On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Lawrence’s Latinx organization, Alianza, hosted a salsa dance workshop on campus in Esch Hurvis to reach out to the Lawrence community and cultivate a deeper understanding of Latinx culture. Salsa dance instructor Marisol Encarnación and her husband José Encarnación hosted and taught the participants. Marisol teaches salsa lessons regularly every spring, although not in the summer, she said, because that is when she gets to go out and have fun dancing with her husband and friends. José is an Assistant Professor of Music and the Director of Jazz Studies at Lawrence, teaching classes in jazz saxophone and improvisation.
Alianza, translated to “Alliance,” is a Latinx group on campus that focuses on bringing awareness to the social and political issues that Lawrence Latinx students, both domestic and international, face on campus as well as in the world. The organization puts on workshops and events to help educate a larger audience about these issues and their rich culture. They consider themselves a support group for Latinx students on campus who feel they have no voice, providing a space for them to express their ideas and concerns related to their culture and identity. In the past, Alianza has hosted workshops on addressing microaggressions and molding identity, and has put on open events for celebrations like Día de los Reyes Rosca and Día de los Muertos. Their goal for this year is to host more open events that represent different Latinx identities. They also want to dismantle the wrongful assumption that Latinx culture is only Mexican culture and educate about the intersection of all Latinx cultures, including the similarities and differences they have.
The salsa workshop is exactly the kind of event that helps spread their message. With the help of Marisol and José, a very successful night of dancing and cultural education was held. Marisol confessed that she was more of a club salsa dancer herself, as she was never formally trained and learned all of her steps by going out and dancing when she was young, so she explained several of the differences between her style and ballroom style. The two Encarnacións opened the class with a demonstration of the dance at full tempo. From just their one dance, it was clear that the duo knew what they were doing, but were having fun with it as well.
After they showed off their moves to the students, Marisol had the group move into three lines where we could all practice the basic steps solo. It was very important to have these steps down before adding in a partner, for the flow of salsa requires a rhythm of steps between two people to work smoothly. Once we had the basic steps down, the class worked on a spin and a side step to heighten their skills. Finally, we all found partners and put it into action. Everyone in the class was dancing, laughing and having a great time as Marisol and José walked around the room giving pointers. The last tip to the class was to listen to salsa music whenever we were in a car and listen to the beat, counting our steps as we went.
This was the first collaboration that Alianza had with José and Marisol Encarnación, but they assured it would not be their last. Alianza has also recently hosted a discussion on anti-black racism in Latinx communities with Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies Jesus Smith, an event that took place Wednesday, Feb. 5. In upcoming events, Alianza will host a talk with Assistant Professor of Music Horacio Contreras on Wednesday, Feb. 19, on being a Venezuelan cellist in the United States. The organization hopes reaching out to more Latinx-identifing professors will build a stronger community of shared experiences here at Lawrence.