Making the most of Cambridge's amazing salsa scene

Plus a story of how I went from ballet to salsa
Oct 2019
Carmen
M.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

Thankfully, life at MIT as a grad student is not ALL about research. For me, one of the greatest breaks from lab is dancing. Growing up, classical ballet was part of my daily routine. Classical ballet requires physical resilience, a focused mind, and musicality, but above all, it requires discipline. I soon learned that I should never be late to class, or forget my hairpins, or stop practicing until those pirouettes were just right. Discipline is something that definitely shaped me growing up, making me resilient to adversities and helping me power through tough times.

After finishing high school, I moved from a small city in Spain to London, a city of over 8 million people. I soon realized that the time to keep up my lifelong hobby was just no longer there. Classical ballet requires many hours of training. More importantly, having a supportive teacher and a group of friends certainly had always been key to my development as a dancer. Neither the time nor the support structure seemed to be at hand in this massive and busy metropolis.

Even though I continued to take ballet classes throughout my undergraduate degree, I also decided to adventure into other dancing styles that would allow me to continue to share my joy for music and dance. My university had a very active Salsa Club, so I decided to give it a try, and I absolutely LOVED it!

To my surprise, my classical ballet technique was tremendously helpful: the body coordination, posture, and musicality that I had developed over the years all helped me quickly pick up my salsa skills. I started taking lessons weekly and soon became comfortable enough to try my very first salsa bar. For those that are not familiar with salsa: in contrast to many other dancing styles like ballet, salsa is all about improvisation and socializing.

Traditionally, salsa is danced with a partner, with the guy taking the lead and the girl following. In a social setting, guys will ask girls — whom they don’t necessarily know — out to dance and start improvising a routine. What is best, this actually WORKS! You can successfully pull out a beautiful routine with someone who you have just met without knowing anything about the steps going through his/her mind. This made salsa mind-blowing to me and quickly hooked me. Moreover, salsa was a fun way to explore body movements that were far beyond the scope of classical ballet and to meet new people! With the add-on of vivid Latin music!

As you can imagine, since then salsa has become an important part of my life, and for this reason, when I was admitted to MIT, I did my due diligence to find out more about the salsa scene in Cambridge. Fortunately, the area has a lot to offer regardless of whether you are an absolute beginner, an amateur, or a professional. Here is exactly what you need to know about salsa in Cambridge and at MIT.

At MIT

MIT Casino Rueda: “Cuban style salsa for everyone”  - This is certainly a secret gem! MIT Casino Rueda is a super fun student-run group specializing in Rueda de Casino, where pairs dance in a circle and all follow the calls from a single lead. This style incorporates many Afro-Cuban moves and is great to both watch and participate in. The group offers classes for all levels and also has an advanced salsa team for those who want to take this hobby to competition level. In the summer they organize “Salsa in the Park” sessions where they dance outdoors (completely free to attend). Would definitely recommend!!

MIT Salsa Club: This group, in my experience, is less active but claims to be a place for MIT students, staff, and affiliates to learn and practice salsa (and bachata) together; worth checking out!

Classes

Several dance companies offer salsa classes, as well as performance opportunities in the Cambridge area. If you are a beginner, this would be a great place to start. No experience or partner is required for the lessons. You just need to show up, and you will swap partners multiple times during the class.

I have tried Salsa y Control first-hand, and I would definitely recommend them. They offer easy-to-follow instructions with good emphasis on leading tricks for guys and styling for girls. Even though their main site is in Allston, Boston, they also offer classes at Jose Mateo Ballet School close to Harvard Square!

Rumba y Timbal Dance Company and The Dance Complex are both right in Central. The former offers an ample range of specialized classes in Salsa, Bachata, and other unique Latin Dances, and similarly to Salsa y Control, they also have their own performance teams. The Dance Complex brings together all dance styles, and, of course, this includes salsa. Teachers from different schools choose to teach some of their classes here so it is a nice one if you want to get a taste of different styles.

Social Dancing

Havana Club:  The go-to place for social dancing in Cambridge is undoubtedly Havana Club. Located in Green Street, just off Central, Havana offers 1h classes every day of the week for Bachata or Salsa at beginner and intermediate level, followed by a night of social dancing. This is a great place to practice your moves; it offers great music, as well as a welcoming and fun environment. All levels are welcome and the class also helps beginners get warmed up, so no excuses here! The catch: some nights are 21+ only, and there is a cover of up to $10 cash only.

In sum, Cambridge, and specifically Central, certainly has an unusually high number of places to salsa and accommodates ALL levels — so why not give it a try?