Salsa dancing gives growing crowds fun way to meet friends

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CAMBRIDGE – Couples paired off on the dance floor Saturday night as instructor Liliana Jimenez shouted out some moves.

“You always want to cha-cha-cha before your next step – one, two, three and four, cha-cha-cha,” Jimenez showed her students.

Located in the Rumba Y Timal dance studio near Central Square, the class prepared for a night of dancing, socializing and lively performances.

“The important part is that I go home and I feel better,” said Roberto Figueroa, the artistic director of Rumba Y Timbal, about the Latin dance form. “It’s good to clean your mind.”

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As part of an annual fundraiser for St. Jude’s Pediatric Cancer Research, salsa dancers from around the Hub came together to dance, watch, and donate to the children’s hospital. This year, the third annual event raised about $3,500. The amount reflects the rising popularity of the Latin dance form in the Hub.

The Boston salsa community took root years ago when a group of dancers performed together as a team. Now, a few decades later, many of those performers have created their own dance studios in the Boston area, drawing students from non-Hispanic communities, especially among the thousands of graduate students who live in the Athens of America.

“A lot don’t understand the lyrics but they love it,” said Franklin Condori, the disc jockey for Rumba Y Timbal.

Some like Jayce Cheng, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, see the activity as a way to meet new people while improving their dance style.

“You can just jump right in – it’s very welcoming,” Cheng said on Saturday. He added that there is typically a diverse crowd at salsa dances, with a lot of people from Boston mingling in a joyous social setting. “It’s very metropolitan.”

Usually salsa dances draw people with varying abilities, but people are willing to help each other out amid the friendly atmosphere, Cheng said.

The dance events have grown in popularity in the area. Rumba Y Timbal’s Figueroa, who opened his studio nine years ago, said his first class had three students. Today, he lists 180. The surge in popularity stems partly from the emergence of television shows like “Dancing with the Stars” but also from promotional events featuring dancers in parks and other public spaces.

Others attribute the rise in interest to the nature of the dance itself, and possibly its function as a fun way to exercise.

“It’s mind, body and soul in many ways,” said Andres Giraldo from Salsa Y Control dance company in Allston, “That’s why it’s popular.”

Dances are interactive social events for grownups that attract many single people or those looking for new friends.

“I already married six couples,” Figueroa said with a laugh. “This year I broke my record of three.”

Stepping up from social events, many local salsa students have gone on to perform, including some talented kids. Partners Liza Frumkin, 10, and Joshua Ginzburg, 12, say salsa dancing has become a huge part of their lives.

“They are quite sassy and spicy,” said Rumba Y Timal’s Jimenez, their salsa instructor. She noted they have shown exceptional ability, too. Recently, the pair won a U.S. national dance competition in ballroom dancing in J1 Latin Standard and 10 Dance after training at ILTA Studio in Framingham.

“I always put on social media that dance is not a sport – it’s life,” Frumkin said on Saturday. “I can’t live without dance.”

Together, the pair believe that they will keep friendships made along the way. Ginzburg added, “We work very hard and I love the sport.”

Whether you are new to salsa or have been dancing the Latin way all your life, salsa provides a fun, healthy activity that brings people together from widely different backgrounds.

“The more you go, you realize the same people continue to go out and you get to know them,” dancer Ângela Crespo said on Saturday. “I have a very solid group of friends now.”

To learn more about the salsa community and to find classes visit