Angelica “Amor” Medina and Jahaira Fajardo are featured in this edition of Dance Spotlight! They are dance instructors and performers currently living in Oakland, California and they co-organize the annual Queer Latin Dance Festival in California. They were nominated by Andrea ‘Ace” Arenas and Ciara Morales.
Andrea said, “We would love to nominate our peers Angelica and Jahaira who have inspired us in so many ways. They are also a Queer power couple who just got married. They are the founders of In Lakech Dance Academy which highlights the queer and trans community!”
Check out a few fun facts and information about Angelica and Jahaira including their experiences as a same-sex couple within the latin dance community and their goals for the Queer Latin Dance Festival.
Want to nominate someone to be in the Dance Spotlight? Contact us!
What are your first memories of latin dancing? (A class? Watching friends or relatives dance?)
Jahaira: My first memories of latin dance were from one of my house parties. I grew up in a Dominican household so music was always in the background. My sister and I would copy moves that we learned from music videos of merengueros dancing merengue. They’d have three of four guys doing really cool dance moves and she and I would learn them. We’d have a lot of fun at parties performing the moves we learned for the family.
Angelica: My first memories of latin dancing are also with family. When I was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, I’d dance and sing to all of the Selena songs. I’d sing them at every family gathering – actually, I’d sing every day at my house! I also grew up loving banda, cumbia and merengue. There was a lot of joy experienced through music at different family gatherings like quinceañeras and I had such an amazing time living with my family.
You are married and members of the LBTGQIA community. Describe your experience thus far in the latin dance community? Do you feel accepted? Has there been any push back or uncomfortable moments?
Jahaira: I think we’re really blessed living here in the Bay Area. I started training in a dance company in which I was the only ‘out’ Queer person and I was also a female leader. I felt very supported and there wasn’t anything that made it difficult or discouraging for me in any way. I love the latin dance community in the Bay Area and they support us.
There are times when we’ve traveled away from the Bay Area and that’s when we’ve experience any difficulties. I experienced uncomfortable moments when I first started. I would be in a class and I’d really want to lead, but I’d be asked to follow because I appear female. I’d have to stand my ground and say, ‘No, I’m not going to follow. I’m here to learn how to lead.’
There have been some uncomfortable moments but overall I haven’t experienced any outright homophobia.
Angelica: I definitely do feel the love and support especially here in the Bay Area. We’re very blessed to have In Lakech Dance Academy where we get to open doors for many people, specifically queer and trans. It really creates a sense of family and we’re blessed to have that community and be a part of it.
I would like to say that as a queer, Chicana*, femme that I have experienced a lot of microaggression. I’ve experienced invisibility specifically from those who identify as men and it revolves around who I am as a queer woman and my relationship with Jahaira. There have been occasions where we’ve been openly affectionate with each other and someone would approach us and there would be no recognition of Jahaira. They talk to me or try to hit on me without respecting her so we’ve experienced that.
Also, I’ve experienced being objectified in the dance scene while dancing.
*Chicana: a woman or girl of Mexican origin or descent.
You are Co-Founders of the Queer Latin Dance Festival. What goals do you hope to accomplish through this festival?
Jahaira: My goals for this years Queer Latin Dance Festival are for queer and trans people to feel like this weekend they can be who they are fully and completely. I want them to feel there is nothing but love and acceptance in the environment and that they don’t feel that they have to hold themselves back in any way.
Another goal is to continue to establish ourselves in the latin dance world as a legitimate and important festival that needs to exist. We want people to come and have a great time and experience something different.
Last year I was walking down the halls during the festival and someone grabbed my arm and asked me, ‘Is this what straight people feel like at all the festivals?’ I’ll never forget that question because I felt it profoundly. This is a moment where we get to be who we are and it’s very special.
Angelica: My goals are the same as those Jahaira mentioned, but I think it’s really important to get the experience of being an unapologetically bold, brave and courageous queer and trans person dancing in your own body. We want to encourage dancers to be their authentic and true self and show that every day of the festival. I want everyone to feel like they can be who they are without questioning themselves or feeling any aggression or negative energy from others.
We talk a lot about safety and we have a safety team. We have our community agreement that everybody receives in their program. We have signs indicating that we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and we’re very adamant about creating the environment that we’re serious about safety for dancers. We have people that dancers can go to if an encounter doesn’t sit well with them or feel comfortable.
We have an altar that honors our ancestors and we pay homage to the land and our history. We want to continue to make history and we want it to be a one of a kind event that you only get to experience in the Bay Area!
What are your social dance pet peeve(s): (Hygiene, No connection, People who teach while dancing, etc)
Jahaira: I don’t have a lot of pet peeves – perhaps people who dip themselves or people who back lead for the entire song. So, yeah, people who dip themselves would be a pet peeve and I kind of want to let them go and see what happens. Ha.
Angelica: I’m very sensitive to smell so it’s really hard for me to dance with someone with bad body odor. I’m totally someone who believes in being the natural you and using natural deodorant and scents, but I’ve had a few bachata experiences where I’m like, ‘Aye aye aye’.
Sometimes I feel with both leading and following that we may miss the essence of connection in social dancing. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our own minds, that we’re not fully present with our partner so there isn’t a good connection. Dance is healing so I like to connect with each of my dance partners in both following and leading.
What are your current favorite songs to dance to? Top two or three…
Angelica: I’m listening to both salsa and bachata! My two current favorites are:
- “A Bailar El Son” by La India de Oriente – I love this album. It’s super fun and I’ve been playing it during my weekly classes.
- “Quizas si, Quizas no…” by Los Toros Band
Describe a moment in your dance career that made you feel proud.
Jahaira: I think there are a lot of small moments. There are moments when I see our choreography on stage. Moments where I see students overcoming so many obstacles to get on stage. The affect that In Lakech has on our students is very powerful and it’s hard to explain. To see something that was born from a dream or discussion between Angelica and I, and how dancers use our space to heal from everything they’re going through – for me, that is when I’m the most proud of what we’re doing.
We have moments where we compete and we’re two-time world champions so, of course, those moments make me proud, but I think at a more fundamental level it’s to see the affects that In Lakesh has on the community.
Angelica: I think one of my most proud moments was competing at the World Latin Dance Cup (WLDC) in 2015 and in 2018. Once as an amateur in the same-gender division and once as a pro in the same-gender bachata cabaret division. Winning those two events was such an incredible feeling and I got to experience dancing and competing with the love of my life. Having Jahaira win first place and be one of the first female leaders and making history on the WLDC stage was really amazing. Those were definitely moments where I was proud of myself and for the both of us.
Also, the moment where I saw the first Queer Latin Dance Festival come to life. We planned it in four or five months with an amazing leadership team and I was very proud of us.