On Friday, August 24th, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the African, Latin, Asian and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA) opened the year with a high-energy night of salsa dance lessons, followed by a general dance party. Organized by the new Director of the ALANA Cultural Center, Thomas Cruz-Soto, the night marked his first four weeks on the job. It was a complete success and heralds a bright year for ALANA events on campus.
ALANA had a number of reasons for hosting the salsa dance event.
“Our objective is to kick off the year and to assist the needs of first-years,” Cruz-Soto said. “Beyond that, to provide a nice variety of events for all the students at Colgate. Tonight is also an introduction to Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th through October 15th, and this is a kickoff to that.”
Cruz-Soto also spoke about his vision for ALANA in the coming year: “ALANA historically, it’s been a place of refuge. This year, I want to make it more inclusive to the rest of campus and produce a true sense of multiculturalism. There is a lot of possibilities here and I hope to have a real good time, because it’s for [the students]. We’re just excited. I hope this weekend kicks off a great year for all the students at Colgate.”
Cruz-Soto taught the salsa workshop along with his girlfriend, Rria Castillo. He is a veteran of nine years of dancing. The lessons began by seperating the male and female students present into different groups and teaching them the basics, counting off the beats as the dancers learned the front and back basic steps. After everyone had the basic steps down, partner work began; the partners were kept in constant rotation, so that everyone got experience dancing with partners of multiple skill levels.
“Neither of us can dance,” first-year Paige Cross said while on the floor. “But we decided to try it anyway, and it’s really fun.”
“It’s really cool,” first-year Eugene Riordan said. “I really enjoy it, just trying to experience the new dance music that I’ve never really heard before.”
As the session progressed, steps became surer and the festive celebration continued to expand; new students continued to join the group. In order for the newcomers to be able to participate, Cruz-Soto led a series of basics workshops in one section of the room, while Castillo continued to expand upon the fundamentals. She demonstrated more complicated turns and cross-body leads.
“I thought the night and the opportunity were amazing,” sophomore Adedoyin Omidiran said. “It was fun and at the same time, educating. I never thought I would learn to dance salsa.”
Omidiran was not alone in her evaluation of the event.
“It’s a great way to interact with everyone else and just break the ice,” first-year Helen Balut said during the event. “I’m having a blast.”
The lesson formally ended right after 10 p.m., but the dancing had just begun. Salsa and meringue music continued to play. Dancers constantly flowed onto the dance floor, taking breaks to rehydrate or partake of the light refreshments. The participants were so eager that there was no room for bystanders on the floor; it was dancing room only. Later in the night, the music became more contemporary. The enthusiasm, however, remained unchanged.
“I felt that Friday’s salsa and dance event was a wonderful and refreshing way to not only teach the Colgate community [about] the wonderful world of salsa and enjoy a great dance party but it also introduced the Center in an innovative way,” said senior Courtney Richardson in a statement given after the event. “By holding two events in one night ALANA benefited tremendously in attracting people from all walks of life and that is what ALANA is about, bringing differences together through unity and celebration. The amazing success of the event is bound to be a reflection of what everyone can expect from ALANA and its staff in the coming year!”