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Shimmy and sway with Salsa club

By Emma Kahn

Section: Arts

February 26, 2016

Each Tuesday evening in the SCC Multipurpose room, students drop their backpacks, shed their coats, kick off their shoes and join in on salsa warm ups. Some learn new steps while others build upon the instructor’s directions with hand motions or extra flare. Each releases an infectious grin as they master the instructions, with the music and their movements complementing each other in new ways. Salsa club is full of excitement, making practice seem far from a chore. As the group divides into pairs, alternating on the instructor’s call, they learn with each other, adapting to their partner’s rhythm and learning collectively. The room reverberates with love for both music and dance.

Andrés Giraldo, professional instructor of dance company Salsa y Control, comes to Brandeis each week from his Boston studio. A Colombia native, Giraldo, together with his brother and later joined by his wife, founded the first salsa dance studio in Boston and has even been recognized by the mayor of Boston for his commitment to the Boston Salsa Festival. Giraldo has been teaching salsa lessons at Brandeis for several years, evidenced by the relaxed and natural environment he establishes. He works with each individual’s level and pace, taking the time for questions and the explanations of technical terms. Giraldo fits in perfectly among the students and might even be mistaken for a Brandeis student by an observer.

Salsa Club takes their dancing outside weekly lessons and hosts three socials per semester, bringing a cultural element to the dance and allowing for the practical application of learned salsa skills. This semester, the theme is “Rueda de Casino”—loosely translated as Casino Wheel—named after a type of event originating in Cuba. Dancers gather in a giant wheel on the dance floor, and a dancer in the center calls out each step that the wheel then responds to. With these events come a wide range of music and a blend of Latin American food brought in from restaurants around Waltham. Although the origins of salsa are vague and often contested, the tradition of “Rueda de Casino” brings a feeling of place and belonging. In addition to Salsa Club’s socials, a performance team was started last semester that has already performed one show off campus and one on campus.

“We take what we learn here—we take what we learn at salsa clubs and wherever we can learn salsa—and merge them into our own dance,” says President Angela Balcom ’18. The Salsa Club’s performances have even included brand new members who picked up salsa dancing over a semester. “We just want to introduce the idea that salsa is a fun way of trying something new [while] still engaging with people in ways you would otherwise,” Balcom says.

The club aspires to perform at more events, incorporate a wider range of music and see more dance partners participating; however, the main purpose of Salsa Club is to provide its members with a fun and less conventional way to express themselves and get to know other people. Most members have never been introduced to salsa, or to any dance form at all, notes Balcom. Although some have been exposed to salsa before, there is a large difference between their former experiences and Salsa Club.

“You have to have an open mind when you come in, [because] you can really be thrown off your steps,” says Balcom. “There is a large difference between salsa as a dance and salsa as a social event.”

Outside of regular lessons and Salsa Club events, members travel together into Boston to take full advantage of the city’s salsa community and find various clubs and venues in Boston that play salsa music and attract salsa dancing groups. Brandeis Salsa Club branches out, gaining experience outside the realm of campus to learn more, to apply their skills and to just enjoy the hobby on the weekends.

“My biggest ‘yes’ moment,” says Balcom, “is convincing someone to go out dancing in Boston. I like helping people figure out what speaks to them most, and then taking that out of our club [and] into a community, seeing how you can bounce off each other and make a personality out of that.”

Open-mindedness is surely a dominant trait of the Salsa Club. There is no right time to join the club, as its members will help integrate new participants and, before anything else, encourage group learning. Salsa Club meets once per week but is a community of Brandeis students who are always involved in salsa, whether getting the song stuck in their heads, traveling to new locations, bringing in new music to try or performing for an audience. Between socials, occasional outings to Boston and weekly lessons, Salsa Club reflects the active and passionate, hands-on nature of the Brandeis community.

Salsa Club offers both beginner and advanced lessons.

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