old, dances this year in the salsa congress.
My mother used to dress me with a potato sack. It is a tradition in Puerto Rico. My mother also used to clean the house with salsa. Back then a lot of women when they cleaned the house, they would listen to salsa. This influenced me.
Q: Some people may be surprised to learn that before you became heavily involved in salsa or a salsero, you were a professional boxer. How did you become involved in boxing and how did you transition to becoming a salsero?
Ans: I was blackbelt in karate. I was in a karate show, and one of the trainers asked if I would like to box, and I said I would try it and that is how I got involved. I represented Puerto Rico in the Central American Amateur Boxing Championship. I won that. I came from Puerto Rico to New York and I competed in the Chafaer Cup in New York. Then I came to Philadelphia when my brother was living here and I participated in amateur and professional fights. I retired in 1982, and then I opened a gym to give back to the community.
In the year 2000, Juan Santiago encouraged me to get involved with salsa. He’s like my brother. He knows everything about salsa.
Even when I was boxing I was dancing salsa. I never stopped.
Q: Why do you love salsa? What is it about it that you love?
Ans: Salsa is the best way of communication between people. Salsa gives people confidence. I love salsa because it’s like adrenaline goes through all my body when I’m dancing. It makes me happy. It’s the best exercise for the heart, especially since it makes you happy. It’s the best way of networking [too].
Salsa is a remedy for many things. It is s a remedy for crying, smoking or drugs. Especially for youth. When young people dance salsa, they don’t think about committing crime, smoking, using drugs, or drinking alcohol. They only think about looking good on the dance floor.
Q: How did you start participating in these salsa Congresses?
Ans: I went to Puerto Rico. The best event that I have ever been too was the Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico. I saw people from all over the world. They don’t understand the language, but they are dancing salsa. All you are seeing on the dance floor are teeth, because they are laughing and smiling and having a good time. That was in 1998 and 1999. I helped with the Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico before I started it in Philadelphia. I learned through those organizers on how to do a salsa congress.
Q: Why did you decide to bring the salsa congress here to Philadelphia? Did you think it would be as successful as it is?
Ans: This is my hometown now. This is my American hometown. I saw so many clubs that were dancing salsa. I thought it would be a good town to start bringing the Salsa Congress here.
The first salsa congress was a good one. I invested a lot of money in it. The first year we did three major events. That was the Philadelphia World Salsa Congress, which was five days at Loews Hotel. It started at 9 am and ended at 4 am, and it was 19 hours a day nonstop for four days. In partnership with the city of Philadelphia, we did the Salsa on the Parkway. We broke the Guinness Book of World Records with the city of Philadelphia.
Q: Was this planned?
Ans: We were very well organized. We recorded and sent tapes to a lot of dance schools throughout the tri-state area to help learn the dance and get prepared. We did workshops at different places before the event such as the international house, Bellevue Hotel and the Avenue of the Arts, and Penn Independence Visitor Center.
Q: What do you like about salsa scene in Phila? Is it better than NYC?
Ans: It’s not better than NYC because they are used to nightlife. They are adapted to a nightlife in NYC. They are going out late everyday to go out dancing. Here, in Philadelphia, they kick you out at 2 am.
Philadelphia is learning. What I am trying to do is to enlarge the salsa community. One of the problems is that there are two or three venues on the same day, but there are not enough people to dance or fill those venues so they all lose money. People have not adapted the NY lifestyle in which they can go to four or more venues at the same time. It’s too many so it hurts the businesses. I would like to increase the number of people who dance salsa in Philadelphia and the tri-state area.
Q: Finally, what don’t you like about salsa?
Ans: I like everything about salsa. There is nothing that I don’t like about salsa. Salsa is everything to me. It is my passion, my love, my life. I have grown into salsa, the music, and the rhythm. I love how salsa has spread around the world and has been adapted around the world by all different cultures. It has created unity among people.