Salsa Night teaches students historical culture through dance

Geneseo Late Knight and the Spanish Club teamed up to host a “Salsa and Salsa” party to teach traditional Hispanic dances and spread an appreciation of the culture. (Elizabeth Jacobs/Staff Photographer)

Geneseo’s Spanish Club gathered at the Knight Spot to celebrate their culture with a “Salsa and Salsa” party on Saturday Feb. 4. Featuring traditional dance lessons, a DJ and snacks, the club gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their Spanish dance skills. 

“Last semester, we asked [Spanish Club] members what four things they wanted to see happen this spring,” Spanish Club co-president and Spanish and education double major senior Leinni Mejia said. “They wanted to learn more dances.”

With roots dating back to Eastern Cuba around 1920, salsa is a social dance particularly popular in New York. Salsa embodies Latin American influences, particularly from the Afro-Cuban and Cuban Son traditions. Mejia said that she emphasized the Spanish Club’s mission to foreground common cultural practices and traditions, which students might otherwise miss while away at college. 

“In Caribbean countries, the salsa dance carries a lot of history,” Meija said. “We are trying to transmit [this history] through multiple generations.” 

To assist the e-board in their planning, Geneseo Late Knight graduate assistant Molly Cole provided club members with her supervision and guidance. Cole chose three dances for the students to learn: salsa, vachata and merengue. Although not professional dancers, Geneseo area coordinator Christopher Rivera and his girlfriend Jess McCallops volunteered to lead participants in learning the night’s dance routines.  

Once the participants followed Rivera and McCallops’ instruction, the dancers—accessorized with Hawaiian leis and roses—independently danced to traditional Spanish music. When they needed a break from the night’s rigorous activity, dancers could enjoy the tortilla chips and salsa served by the e-board members and the Geneseo Late Knight staff on the sidelines of the makeshift dance floor. 

Holding bi-weekly meetings, La Casa Hispanica—the Spanish Club—unites students who share an interest in learning more about and celebrating both the Spanish language and culture. To explain the club’s mission, e-board members math and Spanish double major junior Marisol Fernandez Huerta and Spanish and education double major senior Katherine McCormack spoke of the members’ dynamic interests.

“We want people to enjoy the language and the culture,” McCormack and Fernandez said. “By learning more about both, they can have a greater appreciation for both.” 

As a Spanish exchange student from Moncellier, France, English and Arabic double major senior Lucia Gonzalez relates personally and reiterated the importance of cultural organizations like La Casa Hispanica at Geneseo. 

“We meet up and talk about the culture because it provides a way for students to have opportunities for celebration in such a small town,” Gonzalez said.