Standing on top of a table in Room 296 of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, salsa instructor Daniel Pineda called out moves and cheered dozens of students turned performers on as they mimicked the steps of another Salsa Club officer. Half the class is beginner students.
The two-hour class costs $3.50 for one night or $12 for four lessons. Students learn the dance and get a workout at the same time.
USF’s Salsa Club was formed nearly two years ago as an offshoot of successful salsa nights put on by the Ballroom Club.
“Man, that is good,” Pineda yelled as the once-shaky group tapped their pointed toes and slid their sneakers and socks against the green carpet in preparation for an upcoming international celebration on April 10 at the Special Events Center.
Pineda had students focus on their framework and wanted them to maintain proper dancing posture by holding their arms at the correct level and keeping just enough tension between partners. The tension not only helps the male direct the female, but it helps the couple look more polished.
The Salsa Club decided to put on the show two weeks ago. Friday was the first day the students saw the moves and March 28 was their second to last practice. Pineda said it was the first time most of the students have ever done a performance onstage and he expects them to be practicing outside of class.
Pineda, who semi-professionally danced to Mexican folklore songs in over Mexico before he moved to the United States 17 years ago, had no idea what salsa was until he went to a Latin dance club in Florida.
“What is this music?,”Pinada asked. “They told me it was salsa. (Some) of the cubanas, they asked me, ‘Do you know how to dance salsa?’ And I said, ‘I eat salsa. I don’t dance salsa.’ From there, I started learning a little bit.”
Elisabeth Cercek, Salsa Club’s president, said, “whoever knows about Salsa Club is by word of mouth.”
Last term the class averaged 60 to 70 people. Unlike other dance classes, men usually outnumber women attending the salsa class. Cercek said everything taught at the basic level can be practiced at home without a partner and that students use what they learn in level one as a foundation to build upon for future classes.
The club added more levels between beginning and advanced to break down the steps and allow students to progress without feeling frustrated or left behind.
Cercek said the hardest concept to grasp was the basics of partner dancing.
“People can learn the steps by themselves and control themselves, but once you put another person in there … coordinating both dancers at one time is harder than just worrying about yourself,” she said.
Hillary Wade, a junior, has been going to Salsa Club almost every week since October.
“All I could do is basic step by myself and then on the floor with the guy leading, I could do everything,” Wade said.
Wade, who also swing dances, said salsa was easy to catch on to and is a lot of fun.
“My back is drenched,” she said. “It’s good exercise.”
Michael Mitchell, a junior studying philosophy and sociology, took up salsa dancing while studying in Costa Rica. He has attended the club’s classes at USF for two semesters and is now at the intermediate level.
“As long as I am a student, I’ll come to the club, but forever I’ll salsa,” he said. “Until I can’t walk anymore, and then they’ll have to fight me, with my wheelchair, off the floor.”
Roland Davis, an instructor and 2003 graduate pursuing a doctorate in higher education, said, “First comes technique. You internalize it, you don’t think about it; you become a master of technique. That means whatever thought comes to mind you can execute, because you don’t worry about technique.”
Davis said students need to bring an open mind and only one other thing to class: “Fresh breath,” Davis said. “I can’t focus if when I see you, your breath humming.” Davis and Cercek said salsa transcends boundaries of age, race, ethnicity and education. Club officers come from multiple ethnic backgrounds including Albania, Trinidad and Tobago and Belize.
“Salsa has more to do with your human spirit,” Davis said. “(I’ve) never seen a thing that can bring people with multiple cultures, multiple levels of ability together and they all function equally on one level. There’s no hierarchy.
“You just look around this place, man. You can see these people come in here with no confidence in themselves. But they come. You watch it and in four or five months, they’re off dancing by themselves, they’ve formed a circle of friends. They go out together.”
Davis added, “Some people go to AA. Some people go (to) basketball practice. Some people go to ballet. We do salsa.”