2005_05_yomairareynoso_big.jpgVital Stats:

- Yomaira Reynoso
- 40 years old
- Teacher, P.S. 115 and co-star of documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom
- Born in the Dominican Republic; grew up and still lives in Inwood, “til I strike it rich.”

Yomaira's world:

How long have you been at P.S. 115 and how did the school become involved in the American Ballroom Institute school program?
Seventeen years. I did my student teaching there and remained there as a third grade teacher for many years. Three years ago, I was part of the arts committee in the school. We looked through pamphlets and things that were being offered to schools to see what interested us. And one was ballroom dancing, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, you’re kidding? That’s my dream come true.” And [the other teachers] said, “Yomaira you want to be in charge of this program? You call. That’s your baby.” I immediately called and scheduled them to come in and we’ve had it ever since.

Did you ever anticipate the sort of impact the program would have on the lives of the kids?
Never, never. We just said, OK, it’s something that we’ll do, and if we like it, we’ll do it next year. And if not, we’ll drop it.

I read that you once wanted to be a Broadway dancer?
Every since I was a baby, people would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always said, “a dancer, an actress, and a singer.” I guess I’ve accomplished two of those now.

Did you have a particular goal when you joined the program?
Not at all. I did not really know what the program was about, just that it taught the kids how to dance ballroom. So I figured, wow, here’s my chance -- while the kids are learning, I’m taking advantage of it also. I certainly couldn’t pay for ballroom dancing.

What differences have you noticed in the kids who have gone through the program?
Their confidence has increased. They have a lot of poise now. They help others. A lot of them, they refuse to leave. Since they can’t compete anymore, they’re helping out, as monitors, or if there’s someone absent, they’ll fill in. They love being there and helping me. They’ll demonstrate, and they’ll say, “Look, this is the way to do it.”

You teach with a partner, Rodney Lopez. Is he at P.S. 115 too?
This program comes into the schools, and they happened to send him the first year. We sort of clicked. We have a little thing going there with the kids. We work well together. He still comes in.

When the movie crew arrived, did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
They came in and introduced themselves like six months before, but we didn’t know if our school would be chosen. We didn’t hear from them for a while, and we figured, oh probably not. Then, all of the sudden, there was that phone call. It was exciting, but we never thought—I thought they were going to film a little cable thing. Not that I didn’t have confidence in them, I just didn’t believe – I didn’t think it was going anywhere. I was just thinking, they’re filming the kids. The kids are having a great time and showing off, that’s all I thought of.

How has the attention to the film affected you and the kids?
I still don’t believe it. I keep going to interviews; people are calling me. But I don’t know if it just hasn’t sunk in or if it just hasn’t affected me in a way that I’m a big deal now or that I’ve changed at all. The kids go with the flow; they haven’t really changed. You can tell they’re excited when someone says something to them, and then they’re back to their old normal selves.

So how many times have you seen the movie now?
Ok … eight or nine? Sometimes I look away at my parts and think oh no it’s coming up. The funny thing is the kids know when things are coming up. Now we’re making fun of each other, “Now it’s your turn!” And every time I see something that I didn’t see before.

In the film, you want the prize so badly, you compare yourself to Susan Lucci.
You know, when we went to L.A., they gave us a little tour and we were looking at the stars [on the Hollywood Walk of Fame], and there’s the Susan Lucci star. So I took a picture. It was the funniest thing. I don’t watch soap operas but I remember the commercials where she wanted that Emmy. Somehow that came to my mind, but I used to say, “Who’s that?” I didn’t know that I was going to be known for what I said! I guess I have to meet her now.

Have you traveled a lot for the film then?
I went to LA, and Salt Lake City (Slamdance), and where the people live in all these nice houses … Newport.

Do you have a lot of time in your schedule to travel so much for the film?
Not really. We manage. If it’s on a weekend, they try to accommodate us -- after school, evenings. I’ve had to take a day here or there but nothing major. Some of the kids are traveling too.

Did you get fancy new clothes for the premieres?
For Tribeca, I wore something I already had at home. I wish I could have worn some of J-Lo’s stuff. I do have an autographed picture of her that says, “Happy 40th Yomaira, love J-Lo.”

It’s funny you’re such a fan, because she sings, dances and acts.
Yeah, maybe she wants to play me one day!

In the film, you seemed more involved than any of the other adults, even taking the girls shopping to buy outfits for the competition. Is this typical?
We usually get so involved. Sometimes its 5 or 6 p.m., and we’re doing things or practicing for shows in school—it’s not only this instance. When I say “We,” I mean the other teachers in the arts program. We just can’t say no, and I can’t just let them wear what they want. You have to look nice and make sure you represent in a positive way.

