Salsa: A spicy Is­raeli com­mu­nity straps on its danc­ing shoes

Tens of thou­sands in Is­rael dance at the many Latin dance clubs each week

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - LEISURE - • TAMAR BEERI

Latin dance, as a trend, has come over the world like a tidal wave. In Is­rael, salsa has turned into a tsunami. Salsa dance orig­i­nated in Cuba as a part­ner dance with African roots and quickly spread and de­vel­oped in Los An­ge­les and New York. From there, dance schools popped up on all sides of the world. For the past 20 years, the salsa craze in Is­rael is one of the strong­est in the world.

The for­mat for salsa in Is­rael is sim­ple: At the be­gin­ning of a salsa even­ing, the party-go­ers are split up into lev­els, usu­ally on a scale of one to five. Af­ter a one-hour les­son with a trained in­struc­tor, a salsa party be­gins in which each per­son can ask the other to dance. These par­ties con­tinue deep into the night and some­times into the early hours of the morn­ing.

Salsa has cre­ated a tightly knit group of peo­ple, each dance group in­ter­wo­ven with an­other, who spend most of their nights to­gether on dif­fer­ent dance floors through­out the coun­try. Tal Luria, a salsa stu­dent for eight months in Tel Aviv, said that “sur­pris­ingly, danc­ing fades into the back­ground be­cause you make so many friends when you dance that you end up go­ing out out­side of the dance world, thanks to dance as a plat­form.

“I ex­pected to see a closed group of peo­ple, but ev­ery­one here is so open,” Luria said. “Ev­ery­one wants to help one an­other and make them feel good about them­selves, and they re­ceive that same treat­ment right back.”

“The so­cial as­pect in salsa is mag­i­cal and pulling,” said Ha­gai Goren, a salsa in­struc­tor for 12 years and the man­ager of Cap­i­tal Latina, a salsa school in Jerusalem. “There is touch, a cer­tain level of in­ti­macy be­tween two peo­ple who may or may not know any­thing about one an­other. That cre­ates a very spe­cial at­mos­phere that doesn’t ex­ist any­where else.”

Si­van Gets, a salsa dancer for al­most a year, said that she dived head­first into the salsa com­mu­nity. “I be­came ad­dicted first and fore­most to the com­mu­nity. There’s a feel­ing of love all around. I came and be­gan to learn. Then I be­came ad­dicted to the dance.”

Or Felus, a dancer for 16 years and an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Is­raeli salsa teacher, told the story of meet­ing his best friend to this day on the dance floor 15 years ago.

“We both fell in love with the dance,” he said. “Now, so many years later, we are still so close. Other than him, I met many friends and ro­man­tic part­ners through salsa.”

“Peo­ple come to dance and make some kind of con­nec­tion be­fore even start­ing to con­verse,” Felus ex­plained. “The sec­ond you come to salsa, you have some­thing in com­mon, you have a topic of con­ver­sa­tion.”

“One day I came to a salsa party and the teacher told me, ‘Any­one here will dance with you, all you have to do is ask,’” Goren said. “I in­vited the best dancer on the floor to dance with me and she ac­cepted. Since then, I stopped go­ing any­where else.”

Many as­pects of the dance, apart from the so­cial con­nec­tion, ini­tially pull peo­ple in. “In reg­u­lar dance clubs, it’s all about com­pe­ti­tion,” Luria said. “In salsa, ev­ery­one is help­ing one an­other. My teacher in Stu­dio Be You, Liron, would stay with me af­ter the les­son for hours to give me ev­ery­thing I need to feel con­fi­dent in my danc­ing. I de­vel­oped that con­nec­tion to her and the place, and then this be­came my ‘home club.’”

Amir Raver, the man­ager of Stu­dio Be You in Tel Aviv and dancer for more than 20 years, ex­plained that “Is­raelis love to suc­ceed.”

“Ev­ery time some­thing is easy for Is­raelis, they love it. That’s why they love Latin dance so much. I stayed be­cause I was good at it, and I love what I’m good at and I hate what I’m bad at. It gave me self-re­spect,” he said.

Gets con­firmed Raver’s the­ory – she stayed when she re­al­ized that she “is suc­ceed­ing.” “I see [Stu­dio Be You] as my fam­ily and I come be­cause it is ther­a­peu­tic for me. I see my­self suc­ceed­ing and it makes me want to come back,” she said.

“Is­raelis, for all their lives, have to deal with a mess all around them. They are al­ways in sur­vival mode, which means they must suc­ceed. In Latin coun­tries, the peo­ple live in that same sur­vival mode with that same need to suc­ceed, and so we are at­tracted to the same dance that they cre­ated,” Raver said.

Felus’s point of view was quite the op­po­site, hav­ing fallen in love with how dif­fer­ent salsa was.

“I fell in love with the en­tire new feel­ing of part­ner danc­ing, which was com­pletely for­eign to me,” he said.

“I just wanted to dance,” Goren ex­plained about his be­gin­nings in salsa. “I came to clubs and tried to dance with girls, but they thought I was flirt­ing with them. I tried to dance with boys, but they thought I was gay. Salsa is ad­dic­tive in the self-ex­pres­sion of the act. Some­thing you can’t find at any reg­u­lar club.”

“There aren’t many nor­mal peo­ple in salsa,” Goren con­tin­ued. “We’re mostly a bunch of weirdos who, in a way, ex­posed the lie in the main­stream party scene. There isn’t much of a false façade any­where in salsa. We’re all spe­cial peo­ple who aren’t led by so­cial norms.”

Felus ex­plained that the peo­ple in salsa “are nicer than in other places.”

“Peo­ple who are vi­o­lent look for clubs to get drunk and start a fight,” he said. “Peo­ple come to salsa from the very be­gin­ning to learn to dance. Many groups in Is­rael give salsa to the pub­lic for free. This al­lows any­one to come, see the peo­ple, hear the mu­sic, and fall in love.”

Felus was talk­ing about Me­dia Noche, a group with rep­re­sen­ta­tion in most higher ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties in Is­rael that meet once a week for a free even­ing of salsa.

Mai Ganon, an in­struc­tor in Me­dia Noche Tel Aviv (“Menta” for short), stated that the prin­ci­ples of Menta, which are “those who know teach those who don’t,” and “if you don’t do, it won’t hap­pen” are build­ing blocks for a safe space for new and old dancers wish­ing to form a com­fort­able so­cial con­tract.

Ganon, who has been danc­ing for six years, also or­ga­nizes Cuban salsa fes­ti­vals in Is­rael. “Right now, in Is­rael, if you want to grow and de­velop [as a dancer], you must travel abroad. Work­ing on a fes­ti­val in Is­rael al­lowed me to bring ev­ery­thing I saw in my dance lessons abroad to Is­rael.”

Ganon ex­plained that although fes­ti­vals are a place for growth, “the fact that [Menta] doesn’t re­volve around money cre­ates an at­mos­phere of fun and sim­plic­ity.”

Is­raelis, de­spite many strug­gles, have man­aged to rise to the top of the Latin dance world and lead in the dance’s so­cial at­mos­phere and tech­nique, and are tak­ing over the in­ter­na­tional salsa com­mu­nity by storm with some of the best dancers in the world.

FALL­ING IN love with the dance: Learn­ing the Latin dance Bachata.

(Pho­tos: As­saf Bellili)

IN TEL AVIV: Ha­gai Goren dances salsa.

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