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The Story of Latin Dance at DAYNC

Mar. 14, 2017
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Amber Rivard and Joshua Burgos of Alma Milwaukee

Photos on the wall of DAYNC Studio (910 E. Hamilton St.) tell the story. As a child in Brookfield, Amber Rivard loved dance lessons. While an international marketing major at UW-Milwaukee, she took Salsa 1 from the dance department and joined Ahora!, a student Latin dance group that rehearsed in hallways. She became its leader. Joshua Burgos’ grandfather emigrated from Yucatan and was the first Latin American to own a house on Milwaukee’s South Side. On impulse, Josh joined a salsa dance class at the former Studio Lounge in Bay View five years ago and found himself partnered with Rivard, also new to the class. The connection was instant. In love with Latin dance and determined to compete professionally, they found an expert teacher in Dennis Lopez, founder of Milwaukee’s first professional troupe, who trained them, free of charge, for eight months before leaving for the far larger scene in Florida.

Your mentor left you?

JB: And that’s when we started our own dance company. When you write this, just know—it’s really important—that none of this was planned. We just went off a gut feeling and we trusted each other.

AR: We knew we could teach at the beginner level but who was going to choreograph? Who was going to give us the technique we needed to grow ourselves? We always admired Alma Latina, a dance company in Tijuana, Mexico. Josh found them through YouTube. We were obsessed with their style and we found out they were franchising. You can purchase choreography from them; they design costumes for your dancers and provide technique training. So we brought Alma Latina to Milwaukee. Our dance company is Alma Milwaukee. Alma means soul.

And you opened DAYNC Studio?

AR: For a year we rented studios but we grew too big. We started with beginner salsa and beginner bachata teams but expanded to add intermediate teams and a ladies’ cha-cha team. At the end of the year, we thought either we don’t do Alma Milwaukee anymore or we get our own space, something tiny, just for our teams. And Josh stumbled upon this place on Hamilton.

JB: It was the energy, it was the neighborhood, it was the skylights. When you walked in, you felt your soul expanding: There could be a comfortable space here where you could be who you are and there’s no judgment. 

AR: The skylights are original from when this was a horse stable for one of the breweries.

JB: Amber and I and our two team captains went to the Paris Salsa Conference in April, 2016 to train with our pro team from Tijuana. When we came back, we signed the lease. I used my renovation and property management background to lay our wood floors, mount our mirrors and barre, hang speakers, build our desk. When our teams found out we were doing this for them, they volunteered to help. We built it all in two weeks so we could open on Cinco de Mayo. Within a month, we brought the owner of Alma Latina and her partner here to do workshops on the one-year anniversary of Alma Milwaukee. Now Amber and I are on the operations team for Alma Latina, Mexico. This is a worldwide company with over 30 cities. We’re working for them part time and traveling a lot to get more dance training.

AR: We opened the studio for our company and we really manifest the Alma Latina style, which isn’t just urban Latin dance plopped on a plate. Ballet is part of how they train their dancers so we also offer that here, a hybrid ballet-modern class. We also offer a beginning hip-hop class. We’re trying to offer classes that no one else is offering. Our clientele includes people who’ve never danced in their life but have always wanted to try. Ideally we’ll contribute to our dancers’ happiness or at least be able to say that we helped the art in a way that matters.

How can we see a performance?

JB: We have a Latin dance social here every third Friday of the month. We teach a beginner lesson from 8 to 9 p.m. From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., we have Latin dance DJs and at 10 p.m., depending what’s going on in the city with companies and their dancers, we have performances. There’s a $10 cover. We call it “Latin Fridays.”

Friday, March 17 is Latin Friday at DAYNC, 910 E. Hamilton St.


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