The 10 couples spun and stepped in rhythm as the salsa music poured out of speakers at Newberry Music Hall in downtown Saratoga Springs.
“Five, six, seven, cross body lead,” called out Felix Ortiz, as the couples switched direction.
This was the intermediate salsa class held at the club every Friday night. Ortiz was its instructor. Across the dance floor was the beginner class led by Johnny Martinez. Both instructors are part of Tango Fusion Dance Company, a local studio that Martinez runs along with Diane Lachtrupp, who also teaches a variety of dance styles. At the end of the session, Martinez and Lachtrupp gave a salsa demonstration of what the evening’s pupils could aspire to. A party then followed.
The Friday “Latin night” event was typical of what people who enjoy the social dancing scene enjoy. On many nights and some days of every week, one or another studio or venue is either giving a class or is devoting an evening to some type of dance whether it’s swing, salsa, contra, line, or tango, among others.
“There’s always an ebb and flow, but right now there’s an uptick in swing dancing in the last couple of months,” said Dave Wolf of Saratoga Savoy and the organizer of the Diamond Dance held every third Friday of the month on the third floor of Saratoga Springs’ city hall.
Wolf attributes this interest not to the popularity of the television shows like “Dancing with the Stars” but that people simply want to dance and meet people. Most classes and even the monthly big events don’t require partners as rotating partners is the norm.
“Social dancing is people going dancing because they want to dance with someone vs. watching someone dance or doing competitive dancing,” he said.
‘Over the top’
Jim Apicella, who owns and runs Danceland in Latham, agreed.
“Those television shows are over the top,” he said. “They’re entertainment.”
That the dancers have to pay a choreographer to create a dance, they must also spend money on costumes and have to rehearse to get the routines down. For social dancing, a reasonable cover charge takes care of everything and unlike competitive dancing, there’s little stress because no one is grading the dancers on their abilities.
For instance, Apicella said, just recently he offered a class in line dancing, in which everyone forms lines and does the same steps. Seventy five people showed up and it had been a very cold night. That large a number even surprised him.
“Usually we get about 40 people,” he said.
While ballroom, which includes the waltz, is also big at Danceland, Lachtrupp said she’s noticed that swing and tango are currently especially strong with more swing nights being offered in clubs that had never had much dancing. Except for big swing nights like Wolf’s Diamond Dance that has a live band, most use a disc jockey with recorded music. Swing is more than a lindy or jitterbug.
“There’s east coast and west coast swing,” Lachtrupp said. “East coast is a circular style, faster tempo to hopeful music like the jitterbug. West coast is more rhythm and blues, a slower tempo with steps that go back and forth.”
“Swing has a huge variety of sounds,” he said.
But tango is equally popular and there are differences here, too. There’s Argentine tango, like what they dance in the clubs in Buenos Aires, and the more contemporary tango. Sherrie Lyons knows the difference. She’s been a tango fan for years and has traveled to Buenos Aries three times to dance in the local clubs. Almost four years ago she organized a tango night called a Milonga for the first Saturday of each month held at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady’s Stockade.
“We usually get up to thirty people,” Lyons said. “It’s an intimate space but it’s like the funky places in Buenos Aires. We transform the place with flowers, candles and tango artwork.”
The focus here is Argentine tango, which Lyons said was like giving your partner a hug and then walking together. Beginners are always welcome but Lyons warns that learning to dance to this sensual, exotic music could take over your life.
“Tango people will drive anywhere to dance. They’re crazy,” she said.
Besides making friends, social dancing can help with weight loss, a person’s state of mind and provide some unexpected perks for the athlete in you.
“I work with high school soccer and lacrosse teams,” Lachtrupp said. “I do Latin with the lacrosse teams and hip hop with the soccer teams. It helps with their footwork.”
This story is only a sampler of some of what is out there, but dance fans know that attending one event will lead to other venues not mentioned here. These include the annual Dance Flurry scheduled for Feb. 16-18 in Saratoga Springs and the new monthly dances at the Jazz Bar run by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.