Spicing it up with salsa
Addis Ababa is no stranger to salsa and other Latino ballroom dance steps including Bachata, merengue and cha-cha-cha. Almost every night of the week is tinted with Salsa dancing nights. Sunday Salsa nights at club Bailamos and Fridays at Echo Lounge are among the most prominent ones, Meheret-Selassie Mokonnen explores the salsa scene in town.
Patoranking – a Nigerian reggae-dancehall singer and songwriter – and Mafikizolo, a South African duo consisting of Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, were among the African stars who lined up to perform at the African Music and Cultural Exchange Festival (AMCEF) commemorating the annual Africa Day.
The event which took place few months ago at Ghion Hotel was sort of a continental networking occasion. Nevertheless, the main event was not the act that stole the show. By far, it was a group of children dancing in a circle which grabbed the audience’s attention.
It was not that they were professional dancers; the kids were amateurs, who were merely mimicking dance teachers from Bailamos – one of the Latin dance clubs in Addis Ababa. The free and innocent spirit that comes with their age gave the group the energy to dance to non-stop African and Latin beats. The audience couldn’t help but gather around the kids to watch them learn the ABCs of dancing – especially salsa dancing.
The festival might have brought forth amateur salsa dancers, but the city is no stranger to salsa and other Latino ballroom dance steps including Bachata, merengue and cha-cha-cha. Almost every night of the week is tinted with Salsa dancing nights. Salsa nights every Sunday at club Bailamos and every Friday at Echo lounge are among the most prominent ones.
Apparently, there is a ‘salsa circle’ in town, consisting of youth in fancy outfits and seek out one of the most intimate dance style known to man – salsa. It takes months of training before the dancers learn even the basic move, which they improve as time goes by.
“Step back with the left, step with right foot in place; left closes next to right, step back with your right; step with left foot in place…” and the training goes on and on. After the lesson, the spinning and all those captivating dance moves continue to take place.
Yonas Sisay, 26, a promoter, is one of the salsa enthusiasts in town. He took six-month training at Ethiosalsa, a dance school practicing at club Bailamos. It has been five years since he finished the training and he is always hunting salsa-related events.
“I enjoy every move. Since I am passionate about salsa and I have a flexible body, I was quick to grab the steps,” he states. He started with three-month basic dance lesson and moved on to the advanced stage. Some of his classmates joined the school to become professional dancers while others used salsa to stay healthy and fit.
After he was done with the training, he kept in touch with the other trainees and gave freelance lessons for beginners. “Bailamos hosts salsa nights which gives us a chance to practice our moves. In addition, we get to teach new comers and also practice new moves,” he explains.
Various hotels plan Valentines’ Day night-outs which comprise salsa dancing. Dancers like Yonas use such annual events to show their skills and possibly attract couples to learn salsa. He is now getting ready for a Valentine’s Day dance show at Nexus Hotel. The way he puts it, “Salsa is a romantic dance which adds color to Valentine’s Day celebration. Whenever there are events for couples, our group would jump at the responsibility to be a part of them.”
He usually surfs the web in search of salsa moves he can teach himself. There are dancers from his batch who are now participating in events held in Cuban and other Latin American embassies’ in Addis Ababa.
The 21-year-old Eyerusalem Tilahun studied construction but she is more passionate about salsa than construction. She says, “I love dances of all kind but I truly adore salsa.” For her, the rhythm of the songs added with the intimacy is a blissful experience. She dances hip hop and African aside from salsa, however, it is salsa that takes her breath away.
“Before learning the steps for couples’ dances, I took time to study the basic moves which are practiced individually. Since I had always been into dancing, I didn’t find it difficult to master the moves,” Eyerusalem remembers. She never misses a salsa night at Bailamos or at Alem building.
There are lots of salsa lovers like her, who makes an appearance in every salsa party in town. They know the place and time of each event and they make sure to show up with or without a partner. “I don’t mind going alone to a salsa night because I know I would find someone as passionate as me on the dance floor,” she stresses.
For her, salsa is ‘a kind of addiction’ she doesn’t want to give up. Each and every time she comes across a new move, she approaches her male dancer friends, since they have to lead, to learn how to execute the moves. She notices the number of dance schools is increasing from time to time and she believes it is due to the growing interest in salsa and other modern dance styles.
