If you met Alba Cielo Velasquez at her housekeeping day job, you might not guess she once spent weekends performing salsa, tango and merengue at her own seafood restaurant in Colombia. But you should see her teaching London children to dance. Since she arrived in Canada in 2004 with her family, the mom and grandmother has devoted her free time to teaching Colombian folklore dance to children in London.
Alba was here only a month, when she started a dance group with new friends she met during English as a Second Language classes. In the beginning, they were just a few couples who would gather at each other’s apartments to dance the nights away.
Then the group grew and word spread through London’s Colombian community that a professional dance instructor was living in the city. Alba’s new friends asked if she had time to teach children. And Ritmo Y Café was born.
Over the past 15 years, the dance company has performed at many special events and festivals – part of Alba’s mission to share Latin American culture with London and to instill confidence and pride in young people.
“I want my students to learn about their background and where they came from and never forget about their roots. I want them to keep their culture alive, and for them to learn about the country where either they or their parents came from,” says Alba.
These days, Alba teaches about 60 youth, charging enough to cover the basics, such as rent for school gyms and material for costumes Alba sews herself. She says her payment is knowing she has contributed to the rich multicultural fabric of London.
“I love to dance. It is my passion and it makes people happy. I want to share that happiness with Londoners.”