Turn Up The Heat: Salsa Dancing In Metro Detroit

Picture this: You hustle through freezing winds from your car to the doorway of the Sangria Sky Club in Royal Oak. You shake off layers of coats, sweaters, boots, and scarves, then grab a colorful cocktail as the sound of salsa music hits your ear. Suddenly the dance floor is filled with gorgeous, lithe dancers (who might not actually be gorgeous and lithe in real life) gracefully step-step-twirling their way around you. You'd love to join this momentary vacation from frigid Michigan reality, but don't know your clave from your conga.

Don't get your pantalones in a bunch: Metro Detroit is a veritable mecca of salsa resources, so that no matter your level of skill or interest, there is ample opportunity for you to let your inner salsero shine.

Metro Detroit is brimming with salsa enthusiasts, enough so that the Detroit-based website YA Salsa! is among the top 10 salsa websites in the world, according to alexa.com and salsaranking.com. YA Salsa!, which began as a humble monthly salsa social, was created six years ago as a response to what the originators saw as a sore lack of information for those who long to shimmy and shake to Latin beats.

"From the beginning our mission statement was this: 'To create an environment in which salsa dancers of all levels and styles can thrive in the Detroit area,' " explains Jamin Williams, one of the founding members of YA Salsa! and self-professed "All-Powerful Supreme Overlord of Salsa". "Our website reflected that statement by not only being a place to promote our socials but also a place for others to promote their salsa events or services as well."

On YA Salsa!, users can find regularly updated information on salsa clubs, socials, events, meet-ups, workshops, classes, and instructors, as well as interactive commentary and user reviews. It is a one-stop resource for anyone interested in salsa dancing in the area, and something that, prior to its birth in 2004, was unheard of here.

Williams was inspired to work on the website after traveling to New York, where he was first introduced to salsa dancing. "I was completely hooked on the spot! The music, the energy, the dancing…I came back to Detroit fired up and ready to get into salsa. I started looking for places to learn and dance but could not find any information about it anywhere. So a lot of the motivation in building an all-inclusive site was to save others all the frustration that they might feel when trying to find places to learn and dance salsa in this area."

YA Salsa! isn't the only website serving the underground salsa community. SalsaDetroit.com has been around for years, and along with the newly-launched MetroDetroitSalsa.com, both seek to connect budding salseros to salsa-friendly places and events, and connect members of the community.

One could assume that it is the area's Hispanic community which drives the local salsa support. One would be wrong to do so. George Gardiner, another member of YA Salsa's volunteer-based management team, clarifies: "While there can be little doubt that salsa was introduced to the Detroit area by Latinos, in my mind, salsa and the salsa culture we have here now have little to do with heritage. Instead salsa serves as a cultural bridge. Out on the dance floor, you are as likely to encounter people from Eastern Europe, Asia or simple 'Midwesterners' as you might Latinos."

If you're still convinced that salsa dancing is only for people who know what they're doing and look good doing it, stop by Sangria in Royal Oak (as Gardiner states, "Sangria is the hub of salsa in Metro Detroit.") Wednesdays and Sundays are designated salsa nights, with lessons at the beginning of the evening followed by open dance. On Thursdays, you'll enjoy salsa along with a mix of Cha-Cha, Merengue, Bachata, Reggaeton, and Top 40. By midnight on any of these nights, the windows are so heavily steamed over from the heat of dancing bodies that they drip water. The dance floor is a rainbow coalition of Metro Detroiters spinning, sliding, and tapping. If you want to experience local diversity first hand, a salsa dance floor is your best bet. Some dance with poise and grace, clearly long-time hobbyists if not professionals; others look a fierce hot mess but still have fun. You'll leave panting and soaked in sweat, and it will still be one of the best nights of your life.

"I have been dancing for almost seven years now and I really think of 'before salsa' and 'after salsa' as two completely separate lives," Gardiner says of his own passion for salsa. "The night I walked into Sangria Sky Club and heard the music, saw how much fun people were having, I realized I had to join in and make it part of my life."

It's easy to get caught up in that rush: there is a certain kind of energy that crackles in the air, a palpable life current flowing across the dance floor," says Paul Kromer, who organizes and promotes salsa events under the name "Metro Detroit Salsa" (which just launched its own website). "It's hard to explain, but it's even harder not to become addicted. You make friends fast in the salsa clubs. I've gotten to know so many wonderful people and I feel blessed. Everyone has a mutual respect for one another. Salsa is fun, sexy and the music makes you feel great!"

