Ballroom dancing class connects participants with Latin culture

People gather to dance and socialize at the first Latin dance class of the winter semester offered by the MUN Ballroom and Latin Dance Club.

Dance instructor Jim Russell teaches Cuban salsa at the MUN Ballroom and Latin Dance Club in St. John's.
Dance instructor Jim Russell teaches Cuban salsa at the MUN Ballroom and Latin Dance Club in St. John’s. Gema Pazmino/Kicker

Gema Pazmino

Laughter and music filled the ground floor of the St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, where around 30 people gathered for a Cuban salsa dance class.

The class was offered by the MUN Ballroom and Latin Dance Club, which resumed its classes for the winter semester on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Rebecca Snook, a MUN student who has helped run the club since May 2023, says the dance classes have helped her grow a lot in the eight months she has been involved.

“It’s done so much for speaking, my confidence, just everything as a whole,” said Snook.

The classes not only sparked her interest in dancing but also in Latin American culture. Snook said she started learning Spanish and listening to more Latin music after enrolling in the class.

Some of those attending on Tuesday were completely new to the club while others were attending for the second or third time.

A table with paper and pens was placed for the attendees to write on and wear name tags.

Guided by the music and a recorded voice that counted their steps – one, two, three; five, six, seven – the dancers gathered in a circle and were constantly exchanging partners throughout the class.

Dance students follow Russell's steps with salsa music on the background.
Dance students follow the rhythm of salsa music and a dance instructor’s steps at a recent salsa class held at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, near Memorial University in St. John’s. Gema Pazmino/Kicker

This gave everyone a chance to meet each other without resorting to small talk.

“We speak another language, body language,” said the instructor Jim Russell.

Russell has been teaching ballroom and Latin dance in this club since 2003. He explained that dancing and socializing go hand in hand, referring to it as “social ballroom.”

Cuban salsa is not the only dance style offered in the classes. Other forms include bachata and merengue, which originated in the Dominican Republic, and tango, which developed in Argentina.

Bachata and tango are dance styles that require both parties to dance very closely together. Snook explained how for the classes this is not case since the club aims to make everyone comfortable and prioritize the social aspect of the club.

In addition to latin dances, the club offers other ballroom formats such as waltzes and foxtrots.

“We speak another language, body language.”

Jim Russell, dance instructor

The classes, which happen every Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., range in levels from beginner to advanced. Dancing experience is not required.

Despite the club being run by MUN students, it is not exclusive to students, and everyone is invited to register.

There is no age limit either. Russell mentioned the oldest students in the class are 92 and 93 years-old.

Carlos Aguirre, a Memorial University student from Colombia, attended the dance class for the first time on Tuesday.

Aguirre is familiar with salsa; however, he said it was challenging since it was his first time learning Cuban salsa. There are other forms such as Puerto Rican salsa.

Aguirre said one of the main reasons that motivated him to join was the opportunity to meet new people.

He added how it was a chance to try new things, while doing something that made him feel closer to his homeland.

“It feels good,” Aguirre said. “Feels a little bit like being back home.”

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