Buffalo does the salsa

Latin dance community starts to shine in Buffalo


For those interested in salsa but are unfamiliar with the intricate turns and twists, Buffalo may be the right place to learn.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, The Latin Dance Company, Baila Salsa and the Latin American Student Association (LASA) has hosted dance lessons and events until Oct. 15.

As an integral part of Latin cultural expression, dance serves as an interactive art and creative outlet. Even though Buffalo is not a renowned Latin dance community, like New York City or Los Angeles, it still has a quality impact on the area. A Buffalo Latin-themed dance attracts a diverse group of people and is a social experience that differs from typical nightlife.

Arianne McAllister, a junior English major from UK, said the local Latin community has helped her feel right at home, despite not knowing many people in Buffalo.

“Dancing is an incredible way to connect with people of all ages and nationalities, one that ignores language barriers and age gaps to create a well-rounded global community,” McAllister said. “In my experience, Buffalo is a small snapshot of an incredibly welcoming worldwide community. As a dancer from the UK, I know that I can feel at home wherever I may be, be it my home town, London, Madrid, Mexico, [or] Buffalo.”

Abby LaPlaca, a recent UB grad and former dance liaison for LASA, said she was surprised by how tight-knit the Buffalo community feels.

“I think the dance community in Buffalo is small but dedicated. It’s really like joining a dance family,” LaPlaca said. “All that matters is the music and the connection to it and your partner. People think you have to have all these fancy moves to go out and dance, not true. You have to be open to trying and open to people.”

The LASA has made dance a significant part of their club.

Every Tuesday at 8 p.m. they hold a weekly dance lesson and social. Club members often find this a place to meet people, socialize and unwind, regardless of background.

On Oct. 24, LASA will be presenting their 11th annual heritage banquet, celebrating the Noche De Los Muertos, or night of the dead, at Acqua Restaurant at 6 p.m. This event is formal and will include a choreographed performance of salsa, tango, bachata and dembow.

Rachel Brianna, a senior psychology major and LASA club member, said dancing is a way for her to escape from the world completely and de-stress.

“It's such a great form of expression for anyone of any culture, and whether you're doing salsa, bachata, merengue, or any of the sort, you can tell a story,” Brianna said. “I've danced before, but Latin dancing has opened up a door for me that allows me to express more of whom I am, be free and have a lot of fun at the same time.”

The genre of each dance lesson varies weekly from salsa to merengue to bachata, each with its own distinct twist.

Merengue is a dance from the Dominican Republic, characterized by its high energy and basic 1, 2 steps where the dancer pushes the ball of his feet into the ground. This dance also requires intricate turns and twists informally called pretzels.

Bachata also originates from the Dominican Republic and is a very sensual dance. The basic step is an eight-count divided into two separate four counts. The four steps are multi-directional and end with a hip, pop and then repeated.

Salsa is a combination of many music genres, but the dance originates from Cuba. It has a huge Afro-Cuban influence and consists of many styles within the genre of salsa.

“Everyone is happy to share their latest move and just to smile and share a dance,” LaPlaca said. “The best dancers aren't necessarily the ones with the craziest moves. The people I love to dance with are those who you can tell are having fun and really feeling the soul of the music. It's art in motion.”

Besides LASA, there are many groups in Buffalo that provide ways to get involved with the Latin Dance community.

Baila Salsa offers many opportunities to learn and practice in Buffalo. Founders Fanny Olaya and Calvin Rice are professional instructors providing salsa lessons of all levels to the Buffalo community.

Every Wednesday evening at Pucho Olivenia Center, Baila Salsa gives a one-hour lesson where people learn basic steps and a few moves. The floor then opens for social dancing, so people can practice their steps and have the opportunity to socialize.

Baila Salsa also has a weekly event on Friday nights at the Falafel Bar, located at 3047 Sheridan Dr. Dance lessons start at 10 p.m., followed by an open floor for social dancing.

Regardless of age, gender, nationality or even skill level, there are a number of options to learn and practice dancing in the city.

“It’s an incredibly enthusiastic community, with familiar faces popping up at multiple venues,” McAllister said. “For me personally, it has had an incredible influence on my life, particularly with regards to my self-confidence and in helping me grow out of the very quiet, shy girl I was two years ago.”

Giovanni Gaglianese is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com