Over the weekend, the Student Activities Building was full of people learning, dancing and enjoying performances by professional dancers at the eighth annual University Salsa Fest.
People from all over the state, and even the globe, attended the event Saturday, Feb. 23, which lasted from 10:30 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following morning. Students from Virginia Tech, William and Mary, VCU and George Mason joined University students to learn the intricacies of Latin dances. In the past, the Salsa Fest has had about 500 attendees each year. This year, however, there was roughly 650 attendees.
The University Salsa Fest’s primary goal is to give people the opportunity to attend various workshops taught by professionals at an affordable price. These workshops taught participants the zouk, cha-cha jam and modern and urban bachata dance forms. Admittance to the event cost $5 for students, $10 for social dancing only and $20 for all-day general admission, including the social dancing.
Salsa Fest hopes to provide individuals with a similar experience to a professional Salsa-Congress which is a multi-day festival that features performances and workshops. In addition to the University Salsa Club themselves performing, professional groups from Boston, Washington, D.C. and even Buenos Aires led workshops throughout the day.
Jessica Smith, Salsa Club events coordinator and second-year College student, was
particularly excited for the duo of Rosalia Gaso and Alejandro Barrientos from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Smith noted how the duo was special since they teach tango — a form of dance the Salsa Fest has never had before.
Smith began planning the Salsa Fest over the summer with the help of Louise Andenmatten, fourth-year McIntire student and president of the Salsa Club.
In October, Smith and Andenmatten kicked things into full gear by seeking out instructors and booking hotels. Once the instructors were secured, the booking of the venue and organization of the volunteers fell into place. Although there are a few instructors that the Salsa Fest has every year — Maria Krupholter, Brian Le and Shaka Brown — the coordinators try to get new ones as well, like the duo of Gaso and Barrientos from Argentina.
Though the event coordinators put a lot of work into planning, those who performed at the Salsa Fest were also heavily involved in putting on the festival.
Kiri Maasen, a dancer in Volante — the 14-person dance group from Boston — said her group had been working on their three-minute performance since September. However, the hard work doesn’t feel so hard when you're doing something you love.
“I’ve been dancing for 21 years, and so dancing keeps me sane,” Maasen said. “I’ve been doing it for my whole life, and there’s nothing quite like performing. So it’ll always be a part of my life and I’m just really lucky that I found something so fun and rewarding in the dance world compared to other things I could be doing.”
Smith, on the other hand, is passionate about salsa for other reasons.
“[Salsa] dance is a conversation that I like to have with everybody and a great way to meet new people,” Smith said.
Summer Harding, second-year Architecture student and one of 160 members in the Salsa Club, spontaneously came to a Salsa Club event with girls in her first-year hall and has stuck with it ever since because of the people. Harding was at the event on Saturday helping Smith.
“Salsa Fest is such a great opportunity for students as well as the greater community to grow and celebrate each other’s talents,” Harding said. “My favorite thing about the event is how it enables our club to connect with other dance groups across the state, whether they are professional or university clubs like our own.”
The Salsa Club hosts dance lessons every Monday, a showcase in the spring, social events throughout the year and, of course, the Salsa Fest, which is one of the club’s biggest events.
These events help support the club’s mission — to teach a variety of Latin dance styles, which include the merengue, salsa, bachata and the cha-cha.
There are no requirements to become a member of the Salsa Club or to attend events such as the Salsa Fest. The Salsa Club is open to everyone who is willing to learn about Latin American culture and its forms of dance.
“In the future I’d love to see the larger University community come out and give salsa a try, [and] growing the club and connecting with U.Va. are so important to our club,” Harding said.