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The salsa craze is catching on

California maybe. Florida, for sure. But Latin dance in Oregon? Salsa in Ashland? Yep, there it is.

Salsa dance is taught several nights each week by Christina Cansino at the Oak Street Dance Studio, 1287 Oak Street.

The classes are growing, and the dance is catching on, even if maybe people still have misconceptions about what exactly it is.

Salsa is a Latin dance style that is found in most Latin American countries but is most prevalent in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Though Latin dance comes in many different forms such as rumba, cha cha cha and mambo, some believe them all to be Salsa. They are not.

Cansino teaches the steps and sets the record straight.

The dance teacher has been teaching her Friday evening class since September. It has started and stopped to allow new dancers to come into the class.

"Some of the dancers here are more advanced than others," she said. "Most of them are good partner dancers because we start with partner dancing. But that is not the way I would like it to go."

Cansino is trying to change the class structure.

"In this class, you learn how to understand the music," she noted. "You learn to dance on different counts as you hear the music differently. In partner dancing, you will typically learn to dance on one part of the music."

And, if you think you are going to learn the music and steps quickly, you could be in for a surprise.

"It is very technical," Cansino said. "I just got back from Cuba and it is much more improvisationally-based there. There is definite steps but they are not as rigid as we are here because they are born and raised with the music and the steps.

"I would like to see it go from a technical dance to something more creative. That way, they have the technique base but then can use improvisation to create their own movement instead of relying on an instructor."

That would help as most students, especially less versed in the dance, tend to watch the instructor rather than let the music move them.

"My background is in ballet and modern and ballet is that way," Cansino said. "But with the modern dance, I learned to listen differently to the music and to use improvisation. So I am trying to get my Salsa students to go to that place."

Cansino has a degree in physical education and in education as well as a varied background in many different dance styles. She got involved in Salsa as almost an afterthought.

"When I decided to retire from some of the other styles, I picked up Salsa as a hobby," she explained. "I traveled to San Francisco to learn and returned there and then made the recent trip to Cuba."

Just as Latin dance in general has many varieties, so does Salsa itself.

"There is a difference in which count they dance on and there is a big difference in Cuban style and what they dance in the United States," Cansino said. "And there is also a difference in Puerto Rican style."

Salsa music is supposed to move the body and the souls of the person dancing. The reasons some have trouble with picking up the dance is their inability to let go and let the music do the work.

"It is very challenging to get people to let loose, not only in their arms, but in their shoulders and hips," she said. "So I give them ideas in form movement and then I encourage them to practice alone at home to find movement that feels comfortable and true to them. If it feels contrived, that is when they will pull back."

Once you are comfortable with the music and the movement, then you are ready to go out and strut your stuff. But that time period varies from person to person.

"That depends on the individual and if they have had any prior training in another dance form or martial arts," Cansino said. "I would say that within one class you could go out and do the basic steps. You will not be doing any spins and dips but you can go out and dance.

"It is made for made for a partner although the music came first and the partner came second. People like to dance it with partners because a relationship develops there and a community developed within that they feel satisfied with."

Cansino teaches at Oak Street Dance Studio three nights per week. The Monday evening class is a preregistration semi-private small group class and Thursday evenings her classes are from 8:15 - 9:15 p.m. She is at the studio Friday evenings from 5:30-6:30 p.m. for class. She also does offer private dance instruction for beginners.

For more information or to register for a class, call Cansino at 482-1609.