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Craze for Latin moves spices up dance landscape.
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 27, 2013
It’s an old saying that those who can’t do, teach.
Put a salsa beat on your stereo, and Jake and Ourdia Hodge will prove that wrong.
On a recent Friday night at the Center for the Arts, the couple were the driving force in a room full of dancers stepping, spinning and mostly smiling
A beginner and intermediate class had just ended, and students and teachers took advantage of the free time to try out what they’d learned.
Some clearly knew the same moves, needing barely a touch to send them through the step patterns.
Others stumbled halfway through a step and burst into self-deprecating laughter.
And some did a little of both.
Another set of dancers filed in, ready for the advanced class that would start in a few minutes.
The Friday night group, a new addition to Dancers’ Workshop’s adult program offerings, is the result of four years of work and evangelizing on the part of the Hodges, both of whom are longtime salsa enthusiasts.
The couple met and married in Jackson, a town where you’re more likely to find a climbing buddy than a dance partner, unless you’re into country swing.
While a few people danced and even occasionally taught — like Zumba instructor Liz Martinez — there weren’t that many people who stuck with it, they said, and there really weren’t opportunities to try the moves in the real world.
“We decided this place has everything that we want except salsa,” Jake Hodge said. “So rather than move, we decided to build a salsa community so it would have everything we want.”
As the couple traveled throughout 2008 and 2009, they danced wherever they went but with a new focus: learning how to teach the moves they learned, Hodge said.
During their years building up their own teaching abilities, they brought in professional dancers they met while traveling to lead workshops and help them hone their own technique.
Kirsten Klein, a snowboard instructor at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and owner of her own bookkeeping business, is living proof that their efforts are beginning to pay off.
Klein got on board with one of the first attempts the Hodges made to recruit new partners, a 2010 workshop at Dancers’ Workshop.
“I never knew what salsa was like, but I wanted to know how to do it,” she said. “I was waiting for a salsa class to pop up, and when it did I just jumped on it.”
Now, Klein is one of five or six students who lead an intermediate circle of dancers, or a roueda, while the Hodges focus on newcomers and higher-level students.
Klein also is a perennial face when the group coordinates to dance and support Latin bands and Latin dance nights throughout Jackson Hole, something she said has become more and more common as the group has grown.
That main change, she said, is that, with the scene growing, there are venues for dancing.
“It used to be, ‘Let’s go to someone’s house and play [online radio site] Pandora,’” she said. “Now we can even get restaurants to let us put on some salsa music and kind of take over, or even go someplace where someone else is doing the music.”
The group has organized dances at the Rose, at Cafe Boheme and on the roof of 43 North, Klein said. The group also makes trips to Latino nights at Cutty’s Bar and Grill and Eleanor’s and makes a point of going to dance when the area’s primary Latin band, Calle Mambo, plays a show in town.
Local interest in Latin music and dance has only grown in recent years, said Chris Smith, bandleader for Calle Mambo.
Smith and his bandmates were just getting started around the time the Hodges moved to Jackson Hole. Drummer Don Gronberg even taught and danced salsa with the Hodges briefly, though he stopped not long into their quest for partners, the couple said.
As the crowds at Calle Mambo shows grow, so does the number of people who go to listen and to dance, Smith said.
The valley still lags behind others cities Calle Mambo plays, particularly Denver, but Smith said he feels there is a lot of interest in Latin music and dancing that is only beginning to catch fire.
“What I’ve seen is just the excitement in learning the steps and some great people to build on it,” he said. “Boy, that really helps get the energy up at our shows.”
The Latino Resource Center hopes to tap into that interest to help bring Anglo and Latino residents together, Executive Director Sonia Capece said.
The nonprofit’s major fundraiser this spring, a Cinco de Mayo celebration, will feature a salsa instructor and salsa party, she said.
Along with the flashy styling and beats, salsa dancing offers a great way to share Latino culture without running into language and socioeconomic barriers, she said.
“We decided to do salsa because there is this momentum around it in the larger community,” Capece said. “We’re very excited that not only are people getting to enjoy what really is a fun dance, but that through that they’re getting to know their neighbors.”
Capece was in the valley for a few earlier false starts from others at building a salsa community, and she said she is excited to see this one gaining staying power.
“I thought it was kind of over a few times, because you had people doing it move away, but it has become bigger and more popular now, and more people are getting interested in dancing salsa,” she said.
Gabrielle Edwards, a recent Jackson Hole transplant from Phoenix, said she is one of those people.
She learned to dance salsa in college and kept it up at clubs in the Phoenix area, where there is a large ballroom and salsa community, but she said she expected to put that on hold while she indulged her passion for mountaineering.
“It seemed to me like there were a lot of people who liked to dance, but it was a lot more cowboy-type dancing,” she said. “Salsa is just so much fun, so I was really sad to give it up. I’m stoked I won’t have to quit.”
Now that the Hodges’ group has grown to about 200 people — though not everyone shows up to every class or event — they are hoping to branch out into more styles of salsa, Jake Hodge said.
He and his wife currently focus on dancing in rouedas, where dancers do the steps and periodically switch partners around a circle.
“We were hoping to get to that kind of critical mass,” Hodge said. “We’re kind of there, so it would be really great to think of different ways to expand what we do and what we teach.”