While winter has brought a chill to Grounds, not even the cold can cool down the University Salsa Club. Referred to by its members as the “spiciest” Contracted Independent Organization on Grounds, the Salsa Club is a completely student-run organization that celebrates and shares Latin dance with the University community. Offering everything from weekly lessons to lively performances, the club gives everyone the opportunity to learn and grow through the collaborative art of social dancing.
Since the group’s formation in 2006, its members have been dedicated to making dance styles like Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Merengue accessible, giving those who want to learn Latin dance a space to do so right here in Charlottesville.
According to Sidney Hubli, fourth-year Commerce student and President of the Salsa Club, a key component of the organization is its supportive and community-centered environment, sharing that it has brought her some of her closest friends at the University.
“I think the community that [the Salsa Club] has made is maybe even more important than the actual dancing or events that we have,” Hubli said. “We try to make a really welcoming environment for people of all dance levels, of all interest levels.”
This intention is present in the structure of the Salsa Club’s Monday evening dance lessons, where student instructors teach styles of Latin dance at varying levels of difficulty each week. The variation in the combinations that are taught gives everyone — from beginners to the more advanced — a place to comfortably try something new.
“You meet a bunch of different people, and everyone learns together,” Hubli said.
Hubli said that one of her favorite things to witness at these lessons is the confidence that grows in those who come week after week. She said that once the initial “spookiness” fades away, dancers don’t just feel more comfortable in lessons, but are also emboldened to take what they’ve learned to other social dancing events, or even to audition to become an instructor for the Salsa Club.
For third-year College student Molly Rathbun, becoming an instructor this school year was a way to become more involved in a club that has been “the best part” of her week since joining during her first year.
“Being able to introduce [others] to something I am so passionate about — and am so thankful to have been introduced to myself — is so exciting,” Rathbun said. “ I want to make sure I can be someone in the club that makes people feel welcomed and excited to dance.”
Instructors like Rathbun not only teach the steps, but they also teach lessons on the cultural importance of the dances they do.
Sofia Posadas, the club’s artistic director and third-year College student, explained that each style of dance is introduced during lessons with an acknowledgment of its history, the movements and music associated with the dance, and how the dance may differ depending on where you are in the world.
“At the beginning of each new style that we teach, we give a background of where it came from, and how it got developed over the years into the style that we're learning today,” said Posadas, explaining that the Salsa Club tries to blend the traditional with the modern when choreographing for the community.
In addition to weekly lessons, the Salsa Club also hosts larger events over the course of each semester. Already on the calendar for this spring is the annual Salsa Fest — a day-long Latin dance congress, slated to take place Feb. 24, where professional instructors come to teach lessons — and Showcase, which takes place at the end of each semester to display what student choreographers and club members have been working on together.
Early in the semester, dues-paying members can audition to be placed into one of the Showcase dances, which are choreographed by the club’s advanced dancers. Once auditionees are paired with their choreographers, they have the rest of the semester to work on their routines.
“They become little families throughout the semester,” Hubli said, describing how close the groups get in and outside of rehearsals. “People go out to dinner, my [dance group] went into the hot tub at the AFC one time for fun, so you kind of become really close friends with them.”
As Artistic Director, the organization of Showcase is Posadas’ primary focus during the fall and spring semesters. While preparing for the event is a lot of hard work, she said it's her favorite job she’s ever had. This is because she gets to see a semester’s worth of bonding and dancing culminate into an evening of impressive and moving performances.
Posadas said that the event is attended by members of the community, Latin dance admirers and the family and friends of the dancers on stage, filling the room with an immeasurable amount of support and esteem.
“It's awesome, everyone's hyping each other up, it's not a quiet room,” she said, describing the atmosphere the day of Showcase. “Everyone's yelling, everyone's excited. It's really hype and it's just so exciting watching it all come together.”
Like at lessons, a growth in confidence can be seen in the dancers at Showcase too. Similarly to Posadas, Hubli’s favorite thing about Showcase is getting to see these transformations in the dancer’s dispositions unveiled on the stage.
“It’s really nice to see a whole personality [and] confidence shift,” she said. “Which is just wonderful to observe and be a part of.”
As the Salsa Club warms up for the semester ahead, the group is thrilled to continue doing what it does best — fostering friendships, instilling confidence and sharing the richness of Latin culture with the community, one dance at a time.