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The Journey of Learning New Salsa Steps

By Christine Trask

Salsa dancing
My dear friend Rodrigo, a kind, quiet, handsome dancer, set up two hours of private lessons for us with Kelly Montes, an outgoing, energetic, fun teacher. Kelly and her husband, Israel, own Latin Mambo, located on Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis near Midtown Global Market. I believe it was Rodrigo’s polite way of saying that I needed help in following him!

Kelly graduated from Northwestern College with a major in intercultural studies. Her first job out of college was being a case manager at a South Minneapolis high school. She took three months off to learn Spanish at a school in Xela, Guatemala, and found herself also taking free salsa classes at the dance school next door. Back in Minneapolis, she continued taking lessons and dancing socially.

Kelly met Israel on the dance floor. With their twenty years of combined dancing experience, they started one of the first affordable bilingual dance studios for the Hispanic community. Their mission is to teach their students, in their cultural language, to develop musicality as well as proper and safe ways to lead and follow the most popular and flashy combinations. They teach levels one and two of LA-style salsa, bachata, and cumbia.

I realized that my ballroom style of instruction for salsa was not the same as social LA-style salsa. In the ballroom style of salsa, there are about twenty different salsa steps, and in the LA-style salsa world, the potential amalgamations are endless. I figured that if I could master the three new steps—the copa, the basket, and the cross-body lead inside turn—and follow my leaders' moves, counting one-two-three, pause, five-six-seven, I would be doing well enough to go social dancing.

Did you know that salsa describes a whole range of Latin, African, and Caribbean dances? It was first used in New York as many dances were being introduced to the east coast. Rumba, mambo, cha cha, samba, and cumbia were all labeled salsa dancing for a while. Modern-day salsa dancers learn a style of dance that integrates a bit of cumbia and guaracha with the original salsa music.

In order to prepare myself for an evening of salsa dancing, I start my day practicing the steps while unloading the dishwasher. If you can do both at the same time, you are a salsa superhero. Spotting and turning is especially challenging for me. When frustrated, I watch a YouTube video called "8 Types of Salsa Dancers." At times, I find myself being all eight types. The video makes me laugh and helps me remember to relax and enjoy the journey of learning new salsa steps.

Here in Minnesota, you can enjoy salsa dancing at Famous Dave's, the Loring Pasta Bar, Bar Abilene, the Paraiso Lounge, and the Mediterranean Cruise Café. Whatever you do, make sure to make it fun!