?Az??car! - let's dance!

LASA students heat things up with weekly dance socials

The Spectrum

Temperatures are dropping in Buffalo, but the Latin American Student Association (LASA) still feels the heat.

For one hour every Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Student Union Flag Room, LASA students engage in "Latin Socials," where they learn new and different forms of Latin dance. Attendees participate in the three basic and most popular Latin dances: salsa, bachata and merengue.

"Latin Social is a way to bring Latin culture to the rest of UB in a setting that's not performance based," said Caitlin Meyers, a junior international studies major and secretary of LASA.

Students who attend combine swift movements of smooth hip swaying and quick steps to the booming fast-paced Spanish music in the background. Arms alternate from strict angles to fluid motions. Hearts race and skin dampens with sweat. Throughout the dance, students maintain a deep connection with their partners.

Abigail LaPlaca, a junior Spanish major, said the emotions are her favorite part of Latin dance.

"Bachata is my favorite type of dance," LaPlaca said. "It's all about connection with your partner, connection with the music and just expressing yourself through your body however you want."

LaPlaca is currently the undergraduate adviser of LASA; last year she was the dance liaison who choreographed and taught most of the Latin dances. The choreography last year won LASA second place at International Fiesta, a cultural dance competition at UB every spring.

Although LaPlaca has an Italian and German background, she loves Hispanic culture and is studying abroad in Ecuador in the spring.

"[People of Hispanic culture] are so emotional and they just like to connect with you and be close with you," LaPlaca said. "They're so open and friendly."

LASA's weekly meetings were once called "Salsa Socials," but in the past two years they have grown to include all three of the dance types, according to LaPlaca.

Xavier Perez, a freshman computer engineering major, joined LASA's Latin Socials to learn about Latin dance, but he found it is also a great place to meet new people.

With a Mexican culture back home, Perez said he has experience with these dances from when he was a kid. His family would do dances like the bachata or merengue at parties and, because of Latin Socials, he now can add salsa to his repertoire.

He also joined to get more in touch with his culture. He said that in an environment of so many diverse individuals, it can be easy for students to lose sense of their culture.

"Being here can get you lost," Perez said. "I think that this is a good way to return to the roots."

LASA's president, Alberto Santiago Jr., a senior mechanical engineering major, said he became involved with LASA because he wanted to learn to dance his culture's dance styles.

Before joining the club, Santiago had minimal experience with Latin dancing but had always wanted to be that flashy dancer he witnessed when he was younger. Since then, he has grown to be one of the best dancers in LASA and now has "that sense of confidence to go out and to actually do anything."

Santiago said Latin Socials are about teaching each other and simply having fun.

"There're no critiques going around," he said. "We're just helping to improve one another. That's why we're constantly dancing. That's how you learn to improve always."

It's not just Latin Americans who attend the Latin Socials, according to LaPlaca. People from differing cultural backgrounds attend; exchange and international students from different countries also participate.

"There's literally every kind of person in LASA," LaPlaca said. "It definitely attracts the most diverse group of people, but everyone kind of adapts that Hispanic kind of culture of being really close and open with each other."

When LASA students see others members around campus, they always greet each other with a hug, according to Meyers.

"We love everyone," Meyers said. "It's really a family."

email: features@ubspectrum.com