Latin dance music filled the air in J Street Thursday night as students gathered around the makeshift dance floor. A crowd of about 150 people swayed to the upbeat tempo but eyed the dance floor with skepticism.
Then Ricardo “El Salsero” stepped on to the floor and invited everyone to form lines on either side of him. They hesitantly lined up on the floor, reminiscent of a junior high school dance – boys on one side, girls on the other.
Co-sponsors Latinos for Progress and GW’s Ballroom Dance Society invited Ricardo, a professional dance instructor, to teach GW students to salsa in an hourlong session.
Ballroom Dance Society and LFP members said they were initially wary of the high cost of hiring an instructor for the night.
“Most places we contacted wanted between $100 and $150 for an hourlong lesson,” said LFP President Eddie Lara. “We couldn’t afford that, but then Ricardo contacted us and said he’d do it for free.”
Ricardo led participants through basic steps, then progressed to intricate twists and turns. Participants formed two lines to learn the basic steps, later pairing off to practice the moves.
“Remember, salsa is for everybody,” Ricardo said. “You don’t have to be Latino to salsa.”
At the end of the lesson, Ricardo and his partner treated the audience to a brief dance exhibition after which the dance floor was open to the new salsa students.
Kathy Weil, a founding LFP member, said she was impressed by the turnout for the event – especially by non-Latinos.
“It’s amazing. I was shocked when I walked in,” Weil said. “It’s normally mostly Latinos who come to our events.”
But other participants said they were not surprised by the diverse turnout.
“A lot of people like this kind of music,” freshman Sasha Sagalovich said. “They just don’t get to hear it around here.”
Junior Brandon Moss said his girlfriend, Sarah Keller-Likins, dragged him to the event, but he enjoyed it once he got there.
“We needed to learn how to dance,” Keller-Likins said. “It’s so much fun. There are definitely people here who really know what they are doing.”
When asked how much of the lesson he thought he would retain, Moss smiled and laughed.
“(Sarah) will remember how to do it,” he replied. “I won’t.”
Mark Richman, Ballroom Dance Society member, said his organization is interested in continuing its relationship with LFP on events such as salsa night.
“We run ballroom dance socials for people to dance all kinds of ballroom dancing, including swing and Latin dances,” Richman said. “We’re very interested in keeping nights (like salsa night) happening.”
Lara said his group also is interested in hosting similar events, such as a meringue night, in the future.