BLatino, Ethiosalsa and BailAmor are few of the dance training studios aside from gymnasiums and clubs such as Juventus Sport Club that has a dedicated section for dance lessons. It has been four years since four dancers formed BaliAmore. They came together when they danced with a Cuban salsa trainer giving dance lessons in Addis Ababa, twenty years ago.
“When we started off, we only had six students,” remembers one of the teachers, Melat Mebratu. The dancers decided to host New Year’s and Valentine’s Day salsa nights to get people acquainted with the style. It took them years to get 35 students per class. They have taught over 2,500 dancers over the years. Some of whom ended up opening their own dance schools.
According to Melat, they focus on various Latino and African dance styles. Most of the styles originated in Africa and they have gained a wider popularity across the world. The four teachers participate in salsa and Bachata festivals including those held in New York and Dubai. “Many people can’t relate Ethiopia with salsa dancing. This is why we are trying to blend salsa with Ethiopian traditional dances,” she points.
By mixing Ethiopian traditional dance moves with salsa, they hope to gain the kind of acceptance contemporary dance and hip hop has gained in Ethiopia. They also expect to promote Ethiopian traditional dance moves alongside with salsa.
“Some people are convinced that salsa is foreign to the Ethiopian culture while in fact the style had an African origin all along,” she explains. One of the reasons they focus on training youngsters is to cultivate the dance culture. She believes the dance is designed in such a way that it boosts women’s confidence and teaches men to be more caring.
Melat explains that with the growing number of schools, dancers have access to salsa nights. “Each school has a dance night besides training; therefore students from any school have access to salsa all week long,” she affirms. They have students who are a couple, friends or relatives or those training for a wedding.
It is not only dancers who attend the dance nights but people who enjoy watching salsa congest the venues too. Some people start out as weight loss exercise but they end up being one of the best dancers. For some others, salsa is a modest way to spend time and entertain.
Melat and her friends are also active in charity, organizing events to give lesson for various causes other than dancing. They volunteer at a nongovernmental organization known as Sile Enat. With such activities they hope to raise people’s awareness about the dance.
Johnson Seifu Weldesilassie, founder of Ethiosalsa School, has taught over 2,000 students in his school and also at Alem gym and Juventus dance studios. For Johnson, salsa is more than just a dance, he says; in addition to the social and cultural side of the dance it benefits for a healthy life and dynamic romantic relationships is also quite important.
Be it salsa, lambada or any other dance style, he wants his students to use the classes for networking. “Before the lesson, my students sign a piece of paper that says they are required to help one another using the profession each of them acquired,” he explains. He had students who are doctors, accountants and journalist by day and salsa gurus by night.
Every six months, the school hosts a huge graduation party for the students. The trainees are supposed to help out when there are new students. “We are one big, happy family. Everyone keeps in touch after the dance lessons,” the teacher mentions.
They have retreats every three months and a salsa night every week. Most of the students are inspired by such dance nights. The school has strong ties with Cuban, Argentinian, Venezuelan and other embassies, who show an immense interest in the dance lessons.
So far, there have been 14 batches of students who took dance lessons. They pay 250 birr every month and there are students ranging from 19 to 55 years of age. After graduation, the students perform at various events, mainly for Valentine’s Day. Previously, they have performed at Hawassa and Shashemene towns.
“There are a lot of people who want to learn salsa and the number of schools is growing to satisfy this need,” he points. He has taught US embassy and African Union delegates, which indicated the growing demand for the dance.
The dancer encourages volunteer activates aside from the dance. His students have been involved in different charity events in the past. He says they are on a process to host a fund raiser event for Mekedonia in the near future.
Abyssinia Arts and Modeling school gives modern dance lessons in hip hop, twist, raga and salsa. The founder and director, Genet Kebede, says that the teachers and students will be examined as a part of the government’s scheme to evaluate skills. According to her a new curriculum has been formulated which will be implemented by all dance schools.
She says: “Having a unified curriculum and getting a certificate changes a lot in the sector.” She believes students will have a chance to pursue the dancing carrier aside from people who learn for personal pleasure.