MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - WMC Action News 5 has partnered with La Prensa Latina to highlight some outstanding individuals in the Hispanic community in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
WMC Action News 5′s Briseida Holguin introduces us to a man who has had a huge impact on the salsa scene in Memphis.
When you walk into the Rumba Room you’re transported into a world of dance, from the music, to the art -- the place screams “Salsa.”
“I can pretty much say that I brought the salsa scene here to Memphis. I was a professional salsa dancer in California for about 15 years,” said Edgar Méndez.
Méndez opened the Rumba Room 13 years ago after first visiting Memphis with a touring dance company.
“There was very few Latinos and they would get together in various places. I remember the first place that they took me, it was like a dive bar. Where they would get pieces of plywood, put them on the floor and that’s how you danced… That’s when I said, ‘man this town needs something better,’” said Méndez.
For months, Méndez traveled back and forth from California to Memphis to teach salsa classes.
“We started with a garage in Bartlett with 10 people taking lessons,” said Méndez.
As the classes grew, Mendez saw potential.
“In 2004 I made the decision to come move here and start going all in. We opened a dance studio, and four years later we opened this,” said Méndez.
Born in Guatemala, Méndez came to the U.S. at the age of 17. A year later he fell in love with dancing.
“It’s my life. Dance is like my other children, not even my children, like my mother because it gave me so much… It makes me emotional, it does,” said Méndez.
Mendez says The Rumba Room allows others to fall in love with salsa just like he did at a young age.
This year with COVID-19 shutting down the dance floor Méndez couldn’t celebrate a milestone.
“The 28th was our anniversary of the 13th year anniversary of the Rumba room, and we couldn’t do anything, and every year it was like a huge party so this year it was a little bombing, and the next day was my birthday. You know, like man, this sucks, but next year we’re going to do it double,” said Méndez.
To help bring in some money, Méndez and his sister started selling food and created an entire menu with dishes from Mexico, South and Central America.
“It’s a tough sell, but we gotta do something, we gotta do something,” said Méndez.
Méndez says the support from the community has been amazing and he’s repeating the cycle of introducing Memphis to something new.
“It’s really cool to see somebody who never tried a churrasco from my country, somebody who never tried a lomo saltado from Peru.”
Even without the dancing Méndez says his mission remains the same.
“To expose our Latin culture, flavor of dancing and now food to our little town,” said Méndez.