The 10 couples spun and walked to the beat as salsa music came out of the speakers at Newberry Music Hall in downtown Saratoga Springs.

“Five, six, seven, head crossed,” shouted Felix Ortiz, as the couples changed direction.

It was the intermediate salsa class that was held at the club every Friday night. Ortiz was his instructor. Across the dance floor was the beginner’s class led by Johnny Martinez. Both instructors are part of Tango Fusion Dance Company, a local studio that Martinez runs with Diane Lachtrupp, who also teaches a variety of dance styles. At the end of the session, Martinez and Lachtrupp gave a salsa demonstration of what the evening’s students could aspire to. A party then followed.

Friday’s “Latin Night” event was typical of what people who enjoy the social dance scene enjoy. On many nights and on certain days of each week, one or the other studio or location gives a class or dedicates an evening to one type of dance, whether it is swing, salsa, contra, line. or tango, among others.

“There is always ebb and flow, but right now there is a slight increase in swing dancing over the past two months,” said Dave Wolf of Saratoga Savoy and the organizer of the Diamond Dance who takes place every third Friday of the month on the third floor of Saratoga Springs Town Hall.

Wolf attributes this interest not to the popularity of TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” but to the fact that people just want to dance and meet people. Most courses and even large monthly events do not require partners as partner rotation is the norm.

“Social dancing is the people who go dancing because they want to dance with someone rather than watch someone dance or dance competitively,” he said.

‘On top’

Jim Apicella, who owns and runs Danceland in Latham, agreed.

“These TV shows are overkill,” he said. “It’s entertainment.”

That dancers have to pay a choreographer to create a dance, they also have to spend money on costumes and have to rehearse to get the routines. For social dancing, a reasonable blanket takes care of everything and unlike competitive dancing, there is little stress as no one rates the dancers on their ability.

For example, said Apicella, he recently offered a line dancing class, in which everyone forms lines and takes the same steps. Seventy-five people showed up and it had been a very cold night. This large number even surprised him.

“Usually we have around 40 people,” he said.

While the ballroom, which includes the waltz, is also important in Danceland, Lachtrupp said she noticed that swing and tango are currently particularly strong, with more swing nights being offered at clubs that hadn’t never danced much. With the exception of the big swing parties like Wolf’s Diamond Dance which has a live band, most use a disc jockey with recorded music. The swing is more than a lindy or a jitterbug.

“There is a swing on the east coast and the west coast,” Lachtrupp said. “The East Coast is a circular style, a faster tempo for hopeful music like jitterbug. The west coast is more rhythm and blues, a slower tempo with footsteps coming and going.
Wolf agreed.

“The swing has a wide variety of sounds,” he said.

Tango varieties

But tango is just as popular and there are differences here as well. There is the Argentine tango, like what we dance in the clubs of Buenos Aires, and the more contemporary tango. Sherrie Lyons knows the difference. She has been a tango fan for years and has been to Buenos Aires three times to dance in local clubs. Almost four years ago, she hosted a tango party called Milonga on the first Saturday of every month at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady’s Stockade.

“We usually host up to thirty people,” Lyons said. “It’s an intimate space but it’s like the hip places in Buenos Aires. We transform the place with flowers, candles and tango works.

The focus here is on Argentine tango, which Lyons said was like giving a partner a hug and then walking together. Beginners are always welcome, but Lyons warns that learning to dance to this sultry and exotic music could take over your life.

“The tango people will drive anywhere to dance. They are crazy, she said.

In addition to making friends, social dancing can help with weight loss, improve a person’s mood, and provide unexpected benefits to the athlete in you.

“I work with high school soccer and lacrosse teams,” Lachtrupp said. “I do Latin with the lacrosse teams and hip hop with the football teams. It helps with their footwork.

This story is just a sample of what is out there, but dance fans know that attending one event will lead to other places not mentioned here. These include the annual Dance Flurry scheduled for February 16-18 in Saratoga Springs and new monthly dances at the Jazz Bar run by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

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