Swingin’ to salsa and other Latin dances

Yin Fei , Staff Writer

Among the lively events of Hispanic Heritage Month were several dance workshops. These workshops offered students the chance to release stress and swing to colorful and vivacious Latin music. A mixture of styles, ranging from different types of salsa to bachata to merengue, were featured in workshops throughout the past four weeks led by Associate Director of College Counseling Ashley Taylor.

“The idea for the dance workshops was brought up by the students, who wanted a balance between educational, academic, informal, and fun programming,” Upper Division history teacher Ricardo Alvarez said.

Alvarez is the faculty advisor for the Latinx Influencers of Tomorrow (L.I.T.), a recently-formed club dedicated to creating a visible space for Latinx culture all around the school. The student organization kicked off this school year with several Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations around campus, including food, music, movie screenings, open classrooms, and dance workshops to ease into the festivities, Alvarez wrote in a school-wide email.

While many students are familiar with Latin dance, they have never been able to properly engage themselves within it, Alvarez said. The workshops gave them an opportunity to learn about the history of a particular dance before partaking in it in a meaningful way.Taylor led the workshops, making use of her extensive, near-professional background in dancing.

“My mom taught me the basic steps of salsa, merengue, and cumbia growing up, and I started taking formal classes in Rueda de Casino, a Cuban salsa style right after high school. In college, I joined the Latin dance group on campus,” Taylor said. “After college, I learned New York style salsa from a number of really talented instructors and eventually joined a dance company in North Carolina, performing regionally.”

Each week, the workshops began with some background information about each of the musical styles before learning the steps and technique. After the students began to get the hang of the technique, the lesson ended with some social dancing to practice their new skills.

Taylor appreciates being in a community where she can both share her hobby and honor Hispanic Heritage Month, she said. Taylor said she is constantly reminded that dance is influenced by the musical and historical traditions of Latin America’s complex past. The music and styles each have roots in indigenous, African, and European influences.

“Many Afro-Cuban movements mimic cutting sugar cane or wading through water, representing stories of slavery. Capoeira is self-defense in dance form, deriving from slaves learning to fight covertly while working on Brazilian coffee plantations,” Taylor said.

“Merengue, specifically, is native to the Dominican Republic, which is where my family is from, so I had already had previous experience from family parties,” co-president of L.I.T. Adriana Hernandez (12) said.

Even though Hernandez already knew how to perform merengue, she was still able to have an enjoyable experience watching classmates of all ethnicities attempting a new form of dance, she said.
English teacher Rebbeca Bahr, who was inspired by her advisee Jayla Thomas’s (12) email announcement of the workshops, surprised her D period English class by taking them to a session.

“I always think that getting up and moving is really critical since usually we are sitting down,” Bahr said. “The students were very stiff and nervous at first, but once they started getting into it, they began to loosen up.”

“When Ms. Bahr told us we were going to the workshop, I was super excited to be learning something new that I might not have learned otherwise,” Emily Salzhauer (9) said.
“It was very inclusive since you had to be active while at the workshop. I have been to other workshops before and it’s just listening to other people talk which tends to get boring,” Zach Goodman (9), who also went with the class, said.

The instructors didn’t expect participants to be able to do the dance right away, and slowed the pace down so that even if it was one’s first time dancing, an attendee could learn how to do it quickly, Goodman said.

Planning the workshops was no easy feat for Thomas, who was behind getting the time and space for people to come in and she even went as far as to bring in her own family members to the school and teach one of the workshops, Hernandez said.

“Since we are a relatively new club, we don’t really have a budget which is why I decided to reach out to my aunt and uncle, who I know dance a lot outside of school and even met through dancing,” Thomas said. “They were really happy to be invited and they taught a salsa workshop D and F period on Monday, which I heard got great reviews.”

L.I.T.’s efforts seem to have paid off, as many students walked away saying that they either wanted to go to the next workshop, practice at home, or even listen to the songs that were played in class, Hernandez said. “It really left an impression on them, which I thought was so cool.”

Thomas said that it was crucial to take advantage of Hispanic Heritage Month to showcase dance, a central component of Hispanic and Latinx culture. “We are here, and we are present,” she said.