Salsa spices up Saturday nights

Posted: July 20, 2013

The Winchester Star

Carlos Sanchez helps Zarina and Tomasz Kurzawa of Frederick County with their salsa dance steps at the Aloft Hotel during one of the Winchester Salsa Group’s free sessions. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
The first hour of a Latin Dance Night is dedicated to walking participants through basic dance steps to the salsa, meringue and bachata. It acts as an icebreaker, especially for people new to Latin dancing.

Winchester — When the Winchester Salsa Group takes over the Aloft Hotel’s WXYZ Lounge, participants are in for a night of energy, passion and Latin music, organizers say.

The loud pulsing music and flashing lights that fill the downstairs lobby during the group’s twice-monthly Latin Dance Nights make the room throb with intensity. But the evening has never been intended to be a typical club scene, said Carlos Sanchez, one of the organizers.

People of all ages and backgrounds are on the dance floor, some moving with the fluid grace of experienced dancers, while others watch and try haltingly to mirror the steps.

Children play video games or pool within easy viewing distance of their dancing parents, said Sanchez, a Stephens City resident.

“We wanted a fun, clean environment not a club atmosphere,” he said. “We wanted families to come enjoy themselves.”

The group’s next event is scheduled from 8 to 11 p.m. today in the hotel at 1055 Millwood Pike (U.S. 50), said Jorge Figueroa of Winchester, another organizer.

In August, the group will begin holding two dances each month. The dates will vary, but can be found on its Facebook page, he said. Admission is always free and open to the public.

The first hour of a Latin Dance Night is dedicated to walking people through basic dance steps to the salsa, meringue and bachata, Figueroa said. It acts as an icebreaker, especially for people new to Latin dancing.

Even after the regular dance begins, experienced dancers can be seen paired up with novices, showing them basic steps or new moves to try, he said. Switching partners is a common sight throughout the night, so people aren’t only exposed to one person’s dance style.

“Even if you feel you have two left feet, that shouldn’t hinder you from coming out,” he said. “We have taught people who have two left feet and they now know how to dance.”

The key is to give people who want to learn a good foundation in a non-threatening atmosphere, said Giddel Hubbard of Winchester, who started attending the dances in March.

Many experienced dancers are willing to spend the time helping those who want to learn but don’t know where to start, she said. With the basics under their belts, they feel more confident to try new steps and techniques.

“There are people who, every time they come, want to learn something new,” she said.

The group was started in January by Figueroa and Cari Brown of Stephens City. Brown had tried to start a salsa group before, but it never took off. She met Figueroa last fall, and he had the connections to help get the idea launched.

Brown’s first real exposure to Latin dancing came when she was learning about ballroom dancing. As soon as she tried the Latin dancing, she fell in love, she said.

For her, the Winchester Salsa Group offers a safe space to share that passion for Latin dancing with others who feel the same. “With each individual I dance with, I am always learning something new because everyone brings their own style and culture to the group.”

Attendance has grown steadily as word spread, and the dance nights now bring in an average of 60 to 70 people, Brown said. They range from college students to one regular couple in their 70s.

The dance nights attract people from a variety of Latin cultures, including Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, she said. The growing Hispanic community in Winchester has brought more opportunities for such cultural exchanges.

Gloria and Angelo Rodriguez of Puerto Rico have been attending the dance nights while visiting their daughter in Stephens City.

Gloria, 74, said she and her husband of 53 years attend similar dances at home and love the chance to meet new people and get out and move to music they love.

“When I hear the music, I feel it in my foot,” she said. “It starts moving and I have to go dance.”

But the dance nights are not an exclusively Latino domain, attracting people from a variety of other backgrounds, Sanchez said.

“I think it brings a lot of flavor to the dancing,” he said. “For instance, my wife is African-American, so when she is dancing, it feels like she brings a little funk to the salsa.”

For Sanchez, who came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1979, salsa dancing gives him a feeling of homecoming, he said.

But it’s not just about the music. He grew up with dancing as a communal activity — something that just isn’t the same when people do it at home, he said.

“When you are in a circle of friends, that is when it really gets fun,” he said.

It’s evident from the way people interact that they are all there to have a good time, said Lydia Lewis, 25, of Stephens City, who attended her second dance night in June. She tried salsa dancing as a college freshman and loved it and now does it whenever she can.

“Because salsa has been around so long, it appeals to older people, but it is a party atmosphere, which appeals to younger people,” she said.

To help create that feeling, George Figueroa — or DJ G-Fresh — likes to play a few line dances and some popular music in addition to the salsa and meringue tunes. “I am looking for songs that people will enjoy and that will keep them on the dance floor.”

Besides the cultural advantages, the dances have the added appeal of being an entertaining form of physical activity and stress relief, said Jorge Figueroa, George’s father.

“You can unwind from a week of work and leave everything on the dance floor,” he said.

Information

The Winchester Salsa Group will hold its monthly Latin Dance Night from 8 to 11 p.m. today in the Aloft Hotel WXYZ Lounge at 1055 Millwood Pike east of Winchester. Admission is free; the event is open to the public.

For more information, contact Figueroa at 540-327-0647 or visit facebook.com/pages/Winchester-Salsa-Group/381667378595674.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com