There are some heartbreaking interviews with the girls in the film. How aware are you of their lives outside of school?
I take that motherly role. Many times, I tell them things, lessons in life, little things that might stick with them. While we’re walking, let’s say we might see someone sleeping on the ground or someone who doesn’t belong in the neighborhood, like an addict. I’m walking with a kid, I’ll say, “Look at that,” and use that as an example to show them what’s around them. And they’re like, “Yeah, I never want to be that way.” I tell them ignore those negative influences. Hopefully a lot of them will absorb that and be able to do well.

Unfortunately that’s the reality. Those are things that we have to deal with and live with— not accept. But that is something that is around. Most of the kids walk by it and continue.

Do the younger kids look forward to learning how to dance?
Some of them have heard all the talk about the movie, so a lot them are telling me “Teacher next year I want to do the ballroom,” because they think there’s another movie. We have an arrangement in our school, where there’s a class that’s taking it because they have to, and there’s another group taking it because they want to.

So it’s not required of everyone?
No, we’re only doing two. It would be nice if more could take it but we’re only doing two. And sometimes it’s not easy to schedule because we have K-6, and our population is over a thousand. Trying to find the time to fit in some things is very difficult.

What other programs would you like to see implemented into schools?
I’d like to see more things coming into the school, more money come in. For example, I’d like to see continuity of the program. It’s a course, and then it stops. I’d like to see it continue from grade to grade, getting harder and more complex, so they can continue and build on it. Sometimes I feel this helps them— but I’m scared that it’s temporary. That it’ll fade. That’s why they have to continue it. They move into a different building in middle school, maybe if the program were available there….

Do you have kids of your own?
I have a six and an eight year old. There’s never rest. I was telling Amy [Sewell – the producer], “Can we go to a spa someday? Because I don’t know what a spa is.”

Have your kids seen the film?
They saw it one time—they were shocked because they know a lot of the kids. They go to the school too. They say things, “five, six, ready, begin!” They’ve memorized lines. They’ve watched the trailer 30 times. My son will say things like, “6000 kids, 60 schools...”

Do other faculty members, students come out to cheer for the team?
Most of the time, we have a little group those goes with us — students and some parents. We’re very noisy.

How do your chances look for this year? Competition season must be beginning soon?
My team is strong. The boys are a little weak. Let’s see if we can get them into shape by the 24th. I have confidence that we can get to the finals… Don’t get me wrong; I do want that trophy.

Do you have a favorite dance?
I dance anything, to anything. I tried forcing the kids one year -- but they didn’t want to -- to do a little western. I’m not giving up yet. But I’d have to say the merengue is the best. It identifies me, and my country, the best.

Do you go out dancing?
No, I wish I did. I have kids so there’s no time now. There’s not much time for myself.


Ten things to know about Yomaira:

What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
I never find anything, just pennies. Maybe a dollar.

Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
I wish I could spend it at Saks. Unfortunately, I have to say the supermarket. I’m very into providing my family with healthy things so they don’t have too much fast food. I like to cook from scratch. My beans aren’t canned.

Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
Hysterical. Yeah.

NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Buying clothes and shoes and hiding them from my husband. From anywhere, just wherever it’s on sale.

When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
I wish I could get away, but I have young kids. So I sit at home and wonder what it’s like to get away. Even when I do, I can’t get away because then I think about them. I can’t win.

What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but I’ll go out in my curlers and pajamas. I don’t know if I’m rebelling. I think it’s just saying- I don’t care about what people think, because I know who I am, if I want to go out and not be made up. Just be yourself, so if you need to go out, just go out. Don’t worry what people are thinking, those things are not important in life.

Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
No. I try to keep calm. I’ve never had a fight. I guess that means if the time comes, they’ll clean the streets with me.

Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I can’t. I have to wait for my pension.

Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
A maid. Maybe someone will read this and want to give me free maid service.

There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Everywhere I go I seem to see a man taking a leak. (Not the same one). Is that a sign or something?


Documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” won audience prizes at film festivals in Cleveland, Chicago, Malibu and Philadelphia. It opened this year’s Slamdance festival and was recently showcased at Tribeca. Mad Hot Ballroom is now playing in New York and opens in select cities this Friday. To find out more about the film, check out the official website. For more information about the dancing classrooms program, visit americanballroomtheater.com.

-- Interview by Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs