A holiday celebration of dance and culture
BY: MAGGIE ROTH STAFF WRITER
Face to face with their partners, the members of Azucar, Mason’s salsa club, stood in a circle under flashing lights and moved to the sounds of the lively music rattling from the speakers. “When we step, we step together,” their instructor said.
The dancers – donning Halloween costumes ranging from princesses to pirates – improvised and personalized the dancing as they moved across the dance floor. They always seemed to move in sync with each other, forming a visual harmony that synthesized with the sound of the music.
Azucar’s annual Halloween Fiesta — held Saturday, Oct. 26, in the Johnson Center Bistro — was the first of the group’s larger social events this year, according to Lucia Sepulveda, a senior integrative studies major and the treasurer of the Azucar Salsa club.
“Our fiestas are a bigger event where we can all come together,” Sepulveda said. “It’s to connect with each other, to dance, to have a moment to relax with each other.”
The event began at 8 p.m. with a workshop led by instructor Gustavo Ramallo. Then, the floor opened up for the dancers to maneuver freely. Throughout the night, students either danced with a partner or joined in a r ueda, a large group dance circle where participants step and move around each other in synchronization.
The differences in the dance styles seen on the floor can be attributed to the different classes offered by Azucar. Sepulveda explained that classes are offered in both Cuban Casino and Miami styles, each with stylistic differences. The Cuban Casino style is based in partner work, while Miami style orients the dancers in a circle, allowing them to interact with the other dancers around them.
The lessons and practices are free to students. They allow the Mason community to try out the different styles of salsa that can cater to anyone from absolute beginners to trained dancers.
Lauren White, a sophomore at Mason and the co-public relations officer of Azucar, began her time with the club last year with no salsa dancing experience. White said that she immediately fell in love with it and has been a part of the club ever since.
“It’s a really supportive community, it’s a learning environment,” White said. “It’s really cool seeing someone start from the very beginning and then advancing to where we are now.”
Salsa has its roots in Cuban and African cultures, with a wide range of diversity found throughout the different styles and regions. Beyond the technical aspects of learning a new dance, the salsa club provides a place where students can grow as people through improved self-confidence and cultural awareness.
“It’s about fusing a Spanish father and an African mother,” Ramallo said. “If you can’t show that, you’ll never feel comfortable dancing because you haven’t actually learned the roots. We spend a lot of time talking about the African roots, about Afro-Cuban dance. There’s a lot of history to this that we have to make sure you guys know, or else it’s just appropriation.”
Sepulvenda agreed with Ramallo.
“I come from a Hispanic background, so I can get in touch with more Hispanic culture and start feeling more comfortable in myself,” Sepulveda said. “I’ve really started building my self-confidence — as a dancer, but also within myself.”