Most Cedar Rapidian’s interactions with salsa comes at the edge of a tortilla chip, but on Wednesday nights at Cocktails and Company it means something different to some.
For the past few months, roughly 30 people have gathered at the northeast side bar every week to vibe and jive to the Latin rhythms of Edwin Alvarado’s music.
“Cocktails and Company is the only place (in Cedar Rapids) that’s provides free salsa lessons and free salsa dancing entertainment,” said Alvarado, a native of Honduras, who moved the free salsa nights to Cocktails and Company after its previous venue, Spy Bar in Marion, closed.
Alvorado’s salsa nights aren’t the only outlet available for locals seeking salsa. Alvorado has also hosted a Latin dance night at La Cantina in downtown Cedar Rapids. Another area group, Baile Latino, teaches salsa lessons at CSPS for $10 each Sunday. They are currently on hiatus until Labor Day.
If you’re more intrigued by the Tango, there are weekly classes every Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Gatherings, 905 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids. The class will run from 7 to 8 p.m., followed by practice until 9:30 p.m. Cost for the class will be $5 per person.
Theatre Cedar Rapids is jumping on the bandwagon Friday (6/8), with a salsa night at the Iowa Theatre. Tickets are $12 and includes margaritas, chips and salsa dancing taught by L.D. Kidd.
“The salsa community are people who are really deeply involved in the salsa growth in the city, so anytime we have new people join in the salsa, they are welcome,” he said. “We do our best to make them feel comfortable so that they come back.”
The comfort level is built through the first hour of each night. The group starts with a basic lesson, and builds up to more advanced steps before letting everyone loose to dance to Alvarado’s music.
“One two three, five six seven,” Ken Hegwood stood in the center of a circle of eager faces, counting out the steps, his hand on the waist of his partner.
“You always get a mix, with it being free,” the 43-year-old instructor says. “You have some people who have been here before, but if you notice at the end I do advanced lessons, to keep people who know how do dance always coming back.”
Hegwood’s style of teaching requires each person to rotate frequently; something he says makes for a more inviting community.
“People don’t have to say to themselves, ‘I don’t have a partner,’ because there are enough people here willing to dance with you,” he says. “And you do not have to worry about people getting in fights, because that is just part of the salsa culture, you dance.”
For co-workers Cindy Ries and Rhonda Shoemaker, the chance to learn while being part of a growing community has kept them coming back for the past nine weeks.
“I like how you get different partners, and can see what different people do. You are not with one person all the time,” Shoemaker said. “I am married, and my husband doesn’t really like to dance, so I would never force him to do it, but there are enough people out in the community who do like to dance, so it is really cool.”
Mixing something exciting with an inviting atmosphere was exactly what Angie Dahl, the owner of Cocktails and Company wanted when she reached out to Alvarado a few months ago.
“Almost anyone growing up in Iowa would be intimidated by going out and dancing salsa with a bunch of people who are Hispanic and have that background, but this gives you that way in,” she said. “You have the instructor there and people in the same boat as you, because they know you are a beginner.”
Dahl said growth in interest has been slow and steady, but the popularity of salsa night lead Cocktails and Company to expand the venue’s dance floor.
And whether it is a growth in floor space or community interest, Alvarado said he doesn’t think interest salsa in Cedar Rapids is going to cool down anytime soon.
“I believe as the community continues to grow, it also becomes a little bit more diverse,” he said. “And as these places like Cocktails and Company hold salsa night, I think we are on the right track.”
– Max Freund