I dance for me!

Magna Gopal – the crazy little Indian girl


Probably one of the greatest international salsa instructors, Magna Gopal, will be visiting Slovenia in the month of October for the 6th Salsa Power Festival. Her graceful dancing and great methodology skills have so far enlightened so many people. It’s only fair to say I was one of those people, who felt a big break-through, while first seeing Magna dance, perform or even better – teach. She found a couple of free minutes to present herself to Slovenian audience, so enjoy these interview and get inspired by this magnificent Indian angel. 🙂


1. Magna, I know this is the most common question you get, but many people here might not know much about your background. Your origin seems to be Indian, yet you lived in Canada and now in the US of A? Is New York your final location or do you see yourself moving somewhere else – maybe back home?

Hi Irena. Yes it’s a common question. I was born in New Delhi, India and moved to Toronto, Canada with my family when I was 6 years old and finally moved to the USA 3 years ago. I actually live in NJ but close enough to NY to say NY…hehehe. NY is my current location but definitely not my final. I’m still exploring the world and you never know what part will steal my heart. As for moving back home to India (not likely) and back to Canada (it’s possible but really not in my plans).


2. You know, on previous festivals we already saw some instructors with Indian roots (like Neeraj, Mario etc.). I always thought Cubans are the ones who are born with the right feel for salsa, but you guys seem to master that even better. 🙂 How come?

I don’t think it always boils down to your ethnicity when it comes to “having the right feel for salsa.” There are many Latin Americans that have a feel for the music and moving but not necessarily for the dance itself. I think it’s part passion and understanding your body. I love the music and the dance and I was really determined to get it and luckily I have a good sense of rhythm so it all pieced together nicely.


3. Many beginners are afraid of their first dance steps – tell me, how did your first salsa steps look like?

Really funny! lol I was dancing Cuban style salsa when I first started so a lot of kicking. After 2 years when I started with cross body lead style on1 I found it difficult to get rid of the kick so I would do the cross body but try and do a Cuban side basic at the same time. Very very funny image. If someone reminds me at the congress, I’ll demonstrate it. lol


4. Did you learn any other dance techniques before meeting salsa?

I didn’t enter into salsa from a background in dance. I used to like hip hop, reggae and calypso music but never studied any other form of dance. With salsa after a few introductory lessons it was all night club dancing to get better.

5. What does salsa mean to you? What do you get out of dancing and teaching it?

Salsa has been one of the best additions to my life and something I hope never to lose. Through salsa I’ve met some great people (some of my best friends are through salsa), traveled the world, seen some amazing sights (Taj Majal, Great Wall of China, etc), and learned a lot about myself. Dancing is a great way for me to express myself creatively and artistically and share that dialogue with someone else. And teaching is the best way to take everything I know and give it back.


6. We all know this is a social thing and boy, you must know a whole bunch of people. Can you remember all those faces and names you meet on festivals… or even just count them? 🙂

Sadly, no I cannot. I do, often remember the faces if I had enough time with them alone but names I’m horrible with and definitely cannot count everyone. Names for me are tough because after the initial introduction, I almost never use it again in conversation. I’m more likely to remember other details about a person than their name.


7. Personally I always enjoy your bodymovement classes. How did you learn to explore and use your body so thoroughly?

Trial and error and a penchance for being over analytical. hahah Whenever I don’t understand something I really dig into it asking all sorts of questions until I can understand how it works. I’ve done that with my body also. When I want to teach something that I do, I try to figure out why it works for me and what things actually make it harder to do. Of course, when teaching, I learn even more because then I can observe everyone else and see what mistakes are common and how to correct them, etc. Teaching is a great way to learn as well 🙂


8. Would you say the biggest trick is in practice – so, does practice really make an expert?

Practicing the right thing will definitely help you get better but whether it makes you an expert is another story. You can know how to do something really well but not really know why or the inner workings of it. Doing something and knowing something can be mutually exclusive. If you work hard, you can have both. A lot of times people have one more than the other. I would say practicing good technique never hurts. But if you want to really feel what you’re doing you have to also practice that – letting your emotion out on the dance floor and in your practices.


9. You are also known as the “Queen of spin”. What is the highest count of spins you’ve done on a dancefloor?

Ahhh these labels make me laugh. I think the highest I have done personally might have been 70 on the spot but that was many years ago. I personally know some people that have done more. I like the fact that I can follow anyone with spins and that I can do cool things when I spin much more than the number that I can do. lol And this all depends on the day – some days are better 🙂


10. Can you resolve the eternal mistery – is it up to a girl or a boy to make the spinning happen? (Don’t say both, even if it’s true 🙂 )

I’d say it’s a bit of both…eek, I said it. lol But a greater responsibility rests with the follower. Maintaining balance, axis, controlling momentum, being precise, etc..those are things that the person spinning should be able to do on their own and the leader assists with giving some direction and suggestions.


11. What, in your opinion, are the criteria that qualify one as a good salsa dancer?

There are many factors that can attribute to being a good dancer. Good technique, good timing, good leading/following skills, good connection with the music, awareness of your environment, proper etiquette on the dance floor and being able to have fun. This would be for social dancing. For a performer, instructor, coach, choreographer, etc there are other attributes as well.


12. What do you consider as your biggest achievement in life?

Surviving birth. lol I heard i was born blue with the cord wrapped around my neck and no pulse and the doctors revived me. Biggest is hard to say – I’ve had many achievements that all have their importance and play a big role in who I am today. Perhaps the biggest and ongoing one would be continuing to be true to myself because and in some cases in spite of my experiences.


13. I’ve read somewhere you are planning to participate in a movie production. What’s happening with that (movie called Mano?)?

One of my best friends, Anthony Nardolillo, directed a short film called “Mano” — short for ‘hermano’ which means ‘brother’ in Spanish. He is currently working on getting funding for the full length feature film in which I will be one of the lead choreographers, dancers and who knows, if I make it for the role I may even be acting in it. lol Magna – salsa dancer, teacher, performer, actress and a little crazy Indian girl. lol


14. Any other big plans for the future?

A few other things on the agenda include the movie Mano based on the short film that my friend Anthony Nardolillo directed. As soon as he gets the right funding for it, it will be an exciting project. I’d also like to eventually take my dancing network and knowledge and pursue something more humanitarian.


15. I know this will be your first visit to Slovenia and don’t know what to expect. But can you maybe encourage our salseros with some sort of a motto or a nice thought on what salsa gives to each individual and maybe how to inspire the beginners in this scene?

Well, I quote Bruce Lee in all my workshops and I think it’s fitting to dancers of all levels. Most of us started dancing because we were inspired by watching someone else – usually someone more advanced but we have to remember that we were all beginners and depending where you put us, we are still beginners. To paraphrase Bruce Lee “Learn the rules. Master the rules. Break the rules.” Be patient with yourself as you learn, correct your mistakes and reward your accomplishments. The growth process will be much more enjoyable and you’ll retain a lot more.


16. Should guys be afraid of inviting you to dance in October?

Yes. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Muahahah Just kidding. They shouldn’t be afraid at all. Just ask and if I look dead and say no, don’t take it personally. We’ll have all weekend 🙂


17. How about the girls? 😉

Well I really have to work on some new patterns then. 🙂


Thank you for all your answers. We’ll be counting weeks and days before the festival and I’m sure we’ll all spend a magnificant weekend here. 🙂