Most Yalies Saturday nights’ include trudging across layers of beer congealed on grimy floors and pushing through throngs of drunken couples grinding to the beat of Fat Joe’s “Lean Back.” But for some, dancing can have a drastically different feel. Every Sunday night, the GPSCY ballroom is filled with dancing couples. Locked in close embraces, they sweep across the wooden floor to the steady beat of Argentine tango.
For those Elis who want to party but have grown weary of making babies on the dance floor, there are alternatives to the “conventional” dorm-and-frat-party night life. Rather than crowding into the God Quad, some students congregate at venues such as GPSCY, La Casa Cultural and night clubs in the New Haven area to shake their hips to salsa rhythms, engage in the passionate art of tango, or jump and jive to swing music.
Salsa, swing and tango do not necessarily play a prominent part in many Yalies’ social lives. But members of Yale groups devoted to these dances contend that there are a surprising number of opportunities to learn and practice their steps.
“There’s a pretty active dance scene at Yale,” said Gabriel Diaz ’08, who teaches salsa classes at La Casa Cultural and Silliman College. “If you want to dance, you can definitely go out and find an organization to support you.”
Diaz co-teaches his class, informally known as “Salsa for Non-Majors,” with Natasha Borrero ’06 at La Casa Cultural every Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. The class, which has no size cap, is open to the public. According to Diaz, participants include everyone from Yale professors and students to members of the New Haven community. His Silliman class, however, which was limited to 20 Silliman students, is already underway.
Diaz said salsa appeals to the two genders in distinct ways. Though he explained that women generally have a greater propensity for learning how to dance than men, he said his classes are also well-attended by men who recognize being able to dance as a socially important skill.
“For guys it’s good because it’s a low-pressure environment to learn about dancing,” he said. “You don’t have to tell your friends that you’ve studied dance in a serious way, but you can still pick up some new moves and sharpen your skills.”
Participants in Diaz’s salsa class also mentioned other venues for practicing salsa at Yale and in New Haven. One favorite spot is Mi Tierra Cafe, a Latin-themed club located between Church and Orange Streets on Chapel Street. While the club features Latin music of all stripes, from meringue and salsa to Latin pop, there are always ample opportunities to dance salsa there.
Diaz raved about Mi Tierra’s spacious dance floor and intimate setting.
“The atmosphere was very casual,” Diaz said. “It wasn’t a big deal to walk up to somebody and ask them to dance.”
Nevertheless, Lisa Edelson ’05 warned Yalies should be wary of going alone.
“If you don’t want to dance with 30-year-old men that you don’t know, you should probably bring someone with you,” she said. “But it’s fun.”
In addition to Mi Tierra, Hector Sueiro ’08, who attends the salsa classes at La Casa, recommended parties that the Latin American Students Organization (LASO) throws periodically as another place to practice salsa moves. Though LASO rarely sponsors any specifically salsa parties, Sueiro said its parties always have people willing to teach dance steps to the occasional salsa song.
Salsa has also emerged as a popular music choice at parties sponsored by the residential colleges and other Yale institutions. Eric Nathan ’06, a member of local salsa band Sonido Unidad, said he has found Yalies to be quite receptive to the music at various gigs the group has played, including a dance sponsored by La Casa in the dining hall of Ezra Stiles College and this year’s Berkeley Screw. He noted even those with little exposure to salsa seemed to appreciate Sonido Unidad’s performances.
“Some people do all the cool stuff,” Nathan said, referring to those who come to Sonido Unidad events already knowing how to salsa well. “Other people do the same kind of dance that you would see at a party — it’s just like moving a little bit back and forth. People start improvising things they can do. Anyone can do it.”
Apart from salsa, Yale also has vibrant swing and tango communities, which offer more options to the Yalie trying to
escape booty dancing.
Phillip Schafer ’06, president of the Yale Swing Society, said he was worried at first when he started the club last year, aware that past attempts to garner interest in swing had failed. But so far the organization has bucked the trend, hosting dances that have attracted upwards of 200 people.
He admitted, however, that his club must overcome some obstacles to recruit new members.
“Part of it is the time commitment to learn, and Yalies are pretty busy,” Schafer said. “Unless you find a way to get them excited about it and convince them that it’s a good use of their time, they’re not going to really commit enough time to enjoy it.”
Tine Herreman GRD ’06, president of the Yale Tango Club, agreed. Though YTC, which meets every Sunday evening at 8 p.m. in the GPSCY Ballroom, is primarily composed of graduate students, she would like to attract more undergraduates. However, she believes undergraduates’ hectic lifestyles may prevent them from making the necessary commitment.
“The undergrads at Yale are a very talented bunch of people, but I think they expect to be good at things as soon as they try it,” she said. “The truth is that tango is a skill that you need to learn. As a new guy, it can be just a touch intimidating. It requires some training. It requires a certain perseverance to get somewhere.”
Despite the initial hump newcomers to tango must overcome, Herreman said many dancers eventually discover how wonderful tango is.
“It has this very attractive dimension,” she said. “You find yourself in a hug moving around the room to very beautiful music. I mean, what’s not to like?”
Borrero sung similar praises about salsa. She said salsa is much more than a set of dance steps, a philosophy she aims to teach in her course.
“Enjoy the music, enjoy the beat,” she said. “One thing that I tell my students is, ‘Don’t think so much about how well they’re doing and trying to get the step right — just flow with it and feel the music and feel the dance.'”
Edelson said she would love to see more of her fellow Elis find such an appreciation for dances such as salsa and participate in events on campus and in New Haven.
“Learn to dance and come out with me,” she said.
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