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 July 1, 1999

Swing, salsa dances again popular with young, old

What’s the difference between salsa, the spicy sauce of tomatoes and hot peppers, and salsa, the popular Latin music and dance? Not much, says Eric Freeman, Latin dance instructor at The Broker in Boulder.

While the ingredients for salsa the dip and salsa the dance differ, both reflect elements of the cultures from which they originated. And they both can make you sweat.

“The dance reflects the street origins and free expression of its Cuban heritage,” says Suzanne Gerleit, who with her husband, Carl, has been teaching a variety of dance classes through Boulder Parks and Recreation for 10 years.

Freeman’s Broker classes appeal “egualamente,” he says, to both genders and all ages. It’s not hard to understand why: People who can barely clap to the beat when class begins are looking good on the split-avocado-shaped floor at the end of the hour and a half lesson.

Once an electrical engineer with a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Freeman — who refers to himself as “El Cubanito” — claims salsa “changed his life” and that he is now “addicted and suffers withdrawal” if for any reason he’s not dancing.

Like Freeman, Dance West’s director of both public relations and social dance, Alicen Rule, trained for a different profession but regards dance as a true vocation. A psychotherapist who specializes in trauma therapy, Rule uses dance when working with clients as well as in her performances and classes. She feels that people who dance together, especially those who do so enough to be labeled partners, enjoy a “special trust based on a unique kind of communication.”

Pointing to aerial moves and deliberate falls to illustrate what she means by trust, Rule says that when she tips backward into the classic graceful pose Latin dancers strike, she has to believe partner Andy Free will catch her.

Non-performers also develop a special communication that allows them to read each other’s movements. Perhaps that’s one element in social dancing’s increasing popularity. Tom Masterson, who teaches swing and salsa as well as a variety of dance classes in Boulder, believes that good partnering — “making your partner look like the world’s greatest dancer” — is an important component of today’s social dancing.

Unlike the “doing your own thing” dictum that ruled the twist and similar dances a few decades ago, being in touch with one’s partner and the music are essential elements now. Physics professor cum “The Danceophile” Masterson says salsa and swing are popular today because “both dances are easy to catch on to; everybody is dancing quickly, and both are aerobic activities. You have a good time while getting a great workout.”

Nor is age a factor. While Rule says salsa is particularly popular with college-age dancers, Adele Shrout, who regularly attends the “Dance the Afternoon Away” sessions on Saturday afternoons at the East Senior Center, says it also appeals to those beyond college. Accompanied by live music from Tom Yook, approximately 30 seniors gather from 2 to 4 p.m. every Saturday to fox trot, swing, and cha-cha-cha overlooking the geese-filled pond at East Boulder’s Rec Center, 5660 Sioux Dr.

Sandy Hale, coordinator of special events and marketing for Boulder’s senior centers, says of swing’s resurgence: “More and more young people are coming to clubs to dance to Glenn Miller’s music” and are enjoying it as much as the seniors. Masterson finds that swing’s lifts and turns appeal to young, energetic dancers, while couples “who remember the 40s find it equally exciting.”

All teachers have seen their enrollments swell in the past few years. Rule says that interest grew faster than the number of people at Dance West qualified to teach it. Swing teachers with little background in Latin dance had to be “begged” to give salsa classes a try, but, as Freeman did, soon became addicted. Likewise, the Gerleits’ Wedding Dance Workshop, offered through the Parks and Recreation department to prepare people who need to learn how to dance quickly for social events, fills quickly.

Masterson believes that in addition to the “people-to-people interaction and connection to the music” that social dancing provide, “the upbeat quality of swing and salsa are vital to people who spend their days isolated in cubicles, starring at screens.”

Gerleit believes that “the safe social outing” aspect of dancing is the critical one. She met her husband when both were instructors for Fred Astaire Dance Studios and has seen “a lot of marriages” result from her classes.

Today’s social dancing craze has opened the door for would-be dancers to ask another to dance without the suspicion of it being a sexual advance. One dancer who gets to The Broker’s Salsa Club as often as she can believes that “whether salsa partners stay together for more than just one dance is based more on dancing ability and who can learn from whom than on anatomy.” Married to a man who at first was concerned about her going to a dance club without him, she now trades weeks watching the kids; he’s a swing enthusiast.

What’s the difference between salsa, the spicy sauce of tomatoes and hot peppers, and salsa, the popular Latin music and dance? Not much, says Eric Freeman, Latin dance instructor at The Broker in Boulder.

While the ingredients for salsa the dip and salsa the dance differ, both reflect elements of the cultures from which they originated. And they both can make you sweat.

“The dance reflects the street origins and free expression of its Cuban heritage,” says Suzanne Gerleit, who with her husband, Carl, has been teaching a variety of dance classes…

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