Shaking it up with some salsa in Glenwood |

Shaking it up with some salsa in Glenwood

Stina Sieg Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Months ago, when a friend suggested Xiomara Lopez join a Latin dance class, she was taken aback. Why, thought the native of Colombia, should she waste her time with instruction when she’s been dancing since childhood? Still, she’d just moved to Glenwood from Snowmass Village, and she didn’t know a soul in her new town. So, she decided to give it a shot.

“And my life changed,” she said. “‘Cause, you know, I just have fun.”

That’s a pretty common story here at Ricardo and Tere Hernandez’s Monday night classes.

Lopez was one of the 30-plus people at the most recent dance. As beat-heavy tunes pumped, everyone in the room was up and moving. Some were tentative, shaking their hips shyly and smiling as they made little mistakes. Others were whirling around the dance floor, spinning in tight circles with concentration splashed across their faces. A few couples were just dancing slowly and giving each other flirty glances.

Somehow, not a person looked out of place.

And, when Ricardo Hernandez yelled out, “Are you ready for something faster?” none argued.

Over the course of the next hour or so, the dance floor swelled. People kept arriving, taking off their coats and jumping right in. By the end of the class, the fan blowing air into the studio couldn’t make up for the hot, steamy atmosphere that had been created. It was downright sauna-like ” and nobody seemed to care.

“It’s like body language for me,” said Lopez, resting in a chair between songs. “I love salsa.”

While she’s probably been saying that for years, for many in the room, that’s an entirely new, surprising feeling.

“I’m not a dancer,” stressed Edward McNight, one of Lopez’s new buds.

A recent transplant from South Carolina, he’s only been to the class a few times but had an air of dedication to him, all the same. When he met Lopez, she set him straight. If he was going to live in this valley and have Hispanic friends, she told him, he’d have to learn to salsa. Luckily, he found a dancing environment that’s anything but stressful.

As he put it, “You don’t feel like an idiot ’cause other people are trying to learn, too.”

Another fairly new student, Karen Birach, described the atmosphere as “different, not intimidating. It’s definitely not intimidating.”

That’s kept her making the weekly trek from her Aspen home since September. While she originally started coming in order to hone her dancing skills for Latin nights at Jimmy’s in Aspen, she’s now part of a whole new dance community she didn’t know even existed.

“And it’s been a blast,” she said. “Everybody progresses ” fast.”

While Hernandez was too busy with directing and dancing and joking with his students to hear all those sentiments, he would have eaten them up. Those expressions of joy and excitement are the reason he and his wife started this class three years ago. Those words are also why, from the beginning of the class to this day, that it’s free. Like so many of the fundraisers and benefits the couple are a part of, these lessons have nothing to do with cash for them.

As he explained this, Hernandez quoted his father, Pablo Antonio Hernandez Hernandez.

“Only the cheapest stuff can be bought with money,” he said.

That’s certainly not the stuff his class is made of. While he likes helping people improve their dancing abilities, he feels the heart of this experience is so much bigger than that. He can see people’s self-esteem rise and watch them make new friends. He’s got dancers originally from Africa, Europe, South America and more, and every week, he gives them a place to mix and mingle. It’s as though, together, they’re creating a microcosm of the community ” except in this little world, everyone is really, truly welcome.

And Hernandez always reminds them all to smile.

As he likes to say, “If you’re going to be dancing, you have to be happy.”

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