Latin Nights! Dancercize! Salsa Aerobics! One of the many cultural benefits of the influx of Spanish-speaking peoples from the Caribbean, Central and South America is the immense surge in popularity of partnership dance. Part revival, part revolution, this interest has transformed the club scene across the U.S. with fresh venues springing up and old ones adding Latin nights to the dance mix scene.
People start dancing for a variety of reasons. Some are getting ready for an event such as a reunion or wedding. Others want to revive a relationship or develop closeness with a family member or significant other. Many people are interested in finding a fun way to exercise or get out of an entertainment rut. Because partnership dancing is great for healing anxiety, therapists sometimes send patients to ballroom classes. Steering a partner across dance floor can help people acquire social ease in a highly welcoming and accepting environment.
Unlike bars, dance studios and clubs are safe places to have fun. Because the partnering aspect is inherent, asking or accepting a partner doesn’t have to have a meaning. Still, it offers an opportunity for people who might never have met otherwise to get together. Dancing helps bridge gaps between dancers of different ages, backgrounds and economic backgrounds in a spirit of brotherhood and community. “I see people from all the social strata getting interested in this type of dancing,” says Tanya Arnold of the Allegro Studio in Norcross who finds doctors, lawyers, engineers and computer programmers in her classes. “It appeals to every economic group.”
“We like to make it easy,” says Christine Knipp, owner/operator of the Fred Astaire Studio in Duluth. “In partnership dancing, no one needs to feel shy.”
How long does it take to learn? Instructor estimates vary from 6 weeks to 8 months, but all agree it boils down to an essential question: How good do you want to be? “You can hold your own on any dance floor within a short time,” says Knipp. “But many find they want to exceed that standard after they’ve been dancing for a while.”
“It depends upon what your goals are, and how much you practice,” agrees Arnold. “Some really motivated people feel polished and confident in about 10 weeks; others who have less time to work on their skills take longer. A good studio can accommodate both types of learner.”
“After you get past the basics of the movements; the patterns become easier to grasp,” says Chris DuGuzman, who teaches partnership dance through Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation. “If you’re willing to put in the time, you can pick it up quickly. Ten or fifteen minutes extra every week can make a real difference, and sometimes no more lessons are needed. You can practice on weekends or at the club. Club events are usually preceded by a lesson which helps people who’ve been away from the dance floor for a while to get back into it.”
Allegro Studio’s certified teachers employ a curriculum established by the National Dance Council of America with eight established levels of achievement. Allegro uses a progressive syllabus, and students may repeat any level for no charge. A Salsa music workshop offered regularly has a live band demonstrating the differences in musical styles, and varieties in the beat.
Fred Astaire Studio teaches quickstep, fox trot, waltz and the Latin dances: Mambo, Tango, Salsa, Rumba, Chacha, Samba, Eastern and West Coast Swing, Jitterbug and even Country Line Dancing. There two locations besides the Duluth studio, one in Atlanta and one in Buford, Classy Kids, offering instruction for teens in dance and dance etiquette: how to lead and follow, to ask and accept, to relate to people in this social setting and to recognize rhythms that go with the various dances. Recently, the franchise offered dance trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and to Nashville for the Heritage Classic competition. It also presents in-house competitions, called matches, a tango workshop, and an opportunity to perform the Dogwood Arts Festival.
DuGuzman brings his classes to the students, offering courses throughout the Gwinnett Parks Department at Mountain Park, Singleton Road Activity Center, Bunting Road Park, Centerville, Pinckneyville and Bogan Park, in Buford. His goal is to start a Latin/ballroom program through Gwinnett County public schools based on the Mad Hot Ballroom after-school program in New York City. There, kids study Swing, Latin, and other partnering dances in a laid-back, fun atmosphere. His idea is to offer the program as part of gym class.
“There’s such an increase in the popularity of Latin dance,” he says. “In the years I’ve been teaching, I have really seen the base age for dance students getting younger and younger. When I started, most of my students were in their fifties. Now the average age is in the twenties.”
One way to understand Latin dances is to classify them according to pace. The fast dances are Salsa, Mambo, Merengue, Chacha, and Swing. Salsa is a Cuban dance that has evolved through the cultures embracing it. Its syncopated rhythm increases the complication of the movement but also the fun, with sharp passages and crisp turns. Salsa is among the most popular forms seen in Latin clubs, along with Merengue, meaning ‘march with style,’ a high energy, fast Dominican Republic dance, Chacha and Mambo. The East Coast Swing, or Hustle, is the most musically versatile of all the dances, as well as easiest to learn. Characterized by spins, Swing can be danced to 50s rock and roll, big band, rhythm and blues or today’s pop.
Among the slower dances are Bolero, Tango, Waltz and Rumba, a measured, unhurried progress with plenty of wraps, under arm turns and flirtation. Bolero, the slowest of the Latin dances, is powerfully suggestive. Passion and bravado define every step. Waltz, with its long, sweeping movements and elegant lines is perhaps the most difficult although it seems simple, while Tango looks difficult because of its drama, but is actually fairly easy.
Of them all, Salsa may be the main dance to learn for Latin clubs, not only in the Atlanta area but in nearly every city in the U.S.
Fred Astaire Dance Studio
4317 Duluth Hwy, Duluth
Allegro Ballroom Dance Studio
4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd, Norcross
Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation
Dance Clubs in Gwinnett:
5385 Jimmy Carter Blvd. NW
6010 Singleton Rd.
4771 Britt Rd. NW
Latin Nights in Atlanta:
Tongue and Groove (Wednesdays)
3055 Peachtree Rd. NE
Havana Club (Fridays)
247 Buckhead Ave.
Motion (Latin Sol, Saturdays)
50Upper Alabama Street