Michael Wenye Li / Sun File Photo

Graduate students gather at virtual events through the Big Red Barn.

November 30, 2018

Live Music at SalsaSon Highlights Latin Dance and Culture

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On Saturday, the Big Red Barn will be filled with upbeat music, tasty Latin appetizers and lots of dancing. This annual event, Live Music at SalsaSon, is organized by Proyecto Pa’lante, a student organization that creates a community centered around Latin dance.

Live Music at SalsaSon began in 2008, when Michael Luis Ristorucci M.S. ’05, a current PE instructor, established the event with a group of friends.

According to Ristorucci, he had already been teaching people Latin dance and “wanted a place where we could practice and feel inspired.” However, there was no fixed community where people interested in Latin American culture could congregate. Ristorucci explained that “we wanted to create that community for ourselves, so we reserved the barn and started doing events there.”

While the dance events at the Big Red Barn began as a place for students to dance together, the dances created a community whose focus eventually began to revolve around the overall culture behind Latin dance.

Today, Ristorucci continues to be very involved with the Latin dance community, working with Proyecto Pa’lante to organize the event by giving advice, helping the group plan events and acting as an event producer.

Although some of the participants are seasoned dancers, beginners need not shy away from the dance event. Before the dance party begins, participants can arrive early to participate in a “crash course Survival Dance Lesson” where students learn the basic techniques and movements of salsa, merengue, bachata and cha cha cha.

“Even though I’ve been in the dance troupe for a little over two years now, I still feel a little overwhelmed by it at first. But once you start dancing, it is really spontaneous and you just have fun,” Proyecto Pa’lante officer and Salsa Pa’lante President Juan Berrio ’20 told The Sun.

Berrio came to Cornell with no dance experience, but after seeing Salsa Pa’lante perform during his salsa physical education course with Ristorucci, he was so impressed with their performance that he decided to join. Now as president of the club, Berrio strives to spark that interest in others.

“I like having the dance troupe practice and perform for other people so they can see just how fun it is and hopefully that will persuade them to join and dance,” Berrio said. “I think it is something that everyone should try out at least. It is really fun and a good stress reliever, especially before finals.”

Throughout the beginner lessons as well as the actual dance party, there will be live music played by the Damn Yanquis Latin Band, a local latin dance band that formed just eight months ago. Jonathan Klein, the band leader, has been involved in the Cornell Latin dance community for years, starting out as a dance student, and later enhancing the dance lessons and parties by playing live music.

The addition of live music has been a useful addition to the dance parties. For students just starting to learn how to dance, Klein will play percussion to facilitate the learning process.

“When students learn along with the live music, they can see the music being played as opposed to only being able to hear it, which really makes a difference,” Ristorucci said.

Proyecto Pa’lante hosts two to five dance parties per semester, and each party has seen a range of 80 to 160 Cornell student participants at each event. The Live Music at the SalsaSon event on Saturday will be the last event for the fall semester.

“The main thing is to participate. You learn, you dance and you share it,” Ristorucci said.