Salsa dancing craze sweeps across C-U

Sam and Nori Komorita of Champaign look on as David Lin, the owner and dance instructor at The Regent Ballroom in Savoy, demonstrates a salsa step with Nancy Bamnann of Lincoln, Ill. Friday night at The Regent. Lauren Lenkowski

Sam and Nori Komorita of Champaign look on as David Lin, the owner and dance instructor at The Regent Ballroom in Savoy, demonstrates a salsa step with Nancy Bamnann of Lincoln, Ill. Friday night at The Regent. Lauren Lenkowski

By Megan Anderson

Hot pink and red lights illuminate couples as they move on the dance floor. Hips sway, feet turn and heads dip to rhythmic, fast-paced music that flows from one song into the next. Although salsa dancing is not new to Champaign-Urbana, it has recently exploded in popularity with local nightclubs hosting salsa nights and campus organizations offering lessons.

“Salsa is an active scene right now,” said John Stone, a University employee. “You can go six nights a week.”

Stone said he started salsa dancing after he took and enjoyed several workshops offered by the Dancing Illini. The upbeat music is what first appealed to him.

“Half the dance is the feel of the music,” he said.

Stone said he also enjoys salsa because it is good exercise, and it exposes him to other cultures.

Although he has attended salsa nights at the nightclub Cowboy Monkey, located at 6 E. Taylor St. in Champaign, for the past three months, Stone said his favorite place to dance is at the Regent Ballroom. Calling itself the best salsa dance in town, the Regent Ballroom, at 1406 Regency Dr. in Savoy, has offered salsa dancing for ten years, said manager David Lin.

The Regent’s salsa night is not their most popular, Lin said, but it is still very successful. Lin said salsa has definitely become more popular in Champaign.

“Up to a year ago, we were the only place that offered it,” he said. “Now you can go every night.”

While the Regent offers salsa lessons, Lin said the majority of people who come to dance have already learned salsa from their families.

Megan Daxenbichler, freshman in LAS, was one such student who came with friends to the Regent to salsa. Although it was her first night at the Regent, Daxenbichler, whose mother is Mexican, said she has danced before at family gatherings.

Daxenbichler said she has never learned the correct way to salsa, but she likes the music and thinks it is a faster dance than others.

Melissa Skinner, a fifth-year senior at Illinois State University, also comes to the Regent to salsa. Skinner has been dancing for a year and a half since a friend from Honduras introduced her to salsa.

Skinner said she thinks salsa is becoming more popular partly because of word of mouth. Also, Skinner said ISU students are encouraged by teachers to learn salsa because dance lessons can count for class credit. ÿ

At the University of Illinois, students can take lessons from several organizations. Yuri Sohn has been a salsa instructor for four years, and he currently teaches at the McKinley Foundation, 809 S. Fifth St., Champaign. Lessons will begin on Fridays starting Sept. 7.

Sohn learned to salsa eight years ago after he went to several weddings where people were salsa dancing, he said.

“I got addicted and started dancing five to seven nights a week,” Sohn said.

In addition to salsa, Sohn also does swing, ballroom and tango dancing, which all have different energies, he said. Sohn described salsa as vibrant, sexy and lively.

Sohn said he loves salsa because of its international flavor and the diversity of people that do it. He said salsa has gotten more popular over the last couple of years.

“The fact that it has a Latino base and an energetic, enjoyable type of music draws people,” he said.