What Latin phenomenon combines sex appeal with cultural tradition, gets parties grooving, and makes your thighs burn? No, not Ricky Martin.
It's the salsa, and it's spicing up Sunday nights in Tempe and proving that the Valley's club scene isn't as segregated as is commonly thought. Hundreds of young people Latinos, Anglos, blacks pour into the Bash on Ash for its weekly Salsa Night.
According to ASU dance instructor Brenda Smith, the event originated in spring 2000 to encourage her students to practice their Latin dance skills. "Now everyone comes from the salsa community," she says.
While Salsa Night attracts a good number of masterful movers, novices need not be shy. Smith kicks off the evening with an hourlong group lesson to introduce beginners to the basics. "I almost always start with the merengue," she explains. "It's the easiest footwork, so men, with the most difficult part leading don't have to worry so much what their feet are doing. Sometimes I teach cha-cha or bachata, and the later portion of the lesson, I always teach salsa."
As the lesson winds down, the crowd begins to congregate, and the packed dance floor pulsates until closing time. How does Smith explain the wild popularity of Latin dance among non-Latinos? "I think the large population of Latinos in our community have a great influence on their non-Latino friends," she says, adding that the event provides a comfortable environment for meeting new people.
First-time participant Brandy Goodell agrees: "The salsa class was a great chance to learn the basics and then get inspiration from all the experts who showed up after the lesson. It's usually difficult to get such a diverse mix of people open to learning and helping others."
"It's a good time for a small price," adds Henry Kwan, another first-timer. "You can strut your stuff or simply enjoy the pleasure of watching some really smooth operators."
Bash on Ash, 230 West Fifth Street in Tempe, hosts Salsa Night every Sunday (except in the event of a prescheduled concert; call 480-966-8200 or see www.bashonash.com for a weekly calendar). Doors open at 7:30 p.m., with lessons from 8 to 9 p.m. and open dancing until 1 a.m. Admission is $5. Ages 18 and over.