Globe Article: "Salsa for Gringos"

One, two, cha-cha-cha

By Cindy Rodriguez, Globe Staff, 07/04/2002

Beyond the dancers twirling and gyrating to the sultry sound of salsa music,
there are always the sideliners - the people standing nervously at the bar,
hoping that if they down enough martinis they'll be able to get their groove
on. Then, there are those who always say they want to learn salsa, but never
set foot in a club because they lack that all important "salsa gene."

For all the wallflowers and wanna-be salsa dancers, Olaf Bleck has created
a solution: A class called Salsa for Gringos. It will run 8 to 9 p.m., starting
Thursday, July 11, at Sophia's. He describes the class as a hands-on version
of "Salsa for Dummies." As a lanky, blond-haired, blue-eyed man of German
ancestry, Bleck always thought of himself as rhythmically challenged. But five
years ago, he became enraptured by the salsa scene. He's taken dozens of
classes, and is still learning. But he says he's living proof that anyone can
learn salsa.

"Everyone says white men can't dance," Bleck said with a laugh. "Learning to
move your body to music isn't something that comes naturally to everybody.
Some people have it and some people don't. But it can be learned."

Bleck, an electrical engineering consultant who edits the popular website, said this will be the first full-fledged salsa class he's
taught. He's taught engineering classes, and filled in for other teachers of
beginning salsa. In a way, he says, coming to teach the class as a newbie
teacher will be helpful for those intimidated by dance classes.

He'll keep it simple, focusing on basic dance steps and learning to dance to
the beat of the music. "Salsa has a syncopated rhythm, so it means that for
every eight counts of music there are only six counts of dancing. If you don't
learn to pause, you wind up dancing too fast." Bleck said that's when
dancers start feeling like they're not doing well, and the dancing gets

Though the class will be called Salsa for Gringos, the term gringo is used
euphemistically. He expects people of all ethniticites - Haitians, Indians,
Arabs, Chinese, and even Latinos - will take the class.

The class will be held every Thursday and costs $5, which includes entrance
to the club. Sophia's is an upscale, yet unpretentious spot - you're as likely
rub elbows with an immigrant dishwasher as you are with an MBA. The
dance floor here is the great equalizer: your degree, or pedigree, for that
matter, means nothing here. The die-hards come with one mission: to dance.
At the bar, they're more likely to buy bottled water than gin-and-tonics.

Taking a cue from Latin-American culture, women dress in sexy outfits, men
in dress shirts, slacks and buffed shoes. Occasionally, a man will show up in
a polo shirt and onlookers will cringe. That sort of faux pas is the equivalent
of wearing sneakers to church. But unlike clubs like Pravda, the regulars at
Sophia's couldn't care less if you're wearing Prada.

"I find the salsa scene to be very unpretentious. People first and foremost go
to dance, not necessarily to meet people," Bleck said. "That's why it's so
inviting. Salsa clubs are not like your typical clubs where it's about what you
look like and who you are going to pick up."