"Dancing keeps you young!" Professional dancer and choreographer Fernando Zapata fills the room with vitality. Since 2010, the native Columbian has been teaching salsa, tango, cha-cha-chá, and hip-hop at his dance studio in Schöneberg – and all are welcome here. After class, everyone stays to make music together and enjoy traditional Columbian food like plantains and empanadas.
Just an old piano, an armchair, sofas, and a few folding chairs out of a movie theater, and the space feels like someone's living room. Many couples got to know one another here, and some of them are now married or even have children. Fernando Zapata aims to teach his students something about Columbian fire. "To dance, you have to be elegant, and when you're elegant, you are sexy. That means you're sexy when you dance."
His attitude is infectious. Growing up in Columbia, Fernando Zapata was one of ten children in the family. From a young age, he knew how to dance jazz and salsa. In the end, he gave up his career as an electrical technician and programmer to devote his life to his true passion – dance.
Fernando Zapata thrives on competition. To date he has won 37 trophies, and in 1996 he was named Columbia's national salsa champion. But the drug war back home sent him fleeing to the United States, where he spent years fighting for a Green Card he would never be granted. But after winning a dance competition in Bonn, he received the recommendation to move to Berlin and teach dance. He finally made the decision to stay in Berlin and do just that.
One special feature of his dance studio is the lighting concept, which allows deaf students to learn the steps too. Fernando Zapata had a very special inspiration for this particular innovation: His younger sister was born deaf. "I've learned so much from her," he says. In the summer, Fernando Zapata offers intensive weekend workshops or ‘dance bootcamps,' where he promises his participants they'll be able to learn salsa in just one day. His dance studio is a little piece of home, he says, adding, "I bring the South American sun to Berlin."
Author: Masha Slawinski