A Little Salsa for the Soul

Enrique Gaitán showing me the basics of salsa

The origin of salsa has been widely debated and many cities and countries have claimed its honor, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, New York, and Miami.

But why is it called salsa? Just like the music known as merengue, the name is related to gastronomy, which makes sense because something is savored when dancing this type of music. (In Spanish, salsa means sauce and merengue is a desert made from whipped egg whites and sugar.) In that way they are names that express the happiness related to these dances.

Several sources indicate that in 1933 Ignacio Piñeiro of Cuba sang a song called “Échale salsita.”  It was he who made this phrase (literally “Put sauce on it”) so famous and it is now used for the whole musical genre. Although the song sounds more like son, the defining characteristic that makes it salsa is the trumpet.

During her shows, the late Cuban singer Celia Cruz often shouted out “¡Azúcar!” (“Sugar!”), making this word so characteristic of her passionate performances. In the same way, other Caribbean and Latin American musicians began to use different interjections to express rhythm.

Salsa is more seductive in practice than in theory, so with Christina we headed off for our first salsa class.  We arrived at the famous school Tropical Dance in northern Quito, Ecuador, where our instructor, Enrique Gaitán, was waiting for us.  Before beginning, Enrique explained that when dancing in a couple, one person has to let herself (or himself) be led.  The person who is leading has to establish good chemistry between his/her own hands and arms and his/her partner’s because they are intertwined in every movement. This makes movement of the feet and the rest of the body around the dance floor easier.

I must confess that I am not the most coordinated person, but I do like to dance.  Salsa has certain complexities that Enrique dissipated by showing Christina and me simple steps first. We started out with Cuban-style salsa, copying Enrique’s steps to warm up a bit. When he put music on, everything was different. My body was set into motion by the music it felt. It was just a question of feeling the music and repeating the steps we’d learned.

I did so many turns! I moved my arms and feet without stopping.  Undoubtedly, it is a good way to burn calories while having fun.  I like salsa, especially the kind that is for dancing. When I hear it, my mood automatically improves. It isn’t because I’m Latina – it just has to do with feeling the music.  It’s that easy.

I’ll never forget that salsa class.  When you have such an excellent instructor, like Enrique, one never wants the classes to end.

My suggestion: whenever you go out dancing, bring along a little salsa to make the party good.

Special thanks to Tropical Dance and manager Lucía Romero for letting us take our first salsa class with Enrique Gaitán, our instructor.

Tropical Dance

Address: Veracruz N37-186 and Villalengua, Quito, Ecuador
Telephone.: (+593-2) 3317-422

Photographs: Sebastián Oquendo
Animation: Miguel Díaz


Translation by M. Bjorklund


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