It wasn't always this way. "I look around five years younger than I am so when I first started," he says. "I was about 25 and looking like I was fresh out of high school. It was hard to get people to return back to my classes because I looked too young to possibly know anything about teaching. So I spent countless hours developing a method of teaching that was at an academic level but within 2 hours each night."
He's been teaching for seven years now, and danced for six years before that. Jimmy started his first class as a way to improve himself. "When you teach someone a skill," he says, "you have to have an answer for every question that person throws at you. Teaching a class was my way of answering questions I had for myself as I learned to be better."
Jimmy teaches a beginning class in salsa dancing once a week at his studio in San Jose. A detailed-oriented instructor, Jimmy is mindful of his material. "I progress through each night's lesson with milestones to meet," he says. "By 8:00pm I need to have covered all the basics. At 8:20 I need to have covered the fundamentals, and by 8:45 I need to have finished the pattern. It's the only way I'm going to be able make sure I'm done by 9:00pm."
The intriguing thing about J Smooth Salsa is its free salsa lessons. "I started salsa dancing during a financially difficult time in my life," he says. "I worked enough hours to pay my way through college but not enough to spend on fun. So I would go into the club early enough where I didn't have to pay the cover charge. I did this for months when I first started dancing."
"It was difficult cutting corners," he says, "so I can relate to those who say they can't afford a new past time. So I wanted to give to my community a place where they can learn salsa without monetary limitations, and not feel embarrassed that they are being frugal to be here."
Jimmy attributes J Smooth Salsa's success from the people that return repeatedly to their lessons. "J Smooth Salsa has over a dozen of instructors, volunteers, and support staff," Jimmy says. "All the instructors have a love of teaching and it shows in how they run their classes. People come back to our studio because we want to be there. We want them to understand and improve in dancing."
There's substantial proof of their success. On Yelp.com, a website where members write reviews for places they've visited, The Miraido Studio has the highest rating of any other salsa venue in San Jose. With over 800 hits per month, Miraido out-ranks even some of the top restaurants in the city by 200 hits.
"Just because it's free doesn't mean people automatically give us high ratings," says Jimmy as he summarizes the statistics. "Someone can be doing a crappy job of teaching salsa and people won't come back regardless if it's free. We're successful because we take our classes seriously, and the community shows that appreciation by telling all their coworkers and friends about us."
Since its inception in 2002 Jimmy has spent less than $1,000 in advertising, yet night after night the lessons are packed with salsa learners, old and young alike. On a given night the class can have anywhere from 60 to 100 people attending.When asked how he does it, Jimmy lets off a good laugh. "I guess word gets around that there's something free around town.”
By Summer Keegan
Photographs by Kate Ingram
As featured from a San Jose Magazine