While most of us have spent the week trying to stay out of the sweltering Georgia sun, Augusta dance instructor Eduardo Diaz has been dealing with a little heat of his own.
Diaz and his partner, Jennifer Geyer of Charlotte, N.C., have been in Puerto Rico all week competing in the World Salsa Championships. They won the right to compete by winning the Southeast Salsa Open in Columbia, S.C., a couple of weeks ago.
The Metro Spirit spoke to Diaz last week at Superior Dance Academy, where he is director, and he seemed unfazed by the heat of competition.
“I always go in pretty confident that I’m going to win, but this is the first world or international competition I’ve been in where there will be people from Brazil and Argentina and people from Europe and the United States,” Diaz said. “I actually have some friends from the United States, a couple, and they competed last year and they won third place and they’re really good. Probably just as good as us, so we do have a friendly competition already. And then I hear from them that people try and get in your head, but I’m not the type of person to get affected by that.”
Diaz’s confidence isn’t really that surprising. He began dancing in the 10th grade in Puerto Rico, where he’s from. He came to the United States when he was 17 and became a dance teacher and competitor when he was 18. He is director at Superior and owns A&E Dance Studio in Aiken and, at one time, owned the Tropicabana dance club downtown.
In other words, he’s been dancing for a while. And because he’s been teaching for so long, he’s also been competing for a while as well. The two seem to go hand in hand.
“I entered my first competition when I was 18,” Diaz said. “I was working for a ballroom school and one of the goals was to take our students to competitions, so I had a couple of students and trained them to go to competition. They did really good, too.”
Diaz said he still trains students for competitions, and that the next student-teacher competition is in Miami in December. Though the number of competitions he enters varies, this year he says he’s been in more than in years past when Club Tropicabana took up all his time.
“This year I’m doing a lot more because I have a professional partner that I’ve been training with for a little while now,” he explained. “A couple of years ago, I didn’t have a partner and I was focused more on my school and, before that, the club (Club Tropicabana) kind of took over the dancing aspect and it became like a bar, a nightclub. People would come and dance, but I didn’t see myself progressing people in dancing. It was just me giving them a place to dance, so I decided to focus more on the schools and training, focusing more on having opportunities to dance and not spending time selling liquor.”
Now, he said, his priorities are back where he wants them to be: on his schools.
“I always wanted to do something more for people, for the community,” he said. “It’s good to put together a group of people to help each other enjoy life a little bit more. And dancing to me seems like something I could give to people, the experience of dance. Not only learning, but having a place to go dance or a social or meeting new friends or even, you know, we bring dancers from other states here so they can meet other dancers and we go to out of state functions.”
At Superior, where they focus more on Latin dances, classes are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6-9 p.m. Diaz also offers private lessons and helps with choreography for special occasions like weddings. While the focus at A&E is more on ballroom and swing, both have a great sense of community and are welcoming of newcomers.
“Teaching students is fun, especially when you have a good group of people and everybody’s trying to help each other out,” he said. “A lot of times after class, they’ll go and get food, so it’s a nice community. We have about 60 members, but we’re always looking for more. You can come anytime and start. We have beginner classes all the time and if you pass beginner, we have intermediate classes you can take too.”
And while his focus right now is on competing in Puerto Rico, he still finds that his teaching background comes in handy in helping his partner overcome her nerves.
“My partner is a nervous wreck,” Diaz laughed. “I just remind her that she’s the best partner I’ve ever had, that she can do this and things like ‘as you think, so shall you become’ (a mantra on the wall at Superior). We just try to keep positive and have fun because, really, that’s what we’re doing is having fun.”