“So last summer I took up salsa, basically because my mom forced me to and I really started to like it and I really wanted to learn more about it and dance with friends,” said Ian Gonzalez (’19), Salsa Club founder. “Then I looked at the course catalogue for Sarah Lawrence and noticed that there is no salsa dancing offered here as part of our dance third program and no really latin inspired dance whatsoever [...] I saw a void that needed to be filled here. I was talking to people about it and there was a bunch of people interested and I decided why not [start a club],” Gonzalez said. In addition to this void, Gonzalez had political motivation; “I was [also] partially inspired by this after the election of 2016, [by] thinking of salsa dancing as a form of active resistance. A resistance in the sense that no matter what happens at a political level, we are going to hold onto culture and we’re going to have fun,” Gonzalez explained.
In the beginning of March, Gonzalez gained funding for his club through The Diana Chambers Leslie Fund, which grants money to community building projects and student leadership organizations. “The club is basically based on us hiring a professional from the city and bringing her out every week, so if we didn’t have [the funds for it], then I probably would’ve had to teach the club which would’ve been a disaster,” Gonzalez shared.
Every Friday at 8:15 p.m. in McCracken's dance studio, 20 to 30 students join Gonzalez and Josie LaRiccia, Italian dance teacher and owner of Josie’s International School of Dance, to learn her moves. Students aren’t required to bring a partner or to have any prior dancing experience. “I was surprised by the turnout because I think that it’s [a] good [number] for Sarah Lawrence. A lot of people were hesitant about joining just because it’s a totally new skill [...] We’re always alternating partners and for some people that prospect was a little daunting,” Gonzalez reflected.
“We are all pretty much beginners, so [LaRiccia] started us from square one and has been super patient with us and we are a bit rowdy sometimes, but she doesn’t mind, she goes right with it. I think that it’s a really good fit for both of us,” Gonzalez said. In the beginning of each salsa lesson, LaRiccia reviews the previous week’s basic steps. She uses software to slow down the music so that the fast pace isn’t overwhelming. “Since there’s new faces every week, we sort of start a little slowly to accommodate for them. Once we are done for that, we move right into partner work, which is basically all the leaders in one line and all the followers in one line and we just rotate,” Gonzalez said.
Not only is the group accommodating to beginners, but it’s super inclusive of everyone: “The club doesn’t enforce any classic male being the leader, female being the follower. We allow anybody to do either [role]. So if you identify as male and you want to follow, that’s totally cool and vice versa,” Gonzalez said. Even though traditional salsa dancing is gendered, Gonzalez wanted to take a progressive approach to embracing the artform.
Gonzalez’s future plan for the club includes growth: “both in our numbers and our scope.” He plans to increase the amount of club members, improve their dancing skills, learn new dances, such as bachata, and reach out to the Yonkers and N.Y.C. community. “We are also planning on going to salsa clubs and socials and I’m a van driver so I’m planning on bringing the club and whoever is interested to salsa events and showing off our new skills there,” Gonzalez said. Right now the only set in stone event is the salsa social that LaRiccia holds on the first Sunday of the month. Gonzalez is excited to expand the salsa club by bringing the members out into the community.
“It’s a very fun, active thing to do, but sort of beyond that it’s a really cool language to learn and I really do think it is a physical language. Since it really is a form of communication between two people, once you do one movement, the other person knows how to respond immediately. It’s sort of like a code. It’s a really sort of interesting way to get to know someone,” Gonzalez said.
The club will continue to meet on Friday nights, as well as a few Sundays to gain extra practice time. “If anybody is trying to join and has any sort of perceived issues, they can just talk to me and we can definitely figure something out,” Gonzalez added.
Alexa Di Luca (‘19)