Just For Fun In the New York Salsa Scene

ArticleNatalie ManiscalcoComment

Her right arm extends gracefully, the tips of her fingers slightly lifted, as he leads her across the dance floor. Her hips swivel, and shoulders roll. The base of her neck arches. Her lush hair sweeps through the air. An undulating energy stream, the song’s rhythm, connects the pair. Eyes meet, sly sexy smiles. The movement of their bodies is intoxicating!

Many people admit that, at some point in their lives, they’ve said, “Oh, I would love to learn Salsa!”  How could you not? The passion of the dance and the energy of the people are infectious, from Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe and Ray Barreto, to today’s icons, like Marc Anthony, Frankie Ruiz, Jerry Rivera, Willie Colon and even shows like Dancing with the Stars! The Mambo King himself, Tito Puente, once said, “If there is no dance, there is not music!”

With its sensual rhythm and soulful beats, the sounds and steps of Salsa regularly spice up dance floors all over New York City, long considered to be the mecca of the dance. A fusion of Cuban and Afro-Caribbean influences, Salsa made its way here in the 1950’s and 60’s. And soon it was spreading to cities throughout the country and the world, including in Latin America, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and even Japan.

Salsa is a way life, a culture and a ritual to connect mind, body and soul in a way you’ve never done before. “One of the best therapeutic lessons you can take is a dance class,” says Angel Ortiz, international guest Salsa instructor. “Live through dance movement. Your life will love you for it!” Salsa will make you feel incredible, as you build confidence and a style of your own. It also benefits your body. “It’s an activity, a workout to lose weight, shape up and tone. It’s also a mind-body connection,” says Shani Talmor, a professional dancer and instructor in New York City. “When you dance Salsa, you are free! Your body is moving and is in the most relaxed and joyful place, which really benefits your soul. You don’t think about your job, your work, your school, your ex, your drama; you just dance and connect to the music, move, feel, forget and recharge!”

I myself became fascinated with Salsa the first time I saw the movie Dirty Dancing. As a child, I took ballet, tap and jazz, but gave dance up to play soccer and stayed away for over 15 years. It wasn’t until four years ago that my fascination resurfaced, and I started taking classes at Salsa Salsa Dance Studios in Brooklyn. On the first day of class, my instructor warned, “Once you catch the salsa bug, there is no turning back!” Boy, was he right! I started taking classes three times a week for six hours. And after 8 months of instruction, I danced almost every week night of the week. I bought special clothes, dance shoes and even red lipstick! Then I took it one step further and launched, a digital magazine showcasing the essence and beauty of Salsa. When people ask me what I do, I laugh and smile. They do too: salsa just has that effect. I never would have imagined Salsa would become such a part of my life. I encourage anyone and everyone to at least try a class. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful schools and instructors in New York that can offer a taste of the scene.

First and foremost, Salsa is about feeling and understanding. But it’s also a dance that has specific steps to be learned. Most people in New York dance on2 or New York style Salsa, which requires different steps than what most people see in movies and TV shows. Created by Eddie Torres, the on2 style has spread worldwide and can easily be learned. Once you allow yourself to shine and drop your inhibitions, your confidence will certainly be noticed, and then you can truly feel the passion and essence of the music. “When you learn how to dance,” says Melanie Torres, a world-renowned dancer, instructor and owner of On2 Dance Studio in Manhattan, “There’s an air of confidence that is gained, that not only remains in the dance, but starts to bleed into your regular life.”

Jazz Biancci, former student and performer of On2 Dance Studio, attests to the incredible social benefits the dance provides. “I have met the most exceptional, diverse, loving, joy-filled people over the years,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who does what for a living, or where they are from. There is an endearing quality that resonates from the heart of those who move through the world of Salsa. And I, for one, am so grateful to have stumbled into such a spectacular, sizzling, Salsa world!” So if you have any doubt or hesitations, I suggest you follow Melanie Torres’ advice: “Give yourself permission to embrace your own true definition of self, and, at the end of the day, just dance.  For those three minutes of a song, we’re not here to save the world, just to have fun!”

Photos by Chasi Annexy.