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Salsa class has all the right moves

Dance: Cuban salsa classes are held Wednesdays at the Marriott in Valencia

Posted: April 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Josie Mead, left, and Carlos Hernandez, right, practice dancing with their class in the Rueda de Casino style of Cuban style salsa dance at The Courtyard Marriott in Valencia.

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After injuring his knee, Chul Hee, of Valencia, was looking for a fun way to get out and exercise again.

He found it with beginning Cuban salsa dance lessons, taught every Wednesday evening at the Valencia Courtyard Marriott.

Along with eight other amateur dancers, Hee swayed to the Latin rhythm in the lobby’s alcove with a big smile on his face. First, they sashayed front and back, then side to side, before amping up the action by forming a circle and partnering for more intricate moves.

“Wednesday is my favorite day now. I so look forward to this,” he said. “It relieves my stress. I just love it.”

That kind of enthusiasm is exactly what instructors Jonathan Kraut and Aries Alegado were hoping for when they began teaching rueda, or casino, salsa moves at the Marriott two years ago.

The style of dance became popular in Cuba in the 1950s, and resembles a Latin form of square dancing, with Kraut and Alegado calling out moves to the students lined up behind them.

“We want to promote fun and camaraderie,” Alegado said. “There are other styles of salsa that are more technical or about how you look. We focus on having fun as a group.”

“Rueda teaches patterns and more importantly, timing. That’s where most people have issues,” Kraut said.
Santa Clarita Timba

Kraut, a private investigator, and Alegado, a systems engineer, both teach salsa lessons privately and also belong to the Santa Clarita Timba Crew, a rueda-performance team that provides free shows for Santa Clarita Valley non-profits such as the SCV Senior Center and the SCV Boys & Girls Club.

“We take what we’ve learned over the years and present it to the class, which makes rueda easier and faster to learn,” Kraut said. “We’re opening a door to a new world of movement and communication.”

Moving at the Marriott
Their classes at the Marriott are part of Rueda in the Park, an organization formed in 2003 to spread awareness on rueda dancing. Currently, there are four chapters teaching the dance in the Los Angeles area.

Classes, which start at 7 p.m., are $5. Partners are not required — dancers are paired with one another at class and there are no specific gender roles to follow. Men and women can both lead in rueda.

Intermediate classes follow at 8:15 p.m. and are $5 as well.

“It may take five or six times after the first class to get it. The body has to get used to the movements,” Kraut said.
“We watch someone come in with no rhythm and in five to six weeks, they transform into doing rueda fairly well and being happy.”

Tonight, the dancers are an equal ratio of men to women, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s or early 60s.

Good exercise
Carrie Alfaro has driven from Arleta for the last four weeks to take part in rueda at the Courtyard Marriott. She found the class on

“I’ve danced before, but I wanted to learn more,” she said. “This is a nice environment and the instructors are great.

They explain things well. I’ve learned a lot about casino.”

For Mark Rubio, of Valencia, who attended the class for the first time, it was a chance to socialize after recently losing his wife to cancer.

“Ultimately, I want to meet people who like to dance, whether it’s for dating or just for fun,” Rubio said. “It’s good exercise, too.”

Kraut concurred.

“We had one student bring a calorie counter to class. She burned 1,400 calories in 90 minutes,” he said.

Rooted in dance
It was 20 years ago that Kraut, a Canyon Country resident, began dancing. He was living in Mexico with a model and dancer, who told him, “Either you watch me dance with other men or you learn how to dance with me.” Kraut opted for the latter, and continued to dance after the relationship ended, fascinated by the myriad moves of his newfound passion.

“There are over 100 genres of Latin dance. Say salsa and you’ll get five or 10 different interpretations,” Kraut said. “You can learn about a society through dance itself, you don’t have to live there. Cultures transmit through the moves of the dance.”

Florida to SCV
Alegado, a self-professed military brat, began busting a move when he moved to Florida as a child with his family. His Latin neighborhood was rife with house and block parties where family and friends would dance.

“I would sit and someone’s sister, mother, uncle or father would say, ‘Get up. You have to dance,’” Alegado recalled. “I learned from the streets, but when I went to clubs, I didn’t fit in. I stood out like a sore thumb.”

Wanting to learn more, Alegado studied formally at a dance academy in Orlando, advancing through all ten class levels in less than a year.

“I just loved how music allows you to express yourself. It dictates everything you have to feel,” he said.

Now he’s happy to pass on this gift to his students.

“It’s so fulfilling to see lightbulbs turn on when people are dancing. When it all clicks together, it’s just amazing, a real joy,” Alegado said.

‘The best thing ever’
Joyful is just what Hee feels as he continues with salsa class.

“I’m so glad I tried dancing. Wow, it’s just the best thing ever,” he said.

Rueda in the Park Cuban-style salsa lessons, no partner required, beginners 7-8:15 p.m., intermediate 8:15-9:15 p.m., Wednesdays, $5, Courtyard Marriott, 28523 Westinghouse Place, Valencia. Info: (661) 618-1105.


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