Rosa Flores is living the best of both worlds.
“I love dance and I love business,” said Flores, the owner of Latin Rhythm Dance Studio in Stratford. The business was founded in 1996 and Flores joined as a manager in 2006. In 2014, she acquired the business and has run it while also maintaining a full-time job as an administrative assistant with Trefz Corp., the Bridgeport-based property management firm.
“I’ve been there for 24 years as an administrative assistant and I’ve learned a lot about business through the late Ernest Trefz,” Flores said.
For those possessing the proverbial two left feet, the notion of walking into a dance studio and absorbing the vibrant mix of athleticism and poetic gyrations that define Latin dance can be daunting. But Flores insisted that anyone can pick up the beat.
“We welcome everyone,” she said. “You can expect to learn the very basics and go from there. It’s a great feeling to someone who walks in and knows very little about salsa and bachata and then, a month later, see them dancing and having a good time.”
For the uninitiated, Flores explained that salsa is a faster-paced dance performed to a “mambo-Cuban type of sound,” while bachata is danced to “more of a slower-paced type of sound.”
Flores breaks her class structure into basic beginner, beginner, intermediate and advance levels and promised extra consideration with those who are new to this activity.
“Yes, it takes work and patience,” she said. “But the patience also has to come from the student because it is all about their mindset. You need to have the positive mindset that you want to learn. And we understand that everyone learns differently and the timeframe is different for everybody. We don’t think it’s fair to put someone who is just starting with someone who has been here for a little bit. We want everyone to feel welcome and not feel intimidated.”
And even if one is not on the dance floor, it is difficult not to be charmed by the energy the students and instructors display when the music starts and the dance movement begins.
“It’s artistic. It’s so passionate and, from where it used to be years ago, there is such a diversity in it today because people come from all backgrounds,” Flores said. “People come together and meet so many others with different careers and backgrounds.”
The studio has about 80 students, with classes for adults and children, along with six instructors.
“We range anywhere close to 20 students in each class, and on slow days we could have eight students,” Flores said.
Some of Flores’ students used their lessons to sharpen their competitive skills for participation in Latin dance showcases called congresses. Flores has traveled with some of these students around New England and to Miami for the events, and the studio holds its own showcase in the fall as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. But for those who are not looking for trophies, the studio hosts a dance social one Friday each month.
“It’s a nice, mature crowd,” Flores said. “There is no alcohol here, just water. It’s a few hours of dancing and everyone has a great time. Many people come in here saying this is an outlet for them — it’s a break from everything.”
Flores works to keep costs low for her students, charging $20 for a drop-in visit and offering packages of four classes for $60 and eight for $80 — the only special requirement of students are shoes with suede soles, which adapt better to the wood floor than rubber soles or sneakers. Flores also noted the studio’s ability to retain students over the long haul.
“I’ve had some students here for eight to 10 years,” she said. “We’ve had students that have been with us since they were little kids, and now they are teenagers. Three of my instructors were students here when they were kids. One of them was my daughter — she started learning here when she was 8 years old and now she is 26.”
Flores also works to promote her studio through personal appearances in the area. During the summer, she has hosted free lessons at Captain’s Cove in Bridgeport every other Monday and she has also appeared at Latin dance events in New Haven. And while she deeply enjoys her work, her greatest satisfaction comes from students who share their appreciation of being able to put dance in their lives.
“When I get a phone call from someone who said, ‘I saw you at such-and-such place and I just had to come into your studio because I want to learn,’ or, ‘I was in your class and because of your studio I am more confident,’ that is the best feeling,” she said with a warm smile.
Latin Rhythm Dance Studio is at 1418 Barnum Ave. For more, go to latinrhythmstudio.com.