Salsa is also unifying. For Metro Detroiters, it's not just about showing off your sexy salsa skills in the club; it's about coming together with a shared passion and having fun.

"Detroit has an unusually 'social' salsa scene, where people stand waiting to dance and even as a newcomer you can ask people to dance and have fun at the clubs. You do not find that in a lot of places," says Gardiner. This more accessible salsa scene makes it a more inviting and enjoyable experience for everyone, no matter their skill level or experience.

Saron Dier, a 27-year-old from Novi and salsa enthusiast, comments, "What I like about the whole salsa thing is that everyone is pretty friendly, the music is awesome and there's no limit to how good you can get. I also like the diversity of the crowd as well, and the fact that everyone is there to have a good time."

Black, White, Arab, or Asian; seven or 70; engineer or artist—salsa is for everyone, and in Metro Detroit, it's everywhere.

Dance More

Feeling some of that infectious enthusiasm? Lucky for you, almost every night in Metro Detroit is a good night to salsa, and most places only charge a $5 cover (if any at all).

Try these places for starters:

*Sangria Sky Club (Royal Oak) offers salsa lessons with Duane Wren, followed by a night of salsa dancing

*Sangria Sky Club presents DJ Cisco and others with a mix of Salsa, Cha-Cha, Bachata, Merengue, Reggaeton, and Top 40
*Metro Detroit Salsa hosts weekly salsa lessons and dance at Woody's Diner (Royal Oak)
*Café Habana (Ann Arbor) offers free salsa dance instruction with Teresa Velez from 9:00-10:00PM, followed by DJ Juan Portillo spinning Salsa, Rumba, and Merengue

*Fusion Fridays at Pi Banquet Hall (Southfield) hosted by SalsaDetroit.com once a month, with beginner and intermediate classes
*Salsa lessons and dancing at Vicente's Cuban Cuisine (Detroit)

*Temptation Saturdayz at Club TV Bar and Lounge (Detroit) with DJs Cisco and Carlos Seda spinning Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Top 40, hip-hop, and Reggaeton in two separate rooms; hosted by SalsaDetroit.com
*Salsa lessons and dancing at Vicente's Cuban Cuisine (Detroit)

*Tumbao Salsa Sundays at Sangria is a two-venue event with live music from Tumbao Salsa and dancing downstairs in Sangria, and salsa lessons with DJs spinning upstairs in the Sky Club
*danceRevolution Dance Studio (Ann Arbor) hosts salsa dance parties the first and third Sundays of every month
*YA Salsa's popular and well-attended salsa socials are held the fourth Sunday of every month at the American Legion Post 346 in Farmington.

Learn More

If you've already outgrown the beginners' lessons offered in the clubs, or are just simply looking to get real serious about salsa, Dier has a few recommendations:

"I learned though Laura Geldys [of J. Mac Studios]. She is an EXCELLENT teacher. Not only a great follower, but a great leader as well. I'd try to heap praise, but my shovel here isn't big enough."

Dier also recommends Duane Wrenn of Energetic Soul, who teaches the beginner lessons at Sangria on Wednesdays.

Rich Jaramillo also receives recognition as one of the top instructors in the area.

Hear More

And if you are as intrigued by the music as you are by the dance (like Dier, who claims he is a "junky for live instrumentation"), then there are several local salsa acts worth checking out. Gardiner recommends Tumbao Salsa, Groupo Escobar, and Orquesta La Inspiracion – "…each is very unique. Tumbao Salsa focuses on the Latin Jazz and Puerto Rican side and Escobar delivers a high-energy show rooted in Cuban Timba. Inspiracion probably has the most diverse sound, including a lot of Puerto Rican and Cuban folkloric sounds." 

Before long you'll be caught up in the sexy Latin rhythms, pulse pounding to the music, step-step-twirling your way around the dance floor like those lithe dancers you once envied, not caring how you look doing it and knowing only the feeling of love, of life.

Nicole Rupersburg has got some impressive moves of her own. She likes Detroit, eating, and writing her blog diningindetroit.blogspot.com. Her prevoius article for Metromode was Little Vietnam In Madison Heights.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


Salsa every Sunday night at Sangria - Royal Oak