Salsa club celebrates Latin culture with a familial feel, experiences recent growth in popularity

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The salsa club ends each of their performances with a final pose all together. (Photo courtesy of Josselyn Alvarenga ’20)

Katie Frost

How did the college’s salsa club grow from a few members to dozens of eager participants in just a few years? The answer, its members might say, is all in the rhythm. 

The salsa club performs several times a year and offers three different classes for its members: Bachata, Beginner Salsa, and Intermediate Salsa. Classes are taught by instructor Ellie Valera. 

While some club members are familiar with salsa before beginning classes, many are not. Several board members described joining the club freshman year on a whim, after being invited by a friend or simply deciding to challenge their dance upbringing with a new style. 

For club president Josselyn Alvarenga ‘20, salsa had been a part of family parties she attended growing up, but she did not have much experience with the dance itself. Deciding she wanted to learn something new and also impress her family upon arriving at college, she signed up for the club. The salsa music, she said, reminds her of being with family, which is emphasized by the club itself feeling like a family.

Salsa is a type of Latin dance that has developed into various other styles and spread around the world since its origin in the 1960s.

Salsa club members at the college, however, come from a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

Club secretary Cynthia Capotosto ‘21 explained that although she was not familiar with the music when she joined the club, she has grown to love salsa music.

“It’s really fun to see the other people who have grown up with the music singing along,” Capostoto said.

“Every time I go dancing, I am reminded just how open Latin dancers are to people of other cultures. My appreciation and recognition of the Latin culture has grown so much because of salsa, and I think that’s a great thing,” Marina Cantor ‘21, club public relations manager, wrote in an email.

“It’s opened up a whole new world for me. Anyone can dance salsa,” she added.

On the first day of salsa classes, Valera said she explains the origins of salsa music and dance to make sure members know what it means to some people of Hispanic culture.

“I think it’s super important to know that you don’t have to be Hispanic, you can still feel like you belong, you’re allowed to learn this,” dance captain Kayla Venuti ‘22 said. “[By watching a performance], you see everyone that’s in the club is of various cultures, so it’s easier to see than explain.”

Besides being a stress reliever and an alternative form of exercise, salsa club has brought lifelong benefits to its members.

For club vice president Oscar Estrella ‘21, salsa has opened many connections. Estrella said he enjoys teaching dance moves to friends and even salsa dancing with strangers.

“The salsa community is so big, you’ll have salsa everywhere you go,” Venuti added. “Being able to move like that and being able to dance with other people, it makes me feel more confident because I just have…that trick up my sleeve.” 

Salsa has also been beneficial for the self-confidence of its members.

I feel so much more confident when I dance. I struggle with body image issues, but salsa makes me feel sexy, which has helped me feel better about my body. It’s good to feel sexy sometimes,” Cantor wrote.

“Salsa makes me more comfortable with my body and my friends in the club help remind me that everyone is beautiful when they dance, no matter what they look like,” she added.

Capotosto said how salsa has also helped her and other club members come out of their shells, becoming more comfortable talking and interacting with people.

“Especially since we do a lot of partner work, a lot of people aren’t comfortable holding hands with people because it’s not something you do every day, so for me, that’s important because I’m an EMT, so it’s really helped me with patient interactions…it’s something that I’m really thankful for,” Capotosto said. 

As president, Alvarenga has developed a deep connection to the club throughout the last four years – so much so that she decided to plan a club trip to San Diego that took place at the beginning of the semester.

“I was like ‘I love all these people, why not go on a giant trip?’ It was very ambitious…I didn’t believe it until we were there,” Alvarenga said.

On Jan. 31, 20 club members traveled to the BIG Salsa Festival for the weekend, participating in daytime workshops and watching performances by professional dancers. At night, there was social dancing until 4 a.m.

Later this semester, the club will perform at Literacy Day, teaching school-aged children a salsa dance and performing for them. They will also perform at the annual International Students’ Association week-long Extravaganza celebration and the spring dance showcase.

“I want [the audience] to see that we’re having fun,” Capotosto said.

“Our goal is to have fun and be there for each other,” Alvarenga said. “I think it’s important to see us all there together, and at the end, we always do a final pose and everyone there has made it and we’re all smiling.”

While salsa club has grown immensely in the last few years, they are always looking for new members.

“One of our mottos is: If you can walk and if you can count, you can salsa,” Alvarenga said.