From cumbia, folklórico, salsa, tango, zumba and more, Salvadoran dancer J’aime Martinez-Castro has been sharing and teaching his dance skills in San Francisco for 33 years.

Castro is the owner and artist director of Latin American Workout, where he not only teaches dance and fitness classes, but also the art, music, and culture of Central America and other Latin countries. 

Former student Luz Mungary, who is Nicaraguense, said she learned far more than just how to dance, but the history and culture of each dance style. 

“We learned everything, having knowledge of other cultures and countries,” Mungary told El Tecolote. “If he danced a typical Costa Rican dance, he always gave a lesson and informed us about that country.”

When she joined, Mungary went with the intention to stay fit and gained a friendship in the process.

“He is well known, especially in the Mission area and the dance outfits he creates are beautiful,” she said. “You can tell he loves what he does.”

Iconic Salvadoran dancer and choreographer J’aime Martinez-Castro poses for a portrait in Balmy Alley. Photo: Alexis Terrazas

Martinez-Castro is proud of his Salvadoran roots and before coming to the United States in the mid-’80s, he was wildly popular throughout El Salvador, so much so that newspapers and television news stations — like La Prensa Grafica and El Diario De Hoy — would interview him. This landed him opportunities to travel to the United States to dance. 

He first came to New York, then Texas and finally settled in San Francisco, where he worked his way up to establishing his dance business. 

“Being here in the U.S. taught me a lot about humility and I worked hard to get where I am now and faced a lot of discrimination, which of course continues to this day,” he said. 

Besides his Salvadoran culture, he is also very proud of his participation in San Francisco Pride. For the last four years, he has celebrated pride by performing at Puerto Alegre and this year he will do so again on June 23 from 7-8:30 p.m. And this year, he plans to march again.  

Martinez-Castro has traveled around the world doing his dance performances. He has danced on cruises and performed in the same shows as Celia Cruz, Selena, Ricky Martin and Oscar D’León, to name a few. 

“I’ve touched many people through dancing and fitness and that is rewarding for me, whether teaching someone salsa and seeing them perform later or helping someone lose weight through the fitness dance, it’s nice to see that I am able to help people,” he said. 

Iconic Salvadoran dancer and choreographer J’aime Martinez-Castro poses in front of the Balmy Alley mural, “The culture contains the seed of resistance,” by O’Brien Thiele, Miranda Bergman. Photo: Alexis Terrazas

He encourages people to dance not only because it’s fun but because it’s healthy and has health benefits that help those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For all aspiring dancers, he encourages them to have confidence and self-discipline. 

“San Francisco is the epicenter of culture and diversity and helps people traveling from Latin America that gives a little more value regarding Latino culture and music that you’ll never get in another area,” Martinez-Castro said. “In the future, I want to write a book about myself and the things I learned as a dancer, the mistakes I’ve made in this industry and how I’ve been able to promote my country’s culture.”

Iconic Salvadoran dancer and choreographer J’aime Martinez-Castro poses for a portrait in Balmy Alley. Photo: Alexis Terrazas