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August 12, 2009

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China, take your partners!

A dance engagement in Hong Kong sparked Jorge Geronimo's interest in all things Chinese and sowed the seeds of a dream that's now reality, Fei Lai reports.With his brown eyes, tanned skin, slender stature and shaved head, Jorge Geronimo, an American choreographer and dance coach, fits almost everyone's image of a delicate and graceful male dancer.

Having lived and worked in Shanghai for more than two years, the 36-year-old is holding himself true to his Chinese dream.

His interest in China dates back six years, when he had his first exposure to Asia.

As the founder of a dance company called Latin Grooves, he went to Hong Kong for a performance in 2003.

The glamorous city with its fast pace life and dynamic feeling of progress immediately buried a seed of "I must be in it" in him.

The desire was so strong that for a month after he got back to the United States, he was still feeling sad about leaving.

It took Geronimo four years to be prepared mentally and physically for a move to China. At first, he told everyone around him of his idea of a move to Asia. It was a "now or never thing."

"My time in America was done. I thought I needed a change. If I didn't do it now, I wouldn't make it," Geronimo says.

He started learning Chinese from books and DVDs. He studied the map of China. One day in 2005, he was watching TV with some Chinese friends and they introduced him to "Let's Shake It," a TV dance show in Shanghai.

"I watched it and I thought ... um, Latin dancing in China ah?! Very good! I would like to be in that show when I go to China," Geronimo recalls.

He saw Shanghai as the place he would move to also because it was modern and big. Then he sold almost everything - car, furniture, and went to see his family in Mexico.

Geronimo's grandfather was a musician in the 1900s and his uncle is a professional singer. Geronimo describes his family as one "used to crazy things."

They supported Geronimo's decision, his mother in particular.

In January 2007, Geronimo arrived in Shanghai. A friend introduced him to the producers of the TV show and he was invited to choreograph a dance piece and dance with one of the celebrities.

"The interesting experience was that once we finished the performance and I had the cameras in front of me, I realized my wish had come true and this time I was in front of the camera looking out into the audience," Geronimo says.

"It felt gratifying to be the first foreigner to dance with a Chinese celebrity in this popular national TV dance show when you have 400 million viewers or so.''

Teaching celebrities is quite different from teaching his regular students, because he has to make them look like a dance star within three or four days.

Thankfully, A Duo, the Chinese female singer he coached during the show was as talented as he could hope for.

Although she only danced ballet and Latin before, she shone on stage thanks to Geronimo's coaching.

"A special connection between the dance couple is important. It is something coming in straight. If you don't see chemistry, it's not Latin dance," he says. "It is a great experience. We were joking and playing during the rehearsals and she is a very easy-going girl."

Currently, Geronimo is teaching dance at Changning District Culture Palace. He has almost 30 group students and 15 private students. Geronimo does little advertising.

Most of his pupils come through networking. He believes one has to open the door of friendship first before doing business.

"The dancing scene in Shanghai is huge due to this culture's acceptance of this performing art, especially since the 1970s when Bruce Lee used to love to dance the cha-cha," Geronimo says. "When I arrived here there were four studios and there are now around 20 to 25.

"There is a big potential now and for the future for sure to make all China dance."

A graduate of the University Autonomous of Guadalajara in Mexico, Geronimo has a bachelor's degree in business administration along with a major in arts.

He began the study of traditional Latin folk dance as a child and continued with years of study and training in modern, jazz and ballroom dancing, specializing in various competitive Latin dances including the rumba, mambo, tango, cha-cha, paso doble, salsa, samba, bolero and jive.

Having been teaching in Shanghai for the past two years, he feels it a shame that dance studios in Shanghai haven't formed a league yet.

"The difficulty lies in that many studio owners take each other as rivals rather than peers," he says. "Unlike Los Angeles, where amateurs from different studios are organized to enjoy parties, competitions and lectures, many events cannot be organized in Shanghai without such a league as a platform."

Geronimo hopes there will be one in the city in the future.

He is going to expand his teaching to Hong Kong in the middle of September. Geronimo will then probably spend three days a week in Shanghai and four days in Hong Kong.

He is seeking cooperation opportunities with television, video and film studios.

He says the secret that enabled him to realize his Chinese dream came in three steps: think about what you want, express it and make it happen.

"There is power in the belief that things can come true. But it takes time. It is like baking a cake, which requires patience," he says.

"Some goals take a bit longer. Nobody knows whether it will take weeks, months or even years. You have to be patient, watching it being baked in the oven."

Geronimo is grateful that dancing brings him the opportunity to have a life with zero stress, the chance to do what he really loves doing and the great pleasure in meeting people of different nationalities and backgrounds. Dancing gives him more exposure to Chinese life and culture.

He now spends three hours a day learning Chinese. It is a habit he has been keeping for years.

Enjoying drinking tea, he likes to go to the city's teahouses where he can be surrounded by the Chinese community.

"The environment is good for me to learn Chinese and Chinese culture. My present awareness for living a healthy, peaceful and spiritual happy life lies there," he says. "There are always ups and downs when we try to make something happen but that's the fun part of it and that's what I call things that make us feel alive." Jorge Geronimo and his partner, Espi from IsraelJorge Geronimo

Nationality: American

Age: 36


choreographer, dance coach and performer


Self-description:Calm but fiery at times, I love to study Chinese because it relaxes me. I don't drink alcohol or smoke, I am very into drinking teas. I like exploring the potential of the mind such as in meditation, hypnosis, DNA reprogramming, esoteric arts and similar topics. I like working out, I like Chinese girls, like all kinds of music, especially jazz and trance music. I can be picky at times.

Favorite place: Yuyuan Garden.

Strangest sight: To me, the strangest sight can be the little old Shanghainese homes that are almost destroyed, with poor people living inside, and disappearing slowly. I wish there were a program and a budget to restore them to preserve the authenticity of the old urban culture.

Worst experience:Nothing too bad in Shanghai, people are so great here. But just last year my computer crashed due to a virus and I spent two months trying to fix it!

Motto for life:Don't take life too serious, it's just an illusion. Play it as if it was a game.

How to improve Shanghai:

Put the trash inside the bins, drive and smoke less so we can have better air.

Advice to newcomers:Don't bring bad habits from the West to the East. Display a good image as an expat so we all look good. Learn Chinese, it makes your life easier and happier!


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