Stepping, shaking, turning, spinning. Latin dance is alive at Ryerson. PHOTO: MAUREEN RICE

This ain’t no Macarena

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By Maureen Rice 

There’s something spicy near the crossroads of Church and Gould Streets. 

It’s the hot Latin dance moves students are learning at Ryerson.

The moves take shape in the form of salsa, merengue, cha-cha, rumba, mambo and various Latin ballroom dances.

Latin American of Students Association of Ryerson (LASAR) put on the lessons at Oakham House.

“You can chill out, relax for a while, and learn how to dance,” says Joaquin Martinez of LASAR.

LASAR’s lessons are at Oakham every Monday and Wednesday from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.  At $2 a lesson or $15 for the semester the classes are a popular draw.

Hamzat Braimo, also of LASAR, estimates participation has tripled this year.  The lessons started out last year as a pilot project and the good response kept the classes going.

Braimo says it was the Mambo Kings CD he bought got him interested.

“It was really strong and it got to me,” he says.  “It’s music to get hooked to.”

A friend, who learned of his Mambo Kings interest, brought him to the LASAR dance lessons.

Braimo says his first steps were chaotic.

“It was just a bunch of swollen toes.  I stepped on everyone ‘cause I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

Braimo is more coordinated now.

He can thank 32-year-old instructor Miguel Gutierrez for that.  Gutierrez has been Latin dancing for six years and began teaching at Oakham House last year.

He now hits the Latin club circuit almost every night, and encourages his students to as well.

Gutierrez goes around from student to student at the lessons, perfecting their steps.  His humour melts away any traces of nervousness.

“Ow!” yelps Denis McCann, while trying out his steps.

But it’s not a yelp of pain.  It’s a Michael Jackson “Owww!”

The fourth-year civil engineering student is in a groove with dance partner, and roommate, Wendy Kenrick.

But the groove doesn’t last long.

Gutierrez makes people switch partners about every four dances in order to prepare them for the clubs.

But Terence Fernandes, a third-year mechanical engineering student, isn’t ready to hit the clubs.  He got hooked on Latin dancing at LASAR’s Halloween Fiesta and came to his first lesson last Wednesday.

“It’s exciting, it’s a new experience for me, and fun,” said Fernandes who’s background is Indian.  “This is a whole different culture than I’m used to.  In our culture than I’m used to.  In our culture we’re very subdued, we don’t do things like that.”

Bhavna Kaushal was first introduced to Latin culture when she went to Mexico last summer as an exchange student.  Latin dance was a welcome change.

Now the Mexican exchange students are here and her interest hasn’t gone away.

Kaushal took them to Latin club Babaluu located on Yorkville Avenue.

“They can all dance very well,” she says.  “Looking at them, you want to learn, too.”

Kaushal says she was forced to take jive lessons as a child.  She says she has more fun at the LASAR dance lessons because she’s taking them on her own.

Even experienced dancer Carlos Baruco finds the lessons worthwhile.  “I did learn some new things,” says the second-year mechanical engineering student.

Oakham is just one of two places students can take Latin dancing on campus.  At the Recreation and Athletics Centre (RAC), lessons take a more studious approach.

Full-time students pay $40 for eight salsa classes that run weekly in the roomy RAC Studio.  This fall, the classes were booked solid.

Instructor Michele Louis Duggan enhances the Latin dance technique with video and choreographing expertise.

She encourages everyone to move their hips freely, to roll their shoulders, to walk with a sensuous rhythm and to stand with good posture.  She also gives her students background to the dances they learn.

“The idea of crossroads is very big in Latin culture and dance,” says Duggan.  In dance the crossroads translates itself into a sideways, forward, and back step, and takes dancers north, east, south and west.

In each of those directions you’ll find a large Latin influence, says Duggan.

And Ryerson’s at the crossroads of it.  Just go to the corner of Church and Gould and find out.

Karen Robb, in her first year of post-diploma nursing, finds the RAC’s salsa lessons relaxing.  She first saw ads for the lessons when she went on a RAC tour in the summer.

At the beginning of the year she signed up with a friend.

“It’s a good break when you study, study, study,” says Robb.  “It’s exercise without the boredom of aerobics.”

Robb plans to take the next set of lessons offered by the RAC next semester.

And though he’s graduating, Denis McCann is going to continue Latin dancing as well.  “If I can do it, I’m saying anyone can.”

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