Behind-the-Scenes

Join the Latin Flair | Behind the Scenes of ¡Vamos! — Báilalo at Universal Studios Florida

September 15, 2023

Photo Credit: José Atalah

When Latin music suddenly blasts through the speakers in Universal Studios Florida, what used to be the bustling streets of the New York area transforms into a dance floor. Next thing you know — almost as if you can’t help it — you’re bailando like no one’s watching.

That’s ¡Vamos! — Báilalo, a street show that’s all about passion, community, representation and, of course, latin flair. It’s more than just a show — it’s an interactive experience. 

I got to spend a morning with the creators and cast of ¡Vamos! — Báilalo and witness, first-hand, how they prepare, rehearse and quite literally put on a show.  

A Show… Stopper!

Dancers preform in ¡Vamos! — Báilalo at Universal Studios Florida.
Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

Show director Michael Lee Ponton started at Universal in 2005, working in several roles throughout his career in the Entertainment department. After he learned that the Superstar Parade — a show he worked on for three years— was coming to an end, he started thinking about what the next in-park entertainment experience at Universal Studios Florida should be. 

At that point, he knew two things: 1. It would have to be themed to New York in some way for the show’s location to make sense; and 2. It would have to hold a new concept, something that had never been seen before at any of our theme parks. 

After watching the re-imagined version of a classic musical (that just so happens to also involve Latin music and dancing throughout the streets of New York), it hit Michael: “We have the perfect setting for this!”

Before even getting the green light for the show, Michael decided he needed to put together a killer playlist for his pitch. And because he didn’t grow up listening to Latin music, he spent time researching which songs would be the best fit for the show — those impossible-not-to-dance-to hits. And he came up with — in my opinion — the best playlist ever, which includes Spanish versions of classic and modern songs. 

“I really wanted to make sure that I respected the Latin community and culture with their music, but also kept it relevant and current,” Michael adds. “Even if some people have never listened to Latin music, they’ll feel like they’ve heard that song before or have danced those steps before, so in a way, I was including more cultures.” 

Calling All Latin Dance Experts

Dancer Dianelys Jo Dominguez and Show Director Michael Lee Ponton in Universal Studios Florida.
Photo Credit: José Atalah

Michael hired five Latin dance teachers to lead several workshops for the team so they’d get familiarized with the style they’d be performing. Among all of the teachers, Dianelys Jo Dominguez stood out. Turns out, the experienced Cuban dancer and choreographer was the missing piece for the show to come together. “Dianelys was a great fit, she has a genuine connection to music and can represent her culture through choreography,” says Michael. The awesome moves you see in the show? That’s all Dianelys. 

Once the idea for the show had been approved, Michael started working on how it would come to life. Latin dancing had never been done before at Universal (or at any other theme park in Orlando, for that matter!), and most of the dancers from the previous parade had been trained in other styles of dancing. 

De Cuba pal’ Mundo!

Dianelys Jo Dominguez and a dancer from ¡Vamos! — Báilalo at Universal Studios Florida.
Photo Credit: José Atalah

Dianelys had been dancing at the Superstar Parade for a while and says she never imagined that the opportunity to choreograph an entire show would ever knock on her door. Born and raised in Cuba, Dianelys was trained in Classical Dance at El Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and had only been living in the United States for five years. For her, this was “un sueño hecho realidad” — a dream come true. When she got the news, the only thing she could say was “¡Ay, Dios mío!” For me, as an immigrant who fled my country to pursue the “American Dream”, the story is inspirational and empowering.

Dianelys’ energy and passion is infectious. Even though she was trained in a different style of dance, she quickly came up with the Latin moves because that is something that runs in her blood. “I spent my whole life dancing ballet, but when it came to choreographing Latin steps, it’s something that I just feel,” Dianelys says.

Getting Ready to Move

I met up with Michael one morning and headed up to the Backstage Entertainment trailer, which is where the actors rehearse, get dressed and get pumped up before hitting the streets of New York. And that’s where I met with the cast of ¡Vamos! for the first time: glamorously getting ready and doing their own hair and makeup while waiting to put on their costumes for the day.

