Albert Torres Promoter of Latin dance music Despite being abused as a kid, my schooldays in 1960s New York were mostly good up until I was about 12 when we moved back to Puerto Rico. I had been an honours student but when we moved I didn't know any Spanish and academically I went downhill. I didn't know my real father and for the first years of my life I suffered at the hands of a male friend of my mother's who messed me up bad. One time I ended up in the emergency room and had to have two operations on my stomach. I must've been born with some kind of survival instinct. I grew up in a very Jewish neighbourhood and being of Puerto Rican heritage, I think I was the darkest kid on the street. I went to Public School 122 where I liked maths. But it was really history that I loved and particularly anything to do with ancient civilisations such as the Mayas, the Incas and Egyptians. I harboured dreams of visiting these exotic places when I was older and I'm thrilled that so far I've made it to Mexico and Egypt. I'm also hoping to go to Peru one of these days. I was a sporty kid playing handball which I learned to be very good at. Later I'd also play basketball. If I had to pick one memory it was being told by Miss Lynch who had red hair and freckles that President John F. Kennedy had been shot dead in Dallas, Texas. It was November 22, 1963, I was seven years old and it was a defining moment of my life. I went home and mum was crying as she ironed. I knew it was a big deal. I was very fortunate that another man came into my mother's life and he made me feel secure and loved. Sadly he and my mother split up when I was about 12 which was a devastating blow. So we moved to Puerto Rico and that was hard because I didn't speak Spanish. I remember my younger brother crying because he couldn't understand the other kids when he tried to play with them. As a result I couldn't engage myself at school. I can remember one teacher twisting my ear because I didn't pronounce a word in the way he wanted me to and I just thought: 'I don't need this shit.' I'd also mow lawns to make US$5 which I'd give to mum. However Puerto Rico came to be my saving grace for it was there I found dance and music was my release. I'd hitchhike two hours into town because I loved to dance. I became known for having my own style which incorporated different sounds and that was really how I made a name for myself. I resolved to stay in Puerto Rico until mum had built her house with my help and the day after she did, I left for the States again. I first went to San Francisco where I knew a girl and I'd dance the night away. Later I went to Los Angeles and my career in dancing snowballed from there. For me, music and dancing are heaven, they're my escape and bring out the boy in me. I've realised that some of us are born with the spirit of survival while others find it. I also realise that I do things from the heart rather than my head. One of the most meaningful things that has come out of my life is to help underprivileged kids. It's the most amazing feeling when you see kids who've never played an instrument before have a go at it and enjoy themselves. Or when they go overseas to Italy and dance and make something of themselves. I'm very happy to say that I did go back to school at UCLA to continue my education. I'm also drug and alcohol free now. I've found that life is about reaping what you sow. I hope by talking about my experiences that I can help others and be an example. But at the end of the day, you know I'm really just an ordinary guy who likes music and dancing. Albert Torres is a promoter of Latin music and the creator of the West Coast Salsa Congress. He is giving salsa seminars in Hong Kong on January 5 and 6. He was talking to David Phair.