Jan. 6, 2011, 1:30 a.m.

Los Salseros de Stanford spice up Stanford community

OLIVIA SIMONE JEW/The Stanford Daily

It’s a regular Wednesday night at the Axe and Palm. Students sit in red leather booths eating, chatting and studying. But something about the scene is different.

In the main room that would normally house more students, salsa music blasts. An eclectic group of Stanford students and Palo Alto locals dance in pairs as two experienced students repeat the counts: “1, 2, 3, turn…5, 6, 7.” Those new to salsa laugh self-deprecatingly as their arms and feet twist awkwardly while the instructors give words of advice and encouragement in one of the weekly salsa lessons sponsored by Los Salseros de Stanford, Stanford’s only salsa-performing team.

Directed by Ariana Borgaily ’12 and Diogenes Brito ’11, Los Salseros performs at cultural diversity fairs, campus fundraisers, such as Salsa for the Cure, and other dance events, and it puts on an annual spring show. The club of 18 women and 16 men rehearses for two hours twice a week in Roble Gym. Los Salseros also holds free weekly beginner and intermediate lessons for students and local residents, as well as free biweekly salsa socials, where anyone can come for a salsa lesson and then a salsa dance party.

For the two directors, being in Los Salseros and dancing salsa in general has been gratifying. Brito, who is half Dominican and half Colombian, grew up listening to salsa music and, with an interest in the music and in joining a dance group on campus, decided to audition. Borgaily, on the other hand, grew up around quite a bit of dancing in El Paso, Texas; she started salsa at 13 years old and saw Los Salseros in the Dance Expo show during Admit Weekend. Both directors have been involved with Los Salseros since freshman year, and both are in their second year as club directors.

The range of Brito and Borgaily’s levels of previous experience with salsa dance mirror the diversity of experience in the rest of the club.

“[There’s] a lot of variety on the team,” Borgaily said. “We have people who had never heard of salsa until they came here, and we have people who had grown up with it for forever…I’d say it’s a pretty nice mix of people.”

Borgaily noted that the skill level of the group tends to vary from year to year, depending on the pool of dancers who audition.

“At least 80 people auditioned this year, and only 13 made it on the team, so it’s pretty competitive,” she said, adding that in auditions, they look for dancers’ potential, style and ability to perform.

While some students have danced salsa since youth and have participated in salsa competitions, others come in with hardly any experience, merely a willingness to learn something new. Two such examples are Ronnie Tisdale ’10, a coterminal student, and Caroline Ferguson ’14.

“To have this opportunity is just incredible,” Tisdale said. “[There’s] solidarity for me being in a group where everyone loves it. It’s a skill everyone deep inside wants to have…it’s the culture for me. I just love being in the environment. I can practice my Spanish, and I love the music and the dancing.”

“It’s something I always wanted to try,” Ferguson said. “I had never danced salsa before. I did a lot of hip hop and tap classes, but I just wanted to try. It looks really cool, and everyone is really, really nice and good about correcting you.”

Indeed, at rehearsals, a strong sense of community exists between members. As they filed into the brightly lit studio, they cheerily started pairing up and dancing to salsa-infused versions of songs by Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5, doing dips and turns and reviewing choreography from previous rehearsals.

“I like to think it’s a really good community, a social group with a salsa problem,” Brito said. “We perform and stuff…but I think it’s really about becoming a better social dancer, because this is one of the few things you can do after college. I mean, every major city has salsa clubs and has a salsa community…and it’s cool to be able to have an outside group of friends here. My year, I felt like everyone was super nice when I joined, and since then, I think other people have felt the same way.”

Borgaily described a salsa outing some of the members took in November to the International Salsa Congress in San Francisco, an annual cultural event where people from all over the world travel to a different city to take workshops, watch performances and enjoy Latin food. With large salsa communities and events like this going on around the Bay Area, Los Salseros aims to “spread the knowledge of salsa,” in the words of Borgaily.

“As the only salsa group on campus…trying to get a little bit of that here on campus within our little bubble is important.”

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