Leah Duque is featured in this edition of Dance Spotlight! Leah lives in Miami and is a dance instructor with Fajardo Elite Dance Academy. She was nominated by Jason Haynes. He said, “Leah is a strong leader in the latin dance community and an advocate for dancer equality. She is definitely someone that other dancers should look up to. And, of course, she is a great dancer!” Check out some fun facts about Leah, including her thoughts on bullying in the dance community (yes, it still happens) and her favorite dance moment!
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Where are you from originally and where do you call your dance home now?
I’m from Mississauga, Canada (just west of Toronto). I call Miami home now, but my “dance home”? I think that will always be New York! Pre-Covid, I would go to NYC every 2-3 months to train and social dance. I went to socials in New York so often that it got to the point where I was asked regularly if I had moved there! I miss NYC and I can’t wait to return after we’ve all gotten through this!
What (or who) originally inspired you to try Latin dancing? OR What are your first memories of Latin dancing?
I had always loved the music. My aunt was always playing Latin music at home when I was growing up, so I had always been around those Latin rhythms. I went to Cawthra Park high school of the performing arts in Mississauga where I majored in Dance. Mrs. Jill Hollingsworth, my amazing Grade Eleven teacher, was very much into Salsa and she brought her partner in as a guest instructor. It was so much fun, but at that point I still hadn’t really found my passion for it. I was very much into Tap and Jazz dancing at that point. The pivotal moment was on a spring break vacation to Cuba while I was in college. I was at a club called Tropicana watching the shows, and seeing the social dancing. I already loved the music, but it was at that moment I knew I wanted to salsa dance.
Describe a moment in your dance life that made you feel proud?
There have been a couple that really stand out. I think most would say my success at the World Latin Dance Cup in 2015, as that was a game changer when it came to the direction of my dance career. But there were other smaller moments which had just as much of an impact. Eddie Torres asking me to assist in his workshops during the Canada Salsa and Bachata Congress was a highlight. I had been going to Eddie’s classes every time I went to NYC, so to have him call on me to help demonstrate was like ‘wow’. It was definitely a highlight for me!
The other was performing on stage with my daughter, Veronica. She was five at the time and had performed at several congresses with my ladies team. She stole the show every time! Just seeing how much she loved being on stage wasn’t just a proud moment for me as a dancer, but as her mom! I can’t wait to share the stage with her again.
Do you have any social dance pet peeve(s): (Hygiene, No connection, People who teach while dancing, etc)
Oh gosh. Where do I start? Ha! No, I’m joking! One of my main pet peeves in social dancing is timing. Maybe it’s the instructor in me, or maybe it’s because I’ve been dancing competitively since I was young, but timing was always drilled into me.
The other big pet peeve for me is counting when you dance! I understand as beginners that we learn with counts, but I really try to avoid this. Music isn’t counts. It’s the instruments and it flows. I just find counts make dancing so robotic! Dance happens in the time and space between the beats.
My last pet peeve is when the lead dances to showcase themselves. They don’t care what the follow is doing as long as they look good. How selfish! It ultimately comes down to connection and, as a follow, it’s not enjoyable to be dancing with someone so self-centered.
You were recently involved in a situation where a dancer attempted to aggressively cyber bully another dancer simply because her Facebook profile picture advocated that we “Stay Home|Stay Safe” during the pandemic. The bully tactics also included body shaming and disrespectful name calling. You came to her defense and you were attacked as well. In another Facebook incident you were told by a dancer that your voice/opinion doesn’t matter because (even though you live in Florida) you’re from Canada and you can’t vote in the US.
What are your thoughts on dancers who attempt to bully other dancers (whether online or in-person) and what advice would you give to dancers who are victims of these harmful situations?
It is truly unfortunate that people in our dance community have such vile personalities. This past year has really exposed the true colors of people. I say exposed because in most cases, these individuals had these opinions and traits prior to 2020, but no real reason to show them. But if anything good came from the past year, it’s opened many of our eyes to who is toxic, racist, and disrespectful not just in the dance community, but our friends and acquaintances. I really have no respect for bullies, online or in person. I will not stay silent when they go on the attack and they should absolutely be called out! Our community should be made aware of these bullies in our circle, and we should make sure that there is no place for them. The dance community is like a big family. This is what makes it so amazing. Its such a big world with thousands and thousands of dancers from every corner of the earth, and we don’t need people like the ones you mentioned.
As for advice, the best thing to do is speak up. Too many people shy away from speaking up. Perhaps in the past people have spoken up, and had it brushed under the rug. That needs to end. We need to hold people in our community accountable. They need to know, this kind of behavior is not welcome. And you can trust that I will be there on the front line standing up for those being bullied, harassed, and abused. I have said many times, tag me or private message me, and I will have no problem calling people out when it comes to these types of situations.
On a more positive note, you are a member of the Fajardo Elite Dance Academy. Can you tell us a little about your role in this company and what the company offers?
Yes! I am so happy to be working at Fajardo Elite Dance Academy! We have 2 locations here in South Florida, with other locations planned in the future across the US. I’m an instructor at both locations under the direction of Billy Fajardo and Alexis Romero. Training with Billy recently has been nothing short of amazing! He truly is the best and absorbing all of his knowledge is an experience in itself. We also have performance teams and we’re looking to expand those. Our official grand opening is March 6, but classes are up and running with COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions in place, because safety is number one! I am so excited for everyone in the community to see what we’ve been up to! It’s going to be amazing!
What are your current favorite songs to dance to? Top two or three…
This is a truly impossible task for me. Ha! There’s just so many!
- “Mambo Gozon” by Tito Puente is probably up in the top three. It’s a close call between that and “A Gozar Timbero” also by Tito Puente.
- “Me Gusta Boogaloo” and “Maracaibo Oriental” by Germain Villareal. Those are up there on the list as they are just fun songs and get me pumped!
- “Sonida Bestial” by Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz. That one gets me dancing.
There are so many others, but we would be here for days!
Favorite dance video you’d like to share?
Anything with Terry “Salsalianza” Tauliaut. I could watch him dance for hours! His musicality is just on point every time and the way he showcases the follow. That is truly a master social dancer! (Terry is a favorite of Go Latin Dance as well!)