‘Just so much fun’: Pitt’s salsa club spices up students’ Sundays

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Image courtesy of Pitt Salsa Club

Members of Pitt’s salsa club practice in room 501 in the William Pitt Union.

By Sarah Demchak, For The Pitt News

About 40 salsa dancers can be found in room 501 in the William Pitt Union on Sunday afternoons, moving in a fast series of patterns and spins. They work individually and in pairs, swiftly gliding across the room.

Pitt’s salsa club offers these dance classes every Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The first hour consists of a lesson-based class — learning basic steps for different dance styles other than salsa, such as bachata and cha-cha. The second hour focuses on the club’s dance team, where they practice a choreographed routine. Both hours are open to non-experienced members.

Alex Marcks, the club’s president, did not have any dance experience when she joined the club her first year. According to Marcks, the club creates an inclusive atmosphere where anyone can join — no special dance shoes, dance partner or salsa experience necessary. She said everyone learns and dances together with the help of their two professional instructors, Agustin Garcia and Nicolette Garcia-Pawlowski.

Garcia-Pawlowski said salsa’s impact resonates with the members even after they graduate from Pitt, and they often return to visit the club years later.

“When we do teams, we really see people building and growing steadily throughout the whole semester, and a lot of them stick around,” Garcia-Pawlowski said. “Even after they graduate, they come back to come dancing at our socials, so it’s just amazing to see how the dance really affects people and, for a lot of them, sticks with them.”

Garcia-Pawlowski, co-owner of Los Sabrosos Dance Company, encouraged all students to move their bodies and take a break from their busy, work-filled Sundays. She said inexperienced dancers should join even if they’re unfamiliar with salsa.

“No one is born walking. No one is born dancing,” Garcia-Pawlowski said. “When anyone starts out, every single person feels crazy and strange and weird when they start dancing initially — and that’s normal.”

Along with their weekly practices, the salsa club hosts other special events. In the past, they coordinated with other Latinx groups on campus to hold a joint dance club meeting with food, drinks and dancing in the O’Hara Student Center. According to Marcks, the club intends to host more collaborative events to allow people from different organizations to interact and connect. 

The club currently participates in open salsa nights at Los Sabrosos every first and third Saturday of the month. Marcks said these interactions aid in becoming more well-rounded in the salsa dance style.

“A lot of times, people from the club and I will go down for that, which is fun because you get to dance with strangers from around Pittsburgh or people that dance at their studio and have been dancing a long time,” Marcks said. “So you get to learn new things from that as well.”

In the future, the salsa club is looking to advance its dance team with competitions outside of Pittsburgh. Currently, the team performs their choreographed routine with formal outfits and some partnered dancing at the end of the semester, at both Los Sabrosos and on campus in the O’Hara Ballroom.

To choreograph the team’s routine, Garcia-Pawlowski breaks the chosen song into chunks — focusing on various aspects of the music. She also listens to the song on repeat while driving, watches other dancers’ choreographies and refers to fellow instructors’ choreography-related ideas to gain inspiration for her routines.

Dayon Ketchens, a junior double majoring in German language and cultural studies and linguistics, said he was initially nervous about joining the club, but encouraged others to ignore those feelings, because of how happy he was after he joined.

“Just do it, honestly,” Ketchens said. “I was skeptical too. I didn’t want to dance with people. I didn’t want to touch people. I thought it was going to be awkward. But it is so much fun. It’s a tight-knit community that we have.”

Ketchens said members don’t have to be at every practice to join the club. People can pick and choose which weeks they want to attend, with recurring and new faces each Sunday.

Marcks said this flexibility allows members to obtain the stress reliever on whichever Sunday they need it most. She said it helps her refresh her mind to continue working on homework from the morning.

“It’s a very good stress reliever and it’s just so much fun, you can’t be upset and salsa dance at the same time — it’s the serotonin boost you need,” Marcks said. “You’re fresh of mind to go back and do your work.”

Garcia-Pawlowski said the music’s energy greatly helps students accomplish their busy work-filled schedules.

“There’s something about the music, there’s something about the energy of people that it makes you feel you have,” Garcia-Pawlowski said. “Even for that one hour, a great mental break from everything to be able to jump right back into the craziness of school work.”

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