The 12 members of the Goshen College salsa team danced on the University of Valparaiso’s ballroom floor last Friday night for their first ever paid performance.
The salsa team, a group of experienced dancers from the salsa club, danced as entertainment for Valparaiso’s Hispanic heritage dinner. Remembering how talented Goshen’s salsa club was, former Goshen student Ciara Reyes—who now attends Valparaiso—suggested that Valparaiso invite them to perform for this event.
Goshen’s salsa club draws mostly from the rueda Cubana style of salsa—a group circle dance in which dancers continually swap partners. Joel Gonzalez, a recent Goshen graduate who actually founded the salsa club, is most familiar with the rueda Cubana from his experience with Peruvian and Ecuadorian salsa.
As the leader, Gonzalez calls out the names of different moves or steps, which take the dancers from one formation to another. All the while, the dancers maintain the circle of partners that is typical of the rueda Cubana. Lauren Eash, a senior who has been dancing with the salsa club since her first year at Goshen, says that “A lot of the pressure is on the guys. They are usually the ones leading.”
Salsa isn’t just meaningless physical movement, however. According to Tori Yoder, a junior who has been dancing since last year, “In salsa rueda, you kind of put on a personality—kind of like acting.” At the beginning of a dance, Yoder explains, men and women are separate and act like they are trying to impress each other, the men jumping forward and the women responding with their own move. By the end of the dance, men and women are dancing with each other.
In some ways, salsa is quite structured. There are certain choreographed movements to which dancers generally adhere. But at the same time, salsa affords enough flexibility for dancers to insert their own creativity into the dance. Kate Walker, a junior who has been salsa-ing since her first semester at Goshen, appreciates that “there are always new moves to learn in salsa dancing.”
“There’s something about salsa,” says Eash. “My body just knows how to move to it. It feels natural.” When she was in Guatemala this past summer, Eash relates, she got to dance with Guatemalans. Eash was the only gringa around who knew how to salsa. “I feel beautiful doing it,” she says.
The members of Goshen’s salsa team hope to have more off-campus gigs in the next year. They will perform both at kick-off in October and downtown at Goshen’s next first Fridays. “In the meantime,” says Walker, “we hope that anyone interested in salsa will come join us for our monthly salsa club practices, even if you’ve never danced before.”