The cast has 45 minutes of prep time before doing a run-through of the choreography for about 20 minutes. Once they’re stretched and dressed, they go out for the first of six shows that day.

Fun fact: whenever the cast needs that extra pump, they’ve been known to circle up, hold hands and break on a “¡Sí se puede!” before the show.

Vamos… ¡Bailalo!

Dancers preform in ¡Vamos! — Báilalo at Universal Studios Florida.
Photo Credit: José Atalah

The first time I saw — and joined — this dance party, I felt at home. If there’s one thing you should know about growing up in a Latino family it’s that no matter who you are or where you are, if there’s music, we’re dancing! And that’s because dancing and music are shared passions; it’s inclusive, brings people together, makes them feel like they belong. No coincidence, that’s exactly what ¡Vamos! does.

Whenever I watch the show, it’s clear to me how most guests are comfortable being part of it, and I really do think it’s because everyone can feel represented in the cast. With Team Members from multiple backgrounds, such as Puerto Rican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Cuban and American, ¡Vamos! is a celebration of different heritages and walks of life. 

But that is not the only way this show is inclusive — the dance partner pairings, as well as dance attire, were a natural outcome of the inclusive approach for the show’s development.

All the Feels

Dancers preform in ¡Vamos! — Báilalo at Universal Studios Florida.
Photo Credit: Kaelyn Brown

Dianelys and Michael keep saying, “This show is blessed.” And I agree: something magical happens when it starts.

“I was recently watching the show and I started getting emotional,” Michael says. “It is incredible that after seeing it so many times, it can still make you feel like that.”

The passion, love and connection they feel for ¡Vamos! — Báilalo is palpable just by listening to Michael and Dianaleys talk about the show. And when you watch and dance with the cast, you can feel that unwavering energy. It’s incredible to witness the resilience and passion with which they put on six shows every day and crush it — despite the Florida heat.

So, I ask them: “What keeps you going?” They mention how accomplished they feel to be able to share their love of dance and make guests happy. Zulimar (Zuli) Arroyo, one of the regular dancers tells me: “I have been dancing here for 11 years, but this is the first time I feel this connected to a show. What keeps me going is my passion for dancing and being able to share my culture. I also speak with Katie Choate, who notes: “I came from the Superstar Parade with no Latin Dance experience and worked really hard to learn the style and become ready.” All of the dancers agree, in the fact, that they are such a tight team and enjoy dancing with each other so much that it doesn’t even feel like a job.

They also share with me that they’ve seen people from all backgrounds join in, elderly couples, little kids… And, every time, they notice that the show brings a smile to their faces. Michael says, “There is a 16-year-old [guest] that had been dancing her whole life and had quit. She started coming to watch ¡Vamos! — Báilalo, and this has inspired her to start dancing again. She comes very often and even creates her own costume dresses that are very similar to the ones we have.”

Michael belives ¡Vamos! — Báilalo inspires people. And he’s right.

I encourage everyone to come and dance to the rhythm of ¡Vamos! – Báilalo. If you want to catch them live on the streets of New York at Universal Studios Florida, check their performance times daily on the Official Universal Orlando App.

Have you already seen the show? Let us know in the comments if you learned a new dance move!

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5 Comments

  • Reply Ana Lourdes Rojas Córdova September 15, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Excellent writing!

  • Reply Shawn M. Myers September 16, 2023 at 3:47 pm

    This show is amazing!
    So full of energy and representation!
    We watched it both days we were there in January – and when we return next year we will watch it each day we’re there!

    • Reply Digital Guest Communications September 16, 2023 at 3:54 pm

      We’re glad you had a wonderful time with us at ¡Vamos! – Báilalo! We can’t wait to dance with you through your next visit!

  • Reply vivianne medina October 25, 2023 at 4:22 pm

    What times? I wish we would know through your article instead of downloading the app

    • Reply Digital Guest Communications October 25, 2023 at 4:32 pm

      Hi Vivianne! Show times may vary depending on the day. We recommend reaching out to us via our Social Media channels or speaking to a Team Member in person for showtimes the day of your visit.

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