Salsa that isn't just gochujang

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Photo by Sam Mardini
Photo by Sam Mardini

Salsa that isn't just gochujang

by: Sam Mardini | .
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com) | .
published: April 15, 2015

Fourteen years ago when I started dancing Salsa, the idea that I’d one day be hosting a Salsa community in Korea would be as crazy as a man riding a horse singing about a ritzy neighborhood in Seoul.  But here we are, the Korea International Salsa Site (KISS): a group that was created to bring Koreans and Expats together in their love of Salsa dancing.

The popularity of Salsa dancing stems from its many benefits. It’s a great escape from our daily stresses and routine. A night of social dancing can also mean plenty of exercise while meeting lots of new people.  It doesn’t require any fancy clothes, people dress casual & just want to have fun. Salsa can be romantic, playful, sexy, or full of attitude depending on the song. As a potential salsero or salsera (salsa dancer), you could instantly connect with a salsa community in any city worldwide!

Seoul has the biggest Salsa scene in Asia, far surpassing Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and not to mention most cities in Europe and North America. On any given weekend there are many Salsa clubs in Hongdae and Gangnam filled with Koreans dancing late into the early morning.  On Saturdays alone, Club “Turn” in Gangnam averages over 500 salsa dancers throughout the night. On Fridays Club “Bonita” in Hongdae has around 400 dancers, and then there are the smaller clubs attracting 75-150 people each. These are all trained dancers, and this is happening in Korea of all places!  This was quite a shocking find for me and as an avid Salsero I suddenly found myself in paradise!

However, I would often be the only foreigner at these clubs; obviously still a hidden jewel from the Expat community with 99% participants being Korean dancers – but man can they dance!  My salsa friends visiting from overseas were always shocked by this, often asking how the dance could be so popular in a city so far from the Caribbean and NYC where salsa dancing emerged. The answer to that could be explained in a whole other article but suffice to say the Korean work ethic carries over to their hobbies: when they learn something, they want to master it!

In light of all this, the KISS initiative was put together by Sara Rose (USA), Willman Morcillo (USA), Miranda Michelle (Canada) and me, Sam Mardini (Canada). We all shared a passion for Salsa and wanted to host a night that would inform Expats and Koreans interested in this exciting, intricate, and energetic dance that it is thriving here. KISS started with dance classes 5 years ago at a small club in the back alleys of Itaewon, but the club owners had more interest in people drinking than dancing, so we had to move to another club that was more supportive of dancers. After a bit of club hopping, we eventually hosted our night at the biggest Latin bar this side of the Han River, Caliente, enjoying packed Salsa evenings every weekend. When the owner retired and moved back to the US, KISS moved to Somos in Sinchon. Alongside the supportive owner Miquel Gonzalel and his Spanish classes, KISS has established this place as our home, promoting numerous Latin events. Every Saturday at Somos brings live Latin bands, dance classes, and our community of expats and Koreans together to enjoy the sounds of Salsa, Bachata, Merengue and Raggaeton.

Over the past 5 years, KISS has hosted numerous Latin dance events ranging from full on weekend festivals to dance workshops to promote our love of Salsa and other Latin dances.  These dances range from different Bachata styles (a sensual Dominican dance), Salsa styles, and even the sexy new dance Kizomba (an even more sensual dance akin to Tango hailing from Angola). The group’s highlights include hosting the first Kizomba workshops in Korea by an international instructor in 2013 with the support of the Angola Embassy. In 2012, KISS hosted international Bachata superstars “Ataca y La Alemana” for a Bachata festival in Gangnam.

The site’s biggest event to date was last year’s Mambo Dance Festival in Gangnam, featuring some of Korea’s top Salsa performers, and internationally renowned salsa group “Zafire” all the way from NYC. Hundreds of dancers from all over Korea were joined by enthusiasts from China, Taiwan, and Japan in an event that brought people together from all over the region to share their love of Salsa!

KISS continues to help promote the scene in Seoul with our salsa classes to Expats & Koreans interested in learning. These classes are free with the club’s cover and anyone can join our Beginner 1 class (with no partner needed). Our students come from all walks of life; from university students to English teachers to businessmen and anything in between. Our classes always emphasize fun and enjoyment of the dance, and while at the beginning it might seem like a lot to take in, like all things it becomes easier the more it’s done.  The Beginner 1 classes are open classes, meaning no registration is needed because each class covers the basics and one of the foundation salsa moves. Beginner 2 classes build on the foundation moves further, & our Intermediate classes take those foundation moves and shows more intricate patterns & steps. The classes usually have an even ratio of men and women, but if not, we have numerous partner changes so you’ll eventually have a partner.

Salsa does take time to learn as it has a particular rhythm and is a partner rather than a solo dance, but with a little commitment and training anyone can pick up the dance steps and enjoy everything the Seoul salsa scene has to offer. We hope to see you on the dance floor, and as my salsa teacher used to say:  live, laugh, love and dance!

More Info:  Drop by our site www.korealatinandsalsa.com (link is external) or our facebook group: “korea intl salsa site” for maps to clubs, special events, Salsa festivals, where to get dance shoes, and our weekly classes

KISS weekly Saturday beginner & intermediate Salsa classes average 30-35 students at Somos in Sinchon.  (15,000 won band nights twice a month and 10,000 won non band nights)

Bachata classes are bimonthly (next course begins in April, 10,000 won, check site for details),

Every few months, KISS hosts international guest instructors to share their passion for Latin dance. Check the website for updates & more details.

No cost to join the site, just club cover for the nights with dance classes.

Website: www.korealatinandsalsa.com (link is external)

Address:  SAMOS, Yonsero-5-dakil 22-3, 3rd floor, Chang Cheon-dong Sodemun-gu, Seoul

서울특별시 서대문구 연세로5다길 22-3, 3층 (창천동)

Contact Info: koreasalsa@gmail.com/ (link sends e-mail)  Somos’ is 02-322-0913.

GrooveKorea website

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