The Oliver twins, graduating biomedical and chemical engineering majors at NJIT, flank their sister Vanessa following a recent competition.
Twin biomedical and chemical engineering majors, Fabio and David Oliver, of Union, who graduate from NJIT at 9 a.m. on May 20, 2013, have a secret. Although engineering is their first love and they are actively seeking career positions in their majors, don’t expect to see these two spending their leisure time hunched over a computer screen. Do expect to watch them on your television screen snaring high marks in international salsa contests. This past February, the pair, dancing with the name “Grupo Melao” took first place in the men’s team division and third place in the team division at the First Annual World Salsa Summit in Miami.Colombian salsa is their beat. “The dancing is very fast,” says Fabio. “Look up a YouTube video and you’ll see people moving very, very quickly in a synchronized manner. There are many styles—NY and LA are well recognized. All Latin cultures may dance salsa differently, but it’s always to the same music.”
By the time they were eight, their mother Maria, a native of Bogota, Colombia, had taught them the basics of salsa and the boys were regulars at family parties. With furniture stored in the garage, a borrowed sound system and volunteer disc jockey, weekend dance parties in the living room were a fixture of their upbringing. On hot summer nights, salsa music would blare, friends would barbecue and dancers would fill the backyard. “We’d invite everyone, set up speakers outside and have fun,” said Fabio.
In the beginning the twins say they were terrible dancers. “We would just try to copy what others were doing,” said David. “No costume or anything. But all our friends would be dancing.” As they practiced with mom, and then later with their older sister Vanessa, who is now a steady dance partner at competitions, they improved. Their father Carlos Oliver, owner of Oliver Construction, wasn’t at first a salsa fan. “Eventually mom taught him, too,” said David.
Both boys never viewed dancing as a career move. But as they entered their sophomore year, academic pressures multiplied—both young men are in NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College—and they needed an escape valve. In addition to maintaining high grades, they also worked part-time jobs to support themselves and the family.
“We needed to relieve the stress,” said David. “Vanessa found this class at the Otto Show Dance Studio in Linden. It sounded good and we said, let’s just do it. When Fabio came home and we told him that we wanted to take professional salsa lessons, he looked at us and said, are you serious? But then he thought for a minute and said okay but don’t tell mom. You know she wants us to focus on school and not be distracted by dance classes.”
It turned out that mom eventually grew supportive. The initial class occupied less than an hour a week and it was hard not to see how practicing at home was not a welcome diversion. “Not to say, it wasn’t rough. We left the first class dripping with sweat,” recalled David. “We were so badly out of shape. We needed a cardio workout. We had been fairly inactive since we started college.” In high school the brothers were cross country and track runners.
About three weeks after starting class, their teacher noticed the trio progressing and asked them to perform in an upcoming recital. “It was a very simple routine, but we loved performing,” Fabio said. From then on, they’ve been practicing daily and looking forward to a diversion from school work. “The three of us teach each other,” said Fabio. “We believe there’s room to advance. And we want to learn.”
Both brothers are still actively seeking employment as engineers. David hopes to have the same paid internship this summer as last summer. Fabio continues the search for his dream job in biomedical engineering. And they hope something will come through soon. In the meantime, though, they look forward to what their parents have promised will be the best of all dance parties to celebrate their upcoming graduation.