You might not think “huge salsa dancing scene” when you think of Carbondale, Illinois, but it’s home to one of the longest, continuously running salsa groups in the country. In fact, the Salsa Dance Night group is celebrating their eighteenth year! The group of dedicated dancers have hosted events at numerous venues around Carbondale, most recently calling the Social House their home. However, previous long-running venues include Stix, Pinch Penny and Longbranch Café. Some of the venues have closed their doors, sometimes the group has outgrown the venue, but the salsa dance nights rage on and in eighteen years the group has built quite a reputation.
Current host Aur Beck says, “During these transitions, dancers have come and gone and with each incoming generation, brought in their own personality to the Latin dancing community. However, ask anyone that has gone to Salsa Dance Night and they will tell you that the common denominator throughout the years has been one: a love for music and dancing.” Beck has been a member for sixteen years and remembers the early era when the group was little more than a handful of friends who loved to dance.
Originally, the Salsa Dance Night was organized by Alainna Rodgers and Pamela Reeves Torres. For years, DJs Radiator and T-Dub have been providing the music, and brought the party in full force on the official anniversary date on August 4. Beck says, “It’s been really good to have such a good group of open-hearted people.” You might think such an established dance group would be spilling over with pros, but you’ll find a variety of skill levels here from beginners to competitive dancers. The organization’s motto, “Dance: Free your mind and your feet will follow,” has served the group and dancers well.
To celebrate their eighteen years, in addition to the August 4th festivities, a formal anniversary party was held on August 26 at the Grotto Lounge. Admission was free and the night was full of dancing and events like the best-dressed contest and of course complimentary dance lessons.
Start Your Own Group
This long-running salsa dance group didn’t happen by chance. Anyone can kick start their own salsa dancing organization with the right passion, ability to connect to people—and in the Digital Era, the right technical know-how. No matter how big or small your town is, you can bet there are people who will fall in love with dancing salsa. First, it’s best if you can identify a co-organizer. Tackling such an undertaking yourself can require too much time and effort for one person. Similar to starting a business, it’s best if your co-organizer has different skills than you.
Ideally, get your agreement in writing. Even if you won’t be spending any money out of pocket, it’s a good idea to pen down who’s responsible for what. This helps keep you both on track and avoid any miscommunication in the future. Of course, one of the biggest challenges will be finding venues. Look for available space on “off nights” where the venue owners may offer the space for free or a nominal fee. Alternatively, you can ask attendees for a small donation and either give or split the profits with the owner of the venue. Make sure you highlight what great PR the venue will get by introducing a new group of people to the space.
While the Carbondale group has grown to the point of having DJs, that’s certainly not a requirement. You can suss out if there are any DJs-in-the-making who want to promote themselves and get in some practice, of you can depend on a simple iPod dock system. It’s no longer a requirement to have expensive equipment or a professional spinning vinyl to snag a great music experience.
Getting people to start attending—and keep attending—is the biggest challenge of all. Utilize existing networks you may have, launch social media campaigns, and partner with local organizations, groups and businesses that might have connections with potential salsa dancers. The good news is that anyone is a fantastic fit for joining a salsa group! You’ll have to get out there and hit the pavement (both literally and digitally), but your efforts will pay off.
Most importantly, have fun! Your passion will trickle down to attendees and get everyone excited. Share why you love salsa, and the adoration will spread.