Students Bring Skills Back from Salsa Festival

James Kennedy

While there is no official Whitman club for the Latin dance salsa, a group of enthusiastic students recently attended the Rose City Salsa Festival held in Vancouver, Wash. from April 10-13. The event was split between classes during the day and social dancing during the night, often running until 4 a.m. The group was organized by senior Mariana Vasquez-Crede, who reached out to students in the Whitman community with similar interests.

“I basically just contacted specific people who would be most interested in going,” said Vasquez-Crede. “I’ve brought back … six really happy people that are now really into [salsa.]”

This isn’t Vasquez-Crede’s first Salsa conference. Her previous interest and experience in the dance style has led her to several other events. She has attended the Seattle Salsa Congress and a Kizomba conference, which is an African style of dance that also developed in Portugal.

During the event, the group mostly attended beginner and intermediate level classes. Several attendees, such as sophomore Eve Penberthy, had little experience with the dance before the event. 

I’m no salsa dancer,” said Penberthy. “I’ve spent nights at Whitman getting mini lessons … and have gradually fallen in love with the dance, but I have no real training or experience.”

Aside from the instructive workshops, which ranged from teaching “Afro-Cuban movement” to the Dominican Republic’s “Bachata,” the conference put on a variety of performances.

“The performances are always really fun to watch. You have people from all different ages, and I mean like [age] six to 50,” said Vasquez-Crede.

The group gained a lot of experience from the event, and many individuals plan to take up the dance as a more active part of their Whitman experience.

“[The festival] gave me a refreshing burst of feeling alive and in love and inspired that can sometimes fade in the day to day at Whitman,” said Penberthy. “It also pushed me to really take up these dances as a skill, and as something to pursue further and share.”

The original plan by Vasquez-Crede was to bring the experience from the festival to Whitman by hosting a local conference for half a day where local instructors from the Walla Walla community would teach workshops.

However, the Whitman Events Board was unable to fund the idea due to lack of time and space left in the remaining school year. Still, members of the group are planning to host the event next fall, and they will also hold an informal event in early May. This scaled-down workshop will be held on May 10 and will be run by the students that attended the event, rather than professional instructors. 

While many of the group members only had a passing interest in the dance, this festival has given them an experience that may lead to a lifelong passion of salsa.

It’s fun. It’s sexy. It’s a great way to make connections with people and let go and practice new footwork,” said Penberthy. “It’s something I hope to do much more of in the future, and the festival provided an amazing foundation of skills and the inspiration to continue pursuing it.”