UB LASA’s Latin socials expose students to Latin culture

Telling their story


To Michelle Otero, the Latin American Student Association’s (LASA) dances are more than just choreographed routines to music – they also tell a story.

“A story of what many of ours parents went through coming to America,” Otero, secretary of LASA and a senior psychology and sociology major, said.

The LASA holds Latin socials, which consist of performances and educating participants of traditional Latin dances, every Tuesday night. The choreographers usually give a brief history of the dance and where it comes from, and shortly after, teach the dance to everyone who comes.

There isn’t a set list of dances taught at the socials, but students can expect to learn things like merengue, Bachata and reggaeton dancing. LASA members say the socials are a way to make the UB community feel connected through knowing different cultures and their dances.

“Dance is really big in Latin America,” said Mitchel Castellon, the president of LASA and a junior business major. “Bringing it to UB allows students to feel like they can somehow be apart of another culture.”

Castellon said that expressing cultural dance in the UB community gives students a learning experience and also helps bring students together. He said although UB is a diverse campus, that means nothing if people can’t come together.

“Dancing at our socials is also huge way to relieve stress,” said Castellon.

Dancing is a proven stress reliever – dancing with friends on a Tuesday night might make a load of homework sitting back in your room seem less daunting.

Sabrina Alvarado, one of the dance choreographers and a sophomore biology major, said LASA teaches a New York City style version of salsa. Salsa, which originated in Columbia, is a partnered dance with a quick seven-step pace.

“The key aspect of salsa is to lead and follow,” said Kanishka Wanninayaka, another dance choreographer and a sophomore business and psychology major. Wanninayaka makes sure to teach everything thoroughly.

Wanninayaka said that there are certain elements to the salsa that must remain constant: the man should start out leading on the left foot and the woman should follow.

After choreographers show a specific element of the dance, the students partner up with friends or strangers and then practice the moves. As they improved their footwork, the choreographers add new moves.

According to Otero, dancing gives people another way to talk about culture, since there are different dances within each country. She said dancing is a learning experience for everyone, not just non-Latin Americans.

“I wasn’t the best dancer, but when I started getting involved with LASA I learned the basics,” Otero said.

Much of the dancing influence, and choreography for the Latin socials derives from LASA’s dance team “Alma Nanichi” which means “from the soul” in the Taíno language.

Alma Nanichi actually won UB’s International Fiesta competition last year.

“It was a lot of hard work,” Otero said. “A lot of 4 a.m. practices in Diefendorf [Hall].”

People can get a taste of what Alma Nanichi is like when they come to the Latin Socials and might even have the urge to join the group. The dance team performs for things like LASA’s banquet and International Fiesta. They’ve also performed for the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York.

Castellon and Otero said one of LASA’s biggest turnouts for their Latin Socials had more than 100 individuals. The club hopes to have that happen again.

“The beautiful thing about LASA is that the club has so many opportunities to bring in new dancers. Anyone can dance. People start off unsure of how to dance and become amazing dancers,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado recalls transferring to UB from SUNY Buffalo State and looking for ways to get involved. She said she immediately felt welcome after familiarizing herself with LASA.

“Our club is about family, dance, culture, and education,” said Giselle Santiago, member of LASA, and also junior communication and marketing major.

“Well the general term is club, but for me it’s a family.”

According to Santiago, LASA is trying to expand into the Buffalo community and increase its impact.

“I really enjoyed the Latin social,” said Ashley Toledo, a junior business major. “I love the fact that I got the opportunity to meet new people, and I really got to work on my salsa. The thing I really like about these Latin socials are that they give non-Latin Americans the opportunity to see what other cultures are like. It’s very diverse.”

LASA has turned an organization into a family affair, with regular gatherings, educational opportunities and the ability to strut their stuff onstage.

Ty Adams is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com.