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New salsa club spices up campus

By Carly Armstrong
On May 1, 2012

  • Students form pairs and follow instructions for the latin dance lesson. ASHLEY BURGOS
  • Villanova’s Baila Latino Club teaches students salsa, bachata and more. ASHLEY BURGOS


Baila Latino had two members at its inception in the fall.  Slowly,  word of the new Latin Dance club spread and it reached six committed members this spring. For the entire semester, they have practiced for four consecutive hours each Saturday. And finally, last Friday, the club opened its doors to all students on campus with its first-ever Latin Dance social. 

"It was a huge success," said Alejandro Arroyo, a member of Baila Latino. "We spent several hours creating flyers, and a Facebook group. It was very successful compared to the 20 people we thought we were going to get." 

In all, 56 students attended the event in Saint Mary's Dance Studio. The night began with an hour-long lesson by Jonathan Paulino, the club's leader, and a few other women. The class focused mainly on Bachata, Merengue and Salsa. After the session, attendees were free to dance among themselves and mingle. At an event where the dancing is intimate, "social" is the key word to the Latin Dance social. 

Later that night, Penn's Latin Dance team, Onda Latina, paid a visit to the event. Paulino is a member of Onda, which is highly competitive among collegiate dance teams and practices almost every day. Baila Latino may not be quite at that level yet, they acknowledge that their dancing is more about just enjoying oneself.

While this is the first open dance that Baila Latino has hosted, there have been other Latin dance events held by other clubs throughout the year as well. Tango 'Nova has put on a few nights of lessons and dances as well, yet this club is more focused on competition than Baila Latino. Sometimes, during weekends, Tango 'Nova will perform in Philadelphia while Baila Latino is more focused on teaching students. 

"The hardest part about learning Latin dance for people that are just starting out is learning the correct steps and getting the timing right with it," said Taylor Zyntek, a freshman who attended Friday's event. That's what people had the most trouble with."

Granted, there was a lot of stumbling and tripping over feet. Yet this was always followed by laughing, a smile and a lot of apologizing. No one seemed to mind that his or her partner didn't know any specific figures. It was more about everyone feeling comfortable and knowing that they were all beginners together. Luckily, there was a surprisingly even number of males and females, and there were rarely any girls sitting out, except maybe from exhaustion from dancing. 

The style of salsa that was performed and practiced at the event was different from the style that most American ballroom dance classes follow. Instead of starting with the left foot like most salsa styles,  salsa on two begins with the right foot.  While the rhythm is the same in both styles, the two types of salsa are basically mirror images of each other. Bachata and Meringue are both intimate Dominican dances that were also performed during the night. While some participants may have been turned off because they did not catch on to the steps right away, Arroyo shared some advice:

"My dad always told me that Latin dance is something you do for fun, but it takes an amount of conviction and dedication to do it," he said.  "It's fun to do, so practice it. It's not just something you can learn for one hour. You can't go to one class and say you're a professional."

For students who want to learn more about Latin dance, Baila Latino encourages shy students to come to their Saturday practices, even if it is merely for the first hour. Members say that it is less about the competition and more about enjoying life. 

Baila Latino plans to use the money they raised on Friday to purchase dancing shoes for their team or fund more social events. In the future, the team hopes to have more events throughout the school year, beginning with at least one a semester. 

The team credits its success to Paulino and his vision. As Arroyo stated, "Jonathan dedicated the time to making us better ourselves not only in Latin dance, but helping us understand the importance of discipline and conviction in our lives." 

As a freshman, Paulino entered this campus with a vision and a passion that is now being fulfilled even after only his first year.

 "I am proud to have hosted Baila Latino's first social," Paulino reflected. "It was an amazing turn out and everyone who came had a great time. I see a lot of potential dancers for the future." 

He went on to say that, "If we can continue to get a turn out like this weekend I am sure Baila Latino's name and prestige will spread throughout the campus."

Perhaps the growing popularity of the club at the University signals that more and more students are stepping out of their comfort zone and twirling into new culture, one that is unique on campus.

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