Latin dancing: A big hit in Twin Cities

by Chrissie Killion

The latest dance trend in the Twin Cities has been around since the 1970s. It’s exotic, exciting and Latin.
“I finally got the hip motion. The tough thing is the hip motion,” said Tidhar Carmeli, a University student in computer science, who likes to dance salsa. Carmeli, born in Tel Aviv and raised in Italy, is a good example of the diversity in Latin dancers today.
“Once you get past the beginning stage, you don’t think about this foot goes here, that foot goes there; you just do it,” Carmeli said.
And people of all ages and nationalities are doing it in the Twin Cities. Carmeli is one in a growing number of University students and non-Latinos learning not just the salsa, but the merengue, mambo, tango, cumbia and rumba.
Students and non-students are learning Latin dances in nightclubs around the Twin Cities. “Noche de Salsa” — salsa night — at the Quest in Minneapolis on Mondays offers one hour of Latin dance lessons followed by live Latin music. Paraiso restaurant and nightclub in St. Paul also offers Latin dance lessons on Wednesdays and Saturdays before the live music begins.
About 40 percent of dancers are now non-Latinos. “Ten years ago it was virtually (all) Latinos,” said Jose Carrera, the director of the Latin Sounds Orchestra, a popular local group that plays merengue, salsa, cumbia, rumba and mambo.
“There has been a significant growth in whites and African-Americans who enjoy the music,” said Carrera.
Latin dancing has been making its way to the Midwest from the East and West Coasts for at least 10 years. Rebecca Trost, owner and dance instructor at Four Seasons Dancing, spent 10 years in San Francisco and two years in New York, where Latin dancing is common. But she said she had to search out Latin dancing every time she returned to Minneapolis. The only Latin music was underground, at private parties.
“I thought, I’m going to get Minneapolis dancing, and the Latin community supported me,” Trost said. So she started her own dance studio in Minneapolis more than two years ago. Trost teaches many Latin dances at her studio that aren’t the norm in dance studio curriculums.
Latin dancing has been catching on in the Twin Cities for the past two years. Gloria Estefan, Linda Ronstadt and Sheila E. are mainstream artists with a Latin twist. Meanwhile, artists such as La India and Mark Anthony are popularizing the music of salsa. Even the macarena has had an influence, Trost said.
“Bars never had the Latin (music) before. The music was there, the bars just had to bring it in,” Trost said.
And they have. Also, Latin house and Latin-influenced songs are making it into mainstream dance clubs. Latin jazz artists Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, and Nicky and her Latin Jazz All-Stars are putting out new albums, said Trost.
Neither the music nor the dancing is new, but it does appeal to a new generation. Carmeli says it is currently popular because people like the idea of dancing that requires some technical skills rather than just jumping.
“The beautiful thing is the young people are making them modern and fun with lots of turns,” Trost said. Each dance has a different element that can be played up. “Tango is a heated discussion; salsa is fun and up, while rumba is romantic and sweet,” Trost said.
Carrera describes Latin dances as, “rhythms of the mother land, Africa — natural primitive movements with style.” They are always exciting and can be romantic and sensual. At the same time, they are decent and respectful, not sexual, Carrera said.