“Uno, dos, tres!” the teacher shouts, moving his feet and swinging his hips as students’ eyes shift left and right trying to predict his next step.
This isn’t your ordinary class full of desks where you ask for permission to stand up; in salsa class, it’s mandatory. Students practice alone and in pairs sweating their dance shoes off for two hours a night, all with the goal of finding their own rhythm and making their presence felt at the local discotheque.
The Latin dance that attributes its roots to Caribbean nations and dates back to the 1950s and ’60s is now a worldwide sensation, and there’s no better time to learn it than now.
Gertrude Jansen, a schoolteacher from the Netherlands who now lives in Costa Rica with her family, has been taking salsa classes for more than a year. She goes two nights a week to the Merecumbé dance school’s Escazú branch, in the southwestern San José suburb, and says her only regret is that she can’t come more often.
“It’s so much fun,” she says. “I love the energy.”
Jansen says that when she was a girl she always dreamed of being a ballerina. Her life took a different track, but she says getting back into dancing for pleasure has helped her rediscover herself in some ways. Now she goes out dancing with her classmates, and
says the benefits of learning salsa have ranged from more exercise to getting better acquainted with Tico culture.
Her instructor is Sergio Acuña, a Costa Rican with 10 years of salsa teaching under his belt. He says salsa is his favorite kind of music for many reasons, but most of all because of the emotions it evokes. Most of the songs are joyous, with some sad ones as well, but they can always make a listener want to dance.
“Someone with problems can always feel better while dancing,” he says.
Acuña says practicing dance such as salsa is a hobby highly recommended by doctors because of the physical activity it provides. The most incredible quality the dance offers is that it mixes exercise with socializing, says Acuña, adding that life is more carefree when you know how to dance.
Jansen is one of the few foreigners in Acuña’s class. She says she thinks many foreigners want to learn how to dance, but are either too busy or have trouble keeping up with it for a long time. Jansen acknowledges that her own attendance is limited because of work and family, but making time for the classes has enriched her life in Costa Rica.
Acuña says most foreigners prefer paying by the hour for private classes because often they’re travelers on the go. Private classes cost about $20 an hour, but taking two-hour classes twice weekly for a month costs only $25.
Merecumbé’s main office is in the eastern suburb of San Pedro (224-3531), with locations in the western district of Pavas; the northern district of Tibás; Heredia, north of San José; and Alajuela and San Ramón, northwest of the capital. It also has schools in the north-central Costa Rica town of San Carlos and Pérez Zeledón, in the Southern Zone.
Academia de Baile Popular Malecón (226-9415), in Plaza Víquez in San José, and Kinesis Academia de Baile (440-0852) in Alajuela also offer salsa classes.
Anyone looking to take classes now has a shot at some extra practice with the Costa Rican Salsa Festival under way. The first event took place in San Antonio de Belén, northwest of San José. A second is set for Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. at Salón El Lago in Grecia, west of the capital, and the final event will be Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. at Fiesta Latina Discotheque in El Pueblo, in San José’s Barrio Tournón.