PUBLISHED: 4:15 PM on Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Session Break: Salsa
Juneau's big winter dance party set February 2
When you talk to first-time salsa students in Alaska it is amazing how many of them tell you that they have wanted to learn to dance for years.

My question to them: Why didn't you start sooner? Maybe it's TV, watching the pros doing flips and things like that can be intimidating.

"Salsa" means "sauce" in Spanish. How it went from sauce to describing a range of African- and jazz-influenced musical styles is up for debate. Some musicologists trace the dance form back more than half a century to Havana nightclubs. Now salsa has spread way beyond its Latin American roots to global popularity.

Aficionados gather to dance to the drum-driven beat on every continent. The most committed belong to the World Salsa Federation, which hosts salsa congresses in major cities and the annual World Salsa Championships. Last year's was held in Miami.

The best thing about salsa is that anyone can pick it up with no previous experience. Salsa may be the most fun dance to learn as it takes very little time to get to a level where you can go out on the dance floor without feeling like you're making an uncomfortable spectacle of yourself.

It's all about getting up and trying something new.

True it's a little scary to step outside of your comfort zone, but it's also very exhilarating. The words you want to aim for are: "If my friends could see me now...''

If my friends could see me following Cuban salsa steps when I've never been a dancing person. Uno, dos, tres, step. Before you know it you're a salsa dance addict, an incurable salsaholic, practicing a few hours a day with a floor mirror in your living room to watch your footsteps. You develop a metabolic need for regular polyrhythmic fixes, endless sips and spins. All right, perhaps it doesn't happen that fast, but give it a whirl.

Salsa has surged in popularity in the Capital City. It is like a tropical plant that keeps growing in every direction, blooming in wild colors. The Juneau Montessori School has held winter salsa dance extravaganzas for the past six years, and each year the party gets bigger and more fun. This year we're starting the night at 7 p.m. with auction preview, 7:30 p.m. dance performances including merengue, tango and swing-followed by a short dance lesson.

Music at the Feb. 2 event will be performed by Juneau's best-known salsa band--Salsa Borealis. We'll also have music by The Thunder Mountain Big Band. The bands play until midnight. Plus we'll have plenty of salsa, the condiment, chips and drinks; a dessert auction and other great items to win. Childcare services available on site for children who are toilet-trained. Tickets at Hearthside books or at Juneau Montessori School, 364-3535.

See you on the dance floor at Centennial Hall.