Turn up the Heat: Salsa at Whatcom

by Katy Kappele

Horizon Reporter

Uno, dos, tres.  Pause.  Cinco, seis, siete.  Pause.

                There are as many styles of salsa dancing as there are, well, types of salsa in the store.   There are the schooled styles, the sexy styles, the fast and slow and spinning styles, the Cuban style, the LA style, the club style.  Salsa is a dance to express yourself.  You dance with your legs, your hips, your belly, your chest, your head, “even your eyelashes,” says Antonio Diaz, a Latin dance instructor from Bellingham’s Rumba Northwest.

                The hour begins like a high school dance.  There are females on one side of the Syre auditorium, and the males on the other, with the teacher standing in the middle of the floor.  By the end of the hour, however, the walls are rumbling with music, and there are pairs of young men and women sashaying across the floor, swinging their hips, dancing with every part of their bodies.

    Matt Hofer, a student in the Spanish 121 class, says that he’s there for the extra credit and the “nice atmosphere.”  Ryan Seholm agrees. 

    “You want music?” Diaz asks, and the class answers with an enthusiastic “Yes!”  He laughs and turns on music.  Some students connect immediately, beginning to step back and forth, their hips swaying, their eyes intent, while others take a moment to let the music infect them.

    Once the students get the hang of the basic steps, Diaz begins to teach them some more advanced moves.  “It’s like a catwalk backwards,” he explains, “very sassy.”  He laughs and dances backwards with the students to show them how it’s done.

    After the students have tried out the backwards catwalk move, Diaz begins the “mamba step,” which involves touching the toes instead of stepping, and little hip dips to settle the human body into the salsa rhythm. 

    “If you do the opposite, it looks a little weird,” Diaz explains, and demonstrates, laughing.  It does indeed look weird. 

    “It’s kind of confusing, because he’s teaching the girl part, and I’m trying to copy it,” William Walker, 19, says, looking out on the room full of madly dipping and sashaying forms.  “Most of the guys don’t realize that.” 

    One woman has brought her two children, and is dancing with her tiny, towheaded daughter.  The room is full of chaos, but the energy is palpable, and everywhere young men are twirling their partners and laughing; whether they are doing it correctly is immaterial. 

    “You don’t want to step on your partner’s feet, so you want to be a little bit off center,” Diaz says, “so you will never step on each other.”  Of course, salsa isn’t all about mirroring.

    “Always say yes to twists,” Diaz says, his tone strict, but there is laughter underneath the words.  “Salsa always has this element of surprises.” 

    Further revelations are met by long, drawn-out, and vastly relieved “ooooh,”s from the class.  At last, this dance is beginning to make sense.  There are technical elements, such as the beat and the basic step, but it is the surprising little dips and swings and releases, born of feeling and of living in the moment, that finally begin to make the dance ring true.  It’s easier not to think, but to simply feel, and do. 

                The two salsa lessons, sponsored by the Spanish club, were like chunks of jalapeno pepper in our mostly-tomato world. 

    Angela Enderberg, who teaches Spanish at Whatcom Community College, says that the Spanish club really tries to think of activities that “teach culture but are also fun.” 

    The popular salsa lessons are in their third year.

    “Always say yes to the music,” Matt Hofer says.  Diaz laughs.

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