When attending a salsa night with little or no experience, expect to come out sweating and swaying.
Such was my experience at a recent salsa night at Fletcher’s Hall in Nevada City, a dance studio owned by Lucy Galbraith of Salsa Sierra, located at 542 Searls Ave., Nevada City.
Galbraith offers classes and hosts salsa events for $5 Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:30-10:30 p.m.
Arriving on the scene, I had planned to snap some photos and talk to participants about what they like about salsa, but Galbraith wouldn’t leave me on the sidelines, and soon I was among those enjoying a night of twirling and shaking it.
Galbraith taught me some moves and a few different dancers asked for my hand, and I fumbled my way through.
“One-two-three … six-seven-eight,” the steps go right foot back, feet together, left foot forward, feet together.
Most of the men on hand said what they liked best about salsa was the proximity to their partner.
“What other activity lets you stand this close to a woman in public?” they said in varying versions of the same cheeky response.
The dancers who bravely took me for a spin were welcoming and helpful, and the basic steps were fairly easy to learn. Such accessibility seems to be part of the salsa appeal, as a variety of people of different ages and experience levels can participate while having fun and exercising.
A local salsa movement started with William Flanders and Dominique Del Chiaro, said longtime Nevada County resident Cai Sorlien. The duo hosted classes at various places and were the original founders of what is now Salsa Sierra.
“They were the original spark that lit the flame,” Sorlien said.
Flanders and Del Chiaro have since relocated, Sorlien said, and sold the business to Galbraith and her business partner, Gabriel Ross, who then married and stepped down. Now Salsa Sierra is operated by Galbraith and her husband and partner Leon Fletcher, who purchased Fletcher’s Dance Hall two years ago.
The salsa movement has surged in the past few years, said Galbraith, and Ruth Chase, who organizes a new event from 1-4 p.m. Sundays at the Stonehouse, located at 107 Sacramento St., Nevada City.
Chase said in the more than 10 years she’s lived here, she’s seen the interest in salsa rise sharply.
“When I moved here in 2001, it was dead,” she said. “Now you go out and it’s packed.”
The timing is perfect for those who can’t steal away a weekday night, Chase said, but can attend an afternoon session and partake in the fun and engaging dance of salsa.
“You can come on your own and learn how to dance,” she said. “If you don’t know how to dance, most of the venues just show you what they know and it grows.”
Chase said she wanted to offer something for those who can’t make a nighttime event and said salsa is offered on Sunday afternoons in the many places she’s visited, from New Orleans to New York City and Los Angeles, where she lived, as well as in Latin American countries
“It’s a social after-church gathering and Nikko (Wu) at the Stonehouse said ‘Let’s try it’ and that’s how it started,” said Chase, a dancer of 10 years.
Another aspect of salsa dancing is that it offers a community with common ground and inclusion.
“You start coming on a regular basis, and you meet people and (they) become your friends, and that whole family comes in,” Galbraith said. “It gives a sense of camaraderie.”
Nevada City residents Cherylann and her husband Cosme Castanieto have taken salsa lessons at Salsa Sierra since January and have a great time with it.
“We really enjoy it, and as a couple, it’s a nice thing to do,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s social. The music is uplifting and it’s exercise.”
Castanieto said the rhythm and timing of the dance, and the fact that the owners and studio are local, are also appealing.
“It’s not easy to find salsa or any other kind of real ballroom kind of dancing in Nevada City,” she said.
Castanieto said she enjoys the intimacy of the dance that she shares with her husband, and it provides singles the opportunity to meet people.
“We’ve just thoroughly enjoyed it, and Leo and Lucy are wonderful teachers,” she said. “They really care about what you learn and they share a lot with their people.”
In addition to salsa classes, Salsa Sierra teaches different types of dance including swing, waltz and country and sometimes bring in outside instructors to teach movement such as Zumba classes.
At 7 p.m. Thursdays, 151 Union in Grass Valley, located at 151 Mill St., also offers a salsa night with Just Dance Salsa!, which typically lasts a few hours. Participants can enjoy a free salsa lesson with no cover charge. (There will not be a dance today due to a private party booking.)
With so many local salsa options, Chase said she hopes the trend will continue to catch on and grow.
“The more people realize and know where to go and what to do, it will only generate more and more interest,” Chase said. “There’s more and more dancers, and it’s just great.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.