Linking Charlotte to the World of Latin Dance

Wendy and Rodrigo Jimenez are the inspirational forces behind RW Latin Dance, a network of classes and performance teams. Known for their fusion of bachata and Argentine tango, they have built a Charlotte-based Latin dance community and international reputations as teachers and performers. They are successful. In October 2018, for example, they taught and performed on Adventura Dance Cruise, four days of dance classes, tutorials, and performances on a cruise ship travelling from Long Beach, California to Ensenada, Mexico. They came back to Charlotte to teach as part of the Charlotte Ballet Middle and High School Dance Festival, then flew to Japan to teach and perform at Japan Salsa Congress 2018. How did they build lives as professional dancers? Their story provides insights into dance career building, Latin dance in Charlotte, and the workings of the international Latin dance community.  

Rodrigo and Wendy met in Argentine tango class in 2006. Rodrigo was already an accomplished folkloric and flamenco dancer, who trained in his native Chile and as a member of performance groups in Utah. When he moved to Charlotte in 2004, he mentored a folkloric children’s dance group, performed flamenco in the yearly Festival of India, and studied salsa, bachata, and tango. Wendy, who is from El Salvador, learned to dance at home and in social settings. They began training together, married in 2007, and opened their first studio, World Dance Center, in 2008. At that time, they were the only place to study Latin dance in Charlotte. They started travelling to dance congresses to train, seeking private tutorials with internationally-known artists. Rodrigo began teaching at UNC Charlotte in 2008. In 2009, they began the yearly Charlotte Salsa Invitational. This multi-day festival, held at local hotels, introduced Charlotteans to Latin social dances and brought in hundreds of Latin dance professional to teach, train, and perform.

They outgrew the 1,500 square- foot World Dance Center in just three years and opened another studio. This one was in Matthews and significantly bigger: 4,500 square-feet. They hired people to teach different styles and were successful, but found that they spent all of their time managing a business or preparing for the next Charlotte Salsa Invitational. What they desired most was to be full-time professional artists. For that, they must travel, train, and perform. They let go of their studio, renting space to teach and rehearse instead, and in 2018, stopped holding the Charlotte Salsa Invitational. With these burdens gone, their careers soared.

Even as they travel the world, Rodrigo and Wendy continue to meet their mission in Charlotte: to bring communities together through dance, music and culture. They teach at La Revolución, a Mexican Restaurant and Latin dance center, located at the Music Factory. They also teach and develop dance teams—groups who present dance styles in performative and competitive settings. Joining a team allows a dancer to push his or her technique and gain teaching skills. Rodrigo and Wendy manage their busy travel schedule, in part, by calling on team members to teach in their absence.

Teaching and team development also allows Wendy and Rodrigo to change people’s lives. While they recognize that people stereotype Latin dance as sexual, they find that it creates a positive atmosphere in which people come to accept themselves, learn social graces, and build bridges across social differences. It provides people with a sense of accomplishment and gives them a reason to smile.  The teams they build teach people to be cooperative and self-confident. They take their teams to dance congresses, allowing them to travel and train. The teams enlarge their engagement with the Charlotte community. They bring dance to elementary, middle, and high schools, work with refugee resettlement, with retirement communities, and present at community festivals.

The Latin dance scene has its share of people with Latin backgrounds. Wendy and Rodrigo love positively presenting dances associated with particular cultural histories, reminding people of home and affirming aspects of their identities. They value being recognized as successful representatives of their communities. But Latin dance is largely not about ethnic identity, but about people. They emphasize that you do not need a partner to go to a Latin dance class and that social dancing provides skills and experiences that other dance practices do not, especially the gift of human interaction.  If you go Latin social dancing, you gain friends. Members of their teams and classes have dated and married. They recognize that their success has to do, in part, with skill and experience, and in part, with knowing how to develop friendships and maintain a positive public image. They underscore that they are often in party settings, but are not partiers.

The international Latin dance world is a network of congresses and festivals that feature classes, tutorials, and performances. Latin dance events are ubiquitous and ongoing and Wendy and Rodrigo travel most weekends, around the United States, and across the world. Being part of Latin dance congresses, first as students and then as teachers and performers, has led to television and film appearances, including the salsa documentary series, La Época.

Their teaching over the years has contributed to growing Latin dance community in Charlotte. There are now multiple Latin festivals, studios, and companies, among them:

Hola Charlotte

Latin American Festival

Charlotte Latin Dance

Rumbao Latin Dance

Passion for Tango

Carolina Latin Dance Company

Brazilian Fusion Dance Co.

Photo: Courtesy of Rodrigo and Wendy Jimenez

Mikale Kwiatkowski