Salacha Night!

Salacha Night!

By Anisa Siddikova

Every Monday from 7PM-10PM it is Salsa and Bachata Night at Iggy’s. Located just a 10-minute walk from Hunter College, is a popular destination for social dancing, attracting people from all over New York City (except Staten Island). Social dancing refers to a type of dancing that is performed in a social setting, such as parties, clubs, weddings, or dance events. It involves individuals or couples dancing together for enjoyment, self-expression, and to interact with others. Social dancing encompasses a wide range of dance styles, each with its own unique characteristics and cultural influences. In this project, I decided to focus on some of the popular social dance styles in NYC social events including salsa and bachata. Both salsa and bachata have various fundamental styles that are distinguished by their regional origins and influences. Therefore, I was curious to see the effect of the style of social dance taught on the attitude and behavior of the people participating. Are they more involved and participating in bachata over salsa? Are people more keen to dance traditional bachata over modern bachata etc. To find out, I went down to Iggy’s Bar, unsuspiciously sat down in the corner, and observed 2 classes taught by the instructor who I had the chance to interview at the end. 

Salsa originates from Cuba. Salsa is a lively and energetic dance style that incorporates elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Latin American music. It is typically danced with a partner in a close embrace and involves intricate footwork, turns, and syncopated movements. The styles of salsa dances taught varied every week. On the days that I attended, I observed Colombian Salsa and Salsa On 2, also known as New York Salsa. On both occasions, it was announced in advance in the Salsa/Bachata NYC Whatsapp group chat, so I took into account that people already had a choice about whether they wanted to attend and learn that specific dance which would also affect engagement. According to the instructor, the typical number of participants is about 30 per week. On the day of Colombian Salsa, there were 28 people and on the day of NY salsa there were 24 people (it was raining a little that day so it could have affected the number of people that came in). Although more people showed up for Colombian Salsa, less people were willing to stay after the instruction concluded to practice. I also observed that during the instruction of the Colombian Salsa, more people seemed to be struggling with the choreography. Colombian salsa, also known as “Cali-style” salsa, is a vibrant and energetic dance style that originated in Cali, Colombia.² It is characterized by its fast footwork and intricate patterns compared to NY Salsa. Therefore, in the “practicing hour” where everyone is free to practice dancing or socialize etc, there were less people dancing.  There could be several reasons why some people may be less likely to dance a certain dance style besides skill level. When I interviewed the instructor about this he said how cultural familiarity can be at play. Certain hard dance styles, such as Colombian salsa, may be more prevalent in specific regions or communities. People who are not exposed to or immersed in those cultures may be less familiar with the dance style and therefore less inclined to participate. That could explain why many people sat down after the class simply to talk to each other. I also believe since this is afterall a bar, they could have attended more for socialization instead of engaging in dancing. Therefore, mastering the dance is not as much of a priority for them as people who regularly come to the social dance. 

Originating from the Dominican Republic, Bachata is a sensual and romantic dance style. It features hip movements, close partner connection, and intricate footwork. Bachata music has gained popularity worldwide, and the dance style has evolved to incorporate modern and urban influences. The bachata styles that I observed being taught are Traditional Bachata, Modern, and Sensual. Traditional bachata is characterized by its slow tempo, heartfelt lyrics, and intimate connection between the partners with an emphasis on body isolations and hip movements. Modern bachata is a contemporary evolution of the traditional style. It incorporates influences from other dance styles such as salsa, tango, and hip-hop. Modern bachata often has a faster tempo and includes turns, spins, and more complex hand movement patterns. Lastly, Bachata Sensual focuses on body movements, body waves, and fluid partner connections. The style emphasizes interpretation of the music and emotional connection between partners so the instructor tries to incorporate more dips, body rolls, and other dramatic movements into the dance. Compared to salsa nights, there were a few extra people participating in bachata night as well as a couple of new people as the instructor pointed out to me in the interview. Compared to salsa sensual and traditional, there were much less people dancing bachata sensual. However the people that were dancing it seemed much more experienced with many added turns and tricks. When I asked the instructor why only a few people were willing to participate in Bachata Sensual compared to the others, he said “Depending on the dance style, more or less physical contact with a partner may be required. For some individuals, especially those who are not accustomed to physical touch or have personal boundaries, it can feel uncomfortable or awkward. That is why I try to stick to teaching traditional Bachata and only when I notice a class with ‘old faces’ you know the familiar faces, then I teach the Sensual Bachata.” Overall, Social dancing provides a platform for people to connect, express themselves, and enjoy the rhythm and music together.

New York City is a vibrant hub for salsa dancing and nightlife. There are numerous salsa clubs and venues where you can enjoy dancing and live music just like Iggy’s. Salsa/mambo dancing is highly influenced by cross-cultural and musical exchanges between Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. In fact, according to Mambo Montage The Latinization of New York On 2 salsa/mambo is increasingly directed at the urban middle class, to whom most On 2 clubs and classes cater. It is also mentioned that some instructors are trying to change things by teaching in schools for students with low incomes and by hoping to start a scholarship program one day.³ This seemed very similar to the instructor’s stance on why he makes his classes free/donations. He mentioned how these free dance classes provide access to cultural dance to everyone and promote inclusivity. By eliminating financial barriers, individuals from all backgrounds can participate and learn about different cultural dances. This not only fosters a sense of community within NYC but also helps preserve and share cultural traditions.

In conclusion, New York City is a global cultural center with a significant influence on dance. With doing this project, I learned about the people in NYC participating in this social dance and how people typically engage in a variety of behaviors and interactions. It was interesting to see the gender distribution among the people participating as well as the distance they lived from the bar to be there that night and the demographics. I did not include these since they did not relate back to my thesis and there was no way that I could confirm these without interviewing every participant. However, with everything I did observe, I can conclude Iggy’s Bar attracts a diverse crowd of dance enthusiasts. People from various age groups, backgrounds, and skill levels come together to enjoy the social dancing experience. Both salsa and bachata have various fundamental styles that are distinguished by their regional origins and influences and regardless of engagement of the participants.