Boston residents Burju Perez and her husband, Victor, renowned salsa dancers, consider themselves citizens of the world — not just because she’s from Turkey and his roots are in Puerto Rico, but because they’ve danced their way across the globe.
‘My parents say I danced before I walked, or at least I started them both at the same time. I always had a wiggle and a bop.’
Q. OK, you have Turkish roots, but you’re a salsa expert. I know anyone anywhere can love an art form. But how did it happen for you?
A. I’ve been dancing since I was young, a toddler. My parents say I danced before I walked, or at least I started them both at the same time. I always had a wiggle and a bop. And when my parents would put on traditional Turkish dance and music, I’d imitate the TV. They threw me into rhythmic gymnastics and dance when I was 7. And over the years, I began practicing other forms, hip-hop, jazz, classical. I really got into traditional Latin dance when I was in college. We formed a dance group. . . . And that’s how I met Victor. He auditioned for it. He was a great Latin dancer, an expert already. And he became my permanent dance partner.
Q. You were born in Turkey but raised in Boston since age 2. So this is home. But is this also where your life in salsa got started — I mean other than you really getting into it in college?
A. No, as a professional salsa dancer, we — Victor and I — started in Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles Salsa Congress. It’s an annual convention and fair, the largest in the United States. And at the time we started, there were just two connected to this country, the one in LA and one in Puerto Rico, where Victor’s family is from.
Q. So since then, I know you guys travel all over to perform and teach salsa. But has a salsa scene developed in Boston?
A. Yes, definitely. When we graduated college, there was such a small scene here. But now there are dozens of places to go for all salsa styles — Cuban style, New York mambo. If you’re a beginner, a great place is the Havana Club in Cambridge.
Q. Since you and Victor partnered up, personally and professionally, you have become known as sort of salsa ambassadors. How did that happen, and where have you been?
A. Where haven’t we been? We’ve been to Russia, all over Asia, like China and Japan. Brazil, even my home country of Turkey. Lithuania, Germany, all of Europe, really. Western Europe is our biggest market. We get the most bookings across Western Europe for some reason. Why it happened? I don’t know. I’m humbled. But I think it’s a couple of things: In the salsa community we’ve earned a certain level of respect for being top competitors. And unlike a lot of partners, we are truly a couple. We don’t just dance together. We’re married, and that moves people.
Q. What’s the salsa scene in Russia like?
A. The first time we went to Russia, we noticed the seriousness on everyone’s faces. It seemed like, with the whole history of past communism, that everyone had been through stuff. You could just see the wear and tear on their faces. But then we left the airport and got into the salsa community. And we had never seen such enthusiasm and happiness and cheer.
Q. What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened on a dance trip?
A. I got chickenpox. We were in London at the beginning of May, and we had no idea what was happening to me. I started getting hives. It was crazy. I’m 33 years old. And I just now got chickenpox. I thought it was a kid’s sickness. Poor Victor. He was getting peppered with questions about where I was. I was stuck in the hotel, like a sick child.
.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.