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We’re not all amazing salsa dancers. That smooth, sexy sway of the hip and those easy-moving feet don’t come naturally to everyone. So we novice dancers tend to stay in a safe zone of planted feet and awkwardly jerking elbows, until we decide that our own genetics are against us, our bodies just don’t move that way and unrhythmic folks like us should be relegated to bar stools. We’ll never be good at dancing.
And that’s fine, except it’s totally wrong.
“One of the biggest myths about Salsa is that you have to be a good dancer or move in some sexy Latin way. People are just intimidated by that,” said Haj Carr, one of the organizers of Noche Latina Portland. “But salsa is for everyone…everyone can come have a good time, dance, be a part of something that’s progressive, very cerebral” and a ton of fun.
Noche Latina Portland translates to Latin Night Portland, and Latin night is certainly is every Thursday at The Pearl in Portland. The weekly event starts at 7:15 pm with a free salsa lesson for intermediate dancers, followed by a lesson for beginners at 8:15 pm. And at 9 pm, the lights go down, DJ Braulio turns up the salsa, merengue, and bachata music and the floor opens up to local dancers of every age and experience level.
Carr started the event with friends and fellow dancers Jim Tieman and Kelly Newell back in October. “We all have day jobs,” he joked, but Salsa is something they all love to do in their free time. They often carpool together down to Boston to dance, but realized they could help grow a Salsa community right here in Portland.
“We kind of figured if we did this, we could get a whole new group of dancers to get into it and get excited,” he said. “If 10 or 20 people go to a class, one will fall in love, take another lesson, get better.” And suddenly they’ll find themselves a pretty good dancer, and they’ll be on the dance floor helping others learn. And Portland’s salsa community will keep growing.
“What’s really cool about this whole thing – what I love about salsa in general – it’s such an open scene….it’s all about the dance, no matter what your level,” said Carr. “The whole culture of salsa is to meet people and connect, it doesn’t matter how old you are. It has nothing to do with how you look. It’s about dancing. If someone’s motivated to dance, they’ll dance.”
If you’re motivated to dance but aren’t quite sure how, take the beginner lesson, which is typically taught by Newell and Tieman. They’ll take you from step-together-step to a couple of simple spins with a partner in 45 minutes. And that’s just the first lesson. You can come back each week to learn more in the intermediate lessons. But the best way to become a better dancer, Carr said, is to just dance. Even better, dance with someone who knows what they’re doing and can teach you a few things.
“That’s how you get better. Look at the floor, see who you think looks good and dance with them,” he said.
Sure, asking an experienced dancer to dance is intimidating – feet are likely to get stepped on and you’ll probably find yourself apologizing for the first few missteps – but the dancers at Noche Latina Portland are a welcoming group. And when that dance floor opens up after the lessons, it becomes an energetic and colorful blend of partnered spins and dance steps, flagrant smiles and well-earned sweat. Beginners partner up with each other or more-advanced dancers. Experienced duos impress with their confident steps, and Tieman and Newell move about the room inviting onlookers onto the floor. And that floor is full of men and women, 20-somethings, 40-somethings, and 60-somthings. And they’re all having a grand time.
The dancing continues until 1 a.m., and while more-experienced dancers continue to show up as the evening goes on, Carr said they encourage dance floor diversity the whole night.
“The more that all the dancers are mingling together improves the experience for everyone,” he said.
Noche Latina Portland takes place every Thursday night, and Carr said they plan to keep the Salsa going for months and years to come. There’s a $5 cover charge at the door, but lessons are free. And the good time? Practically guaranteed.
“If you come, don’t get discouraged,” said Carr. “This isn’t a high school dance. If you see someone, grab them, dance. Go for it. People are really friendly here. Seriously. That’s it. It’s a pretty diverse crowd. And it’s a blast.”