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Fancy footwork: salsa dancing in New Orleans

Salsa dancing classes are a fun way to get fit and make friends



If you can count, you can dance. At least that's what dance instructor Raymond Armant says. "People put a lot of pressure on themselves, but dancing is not this big, unachievable thing," says Armant, who along with his dance partner Jana Blakes makes up the dancing duo Mambo Orleans and teaches at Dance Quarter.

  Salsa is a social dance that New Orleans has embraced with open arms. Lessons and events take place across the city for all ages and skill levels. Mariangel Mendoza Dollis of Liquid Rhythm Inc. (LRI) teaches basics and fundamentals to people ranging from kindergarteners to adults.

  "The idea is to always promote and dance in schools and produce different pieces for people to enjoy," says Dollis, who teaches and performs.

  Dance Quarter and LRI offer classes designed to build different skills at different levels. Some are focused on footwork, some on drills and others take the form of an exercise class. Instructors ask you come by yourself or with friends and bring a can-do attitude.

  "Typically, when you dance in class you trade partners," Armant says. "Every person is different and each personality is different. One of the biggest things that people get out of learning a partner dance is the social aspect of it and going out and building a community of people that you may or may not know. But [you] meet up and communicate through dance, even though you may not speak the same language."

  Dollis starts beginner or intermediate classes with footwork instruction and moves on to "shines" — which are stylized footwork and body movements — and then drills dancers on footwork and arm and body movements.

  Most men and women wear jeans that can stretch to class. Leggings or breezy workout clothes also are encouraged, because dancing is a whole-body workout. A dance shoe is appropriate in the studio. Instructors say dancers should avoid wearing rubber soles, which hinder movement.

  Class prices vary. Many cost between $10 and $15 and don't require a partner. Participants who do bring a partner should know they won't be dancing with that person for the whole class.

  "Socials" encourage all skill levels to dance and mingle to the beat of DJs and live bands like AsheSon and Vivaz. At socials, people dress up more than they do in a studio setting. These events begin with an introductory lesson. LRI leads a social at Eiffel Society (2040 St. Charles Ave.) at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and Dance Quarter hosts a social at its studio (1719 Toledano St.) at 8 p.m. Thursdays.

  Dragon's Den (435 Esplanade Ave.) and Cafe East (4628 Rye St., Metairie) host instruction-free events at 10 p.m. Fridays. It gets hot, so bring a fan.

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