Every Friday night for the past three years, 100-200 people have been showing up for free salsa lessons at the La Jolla Marriott. Singles and couples of all ages and skill levels come to get into the Latin groove, and the effervescent instructor Jemadean is a big part of the draw.
She offers simple but detailed instruction, a graceful demonstration of each new pattern and a constant changing of partners, encouraging beginners and advanced salsa-lovers to join in the dance.
Susan Chou of Del Mar is one of Jemadean's regulars. "I love salsa dancing," she said. "It combines exercise and music with a Latin flavor, and you get to connect with people from all walks of life. It's fun, it's challenging, and you keep improving. And it's a low-cost hobby too!"
Ten dollars gets you entry to the Marriott's salsa night, with four hours' free parking, and you can stay and dance till 1:30 a.m. Jemadean also teaches at Encinitas Community Center and at the Belly Up Tavern's Salsa Sundays—with live music too.
Takes two to tango
Isabelle and Florentino met on the dance floor at a local milonga — a place where tango aficionados gather.
They came from more strenuous dance forms — she from ballet and African dancing, he from Mexican folk dance — which were causing problems with her back and his knees.
In tango, they discovered the joys of social dancing, where, as Isabelle puts it: "He invites, she responds."
Eight years ago, they started Tango Concepts, and they've been teaching together ever since. Their newest venue is Whirl Ballroom in Flower Hill, where they offer varied levels of instruction and plenty of personal attention.
Beginners often find it hard to glide forward, backward and sideways, while maintaining perfect posture and firm, relaxed contact with their partners.
But first-timer Cynthia Hupper, was already hooked: "It's slow and elegant, and I think it's the best way to learn how to follow," she said.
Florentino thinks that's one of tango's attractions. "The man leads, the woman follows. It's about the only chance we get to do that these days."
"There's so much to learn," says intermediate student Maria Casanova. "But that's the beauty of it. I should have it down by the time I'm 180!"
For three days of total immersion, Florentino recommends the upcoming UCSD Tango Fest, which he inaugurated last year.
"It's a quick way to get started," he said. "And it's a chance to learn steps from some of the best social dancers in San Diego!"
Are you ready to get down and try hip-hop?
This unpartnered, athletic, high-attitude style with Afro-Caribbean roots hit the streets of New York City in the 1970s, but it's come a long way from home and its original homies. It's now a worldwide phenomenon, and one of the reasons is Angie Bunch, a former jazz dancer who founded Culture Shock in 1993 to start spreading hip-hop energy around.
At the Culture Shock Dance Center, she assembled a lineup of first-rate instructors, including Amanda Riggers, who's been teaching with Bunch for the past several years.
"She's my mentor, my idol," said Riggers, who also dances with Afta Shock, a troupe of older dancers who disprove the idea that hip-hop is a teenager's game. "If Angie can still do it at 50, so can I."
Culture Shock has spawned five troupes of dancers, from age 5 to about 45. They'll be showing their stuff at the JCC's Garfield Theatre in May.
But anyone can step up to hip-hop. The two classes I observed included a very-pregnant woman, another in her mid-50s, and a kid who could have been dancing in the street in the 70's — if he'd been born.
"My whole goal is diversity," Bunch said. ""There's no feeling of not fitting in. If you get in this door, you're home free."
It looked like such fun, I tried a few moves myself. The cushioned floor is user-friendly, and the beat's irresistible. You just gotta dance!
Culture Shock's Web site says: "The world would be a better place if everyone danced." Sounds good, doesn't it? "Making the world better one step at a time."
If you go
- Salsa Pasion
March 28: Salsa Sunday@The Belly Up Tavern: Free lesson at 8:30 p.m., then dance to live music till midnight.
- Tango Concepts
Isabelle Kay and Florentino Guizar
March 26-28: UCSD Tango Fest: three days, five instructors, all levels welcome.
- Culture Shock Dance Center
2110 Hancock, Suite 200
March 27: Dance 4 Haiti: Benefit for the Red Cross featuring master classes with top choreographer/teachers.